Rafael Nadal’s Wide-Open Monte Carlo Draw

This afternoon, Rafael Nadal will take on Albert Ramos for a chance at his tenth Monte Carlo Masters title. Since 2005, Nadal has faced the best clay-court players in the sport and, with very few exceptions, beaten them all.

Yet this year, Nadal’s path to the trophy has been remarkably easy. The three top seeds–Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, and Stan Wawrinka–all lost early, leaving Nadal to face David Goffin in the semifinals and Ramos (who ousted Murray) in the final. Goffin, at No. 13, was Rafa’s highest ranked opponent, followed by Alexander Zverev, at No. 20, who Nadal crushed in the third round.

When we run the numbers, we’ll see that this competition isn’t just weak: It’s the weakest faced by any Masters titlist in recent history. I’ll get into the mechanics and show you some numbers in a minute.

First, a disclaimer. By saying a draw is weak, I’m not arguing that the title “means less” or is somehow less deserved. It’s not in any way a reflection on the player. For all we know, Rafa would’ve cruised through the draw had he faced the toughest possible opponent in every round. The only thing a weak draw tells us about the champion is how to forecast his future. Had Nadal beaten multiple top-ten players this week, we might be more confident predicting future success for him than we are now, after he has beaten up on a bunch of players we already suspected he’d have no problem with.

Back to the numbers. To measure the difficulty of a player’s draw, I used jrank–my own surface-adjusted rating system, roughly similar to Elo–at the time of each Masters event back to 2002. For each tournament, I found the jrank of each player the titlist defeated, and calculated the likelihood that a typical Masters winner would beat that group of players.

That’s a mouthful, so let’s walk through an example. In the last 15 years, the median Masters winner was ranked No. 3, with a jrank (for the surface of the tournament) of about 4700, good for fourth at the moment. A 4700-rated player would have an 85.7% chance of beating Ramos, a 75.7% chance of defeating Goffin, and 87.3%, 68.4%, and 88.7% chances of knocking out Diego Schwartzman, Zverev, and Kyle Edmund, respectively. Multiply those together, and our average Masters winner would have a 34.3% chance of claiming the trophy, given that competition.

I’m using a hypothetical average Masters winner so that we measure the level of competition against a constant level. It doesn’t matter whether 2017 Nadal, peak Nadal, or someone else entirely played that series of opponents. If Djokovic had faced the same five players, we’d want the numbers to come out the same.

Here are the ten easiest paths to a Masters title since 2002, measured by this algorithm:

Year  Event                Winner          Path Ease  
2017  Monte Carlo Masters  Rafael Nadal*       34.3%  
2016  Shanghai Masters     Andy Murray         33.0%  
2011  Shanghai Masters     Andy Murray         30.8%  
2013  Madrid Masters       Rafael Nadal        30.8%  
2012  Paris Masters        David Ferrer        30.4%  
2010  Monte Carlo Masters  Rafael Nadal        27.3%  
2012  Canada Masters       Novak Djokovic      25.8%  
2014  Madrid Masters       Rafael Nadal        25.3%  
2016  Paris Masters        Andy Murray         24.7%  
2010  Rome Masters         Rafael Nadal        24.6%

* pending; extremely likely

The average ‘Path Ease’ is 15.6%, and as we’ll see in a moment, some players have had it much, much harder. In Shanghai last year, Murray certainly did not: His draw turned out much like Rafa’s this week, complete with Goffin along the way and a three-named Spaniard in the final–in his case, Roberto Bautista Agut.

Here are the ten most difficult paths:

Year  Event                 Winner              Path Ease  
2007  Madrid Masters        David Nalbandian         4.1%  
2007  Paris Masters         David Nalbandian         6.2%  
2014  Canada Masters        Jo Wilfried Tsonga       6.6%  
2011  Rome Masters          Novak Djokovic           6.6%  
2009  Madrid Masters        Roger Federer            7.0%  
2010  Canada Masters        Andy Murray              7.7%  
2004  Cincinnati Masters    Andre Agassi             7.9%  
2007  Canada Masters        Novak Djokovic           8.0%  
2009  Indian Wells Masters  Rafael Nadal             8.0%  
2002  Canada Masters        Guillermo Canas          8.4%

Those of us who remember the end of David Nalbandian‘s 2007 season won’t be surprised to see him atop this list. In Madrid, he beat Nadal, Djokovic, and Roger Federer in the final three rounds, and in Paris, he knocked out Federer and Nadal again, along with three other top-16 players. Making his paths even more difficult, he didn’t earn a first-round bye in either event.

