Fognini underdog for Murray meeting
Wawrinka another big name in action
O'Connell to edge clash with Popyrin
Fognini versus Murray the match of the day
Despite seeded players not starting their tournament until Friday at the earliest, there's plenty to discuss today as the Rome Masters gets underway. Arguably, at least from a profile perspective, the match of the day is Fabio Fognini versus Andy Murray, so that is where we will start today's preview.
In the past, this would have been an all top 20 clash, with Murray ranked in the top five and the enigmatic Fognini a little further back. The variable level from the Italian is illustrated by the head-to-head results, which read four all, despite the duo not having met since 2019. Fognini did win their last two on clay, including a triumph in this tournament in straight sets in 2017.
Recent events influencing market price significantly
The fact that the two players did most of their career meetings between 2014 and 2019 shows that it was around that era that they played at their peak. Both are 35 now, and both turn 36 later this month, with neither now inside the top 50. Murray has been chalked up as the 1.538/15 favourite on the Exchange.
Given the decline of both players, and their variable levels these days, this match is really only for the brave. It could be anything.
But, by the same token, this is the attractiveness behind the underdog price for Fognini - it would be just like him to roll back the years in his home country and defeat Murray, whose price looks influenced by Fognini's lack of match time in the last month due to a foot injury but in particular, the Scotsman's title in the Aix-en-Provence Challenger against mostly a mediocre field.
Wawrinka should have just enough against Ivashka
Another former top 10 player is in action today as Stan Wawrinka faces the tricky challenge of Ilya Ivashka, and is the 1.68/13 favourite to get the win. Wawrinka's fight isn't in question - he's had decent matches against Andrey Rublev and Taylor Fritz of late on clay - but at 38 years of age, the body seems less willing.
However, Ivashka hasn't really impressed on clay this year, losing his last two - both as favourite - and even a declining Wawrinka should have just enough today. I don't expect it to be easy though.
O'Connell with data edge in all-Australian match-up
Moving on, Christopher O'Connell is a player who has impressed me this clay court season, at least compared to pre-season expectations. Wins over Alexander Zverev and Filip Krajinović in particular are decent, and generally he's got the job done against lower opposition too.
I'm surprised to see him priced up at 2.0811/10 against the qualifier, Alexei Popyrin, who has never really shown much aptitude on clay. Pretty mediocre return data for Popyrin explains the bulk of that (he's broken just 13% in main tour clay matches in his career) so in this all-Australian clash, I'd rather keep the player who has shown more surface ability onside.