Rome Masters Men's Day One Tips: A watching brief recommended for opening day

Following the US Open in New York on hard court, we immediately go into a clay Masters 1000 event in Rome. Returning with his thoughts on the day one schedule is Dan Weston...

Watching brief prudent on day one

The US Open across the last two weeks was unpredictable, and in many cases, full of drama. It certainly was quite variance heavy with a number of strange results and some players failing to get the job done on key points, and we endured an up and down tournament.

As discussed in my outright preview, it is prudent for us to take a watching brief in round one here in Rome with only some of the players in the field actually having played on a clay court this year. The clay season was a major chunk of the year which was lost on tour due to lockdown and we have very little to go on to assess player ability on the surface, except for 2019 and older data.

Ruud with impressive clay data last year

Despite this, there are certainly some interesting clashes to discuss on day one, as the tournament gets underway. We start at 10:00 UK time with Karen Khachanov facing Casper Ruud in the opener. The Norwegian, Ruud, impressed on his preferred clay last year, winning over two-thirds of his matches, and running at almost 105% combined service/return points won. This level is in excess of anything that Khachanov can boast, and assuming Ruud can continue along this theme - and improvement is even possible - then he looks more attractively priced at 2.06 than the Russian.

In-form Krajinovic favourite over Auger-Aliassime

Both Filip Krajinovic and Felix Auger-Aliassime have started pretty well following the resumption of the tour, and the in-form Krajinovic, who has gone 5-2 at the start of the season with impressive data, looks accurately priced at 1.70 to get the win here. This also starts at 10am.

Moving though the schedule, I was initally surprised to see Grigor Dimitrov as big as 1.57 against the Italian wild card (and mainly Challenger player) Gianluca Mager, but when I ran the numbers, my model broadly agreed with the market line. Mager has impressive numbers at a lower level and could well get some victories on the main tour on clay as the year progresses.

A battle of two players with solid future potential, Borna Coric and Christian Garin, also provides some focus on day one, with Garin looking about right at 1.80 to get the win here. Both players exhibited decent clay data last year and have future upside, so this should be a fascinating clash to gain some insight into the duo's chances over the next month on clay.

Humbert with much to prove on clay

If I was tempted to play anything today, it would probably be Kevin Anderson at 1.87 against Ugo Humbert. Of course, Anderson hasn't played much in the last year - just six main tour matches - after injuring his knee, and clay isn't his best surface either. However, he's not incompetent on the surface, reaching an ATP final in slow conditions in Casablanca in 2013 and a semi-final on a quick clay court in Madrid in 2018 at Masters 1000 level.

Opponent Humbert has shown dramatic improvement in the last 12-18 months but has barely won a match on clay in his entire professional career, with just one main tour victory (Cameron Norrie in Lyon last year) to his name. While he has some potential upside, I'm struggling to see how he can be priced at 2.12 to defeat Anderson here given the lack of evidence that he can currently compete at a high level on the surface.

However, today's schedule looks a complete leave-alone to me, and I at least want to see a player win on the surface before I'm tempted to look at potential recommendations.

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