Given that Monte Carlo is the one non-mandatory Masters event, I expected that, over the years, it would prove to have the weakest competition. That was wrong. Entering this week, Monte Carlo is only fourth-easiest of the nine current 1000-series events. Indian Wells–which requires at least six victories for a title, unlike most of the others, which require only five–has been the toughest, while Miami, which also requires six wins, is closer to the middle of the pack:

Event         Avg Path Ease  
Indian Wells          12.8%  
Canada                14.3%  
Rome                  14.6%  
Miami                 15.3%  
Cincinnati            15.7%  
Monte Carlo*          16.5%  
Madrid**              16.7%  
Paris                 16.8%  
Shanghai              21.5%

* through 2016; ** hard- and clay-court eras included

Finally, seeing the presence of Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray on the list of easiest title paths raises another question. How have the big four’s levels of competition differed at the Masters events?

Player          Titles  Avg Path Ease  
Roger Federer       26          14.6%  
Novak Djokovic      30          16.1%  
Rafael Nadal        28          16.7%  
Andy Murray         14          18.1%

not including 2017 Monte Carlo

Federer has had the most difficult paths, followed by Djokovic, Nadal, and then Murray. Assuming Rafa wins today, his number will tick up to 17.3%.

To reach ten titles at a single event, as Nadal is on the brink of doing in Monte Carlo, requires one to thrive regardless of draw luck. Rafa’s path to the trophy last year was tougher than any of his previous Monte Carlo campaigns, rating a Path Ease of 9.1%, almost difficult enough to show up on the top ten list displayed above. His 2008 title was no cakewalk either–a typical Masters winner would have only a 10.0% chance of coming through that draw successfully.

This year, Rafa’s luck has decidedly changed. To no one’s surprise, the best clay court player in history is taking full advantage.

Wednesday Topspin: The Underdog Three-Seed

Back on the board: It’s a strange situation when you don’t really expect a top-five player to win his opening match.  Yet Andy Murray had plenty of doubters before he finally won his first match since the Australian Open.  As it turned out, he made easy work of Radek Stepanek, advancing to the round of 16 in straight sets.

Murray’s seeded, straight-set win was indicative of the entire round.  Only two seeds lost in the 16 second-round matches, and only a couple other matches could be considered upsets.  What’s more, only three matches in the round went to a third set.

The one major upset went to a man having nearly as rough a season as Murray: Fernando Verdasco.  He lost in straight sets to Tommy Robredo, landing only 53% of his first serves.  I suppose that isn’t quite as painful as losing to Pablo Andujar on a hard court, but it does nasty work to his ranking.  Verdasco reached the final last year, so he’ll fall at least four spots to #12.

A lesser surprise, but still notable, was Milos Raonic’s win over Ernests Gulbis.  Both players suffered some mental hiccups–Raonic couldn’t close out the match with 40-0 on his own racquet–but as usual, Gulbis’s mind lost the match for him.  A bad call in the middle of the first set kept him chattering at the umpire for the next several changeovers, and that was more than enough to give Raonic the first set.  The Latvian didn’t return to form until midway through the second, and Raonic was too strong to let it slip away.

The round of 16: You have to feel bad for Richard Gasquet–he showed fantastic form in beating Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, and he’s rewarded by a match with Rafael Nadal.  At Monte Carlo, that’s just an elaborate form of ritual sacrifice.  At least the sportsbooks think more highly of him than they did of Jarkko Nieminen–Gasquet gets a 3.5% chance of beating Rafa, while at one point, oddsmakers were giving Nieminen less than 1%.

Thanks to the surface, the best bet for an upset tomorrow is the match between Tommy Robredo and Viktor Troicki.  Troicki is the seed, but of course Robredo is at home on clay.  My system gives the Spainard a 54% chance of winning, while oddsmakers set it at closer to 62%.  It’s a better deal for Troicki than a matchup against Verdasco, but it will still be impressive for him to get through.

The winner of Robredo-Troicki faces the winner of Raonic-David Ferrer.  Ferrer was the man who finally stopped Raonic in Australia, and on clay, he should have an easier time of it.  His 6-2 6-0 drubbing of Feliciano Lopez today certainly suggests that he’s in form.  Then again, the Canadian has exceeded expectations in both round so far, and he has the benefit of zero expectations.

