Our tennis man Andy Schooler returns to preview this week’s action on the ATP Tour with the Barcelona and Hungarian Open events taking place.

Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell
Barcelona, Spain (outdoor clay)

This week’s biggest event on the ATP Tour takes place in Barcelona and at what is effectively his home tournament, all eyes will be on Rafael Nadal.

Most will be looking to see whether the claycourt great suffered more than a mere blip in Monte Carlo, where he was surprisingly beaten, quite comfortably too, by Fabio Fognini in the semi-finals.

He’s 8/13 to bounce back by winning a record 12th Barcelona crown – he’s won the last three, with the first coming all the way back in 2005.

That’s not a price I’m interested in at all given what we saw on the Cote d’Azur on Saturday.

Nadal, who had question marks over the state of his knees heading into last week, may well arrive and click straight back into gear but there’s plenty of quality in this field, including four other members of the top 10.

In total, there are nine of the top 20 in town and one of those, Daniil Medvedev, really caught the eye last week.

He surged into the semi-finals, posting some dominant early-round performances before showing his steely side by toughing out victories over both Stefanos Tsitsipas and world number one Novak Djokovic.

It was therefore somewhat surprising that he then lost to Dusan Lajovic, although coming just 24 hours after a career-best win, that can perhaps be excused.

The young Russian will definitely have learned plenty from such an impressive week and gained loads of confidence from what was his best week on clay.

Russia's Daniil Medvedev hits a return to Serbia's Dusan Lajovic during the semi final tennis match of the Monte-Carlo ATP Masters Series tournament in Monaco on April 20, 2019. (Photo by VALERY HACHE / AFP) (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

He looks pretty well drawn with Alex Zverev his main rival in the fourth quarter but the German has struggled for consistency so far this season.

The third quarter’s leading seeds are Fognini and Kei Nishikori.

Fognini managed to keep his notoriously fragile mind in check in Monte Carlo but how he’ll react to the best week of his career is anyone’s guess, but I certainly wouldn’t be shocked were he to have lost focus and suffer an early defeat.

As for Nishikori, he has a strong record here, twice winning the title, but the Japanese has been in pretty miserable form this year. This is a good venue for him to kickstart a revival but I’ve seen little to suggest it’s about to occur.

Christian Garin is a useful claycourter who could take advantage at a big price.

The Chilean has already made two finals on clay this season – the first in Sao Paulo (when he was an each-way winner for this column) and the second in Houston earlier this month when he claimed his maiden ATP title.

Of course, the level of opposition rises here but he could be competitive in this section.

The same can be said of Guido Pella in the top half.

Argentina's Guido Pella plays a backhand return to Croatia's Marin Cilic during their tennis match on the day 4 of the Monte-Carlo ATP Masters Series tournament on April 16, 2019 in Monaco. (Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP) (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

He’s the leader on tour this year in terms of claycourt wins – up to 15 after his run to the quarter-finals in Monte Carlo last week.

That run included wins over both Cilic and Cecchinato and only ended at the hands of Nadal, against whom he performed admirably and really should have won the first set.

During the claycourt ‘Golden Swing’ in South America earlier in the season he won the title in Sao Paulo, finished runner-up in Cordoba and made the semis in Buenos Aires.

He’s clearly taken that form onto the European clay and the seeds in his section aren’t huge threats. Karen Khachanov and Pablo Carreno Busta are both struggling for form, with the biggest danger in the quarter looking to be 2017 runner-up Dominic Thiem.

Even so, Pella has beaten the Austrian on clay before and their career head-to-head series stands at an encouraging 2-2.

Were the Argentine to reach the semis, he could still have Nadal to beat, which makes the 45/1 price look shorter than I’d like but Pella is my best outsider in what is an event which has produced some surprise finalists in recent years – think Stefanos Tsitsipas last year, Pablo Andujar in 2015 and Santiago Giraldo the year before.

The latter two were both experienced claycourt specialists and Pella fits that bill. He could be worth a punt.


Daniil Medvedev to win

Guido Pella each-way


Hungarian Open
Budapest, Hungary (outdoor clay)

One-time Briton Aljaz Bedene looks to hold decent claims at the third staging of the Hungarian Open and he rates my best bet of the week.

In the two previous editions since the tournament moved from Bucharest in Romania, Bedene had made the final in 2017 and the semis 12 months ago.

Now representing Slovenia again – a country which borders Hungary – Bedene prefers playing on clay and has already had some strong results on the surface this season.

He played the Golden Swing of clay events in South America in February so it wasn’t long ago that he was reaching the semis in Rio, where injury prevented him from playing his last-four match, and the last eight in Cordoba.

In Rio, he beat last year’s French Open semi-finalist Marco Cecchinato, who had only just won the title in Buenos Aires, while in Cordoba he saw off Fabio Fognini, the man of the moment who won the Monte Carlo Masters on Sunday.

Since the tour moved onto the clay on this side of the Atlantic, Bedene has found wins harder to come by but it is certainly worth noting that his first-round loss in Marrakech was 7-5 in the third set to the player who went on to win the title, Benoit Paire.

Overall on clay in 2019, Bedene has won 35.6 per cent of return games – the fourth best record on tour.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 15: Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia plays a forehand in his first round match against Alexander Zverev of Germany during day two of the 2019 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 15, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Essentially, there’s a lot to like in the Bedene formbook and given he’s also got a strong record at the venue, 20/1 looks worth a play.

His draw looks decent enough too, opening against Bernard Tomic, while a second-round meeting with seventh seed Mikhail Kukushkin is nothing to get too worried about.

Things potentially get harder in the quarter-finals with top seed Marin Cilic his scheduled foe but the big Croat looks worth taking on right now.

He’s had his injury troubles this season and has one just one match since the Australian Open, losing his last three.

The pair have never met before but I would not be at all surprised were Bedene to claim Cilic’s scalp right now.

The bottom half of the draw is led by title favourite Borna Coric, with the aforementioned Cecchinato also included. He’ll be looking to defend the title which proved a springboard to his Roland Garros run.

One of these two will likely make the final – Coric made the quarter-finals in Monte Carlo and took eventual champion Fognini to a deciding set – but a possible alternative at a considerably bigger price is Andreas Seppi.

The veteran Italian made the final in Syndey at the start of the year and the last eight in Delray Beach more recently.

Admittedly, he’s not played much on the clay as yet but he’s long been comfortable playing on the red dirt. Last season Seppi beat Kyle Edmund en route to the last 16 in Monte Carlo, before taking out Cecchinato in Geneva, where he reached the quarter-finals.

He’s 25/1 here which is probably about right so I’ll leave it on this occasion.

Tip: Aljaz Bedene each-way

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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