Having sided with Novak Djokovic during both ATP 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami on what would have to be considered Djokovic’s favoured surface, I was a little perturbed to witness the Serbian inflict a somewhat surprising straight sets defeat on eight-time Monte Carlo champion Rafael Nadal on Sunday afternoon. Take nothing away from Djokovic however, he played some inspired tennis and a lacklustre Nadal couldn’t take his chances, despite being a break of serve up on more than one occasion during the second set. The result itself has had a knock on effect in terms of the French Open outright market with Nadal drifting to a price of 1.86 and Djokovic shortening to 2.76 at time of writing, making Roland Garros of 2013 looking more and more like a two horse race. Column pick Richard Gasquet advanced to the last eight and could possibly have seen off Fabio Fognini in their quarter final match. Unfortunately fatigue seemed to affect the Frenchman and he was unable to advance further.

The next seven days consists of more energy-sapping action on the dirt of Barcelona and Bucharest, with the former of the two events particularly well attended.

ATP Barcelona

Seven of the world’s top twenty make the short journey from France to Spain and it is second seed Rafael Nadal who can boast an almost identically dominant tournament record to Monte Carlo. Aside from 2010 when compatriot Fernando Verdasco secured the title, Nadal has won the event each and every year since 2005 and few would bet against him making it an eighth success here. Nadal wasn’t any sort of price last week in Monte Carlo and that was against the likes of Djokovic and Murray etc. so it’s hard to envisage Nadal being anything other than shorter this week. For that reason, it might pay to look within the opposite side of the draw for a likely finalist.

You need to go all the way back to 2002 on the tournament roll of honour to find a champion outside of Spain (Gaston Gaudio of Argentina) and I’m inclined to think the Spanish dominance might just continue. Nadal, David Ferrer, and Nicolas Almagro are all adept on the surface and should still be around come the business end of the tournament and it is the last mentioned of the trio that I’ll be siding with. Twice a semi-finalist here, Almagro has shown he knows what it takes to win matches here and I believe he’ll improve on his 17-9 record at the event. Understandably Nadal and Ferrer will start at shorter prices in the betting but with Nadal an unbackable price and Ferrer defeated in four of the last five finals here, Almagro represents a spot of value. He did everything but beat Ferrer earlier this year in January at the Australian Open and given another chance here (they are on course to meet in the semi finals), I think he may just have the measure of his nemesis. Arguably, Nadal has more of a hold over Ferrer than Ferrer has over Almagro himself but I’m encouraged by Almagro’s efforts against Rafa in their previous encounters. On the face of it, there is little encouragement to take from nine straight losses but Almagro has lost tight first sets in their last six matches (7-5, 7-6, 7-6, and 7-5) and in the other two matches, he’s even managed to pinch the first set. It’s a big ask for Almagro to negotiate his way through the draw, defeat Ferrer, and then give Nadal a run for his money but at a price likely to be three times that of Ferrer’s, Almagro is the value pick in my mind this week.

Selection: Nicolas Almagro

ATP Bucharest

The second event on tour this week is a lesser event in terms of ranking points (250 instead of the 500 available in Barcelona). This doesn’t detract from the calibre of players participating in the Romanian capital. Top seed Janko Tipsarevic hasn’t really enjoyed a great 2013 thus far and is 9-7 for the season so far. My suspicion is that Bucharest may not have been a fixture on his schedule for this year and is a suspicion enhanced by Tipsarevic accepting a wildcard into the event. This is his second visit to the event (suffered a first round exit in 2005) and considering his current level of form, I simply can’t have him this week. More interesting is perhaps Mikhail Youzhny at a double figure price and I was encouraged by his form against Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo last week. Similar to Tipsarevic, Youzhny hasn’t really got started in 2013 and has had a hit and miss few months but could get his season back on track this week. This will be the Russian’s first visit to Bucharest and the fourth seed who finds himself at a disappointing 27th in the world rankings could benefit from what looks to be a winnable-looking event. We could give any number of players a chance this week but Gilles Simon, Janko Tipsarevic, and Andreas Seppi could all prove to be a little on the short side. A price of around the 12/1 mark for Youzhny is an attractive one and I’d be hopeful (if not expectant) of a an improved performance this week, with Youzhny building on his play in France last week.

Selection: Mikhail Youzhny

Follow Chris on Twitter @cdquinn86

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