There’s plenty more to look forward to.  Both my system and the sportsbooks forecast a tight contest between Nicholas Almagro and Jurgen Melzer; Almagro fought through a three-setter with two tiebreaks to beat Maximo Gonzalez today.  In the other half of the draw, Murray will face a tough match against Gilles Simon, who has cruised through his first two rounds.  And Roger Federer will try to fend off Marin Cilic.

Challengers: Just a couple of quick updates today. Cedrik-Marcel Stebe continues to impress, taking out Evgeny Donskoy for a quarterfinal berth in Rome.  He’ll face yet another youngster, the tall lefty Thomas Schoorel, who has beaten two qualifiers to get this far.

In Tallahassee, James Blake needed three sets to get past Frank Dancevic.  He’ll play Amer Delic later today for a spot in the quarters.  The first man into the quarters was Donald Young, who can look forward to a probably matchup with top seed Rainer Schuettler.

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday Topspin: Federer Cruising

Kohl down: A couple of days ago, I suggested that Roger Federer might have his hands full with a second-round matchup against Philipp Kohlschreiber.  While Kohlschreiber looked great in Indian Wells, knocking out Robin Soderling and nearly upsetting Juan Martin del Potro, he didn’t do much to justify my optimism this week.  He just barely made it past Andrey Golubev, and earlier today, lost to Federer, winning only three games and 36% of total points.

Federer has gotten a head start on the pack, becoming the first man into the round of 16, and one of only two of the top eight seeds in action today.  (The other is Tomas Berdych, who will take on Olivier Rochus later.)  Federer’s section of the draw is distinctly unchallenging; his likely next opponent is Marin Cilic, and after that, he’s seeded to play Jurgen Melzer (or, very possibly Nicholas Almagro).  If he reaches the semifinal, we could be treated to an interesting contrast of clay-court styles, as his probable opponent is either David Ferrer or Fernando Verdasco.

Sets up: There haven’t been a lot of upsets so far in the first round, but a slew of matches have gotten interesting.  Among yesterday’s 13 first-rounders, 7 went to a deciding set.  Already today, three more have done so, including the clash between Feliciano Lopez and Janko Tipsarevic, which Lopez won in a third-set tiebreak.  Ivan Ljubicic has just taken the first set from Jo-Wilfriend Tsonga, which means we’ll either see an upset or yet another three-setter.

A fascinating match still on tap for today is a second-rounder between Ernests Gulbis and Milos Raonic.  As I mentioned yesterday, Gulbis had an excellent clay season last year, even if his dreadful recent results tend to camouflage them.  Raonic, of course, has virtually no history on the surface, yet it didn’t stop him from advancing past Michael Llodra.  Oddsmakers give Gulbis a 67% chance of winning, which is almost exactly what my system says, as well.

Five challengers: Thanks to the small Monte Carlo draw, plenty of top-100 players are contesting challengers this week.  There are five of them, meaning that the talent is spread fairly thin.  As I noted over the weekend, the top tourney is in Rome, where a handful of youngsters are in the field.  That event has already seen a major upset, as Serbian qualifier Boris Pashanski knocked out #2 seed Bjorn Phau.  Top seed Andreas Haider-Maurer also has his hands full with an opening matchup against Uladzimir Ignatik.

In Athens, the field is not as strong, but two good players anchor the draw.  Benjamin Becker is the top seed, while Dmitri Tursunov is #2.  In Brazil, the tournament in Blumenau keeps the South American clay circuit going.  Tiago Fernandes, the surprise finalist last week, is in the draw, as are the winners from two weeks ago in Barletta and Barranquilla, Aljaz Bedene and Facundo Bagnis.  There’s also plenty of experience there, as the field includes Martin Vassallo Arguello, Jose Acasuso, and Nicholas Massu.

Plenty of notable Americans are playing at the Tallahassee event, including wild card James Blake and fourth-seed Ryan Sweeting.  Also of interest is a first-round match between wild cards Denis Kudla and Michael Shabaz, as well as the presence of Wayne Odesnik, who qualified.  Finally, Dustin Brown highlights the field in Johannesburg, the weakest of the five events at this level.  Clearly, there will be plenty of tennis to follow this week.

See you tomorrow!

