Rome Masters Day Seven: Cilic can reverse unrepresentative head-to-head with Zverev

Croatian tennis player Marin Cilic
Marin Cilic is value to be celebrating this evening...
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Saturday afternoon sees the semi-finals of the Rome Masters take place, and our tennis columnist Dan Weston previews both matches...

"In these head to head matches, Cilic has woefully underperformed on key points, running 9.7% below expectation on saving break points on serve (based on service points won percentages) and 8.3% below on return. Despite losing four of the five matches, Cilic actually won 49.8% of points in these matches, showing that the head to head record is unrepresentative of how competitive he actually has been."

Nadal a heavy market favourite to defeat Djokovic

Yesterday's action in the Italian capital went the way of the four match favourites, but three were taken to deciders - only Marin Cilic progressed in straight sets.

Rafa Nadal dropped the first set against Fabio Fognini before easing past the Italian in three, and today faces Novak Djokovic in their first head-to-head match since Madrid in May 2017. In that match, Nadal won in straight sets to snap a run of seven consecutive head-to-head wins for Djokovic, who edges the head to head series 26-24 in total.

However, we need to go back to May 2009 in Madrid to see Nadal priced at a similar level to today - the King of Clay is [1.21] to win - and around the turn of 2015-2016 it was Djokovic priced at these levels, albeit on hard and indoor hard courts.

This difference in pricing naturally focuses on several factors - Nadal's surge in clay level, Djokovic's downswing following injuries and quite simply, today's surface. If this was played on hard courts rather than clay, the pricing would be rather different.

Nadal clay data on a different level to Djokovic

In the last 12 months, Nadal's clay data is utterly stratospheric - he's won 69.2% of service points and 48.6% on return (combined 117.8%), and you read that correctly, he's winning almost 50% of points on return, a quite unbelievable percentage. Injury- and fitness-affected, Djokovic is not at this level, winning 63.5% of service points and 42.7% on return (106.2%) and while these are obviously good numbers - around top 5-10 level - these aren't close to being in the Nadal bracket.

Given these discrepancies, it is difficult to disagree with the market pricing, so I'll move on to the second semi-final, scheduled for 19:00 UK time this evening.

Zverev an uneasy favourite over Cilic

Price-wise, this looks a more competitive affair, with Alexander Zverev a [1.47] favourite to get the better of Marin Cilic, but my model made matters a little closer...

It's probably fair to suggest that Zverev's win over David Goffin last night was deserved, given that he faced just three break point chances on serve, but created nine on the Belgian's, but the fact that he was taken to three sets after playing a ton of tennis in recent weeks is certainly not a positive for the German.

As mentioned earlier, Cilic's triumph over Carreno-Busta was the only straight-set win in the men's event yesterday, and the Croat didn't face a single break point on his serve during the match. After some questionable form and fitness issues, Cilic does look to have timed a return to his better form in advance of the French Open pretty well.

Head to head record unrepresentative of competitiveness

He does face a 4-1 head-to-head deficit over Zverev with just one meeting on clay - in Madrid last season which Zverev won in three. All matches have been competitive, either being settled in three sets or two very tight straight-sets.

In these head-to-head matches, Cilic has woefully underperformed on key points, running 9.7% below expectation on saving break points on serve (based on service points won percentages) and 8.3% below on return. Despite losing four of the five matches, Cilic actually won 49.8% of points in these matches, showing that the head-to-head record is unrepresentative of how competitive he actually has been.

Given this, and the fact that 12-month clay data on the two players is pretty similar, taking Cilic as a generously priced [3.10] underdog makes a lot of sense this evening.

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