It's semi-finals day at the Rome Masters, and after the shock of Rafa Nadal's exit yesterday, our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, returns to preview the matches...
"It will be interesting to see how Ruud fares after a three-hour three-setter yesterday. Numbers wise, he easily looks top-20 level on clay and has continued upside on his favoured clay, in particular."
King of Clay exits in loss to Schwartzman
Our unbeaten record in Rome fell the same way as Rafa Nadal yesterday, with our pick Grigor Dimitrov losing to Denis Shapovalov, and Nadal shocked in straight sets by Diego Schwartzman. The King of Clay won just 42% of points in the match and only broke the Argentine twice, to give Schwartzman his first win after nine previous defeats to Nadal. Greg Rusedski was famously quoted as saying 'nobody beats Greg Rusedski 10 times in a row', and perhaps Schwartzman had the same attitude last night!
This leaves Novak Djokovic as the odds-on tournament favourite and the world number one didn't have matters all his own way, with the qualifier Dominik Koepfer nicking a set from the Serb yesterday, which was also something of a surprise.
Ruud could test Djokovic this afternoon
Today, Djokovic faces - in theory - a trickier test against Casper Ruud, who I mentioned previously has really impressed me this week. The Norwegian edged a tight three-setter against Matteo Berrettini via a final set tiebreak, but he won more points in the match and had more break point chances, so it looks a justified end result.
It will be interesting to see how Ruud fares after a three-hour three-setter yesterday. Numbers wise, he easily looks top-20 level on clay and has continued upside on his favoured clay, in particular. He should be quite a nice test for Djokovic and I'm looking forward to see where Ruud is at against a top level opponent here. Djokovic is 1/61.17, which looks a little short, but not absurdly so.
Schwartzman favourite to defeat Shapovalov
There isn't an abundance of value in the second semi-final either, with Schwartzman deservedly favourite over Shapovalov, given his greater clay pedigree. At this point in time, Schwartzman is priced at 4/61.67 on the Exchange, which looks a few ticks big to me, but not particularly actionable.
Quite simply, Schwartzman has shown far more evidence of his ability on clay in the last 18 months or so - unsurprising given the previously noted pedigree - and Shapovalov is still below the 100% combined hold/break percentage on the surface in the last three years.
This is likely to be a classic battle of serve v return, and return - in Schwartzman - looks the favourite to make Monday's final.
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