Following the Monte Carlo Masters last week, the clay season on the ATP Tour continues with events in Barcelona and Belgrade. Will Rafa Nadal bounce back? Dan Weston gives his thoughts...
Nadal and Djokovic with opportunity to put things right
There were shock exits in Monte Carlo last week for Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic and both players have the opportunity to put things right in their home countries over the next seven days. Nadal is top seed in Barcelona, while Djokovic is the same in Belgrade - although the event in Barcelona is a higher-level 500 tournament, which in theory should produce a more competitive field.
Nadal historically dominant in Barcelona
In Barcelona, there's a 48-man draw with 16 getting first-round byes, including Nadal as well as Monte Carlo winner Stefanos Tsitsipas, runner-up Andrey Rublev and many other extremely competent clay-courters.
The size of their task is clear - since 2005, Nadal has won 11 titles and only three other players - Fernando Verdasco, Kei Nishikori and Dominic Thiem - have managed to disrupt that period of dominance with victories in the tournament.
Despite the early exit at the hands of Rublev last week, the King of Clay is odds-on for Barcelona at 1.76 on the Exchange at the time of writing. Tsitsipas 8.8, Rublev 12.5, Sinner 17.5 and Schwartzman 20.0 lead the next tier of players in the outright market.
In reality, it's probably going to be a battle between some strong players in the bottom half of the draw to see who can meet Nadal in the final. Tsitsipas and Rublev are joined by the high potential young duo of Jannik Sinner and Casper Ruud, with Denis Shapovalov and Roberto Bautista-Agut also strong on the surface. Lorenzo Musetti, who is another young clay-courter with big upside is a dangerous unseeded player in that segment. I'm anticipating a really competitive bottom half of the draw with a number of players likely to be hoping to get through that bracket.
Djokovic likely to ease through in Belgrade
Over in Belgrade, Djokovic is an even shorter price than Nadal to win the tournament, at 1.61 to be celebrating with a trophy on Sunday evening. The likes of Matteo Berrettini 13.5 and Aslan Karatsev 12.0 are among those towards the top of the outright market but in all honesty, are likely to be heavy underdogs even in a one-off match against Djokovic.
Karatsev probably has the most upside of the field but is in the same half of the draw as Djokovic - meaning that they are seeded to play in the semi-finals. In the bottom half, Berrettini is joined by the likes of Filip Krajinovic and Dusan Lajovic who can perform well on clay as well, but there are question marks over the Italian after he withdrew in the Australian Open in February and then in his comeback match was defeated in straight sets by Alejandro Davidovich Fokina last week in Monte Carlo.
A fully-fit Berrettini would have a decent chance of meeting Djokovic in the final, but that's not a given. Krajinovic probably looks best-placed to try and take advantage, but it's certainly not a straightforward call. In reality, the Nadal/Djokovic double - which can be backed at around 2.4 - probably looks the best spot of what looks like being a one-sided week dominated by the elite duo who will be looking to resume normal service after a disappointing comeback week last week in Monte Carlo.
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