Monday Topspin: Seven in a Row

King of Clay: It’s no shocker, but it’s still mighty impressive.  Rafael Nadal won his 7th consecutive Monte Carlo championship, defeating David Ferrer in a tight match.  It’s a sign of just how dominant Rafa is on clay that his last two matches actually represent a step forward for the field–Andy Murray took a set on Saturday, and there was very little separating Nadal and Ferrer yesterday.

In fact, if I were a fellow player watching those matches, I might think–for the first time in at least a year–that Nadal can be beaten.  Murray showed that you can beat him (at least for a string of several games) at his own game, with a heavy dose of patient defense and the occasional attack.  Yesterday, Rafa was off his game, and it was enough to give Ferrer several chances.  In fact, here’s a bold prediction for you: I’m going on record saying that Nadal will lose a match on clay this year.

Betting on it: I don’t think the oddsmakers agree with me.  The betting lines on Nadal’s matches last week were absolutely off the charts.  Before Rafa’s second-rounder with Jarkko Nieminen, at one point you could have gotten 120-1 odds on the Finn.  Sportsbooks were giving both Richard Gasquet and Ivan Ljubicic about a 3.5% chance of winning, and even Andy Murray merited only a 9% chance.  Hey, maybe those odds are correct, but … a top 5 player going off at 11-1?  Amazing.

Rankings: The biggest points gainer of the week is Ferrer, who improved on his previous result in Monte Carlo, but he stays at #6, merely closing the gap separating him from Robin Soderling.  Other players whose rankings benefited from the tournament include Milos Raonic, up 6 places to #28, Ivan Ljubicic, up 7 to #33, and surprise quarterfinalist Frederico Gil, up 18 to a new career high of #64.

Two challenger winners climbed to new career highs: Matthias Bachinger, champion in Athens, breaks into the top 100 for the first time at #99, while Thomas Schoorel, the Rome titlist, jumps 36 places to 126.  Also notable is Tallahassee winner Donald Young, up 24 to #98.

The loser of the week is, without question, Fernando Verdasco.  Finalist last year in Monte Carlo, he lost his first match and his place in the top 10, falling four places to #12.

Barcelona: The first round in Spain is in progress, and after the star-studded cast in Monte Carlo, it’s a bit of a letdown.  While there’s plenty of firepower at the top of the draw–Nadal, Murray, Ferrer, and Soderling are all present–the top eight seeds have byes in the first round, leaving something that looks more like Monte Carlo qualifying.  The highlight of today’s action is probably the last match of the day, between Juan Monaco and Grigor Dimitrov.

We’ll have to wait until tomorrow for the biggest story of the opening round: the return of Juan Carlos Ferrero.  He hasn’t played since last year’s U.S. Open, and has seen his ranking fall to #77 in that time.  He’ll begin with a match against Xavier Malisse for a chance to play Murray.

Beyond that, it’s a clay-courter’s paradise.  14 of the 56 men in the main draw are Spainards, and the percentage of locals may climb even higher after the first round.  Also of interest in the country count: There’s only one American in the draw, and it’s Robert Kendrick.  That must be a first for him at the ATP level.

Housekeeping: As regular readers surely noticed, I wasn’t able to keep up my daily schedule last week.  Unfortunately, that’s probably a sign of things to come.  I’ll keep posting as much as my schedule allows.

Also, later today, as soon as I can get my databases updated, I’ll post my projections for Barcelona.  It will be a little silly with so much of the first round on record, but I like to get this stuff on record.

4 thoughts on “Monday Topspin: Seven in a Row”

  1. Jeff,
    I like your prediction that Nadal will lose once on clay this season, so long as he plays 4 more events including Paris. I just don’t see how anyone can do that and go the distance winning all 5 events. He hasn’t done that before, and though he’s won all 4 of the Spring Euro-clay events 4 times (’05, ’06, ’07, ’09), I don’t see why he’d imagine he needs to try to add a 5th this year. I think it’s more likely that he will withdraw from one – my friend Xavier Esteves suggests Rome would fall. I hope he dumps one, or we may lose him for the rest of the year as the man to beat.

    1. Yep, I can definitely seeing Rome as the one that falls — either because he withdraws, or because that’s where he’s finally beaten. Madrid’s also a possibility for a site of the defeat, since (a) Djokovic will be playing, and (b) the ball moves faster there — that’s where Fed beat him two years ago.

  2. On the topic of Rafa’s Spring schedule, here’s what his own quotes revealed yesterday about his ‘planning’/thinking:

    “Every year I did a fantastic clay court season. I have to try to do it another time. With these four or five tournaments, if I am playing very well, I’m going to have the biggest chances to have enough points to try to be in the top position at the end of the year ranking. That’s the top of my system in general. So I have to try… I am healthy now, so why not?”

    “Indian Wells toWimbledon is the most [important] part of the season for me. These four or five months are decisive in my season,” assessed Nadal.

    He could sensibly fear the more impossible task for him this year is to successfully defend all 3 upcoming majors, and wish to bank as many clay points as possible before the summer. I think that with Juan Martin coming back strong and Joker looking almost unbeatable on asphalt, Rafa’s odds of sustaining his unbeaten run through the Open seem dim.


  3. His schedule seems crazy. Seems like he’s content to just defend his clay points and let Novak take #1 for a bit later in the year.

    I suppose not his fault for winning all the time.

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