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Rafa favourite for French Open

rafael-nadal-3Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams fired warning shots to their French Open rivals with comprehensive victories over Roger Federer and Victoria Azarenka respectively in Rome on Sunday.

Nadal has produced some blistering tennis since returning from a seven-month injury absence and his seventh victory in nine years on the red clay of Rome left his Swiss rival in no doubt as to the Spaniard's prospects of lifting an eighth French Open title.

"Now he is the favourite for the French Open," said Federer.

While it was Federer's first final this year, it was Nadal's eighth, having swept aside Tomas Berdych a day after the big-serving Czech stunned world number one Novak Djokovic in the quarters.

It set up Federer and Nadal's 30th meeting, but with 19 defeats against the Spaniard - 12 of which had already come on clay - the Swiss was playing catch-up from the third game before falling to a comprehensive 6-1, 6-3 loss.

The manner of Nadal's win, and the level of his performances this week, leave no doubt as to who will be the man to beat in Paris.

But he warned that form is no guarantee against an early upset.

"Maybe it is enough, but what can I tell you? If I play like this and I arrive at Roland Garros and somebody beats me, I will shake his hand," said Nadal, who has won six titles in eight tournaments since his return to the tour in February.

"When you play and win many titles in a row like I am doing, then you are doing things well. I could reach Roland Garros and lose in the first round - this is the sport, and this is tennis."

Djokovic blamed a "loss of concentration" for his defeat to Berdych, but remained upbeat ahead of the French Open

"It is not the result I was hoping for but I am positive. I will take some time off and get ready for Paris, which is the most important event of the year for me," said Djokovic, who lost to Nadal in last year's final after multiple rain delays forced a Monday conclusion.

"I know I can play well on clay."

While Djokovic's exit arguably eased Nadal's path to victory, Federer, on the day, was no match on the Spaniard's preferred surface.

"He played very aggressively from the start, he didn't make too many mistakes and had a good match overall," said Federer."

Federer's disappointment was palpable. But the Swiss, whose sole win in Paris came in 2009, said it was only logical his rival had returned to the sport in prime condition.

"He is not going to come back 20% fit, he was only going to come back when he was 100% healthy... and now he is the favourite for the French Open," he added.

While Federer and Djokovic stand in Nadal's way, Williams is likely to face her stiffest challenge from Azarenka and defending French Open champion Maria Sharapova.

After world number two Sharapova withdrew with a fever before her quarter-final with Italy's Sara Errani, Williams cruised to the final where Azarenka, after sweeping Errani aside in the semis, suffered the same treatment in a largely one-sided affair.

It was Williams' fourth title this season, the 51st of her career and left her feeling confident she can avenge her shock first round loss in Paris last year to Frenchwoman Virginie Razzano.

"I've won every Grand Slam there is to win, even if only once. But for me I don't feel any pressure any more," Williams said after her 6-1, 6-3 win over Azarenka.

"She definitely showed some more incredible tennis today... she's been playing her best tennis for the past year and a half or so," admitted Azarenka.

Although it was Williams's second Rome title after 2002, she is determined to make sure her approach to Paris, one of her favourite cities, is different this time around.

"It's definitely different. It has to be," she said. "I was feeling excellent last year and didn't do great. This year I'm more cautious.

"I want to work hard and stay focused and win every point hard and not slack at all."


The Shanghai Rolex Masters

The only Masters 1000 World Tour in Asia once again descends in Shanghai. As the 2012 tennis season slowly comes to an end, Shanghai is the second last Masters 1000 Tour before the season-ending finale in London. Unibet is again offering fantastic Pre Match and Live markets on the tournament.


The Shanghai Rolex Masters was voted by ATP players as the Tournament of the year for the third year running in 2011. Perhaps players are impressed by the magnolia-shaped retractable roof in the main stadium, which resembles Shanghai’s city flower. What is equally impressive is Andy Murray’s (pictured) record in this tournament as he has won back to back titles in the last two years, beating Roger Federer and David Ferrer in straight sets respectively. Murray is at odds of $3.20 to repeat the trick but has yet to win a Masters 1000 title in 2012. However, he is the man in form with his confidence sky-high after capturing Olympic Gold then the US Open – his first Grand Slam trophy, and he will surely have the Shanghai title in his sights.

Roger Federer has had a wonderful 2012. Not only did he capture his seventh Wimbledon title, he also recaptured the World No.1 crown, having lost it to Nadal back in June 2010. Federer has won the most Masters 1000 titles in 2012, having been crowned champion in Indian Wells, Madrid and Cincinnati and the Swiss maestro is definitely the one to watch. He is also priced at $3.20 to win his fourth Masters 1000 title this year. However, one should never discount Novak Djokovic. The Serb has had a steady performance since shooting up to World No.1 in 2011 and though the No.1 spot has now been taken over by Federer, Djokovic still had a decent 2012, winning the Australian Open and two Masters 1000 titles in Miami and Toronto and he is the favourite to win the Shanghai Masters, at odds $2.75.

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With Rafael Nadal still out injured, perhaps it’s the chance for players outside the “Big 4” to win a Masters 1000 title. However, not since Robin Söderling’s title in Paris in 2010 had this been achieved. Tomáš Berdych might have other ideas though, as he was narrowly defeated by Federer in the Madrid Masters final earlier this year and made the semi-finals of the recent US Open, losing to eventual winner Andy Murray in a wind affected match. He also has some added incentive as David Ferrer is out injured, and he will replace the Spaniard at World No.5 if he wins the title at odds of 16.00. Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could also be in with a shout. He was ranked fifth from April to June this year but has since slipped to seventh but like Berdych he can recapture the World No.5 position if he wins and other results go his way and is backable at odds of 45.00. John Isner and Richard Gasquet, finalists in the Indian Wells and Toronto Masters respectively this year, are backable at odds $65.00 and $100.00 to do one better in Shanghai.

“We are seeing a lot of bets on Andy Murray (pictured), especially after he won his maiden Grand Slam title. He has won two Masters 1000 title every year since 2009. With only two Masters 1000 Tournaments left this year, it would be interesting to see if he can maintain this record.

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