After a really poor year by his own standards, Rafa Nadal lived up to his ‘King of Clay’ billing with a fine victory at the Monte Carlo Masters last week; defeating the likes of Andy Murray, the in-form Dominic Thiem and the impressive Gael Monfils along the way. Not bad for a player who many had branded as ‘finished’ following months of inconsistent play and injuries.
But there’s no rest for the wicked as the old saying goes, and this week Nadal has returned to his native Spain for the ATP Barcelona event on his favourite red stuff.
With such a fine return to form – and a field lacking in depth and quality – it is unsurprising to see the Spaniard priced as short as 8/13 to win this event; there’s only Kei Nishikori, the reigning champion here, who can derail Nadal. Indeed, his run to the final looks as charmed as it could be: Albert Montanes-Fabio Fognini-Phillip Kohlschreiber is his likely route, and they don’t come much more agreeable than that.
There are a few more obstacles awaiting Nishikori on the other side of the draw, so it is well worth investigating if any longshot contenders are backable on an each way basis.
Each Way Candidates
There is something rather hypnotic about the way Benoit Paire plays tennis; particularly on clay. He is the epitome of a ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ player – brilliant one day, awful the next. That kind of inconsistency makes him a nightmare to back, but if he can string a series of good performances together then he is more than capable of reaching the final – at least – here. At 28/1, he will be supported on that quest.
Paire is just one of a number of potential adversaries for Nishikori in the bottom half of the draw. The Frenchman plays Pablo Cuevas in the next round – himself a more than capable clay court specialist with two titles in South America to his name already this term. The winner of that could meet the hugely talented Alex Zverev in the quarter-finals, and of the trio it is perhaps Cuevas who is the most reliable punt given his form on slow courts this season. He would then presumably have to beat Nishikori in the last four, so at 16/1 the quotes on the Uruguayan are tempting.
Nishikori could meet Alexandr Dolgopolov in his own quarter final, and like Paire the Ukrainian is capable of everything and nothing (sometimes in the same match). He is a horrible player to draw, so the Japanese ace will need to be on his mettle to overcome the world number 30.
Finally, a quick word about the second of the ATP events this week in Bucharest. Also played out on clay, this looks a more appetising contest for punters to sink their teeth into.
The top two seeds in Romania are Bernard Tomic and Ivo Karlovic, and neither of those is particularly strong on clay. Potential foes for Tomic include Fernando Verdasco and reigning champion Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, so if you dabble in the exchanges feel free to lay the Aussie instantly.
The most likely winner in the field is Federico Delbonis (4/1), who won in Casablanca on clay just a fortnight ago and triumphed in two Challenger events on the slow stuff in 2015. He’s not outstanding by any means, but certainly more reliable a bet than his closest rival in this tournament, the mercurial Verdasco, who has not gone past the quarter-finals of an event since April ’15.