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After a great week on the dirt in Madrid, we turn our attention to Rome where the pros of the ATP and WTA tours take center stage for yet another big clay-court tournament in the lead-up to Roland Garros. I've got two plays for Thursday afternoon, and I'll share them now.
Jenson Brooksby (+290) vs. Casper Ruud (-400)
On the surface here, I feel obligated to take this bet. With a couple of years of clay-court experience, Jenson Brooksby is not going to be receiving four and a half games against an out-of-form Casper Ruud. The fact is, though, that Brooksby has only played a handful of times on red clay.
With that, and a shellacking at the hands of JJ Wolf in Houston, there's been a lot of skepticism over Brooksby's ability to play on clay baked into his odds this week. All the while, he's passed both tests with flying colors with easy straight-set wins.
Ruud is going to be a much tougher ask than David Goffin was on Wednesday, but I do think this is a decent matchup for Brooksby. Ruud's offense has taken a big hit on clay this year, and Brooksby can further weaken the Ruud forehand with his ability to chase down so many balls and extend rallies. On top of that, Ruud may be the slightest bit vulnerable at the net, where Brooksby will look to bring points. He's also one of the smartest players on tour and will surely hunt the Ruud backhand, which is a massive weakness.
I love backing Brooksby here to have a competitive match with one of the biggest disappointments of the season to this point.
Edge: Brooksby +4.5
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Rafael Nadal (-910) vs. Denis Shapovalov (+550)
If something about this feels familiar to you, that's because Nadal and Shapovalov met last year right here in Rome in an epic third-round encounter. In that match, Shapovalov led by a set and a break, even getting to break point on the Nadal serve at 3-0 in the set.
Shapovalov would go on to lose the set and the match despite again going up a break in the third and even bringing up two match points on return at 6-5. The match was incredibly close, and it showed that Shapovalov can be just as dangerous on a clay court as he is on hardcourts or on grass.
It's never too fun backing the Canadian with his inconsistencies, but I was impressed with his composure in both wins this week which came in very close matches. In theory, he's the perfect guy to match up with Nadal because he can hit massive groundstrokes and keep Nadal on the back foot, not allowing him to get aggressive in rallies. While the Spaniard has legendary defensive skills, Shapovalov has shown he is one of the few who can hit through Nadal on his day.
Shapovalov memorably defeated Nadal in Montreal the first time they matched up in the Canadian's rookie season, and every since they've had some very great matches. This one shouldn't be any different.
Edge: Shapovalov +5.5
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