Novak Djokovic defeated Andy Murray two weeks back in a rather one-sided final which saw readers (and hopefully supporters!) of my BETDAQ column pocket a fourth winner in five weeks. After a brief respite and some entertaining Davis Cup rubbers, the clay court swing really moves up a gear this week with ATP 250 events in North Africa and North America. Preparations for the year’s second Grand Slam at Roland Garros in late-May get underway over the next seven days for many of the players on tour but perhaps it isn’t an altogether big surprise to see just one of the World’s top 10 in action this week, with the Monte Carlo Masters commencing on Monday week. Nevertheless, players will be keen to hit the ground running and rack up as many ranking points as possible before the so-called ‘big guns’ resurface in the Principality of Monaco.
The weaker of the two fields is possibly found in Casablanca with Germany’s Florian Mayer having the honour of the top seed for the event. His record on clay reads 70-59 so he’s lost almost as many matches as he’s won and despite having participated in Morocco three times previously, he’s never advanced past the second round. I see the weak field as an opportunity to seek out some value and I’m going to take a view from the outset that all eight seeded players can probably be opposed.
Filippo Volandri (pictured) is not a player I’d trust with stolen money under most circumstances and this is a rare week where a case can be made for the Italian. He comes into this week off the back of a final appearance in a challenger event (also in Morocco) and has a semi final appearance in Casablanca to his name, albeit back in 2005. As strong a case could be made for well over half of the field though so I’d be keeping stakes to a minimum if backing the unpredictable Volandri. If Volandri can carry the momentum from one Moroccan tournament to another, he’ll have as good a chance as any to lift the trophy this week.
Selection – Filippo Volandri
In the second clay court event of the week, the tournament organisers in Houston are well represented with the top two seeds being Mardy Fish and man of the moment John Isner. The latter has been in the form of his life over the last few weeks, resulting in the big-serving American breaking into the World’s top ten for the first time in his career. Despite an uninspiring third round defeat in Australia to Feliciano Lopez, he has since gone on to beat Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in their own backyards in the Davis Cup, as well as making the final in the ATP 1000 event in Indian Wells, which included a semi-final defeat of the World number one Novak Djokovic. A lot of people have been suggesting Isner is very much a one-trick pony in terms of what he brings to the court, his serve is one of the biggest weapons in men’s tennis and cannot be underestimated. That said, I’ve been impressed by the improved movement of the 6’9” American, both of his wins over Federer and Tsonga were on his least favoured clay so he cannot be underestimated this week. I am a little concerned at the lack of tournament form however, especially as he has visited Houston the last four years, never made it past the last eight, and only had one straight sets match in seven. I would think his price will reflect his recent good form and is probably worth taking on.
Juan Monaco is where my money will be going this week. He ticks the current form box (semi finalist in Miami and tournament winner in Chile), and I like the fact he recently beat top-seed Mardy Fish on a surface that probably favoured the American more so than Monaco. The win was also fairly comprehensive for the Argentinean and I’d fancy him to repeat the feat on the red stuff. Other seeded players in Monaco’s half of the draw include Kevin Anderson and Alex Bogomolov Jr. and I wouldn’t be overly convinced by either’s likelihood of beating Monaco. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t strong enough to reach the semi-finals at worst and with Fish standing between him and an appearance in his second final of the year, I’m confident Monaco can show punters that he is a lively outsider for the French Open.
Selection – Juan Monaco
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