The start of the European clay court season sees Rafael Nadal take the spotlight as he returns to a tournament where he has been completely dominant in recent years.
Indisputably the King of Clay, Nadal has won the Monte-Carlo Masters an incredible 11 times during his career, including in each of the last three seasons. It is no surprise to see he has been made a big favourite by the top tennis bookmakers for this year’s tournament.
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The main competition for Nadal is likely to come from rival Novak Djokovic, who has won here twice before in his career, those successes coming in 2013 and 2015. However, Djokovic has not been able to get through to the final in any of the last three seasons.
Nevertheless, Djokovic is widely expected to offer the main competition to Nadal this week and he has even been made the number one seed ahead of the Spaniard.
Kei Nishikori got to the final a year ago so he is another player who could be in contention for honours during this year’s competition, while Dominic Thiem’s experience and clay court expertise suggests the Austrian is another strong name in the frame as well.
But the bookies are clear that Nadal is the man to beat here and his record stands for itself. He is offered at just 10/11 to win the 2019 Monte-Carlo Masters for what would be the fourth year running.
Nadal, Nishikori Drawn in Same Half
There cannot be a repeat of the final from 12 months ago as Nadal and Nishikori are both in the bottom half of the draw for this year’s tournament in Monte-Carlo.
Nadal’s path deep into the draw does not look to be too testing, at least not for a player widely regarded as the greatest ever on his preferred surface of clay.
Potential second-round opponent Roberto Bautista Agut would undoubtedly offer Nadal a decent match but the 11-time Monte-Carlo winner would still be expected to come through.
It is tricky to guess who Nadal could face in the quarter-finals as this section of the draw looks to be quite open. Among the contenders to get to the last eight are Marco Cecchinato, who announced himself on the global stage with a shock run to the French Open semis last year.
The Italian can be backed at odds of 66/1, reflecting his presence in Nadal’s quarter. Lucas Pouille showed his talent in getting to the last four of the Australian Open at the start of this year but has badly struggled for form, while Stan Wawrinka is always worth watching. The experienced Swiss player is offered at 33/1, which might be decent each-way value.
Zverev Hopes Fading
Nishikori – offered at around 25/1 – has been placed in the same quarter as Alexander Zverev, the third seed here but who is struggling for a little bit of form and consistency so far this year.
Zverev might not even get through to a potential quarter-final clash with Nishikori as his draw looks to be pretty tough. In the second round he is expected to come up against Felix Auger-Aliassime, with Fabio Fognini his most likely opponent after that match.
The third quarter is actually packed with intriguing names. Fernando Verdasco is here, with the veteran Spaniard always a threat on clay, as is the rising star Borna Coric, who is the ninth seed. Coric can be backed at 66/1, which has to be worthy of consideration at small stakes.
Is Djokovic the man to stop Nadal?
Nadal reaching the final is almost a given, with the draw setting up a potential clash with Djokovic for the title. The Serbian is offered at 3/1 despite some fairly underwhelming form.
Djokovic made little impression in his brief appearances at Indian Wells and Miami Masters. Philipp Kohlschreiber beat him in Indian Wells and they are set to face off early again here.
Assuming Djokovic gets revenge to go through to the third round he is likely to come up against the Kyle Edmund, although Diego Schwartzman is a tricky first-round test for the Briton.
Stefanos Tsitsipas got to the final of the Barcelona Open a year ago so the Greek obviously has some ability on clay and he makes for an interesting possible quarter-final foe for Djokovic.
Tsitsipas is keenly priced at 25/1, odds that could start to look very short indeed if he shows off the massive talent that has made many tip him as a future multiple major tournament winner.
Thiem on Track for Long Run
The biggest name in the second quarter of the draw is Thiem, with the Austrian made the fourth seed and therefore expected to get through to the semis for a possible clash with Djokovic.
Much is expected of Thiem in this year’s clay-court season after he got to the final at Roland Garros 12 months ago, while his shock defeat of Roger Federer – absent this week – to claim the Indian Wells title recently indicated he is finally starting to thrive and find regular consistency.
Thiem (13/2) has a mediocre record at the Monte-Carlo Masters so he will want to put that right this year. He has Martin Klizan as a probable second-round opponent before likely coming up against David Goffin. Thiem should therefore get through to the quarter-finals, where he could meet Karen Khachanov (40/1), who beat him en route to becoming Paris Masters champion.
Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters Best Bets
A Nadal v Djokovic final is inevitable according to the bookmakers but with both men priced so low for the title it is hard to get excited about either of them. Nadal’s dominance of this event means he is still the most likely winner, but there are few rewards on offer at odds of 10/11.
A search for betting value comes up with a couple of intriguing propositions. In the opposite half of the draw to Nadal, Thiem has a great chance of reaching the final and 13/2 is quite fair.
Those willing to test the water at larger odds will find a lot to like about 40/1 for Khachanov, who has a great chance of getting through to at least the quarter-finals. He has beaten Thiem before in a big match so would have nothing to fear from a last-eight clash with the Austrian.
Coric’s 66/1 looks to be far too big for a player who will soon be considered among the leading contenders to win tournaments such as the Monte-Carlo Masters, although this year could prove too soon for the exciting young Croatian.
Instead, perhaps the rising Greek star Tsitsipas will give fans a run for their money at 25/1.