Another week, another ATP Masters 1000 event. All roads lead to Rome this week for the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. And let’s have it right. It will have to go some to match the drama seen on the ATP Tour last week.
What a week in Madrid. Rafael Nadal’s clay-court sets won streak was ended at 50 by Dominic Thiem, who then beat Rafa for good measure to send Roger Federer (who was sat with his feet up at the time, possibly drinking a Bacardi Breezer) back to world No 1 for a record 309th week.
The good news for Nadal fans is that he can reclaim top spot by winning in Rome. The bad? He is set to face Thiem again in the last eight should the seeds hold.
The legendary Spaniard now leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 6-3, and it’s a blossoming rivalry that should keep the fans entertained as we move towards the French Open.
Thiem played with maximum freedom against Nadal in Madrid. He hit 29 winners, went for his forehands with more conviction and took the ball earlier than he had when he was battered in Monte Carlo earlier in the season.
Conditions in Rome will be slow. Slower even that Monte Carlo and with some rain expected in midweek it could be heavy going. The top half of the draw looks filthy, with Nadal, Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov and Novak Djokovic all at large.
However it’s the bottom half where punters could find some value, and I like the look of Juan Martin del Potro at 18/1. Del Potro has enjoyed a fine start to the season and while he’s not translated that stellar form to clay just yet, this could be his week.
The Argentine with the caveman groundies is in the same quarter as Alexander Zverev, and while Zverev is the defending champion he has played a lot of tennis just recently.
He won in Munich and then followed that up by going all the way in Madrid. At just 21 his game and his body are still developing, so it seems unlikely he will be able to keep up this level for three weeks off the belt.
Del Potro might face Croatian upstart Borna Coric (who has reached two Masters 1000 quarter-finals this year) or a qualifier in the second round, and possibly ninth seed David Goffin in round three.
Goffin looked poor against Kyle Edmund last week, so Delpo will fancy his chances of making a run for a second Masters title of the year (and a first on clay). He said after losing to Dusan Lajovic in Madrid “I think I am getting some momentum” and if he is then he could make the odds compilers look foolish with their 18/1 quotes.
Nadal is a 1/2 favourite which looks a bit short given the Thiem factor so it could pay to have a dabble on a big price outsider. Step forward Richard Gasquet. We saw flashes of his quality in Monte Carlo where he went perilously close to taking out Zverev in a humdinger of a scrap, and he should relish the slow conditions here.
The Gasman has been to the last four in Rome before and his draw looks OK. First up is Benoit Paire, a player he has never lost to, and after that should be Diego Schwartzman, who he handled easily on the dirt in Monte Carlo a few weeks back.
Gasquet is a complex character, but it’s worth remembering that not all those who wander are lost, and if his head is right he could light up the Eternal City this week.
Bilko’s Banker: Juan Martin Del Potro to win the Rome Masters at 18/1 (Sky Bet)
Best of the Rest: Richard Gasquet (each-way) to win the Rome Masters at 80/1 (Sky Bet)
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