Monday Topspin: First-timers

New titlists: We have two first-time champions on the ATP tour: Pablo Andujar and Ryan Sweeting.  Andujar got better as the week went on in Casablanca, going three sets in the first round against Florent Serra, to a tiebreak against Jeremy Chardy in the second, and finally disposing of Potito Starace 6-1 6-2 in yesterday’s final.  He is definitely a man to watch over the next two months; he’ll next play in Barcelona.

Sweeting was the upset winner over Kei Nishikori in Houston, surprising just about everybody by playing so well on clay.  It was a very close match: the American won 51% of total points, and a lower percentage of service points than his opponent did.  Nishikori may be the more heralded prospect, but Sweeting is working his way up the scale.

New rankings: Champions Andujar and Sweeting are two of the biggest gainers in this week’s rankings, as both ascend to new career highs.  Andujar rises to #52, Sweeting to #67.  Also notable is Nishikori’s jump to #48, also a personal best for him.

The biggest losers are last year’s titlists in Casabalanca and Houston: Stanislas Wawrinka and Juan Ignacio Chela, neither of whom played this week.  Wawrinka drops two spots to #15, while Chela crashes 14 places to #42.

Challenger winners last week were Julian Reister, who breaks into the top 100 for the first time, Tatsuma Ito, who defeated the weak field in Recife, and Paolo Lorenzi, winner in Pereira.  Also of note is Tiago Fernandes, a wild card who reached the final in Recife before he withdrew.  His three-set battle with Julio Silva in the semifinals helped him jump 129 ranking points to #380.

Monte Carlo: If you missed them yesterday, be sure to check out the results of my Monte Carlo simulation.  My clay rankings are in many ways more interesting than the hard court rankings, since they differ so much more from the standard ATP list.

A couple interesting examples of the difference have already been on display.  Yesterday, oddsmakers heavily favored Alexandr Dolgopolov over Ernests Gulbis, only to see the higher-ranked Dolgo lose in straight sets.  By contrast, my system recognizes his three straight quarterfinal appearances in last year’s clay season, including a win over Roger Federer.  Accordingly, it saw the Gulbis win coming, giving the Latvian a 67% chance of advancing.

Here’s another one: Olivier Rochus just snuck by Chela in three sets.  Sportsbooks gave Chela a roughly 65% chance of winning, while my predictions set him at a more modest 54%.  Rochus has had plenty of success on clay, especially at the challenger level, while my system sees Chela as somewhat overrated on the surface.

Of course, we could cherry-pick all day, and we’d be sure to find plenty of examples where my system went wrong.  All I want to highlight is that predicting clay court results is tricky, and it’s easy to give too much weight to recent results (Dolgopolov) or clay reputation (Chela).

In addition to the two matches I’ve already mentioned, today has already seen a notable upset: Florian Mayer over Mikhail Youzhny.  It’s another strong step forward for Mayer, and a couple more wins on clay will get him in position for a seed at Roland Garros.  It’s an equally strong sign for Youzhny, who has seen his results yo-yo over the last few years.  His only strong showing so far in 2011 was a victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga back in February.

See you tomorrow!

Monte Carlo Projections

Clay court rankings and projections are tough.  Most of the top 50 ATP players only compete on clay for a couple months of the year, so at the beginning of the clay-court swing, we’re using surface-specific results from almost a year ago; at the end, we’re depending heavily on each player’s recent results.

Of course, the very top of the list is easy.  Rafael Nadal hasn’t lost a clay court match since the 2009 French Open.  It gets messy soon after that, since Nadal left the rest of the field fighting for crumbs.  Roger Federer is the clear #2 in this field, with Andy Murray a distant third.  (And maybe he should be even more distant.)

These projections are clay-specific, as you can probably tell by some of the percentages.  My clay rankings, however, are heavily regressed back to overall rankings so, for instance, Milos Raonic gets plenty of credit for his recent success on hard courts.  (And today he justified that credit.)

The tournament organizers made it tough for me to do pure projections, since four main draw matches were complete by the time qualifiers were placed.  Thus, the numbers are below are done as if I didn’t know anything about the outcome of today’s main draw matches.  I used rankings generated last Monday, so I might be selling Potito Starace (and, to a lesser extent, Victor Hanescu) a little short by excluding results from Casablanca.



