Second round action at the Rome Masters continues on Thursday, and after picking up a winner on day three, Dan Weston returns to give his thoughts on the schedule...
"The Canadian, Shapovalov, is a heavy [1.33] favourite, but I’m yet to see any evidence of sufficient ability on clay to make this price accurate."
Dimitrov gets us up and running in Rome
If we could design a stress-free winner, it would be Grigor Dimitrov on Wednesday, with the Bulgarian dropping just one game en route to a straight-set victory over Yoshihito Nishioka and covering the game handicap with ease. Rafa Nadal dropped just one more game as he defeated countryman Pablo Carreno-Busta, setting up a reminder - if one was even required - to everyone else on tour that the King of Clay is back.
There were some talking points from some of the other matches too - Marin Cilic got an excellent win over David Goffin, while the young Italian prospect, Jannik Sinner, prospered with relative ease over Stefanos Tsitsipas. I've made the point numerous times that Tsitsipas looks to have much to find to get to elite level and a defeat like this illustrates the point adequately.
When I priced up today's eight second round matches there were two immediate observations. Firstly, a couple of underdogs look some value, and there's some pricing among some of the bigger names on tour which doesn't align with medium-term clay data. I'll run through those observations now...
Martinez Portero could surprise Shapovalov
In the opening match on the schedule at 1000 UK time, I quite like Pedro Martinez Portero, the Spanish qualifier, in his match against Denis Shapovalov. The Canadian, Shapovalov, is a heavy [1.33] favourite, but I'm yet to see any evidence of sufficient ability on clay to make this price accurate. He's winning less than half of his main tour matches on clay in the last two years with mediocre underlying data from that small sample and dominant wins on clay have been scarce - his opener here against Guido Pella being a bit of a rarity.
Opponent Martinez Portero has decent clay numbers at a lower level and is obviously well attuned to clay given his matches in qualifying and in Prostejov last week as well. He also played a few clay exhibition events in Spain in July, so should be much more comfortable on the surface. We can get [1.71] on Martinez Portero getting a 4.5 game head start and that looks decent on the game handicap.
In addition, Dusan Lajovic looks a little under-rated at [3.35] for his clash against Milos Raonic. Lajovic has solid clay pedigree, reaching the final in Monte Carlo in April last year, and could quite conceivably give Raonic a good test here.
Market sceptical on Fognini chances
As for the bigger names that look strangely priced, they include Fabio Fognini, who was awful last week in defeat to Marc-Andrea Huesler in Kitzbuhel, and I guess the market is basing their expectations for his match against Ugo Humbert into his pricing of [2.36]. That was Fognini's first match since a Davis Cup match in March, and it will be interesting to see if he can get back to some sort of decent level here - in addition, it's probably worth noting that he was always unlikely to enjoy the quicker clay conditions at altitude in Kitzbuhel last week.
Musetti facing another former top 10 player in Nishikori
In addition, Gael Monfils looks big at [1.40] for his match against Challenger Tour regular Dominik Koepfer, but again, hasn't played much - last outing was at the end of February. Also, Kei Nishikori's price of [2.00] against Lorenzo Musetti might be benefiting from a touch of recency bias over Musetti after his defeat of Stan Wawrinka in the first round. However, Musetti looks a big talent and it will be interesting to see how he fares against another former top 10 player here.
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Back Pedro Martinez Portero +4.5 games at [1.71] to beat Denis Shapovalov