Derek Bilton is here with your tennis betting preview for this week’s Italian Open, but not before he takes you down memory the Trainspotting memory lane.
Those familiar with the movie Trainspotting will be au fait with Sick Boy’s unifying theory of life:
Sick Boy: It’s certainly a phenomenon in all walks of life.
Renton: What do you mean?
Sick Boy: Well, at one time, you’ve got it, and then you lose it, and it’s gone forever. All walks of life: George Best, for example. Had it, lost it. Or David Bowie, or Lou Reed.
So after a series of stunning defeats on his favourite surface the big question is, has Rafael Nadal, the King of Clay, lost it forever?
Nadal remains without a title in 2019 and has now failed to progress beyond the three clay semi-finals he has contested this year, losing each time to a different opponent.
Given the sheer physicality of his game everyone pretty much predicted an eventual physical decline and a career that would not be defined by longevity. What stood out from that Madrid semi-final loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas, though, was the fact that Nadal, who used to be like lightening around the court, might be starting to slow down. He’s no longer the indomitable Iberian he once was. One also gets the impression his recent troubles have not all been physical.
This recent lapse is much more about a deficit of self-belief. It’s jarring to watch – his self-belief and consistency was unshakeable for so long but the old red dirt master, privately at least, must be doubting himself now.
If ever there was a time to make a statement however, and prove Sick Boy wrong, it’s this week in Rome, the ancient city of the gladiator. And you’d be a fool to write him off.
The Rome Masters is a tournament where Rafa has dominated down the years. From 14 outings, Nadal has collected eight titles in the Italian capital and compiled a lifetime record at the event of 56-6.
It’s not that he’s been playing terribly either. Yes Fabio Fognini pretty much blew him off the court in Monte-Carlo but he pushed Dominic Thiem all the way in Barcelona and Tsitsipas outlasted him as much as anything in Madrid.
He’s gets an immediate chance of revenge against Thiem, who is in his quarter this week. Much has been made of the fact that Thiem has beaten the Spaniard on clay in each of the last three seasons. However Nadal is still 8-4 up in their head-to-head and will be out to make a statement. Tsitsipas and Roger Federer are also in his half, but the tip here is for a revved up Nadal to show his contemporaries he’s not a spent force.
In the other half of the draw top seed Novak Djokovic could be fatigued after his run to the title in Madrid. He’s been pretty erratic this season so looks a short price at 3/1.
If you fancy a bigger price alternative in his half then Kei Nishikori could be worth a punt. The Japanese star has been steady rather than spectacular on clay so far this year. A semi-final run in Barcelona (where conditions are pretty slow like Rome) is his best showing to date.
His draw is decent and he’s good enough to set up a last eight clash with Alexander Zverev. That would be a fascinating duel but Nishikori beat Zverev on their only ever previous meeting on the dirt (Monte Carlo 2018) so he looks worthy of an each-way tickle at 40/1.
Bilko’s Banker: Rafael Nadal to win the Rome Masters at 5/4 (bet365)
Best of the Rest #1: Kei Nishikori to win the Rome Masters at 40/1 (bet365/888 Sport (both have betting sites offers)
Best of the Rest #2: Name the finalists – Nadal/Nishikori at 70/1 (Paddy Power)
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