Clay court campaign moves on to Madrid Open
With ATP world number one Novak Djokovic missing the Madrid Open as he rests ahead of the French Open, usual suspects Rafael Nadal (2/1 favourite with Coral) and Roger Federer (4/1) lead the market for the latest clay court tournament.
Other top seeds in the men’s singles draw include Great Britain’s Andy Murray (11/2), winner of this event when it was last held indoors on a hard surface back in 2008, and last year’s beaten finalist Kei Nishikori (9/2 to go one better here).
These contenders will have to wait until later in the week to begin their bids to stop ‘the King of Clay’ Nadal from netting a third straight title in his homeland, but before then there are some interesting encounters.
Ninth seed and world number 10 Marin Cilic clashes with Czech player Jiri Vesely for the first time ever here. Ranked 25 places above his opponent, the Croatian may not be fancied for the title in Madrid at 80/1, but is odds-on at 1/2 to take his opening match and 5/4 to do so in straight sets.
Vesely, 21, will be full of confidence, however, after getting a wildcard entry into the draw in place of Djokovic and finishing runner-up at the recent Romanian Open on this surface in Bucharest. Having won his first pro tour title earlier in the year at Auckland, odds of 6/4 for the Czech to stun Cilic are well worth considering.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, seeded 12th, meanwhile, has a perfect two wins out of two against Vesely’s compatriot Lukas Rosol, and beat him in straight sets on both those occasions. To enhance the odds-on 2/7 price for a Tsonga victory, punters should take 8/11 on the Frenchman winning without dropping a set again.
In the women’s singles draw, defending Madrid ladies champion Maria Sharapova, who is seeded third, plays Swiss-born Timea Bacsinszky for the first time on clay, having being stunned in straight sets in their initial encounter last year.
Russian star Sharapova set that shock loss in China straight by subsequently crushing Bacsinszky, of Romanian and Hungarian parentage, at Wimbledon, dropping just three games against her in SW19.
This explains an outside price of 5/2 for another upset. Sharapova is strongly odds-on, however, at 2/7 to win and 4/5 to do so in straight sets.
WTA world number 12 Angelique Kerber, meanwhile, must be wary of opening Madrid opponent Sam Stosur, because she lost to the Aussie in their only previous meeting on clay.
There’s nothing to choose between these two in previous head-to-heads at a couple of victories each, so Stosur looks real value at 2/1 to knock Kerber out here, and is a nifty 9/2 to do so in three sets again.
Runner-up in 2014 and second seed Simona Halep only has a 33 per cent success ratio against Alize Cornet, so the Frenchwoman is a fabulous 4/1 to stun the Romanian who has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence on the women’s tour.
Perhaps the tie of round one, though, is veteran Venus Williams, sister of top seed Serena, playing twice beaten Madrid finalist Victoria Azarenka.
Belarus’ best export and two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka defeated Grand Slam great Venus in Doha earlier this year at the semi-final stage when given a wildcard.
It’s odds-on to happen again at 4/7, though the older of the Williams sisters boasts a 4-1 head-to-head advantage over Azarenka. Venus is 5/4 to avenge that high-profile losS from February. Azarenka looks a great bet if it goes to three sets, though, at 11/4.