Player                   R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(1)Rafael Nadal         100% 92.7% 79.9% 66.8% 52.4% 36.6%
(q)Julien Benneteau      54%  4.4%  1.7%  0.6%  0.2%  0.0%
Jarkko Nieminen          46%  2.9%  1.0%  0.3%  0.1%  0.0%
(q)Vincent Millot        26%  5.6%  0.3%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez   74% 31.8%  5.5%  2.1%  0.7%  0.2%
Denis Istomin            27% 12.8%  1.3%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0%
(13)Richard Gasquet      73% 49.8% 10.3%  5.3%  2.4%  0.9% 

Player                   R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(12)Jo-Wilfried Tsonga   59% 35.2% 17.0%  4.0%  1.7%  0.6%
Juan Monaco              41% 21.6%  8.9%  1.8%  0.7%  0.2%
Ivan Ljubicic            55% 25.5% 10.5%  2.2%  0.9%  0.2%
Jeremy Chardy            45% 17.7%  6.3%  1.1%  0.3%  0.1%
(q)Olivier Rochus        46%  8.7%  2.6%  0.3%  0.1%  0.0%
Juan Ignacio Chela       54% 12.4%  4.2%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0%
(5)(WC)Tomas Berdych    100% 78.9% 50.5% 14.7%  7.8%  3.2% 

Player                   R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(3)(WC)Andy Murray      100% 70.6% 54.3% 38.4% 16.5%  8.7%
(WC)Radek Stepanek       30%  5.9%  2.5%  0.9%  0.2%  0.0%
Marcos Baghdatis         70% 23.5% 14.5%  7.8%  2.3%  0.8%
Albert Montanes          64% 30.9%  8.9%  4.0%  0.8%  0.2%
Xavier Malisse           36% 11.1%  2.0%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0%
Thomaz Bellucci          52% 30.9% 10.1%  4.7%  1.1%  0.3%
(16)Gilles Simon         48% 27.0%  7.7%  3.4%  0.7%  0.2% 

Player                   R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(10)Mikhail Youzhny      52% 38.1% 18.3%  7.0%  1.7%  0.5%
Florian Mayer            48% 33.3% 13.8%  4.8%  1.1%  0.3%
(q)Frederico Gil         41% 10.2%  2.1%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%
Sergiy Stakhovsky        59% 18.4%  5.0%  1.1%  0.1%  0.0%
Daniel Gimeno-Traver     40%  7.9%  2.9%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0%
Santiago Giraldo         60% 15.6%  6.6%  1.8%  0.2%  0.1%
(8)Gael Monfils         100% 76.5% 51.3% 24.7%  7.7%  3.0% 

Player                   R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(6)Fernando Verdasco    100% 71.3% 54.5% 31.0% 13.6%  5.2%
Tommy Robredo            73% 24.6% 15.1%  5.7%  1.6%  0.4%
Ivan Dodig               27%  4.0%  1.5%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%
Kevin Anderson           44% 16.8%  3.4%  0.7%  0.1%  0.0%
Fabio Fognini            56% 24.1%  6.0%  1.5%  0.3%  0.0%
(WC)Jean-Rene Lisnard    14%  3.4%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%
(11)Viktor Troicki       86% 55.6% 19.2%  6.5%  1.7%  0.4% 

Player                   R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
Ernests Gulbis           67% 44.8% 22.0% 12.2%  5.0%  1.8%
(14)Alexandr Dolgopolov  33% 16.9%  5.5%  2.2%  0.6%  0.1%
Milos Raonic             59% 24.4%  8.8%  3.9%  1.1%  0.3%
Michael Llodra           41% 13.9%  4.1%  1.4%  0.3%  0.1%
Janko Tipsarevic         55% 13.5%  5.3%  1.9%  0.4%  0.1%
Feliciano Lopez          45% 10.7%  3.7%  1.2%  0.3%  0.0%
(4)David Ferrer         100% 75.8% 50.7% 31.4% 14.3%  6.0% 

Player                   R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(7)Jurgen Melzer        100% 54.7% 29.3%  9.3%  4.2%  1.3%
Nikolay Davydenko        72% 37.5% 20.3%  6.8%  3.2%  1.1%
Robin Haase              28%  7.8%  2.6%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0%
(q)Maximo Gonzalez       55% 12.3%  2.8%  0.3%  0.1%  0.0%
Victor Hanescu           45%  8.6%  1.8%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%
Marcel Granollers        16%  8.5%  2.1%  0.3%  0.1%  0.0%
(9)Nicolas Almagro       84% 70.5% 41.1% 15.2%  7.7%  2.8% 

