Tim Clement backs Rafael Nadal to get the better of Novak Djokovic in Cincinnati
By Tim Clement - Twitter: @SkyTimClement. Last Updated: 13/08/13 11:14am
Rafael Nadal: In fine form heading into the Western & Southern Open
Novak Djokovic is favoured for the Western and Southern Open as he attempts to create tennis history in Cincinnati but Rafael Nadal looks the man to stop.
The Serb is a short price to become the first player to win all nine Masters titles by bettering his four previous final defeats, having enjoyed a favourable draw for the season's seventh 1000 event.
With Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray all in the same half, the path looks clear for Djokovic to have another crack at securing his first title.
Each of that trio has things to be wary of come Sunday, especially with the world No 1 enduring somewhat of a title drought by his lofty standards.
Nadal warrants mentioning first after bouncing back from his early Wimbledon exit by triumphing in Montreal, landing his eighth title from 11 tournaments in 2013.
As world No 2 and reigning champion of two majors, Murray is considered the second favourite but his recent record in the second pair of American hardcourt Masters is concerning, with his exits in the Rogers Cup and at Cincinnati reading; R16, R16, R16.
Federer's form is far more alarming, having lost to unseeded players in his last three events, including two ranked outside the top 100, while being placed in Nadal's quarter raises further questions over his chances.
After seeing local hope Milos Raonic reach the final in Montreal, some might look for another outsider in Ohio.
However, with the US Open less than two weeks away, the 'Big Four' should be in prime form and look very tough to oppose.
In keeping with the US Open Series, the Cincinnati Masters is played on hardcourt. As at Flushing Meadows, Decoturf is the specific surface, which is rated as medium pace by the ITF.
Clear skies and little wind should make for ideal conditions throughout the week, although there is a chance of rain come the weekend.
Djokovic was denied again as Federer landed his fifth title here with a straight-sets win. A mauling looked to be on the cards as the Swiss star won the first set to love in 20 minutes, but the Serb battled backed to take the second set to a tie-break, where he was edged 9-7.
The contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
Novak Djokovic - 11/8
With history on the cards, a run of final loses here and four-month title drought to end, the world No 1 has a point to prove. However, the stats still suggest he is the man to beat, with the FedEx ATP Reliability Index ranking him as the top current performer on the surface by a comfortable distance. The draw could not have been much kinder with Richard Gasquet, who he has beaten in straight sets in all five meetings, the top-ranked player in his quarter, while an out-of-sorts David Ferrer is the second seed in his half. Djokovic is a worthy favourite, but perhaps still an opposable one.
Andy Murray - 4/1 (Price Boost)
Given the confidence gained from his Wimbledon triumph and the new focus on becoming world No 1, it was a real shock to see the Scot suffer a third-round defeat to Ernests Gulbis. The Latvian is renowned as one of the lower-ranked dangermen but Murray should be astute enough to snuff out such a challenge at this stage of his career. The pair could meet again in the second round here so backers may want to see him clear that obstacle before getting involved as progress would not have much impact on his price. The 26-year-old is chasing a third title here, having also triumphed in 2008 and 2011.
Rafael Nadal - 9/2
With exception to his first two events back from a seven-month lay-off and a failed transition to the grass of Wimbledon, the Spaniard has been rampant this year, winning eight of 11 tournaments. Given the amount of successive matches he put his body through during the clay swing, fatigue should not really be a major concern even if the hardcourts do trouble his knees more. The momentum held makes him the man to stop for me and a seemingly difficult draw means a decent price is on offer. Federer will not relish facing his great nemesis on current form, while Murray has won just five of their 18 meetings.
Roger Federer - 9/1
Are Federer's best days behind him or is there still another lease of life left in the 17-time major champion? With a 32nd birthday 'celebrated' last week as he rested his troublesome back, the Swiss star will be looking to bounce back from a series of shock defeats as he defends his title here. With the fear factor gone and his rankings drop throwing up a nightmare draw, Federer is facing a big ask in proving he can beat the best again.
Juan Martin del Potro - 9/1
Placed in the same quarter as David Ferrer, Del Potro may have been handed a favourable draw but it is more often than not more about what is going on his side of the court than the other. The Argentinian failed to build on his Citi Open win as he suffered a third-round loss to Raonic in Montreal last week. The 2009 US Open champion is often considered the major challenger to the 'Big Four', but for me he is not even the best of the rest, having failed to win a single Masters title or reach a Grand Slam final since his long-term lay-off in 2010.
Tomas Berdych - 25/1
The Czech's campaign can be described as average at best, with a couple of significant scalps, two final losses and early exits in his last two tournaments. The big-hitting 27-year-old can beat the best on his day but his inconsistency all too often prevents titles from being racked up. Each-way cover is an absolute must.
Best of the rest
David Ferrer may be the third seed but his odds of 40/1 imply that he is not even the best player in his quarter, with Del Potro less than a quarter of his price. Neither appeals to me and we could well have a surprise name in the semis from that quarter, with Jerzy Janowicz (50/1) and Kei Nishikori (125/1) to main candidates. Raonic (40/1) is the same price as Ferrer having reached the final in Montreal but never looked like beating Nadal and could face Djokovic in the third round. I can't see the big-serving Canadian troubling the game's best returner, so I also have to discount John Isner (80/1) from prevailing from that quarter.
Like most, I've doubted Nadal this season to my peril. I'll be backing him on the basis that on current form he is the best player in the world right now, with his physical condition and performances at the very highest level. The draw, conditions and fatigue potential will put some off but the Spaniard has overcome far greater challenges this year. Djokovic will surely make the final unless Del Potro finds his very best form, so my main bet has to be for Nadal to repeat his semi-final win over the Serb come Sunday.