Rafael Nadal displayed no rust after five months away from his beloved clay courts, beating Federico Delbonis 6-1, 6-2 to open his Monte Carlo campaign. Defeating the Spaniard on clay remains one of, if not the most difficult, tasks in all of sport. Doing so with a one-handed backhand is markedly more difficult—throughout his career, Nadal is an overwhelming 151-19 on clay against players with a one-hander (per TennisAbstract)—leaving Grigor Dimitrov to attempt the near-impossible on Thursday.
Dimitrov is competent on all surfaces thanks to his athleticism and shotmaking ability, but judging by his 1-13 record against Nadal, he will need a career-best performance in order to secure the upset. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Nadal is a monumental -2000 favorite, projected to win by 6.5 total games. At first glance, one would think Dimitrov should cover that humungous game spread, but Nadal won their last two meetings in Monte Carlo by the same score—6-4, 6-1—so history is not on the Bulgarian’s side.
As we’ve learned throughout his 20-year career, there’s not much you can do against Nadal on clay, except play your best and hope for an off day. Look for Dimitrov to play extremely high-risk tennis and hit a few forehands like this one.
But even if the Dimitrov forehand is firing, Nadal’s primary pattern is a nightmarish match-up. The Spaniard will aim to yank Dimitrov off court with his crosscourt forehand anytime he’s in trouble.
It seems the oddsmakers are taking no chances with Nadal this week; Dimitrov has likely never been this big of an underdog in his career. For entertainment’s sake, we hope Dimitrov can keep things close, but betting against Nadal in any fashion on clay is never a good idea.
That being said, all Dimitrov has to do is win six total games in order to cover his spread. That’s not too much to ask of the former world No. 3, right?
The Pick: Nadal to win, Dimitrov to lose by less than 6.5 total games