Player                   R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W
(15)Marin Cilic          86% 68.2% 19.9% 10.4%  4.8%  1.5%
(q)Filippo Volandri      14%  5.7%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%
(q)Pere Riba             43%  9.7%  1.0%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%
Potito Starace           57% 16.4%  1.7%  0.3%  0.1%  0.0%
Philipp Kohlschreiber    61% 11.6%  6.4%  3.0%  1.2%  0.3%
Andrey Golubev           39%  5.2%  2.4%  0.9%  0.3%  0.1%
(2)Roger Federer        100% 83.2% 68.1% 52.6% 39.0% 22.1%

Sunday Topspin: Missing the Cut

Milos on clay: The Monte Carlo draw isn’t entirely set, with a few qualifying matches left to play, but the first round is already underway.  Hometown hero Ivan Ljubicic kicked things off with a 6-1 6-2 trouncing of Jeremy Chardy, and Milos Raonic has just won his first ATP-level match on clay against Michael Llodra.

And a weird, weird match it was.  Unfortunately the ATP website doesn’t appear to have posted stats for the match; we’ll have to stick with “weird” based only on the final score of 6-3 0-6 6-0.  Raonic displayed some inconsistency at Indian Wells, and it’s easy to imagine Llodra posting a result like this.

Still, it’s a good start for the Canadian.  With no points to defend, even a modest level of success in the clay season will keep him heading up the rankings.  Next, he’ll face either Alexandr Dolgopolov or Ernests Gulbis.

ATP finals: Today, Potito Starace plays Pablo Andujar for the championship in Casablanca.  After that match, Starace is slated to head to Monte Carlo for an opening round match against a qualifier.  What makes this noteworthy is that, among the four finalists this week, Starace is the only one who even made the cut for the main draw in Monte Carlo.  Andujar intended to play qualifying before his success this week prevented it.

Starace just barely got past Victor Hanescu to reach the final, needing a third-set tiebreak to do so.  Andujar’s semi, against top seed Albert Montanes, was just as topsy-turvy, despite the more pedestrian score of 6-4 6-4.  The match included 29 break points, including 16 chances for Montanes.  Alas, Montanes only seized three chances while Andujar took advantage of 5 of 13, and that was the difference.

Oddsmakers give Starace the edge here, with about a 57% chance of winning.  Based solely on rankings and results, the Italian is better than that.  But Andujar’s recent results suggest he could be primed for the upset.

In Houston, the final will be decided between Kei Nishikori and Ryan Sweeting.  Both won yesterday in straight sets, Sweeting out-serving Ivo Karlovic to accomplish the feat.  Nishikori got past Pablo Cuevas despite missing more than half of his first serves.  Cuevas was more successful with his first offerings, but he won only half of his service points, a rate that isn’t going to win you any matches, no matter what the surface.

Normally, the appearance of a wild card in the final of an ATP-level event would be attention-grabbing.  Given the results of U.S. tournaments so far this year, it’s getting to be a habit.  Raonic reached the final in Memphis on a wild card, and Juan Martin del Potro, also on a WC, came one match short of the same mark.

As great a story as it would be if Sweeting won his first ATP title, the odds are against it.  Sportsbooks suggest that Nishikori has a 69% chance of winning today, and my clay rankings say 73%.  Nishikori has had the superior tournament, as well, knocking out the top seed Mardy Fish as well as two guys, Cuevas and Igor Andreev, who can be formidable on clay.

When in Rome: One more note for today.  The main draw for next week’s Rome challenger is set, and it’s one of the strongest challenger-level fields of the year, including many of the young players who have excelled so far this season.

Cedrik-Marcel Stebe came through qualifying (the last time he’ll have to do so at this level, I hope), and will face what, sadly, is a cupcake draw: yet another wild card appearance for Thomas Muster.  Stebe’s nemesis from the Asian swing, Uladzimir Ignatik, got the opposite treatment, as he’ll begin his tournament against top seed Andreas Haider-Maurer.  Also in the draw are youngsters-to-watch Evgeny Donskoy, Thomas Schoorel, and Martin Klizan.

As soon as the qualifiers are placed in the Monte Carlo draw, I’ll post some tournament odds.  That’ will probably be later today, so be sure to check back in.