Tennis Betting: Barcelona Open
Almagro is a more tempting wager at around 25.0...
In his hunt for value back-to-lay alternatives to Raf Nadal in the Barcelona Open, Sean Calvert has found one out of the pack he feels happy laying some dollars down on.
After an eventful Monte Carlo Masters, the clay court swing continues as the players make the short journey to Spain for the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell.
This ATP 500 event is another of Rafa Nadal's favourite tournaments and he can boast a 30-1 record at the event.
The only blip - if you can call it that - on Rafa's Barcelona record came when he was beaten by Alex Corretja as a 16-year-old back in 2003.
Since then he's gone on to win 30 straight matches and claimed six titles and predictably the world number two is a hot favourite at a price of around 1.4 to land his seventh Barcelona crown.
Rafa's quarter of the draw looks fairly weak, with perhaps only Janko Tipsarevic capable of offering any real resistance, but Tipsy is not a natural clay courter and he managed only three games in three sets the last time he met Nadal on the dirt.
That was back in 2009 and there's no guarantee that the Serb will make it through to a quarter-final against Nadal, as there are plenty of capable clay courters in that section, including Pablo Andujar, Frederico Gil, and Victor Hanescu.
It would be a huge shock if Rafa didn't make it to a likely semi-final with either Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori or Fernando Verdasco.
The latter won the title here in Rafa's absence in 2010 and returns for the first time since that win, but his form lately has been poor and he looked all at sea at times in Monte Carlo.
Perhaps a return here will do him some good, but he's very hard to fancy outright at a price of around 34.00.
Berdych was his usual mixture of brilliance combined with spells where he wasn't at the races mentally again in Monte Carlo and he also hasn't played Nadal on clay since 2009. He has lost his last 11 against Rafa on pretty much every surface, so unless Nadal's knees fail him this week it's difficult to see him turning that record around.
Nishikori is improving all the time on the clay and could cause Verdasco and Berdych problems in this tournament, but he's very unlikely to better the quarters or semis at best.
In the opposite half of the draw, the main contenders for a place in the final look to be David Ferrer, Andy Murray and Nico Almagro.
Murray is the shortest price of the trio at around around 9.0, but I'm not too sure why, as he hasn't beaten the other two or Nadal on clay in his entire career.
In fact, despite Murray's formative years being spent here in Barcelona on the dirt, he hasn't beaten a top-10 ranked player on clay since Nikolay Daydenko in Monte Carlo back in 2009.
Ferrer, despite suffering a letdown last week in Monte Carlo, is surely a wiser investment at a bigger price of around 13.0 assuming that his shoulder is OK after reports of an injury in his defeat to Thomaz Bellucci.
Spain's number two has a good record here, having reached the final three times and he seems a more likely finalist than Murray - if he's fit.
Almagro is a more tempting wager at around 25.0 as the quicker conditions should suit him more here than in Monte Carlo, but his 0-9 record against Ferrer is a concern.
Other notable contenders in the bottom half include Milos Raonic, Radek Stepanek, Feli Lopez, Juan Ignacio Chela and Bernard Tomic, but surely the top four in the betting have it between them.
In conclusion, Rafa will surely walk away with another Barcelona title, but he's no sort of price as usual, so the most predictable bet would be to back Ferrer on a back-to-lay basis.
However, the profit on that should Rafa make the final wouldn't be great so it's worth taking a chance on Almagro this week at a better price with injury worries over Ferrer.
I've rarely seen Ferrer battered into submission as he was by Bellucci and if there is a shoulder problem it's unlikely he'll reach the last four, which is the only time he could face Almagro, who has the tools to do a similar job on his Davis Cup team mate.
The man from Murcia defeated Murray in their only meeting thus far on dirt and as an alternative to backing Rafa at 1.4 Almagro looks the only viable alternative.
Back-to-lay Almagro at 25.0
Follow Sean in Barcelona this week on Twitter @seancalvert1