Sky Bet's Tim Clement previews the best bets ahead of the Miami Masters, where Novak Djokovic is once again the man to beat.
By Tim Clement - Twitter: @SkyTimClement
Last Updated: 14/04/13 2:05pm
The recently-concluded Indian Wells Masters may have showcased the re-emergence of two of the ATP's injury-ravaged stars, but the headlines heading to Miami are dominated by two noticeable absentees.
Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer in withdrawing from the season's second ATP 1000 Masters event despite his remarkable showing in California, opting to recover from the strain of going the distance in four successive tournaments, before turning his attention towards the clay-swing.
With Federer already scheduled to be absent, the event will be without the game's two most iconic figures, but potentially with the ATP Tour's two top ranked come finals Sunday.
Andy Murray can leap-frog Federer and become world number two by winning the event, while Novak Djokovic, who will be looking to make it hat-trick of titles in Florida, still commands the deserved status as favourite despite his semi-final exit at Indian Wells.
The man that inflicted that defeat, Juan Martin del Potro, has often been touted as the most likely challenger to the 'big four', and he certainly commands the respect of the bookmaker's following his recent run to the final, with Sky Bet making him the 9/2 third favourite.
Tomas Berdych (12/1) produced another consistent showing in making the semis before also falling to Nadal, but it is still incredibly hard to look past the top two seeds in Miami.
The courts at the Tennis Centre at Crandon Park are Laykold Cushion Plus, which is ITF classified 1 according to the manufacturer's website. In other words, as slow as hard courts come. The lack of pace will play into the hands of the top two seeds due to their superior defensive skills, with the duo both former champions here.
Sweat bands will be in full fashion in Miami in the humid conditions while a few umbrellas may be needed with rain forecast for the first weekend. In terms of on-court impact, the high humidity in Florida means the balls will take on more moisture, making them heavier and resulting in less lively bounce than the sort seen in Indian Wells.
Djokovic looked set to retain the title in the most comfortable of fashions as he took the first set of the final with Murray 6-1. However, the Scot raised his game in what proved to be a gruelling second set, only to be edged in a tie-break in the decider.
Leading contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
Novak Djokovic (4/5)
The world number one will be looking to land a third successive title at Crandon Park, having beaten Nadal and Murray in previous finals. The environment here is arguably more suited to the Serb than at any other event, with the slow conditions making his incredible defence even tougher to penetrate. The draw could not have been much kinder to the 25-year-old, assuming potential second-round opponent Lukas Rosol does not bring his Wimbledon form, with compatriot Janko Tipsarevic, who enters the tournament on a five-match losing streak, the highest ranked player in his quarter. David Ferrer is seeded to await in the semis, but as we shall examine shortly, hardly enters in the form of his life.
Andy Murray (3/1)
The Brit should be primed to produce his best tennis in Miami. Having taken some time off the Tour to train down the road (albeit a pretty long one) near his Florida home, Murray is certainly used to the conditions, while his semi-final run at Indian Wells will have provided sufficient match practice. The 25-year-old's record here is mixed with his solitary title in 2009 followed by two early exits and last year's final defeat. He has attracted the largest amount of stakes at Sky Bet so far, and looks more attractively priced at 3/1 compared to his 4/1 in Indian Wells, given the more suitable preparations and depleted field.
Juan Martin del Potro (9/2)
The world number seven is considered a real contender for the title following his final run in California, having beaten the two favourites here before being halted by Nadal. However, 'The Tower of Tandil' is still looking for his maiden Masters title and will have to do it the hard way again, with Ferrer, who knocked him out in the quarters last year, Djokovic and Murray seeded in his path.
Tomas Berdych (14/1)
While the Czech's consistency in beating lower ranked players has improved, his record against the very best remains wretched. His loss to Nadal last week was a 12th successive, while his defeat to Djokovic in Dubai left him with a 13-1 deficit, losing the last 11. The world number six suffered a shock exit at the hands of Grigor Dimitrov last year, having reached the semis in 2011 and the final in 2010. As the fourth seed here, Berdych has a fairly favourable route to the semis, with Fernando Verdasco, Milon Raonic and Richard Gasquet seeded in his path, while Murray, who he is 4-4 with in the head-to-head, is likely to await in the final four.
David Ferrer (18/1)
The third seed heads to Miami on the back of two tough losses, having claimed a meagre two games in his final thumping by Nadal in the Acapulco final, before losing to Kevin Anderson in the Indian Wells second round. After enjoying the best campaign of his career last year, with seven titles including a maiden Masters crown, the Spaniard is yet to beat a fellow top-10 ranked player in 2013. The draw has hardly been kind either, with Del Potro considered the toughest possible addition to his quarter. Hope can, however, be taken from a positive 6-2 record over the Argentinian, thanks to four successive triumphs.
Best of the rest
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga looks a huge price at 40/1 but was thoroughly beaten by Djokovic in Indian Wells, while he has lost his last six meetings with potential quarter-final opponent Murray. Raonic (50/1) will look more favourably on his draw with a 1-0 winning record against his quarter's top seed Berdych, while Richard Gasquet (100/1), who is also in that section, should be looking at a quarter-final run. Seventh seed Tipsarevic is given virtually no chance at 200/1 following a woeful run, while Marin Cilic (100/1) will be looking to avenge his painful defeat to Murray from the US Open if he can reach the final eight.
Logic suggests that Djokovic is the most likely winner here having triumphed in his last two visits while boasting the best hard-court win ratio over the last 12 months. However, the Serb is still too short at odds-on after being thwarted in Indian Wells by Del Potro, who looms large in his half of the draw. Murray should be perfectly prepared to produce his best tennis and presents far better value at 3/1. Berdych seemingly provides formidable opposition to his final run but the Scot has won all of their last three meetings on a hard court. Those expecting another disappointing stateside showing from Murray can find value in backing Tsonga each-way. The Frenchman already has a title under his belt from beating potential semi-final opponent Berdych in the Marseille final, while two of his three defeats on Tour this term have come at the hands of Federer and Djokovic, implying that his consistency is growing under new coach Roger Rasheed.