All preparations for the French Open begin this week in Monaco and it is a picturesque tournament that is clearly enjoyed by the players. It is a chance for the likes of Rafael Nadal to get his 2016 season really going on the surface he favours above others and to perhaps show there is still something in the tank for the former World Number 1.
Roger Federer also makes his return to the Tour this week having been out of action since the Australian Open although the top Seeds will receive a bye into the Second Round as is the case in the majority of Masters events.
After a pretty poor start to the season in terms of how the picks were going, the last few weeks have been much more positive and I am close to getting back into a winning position. There is still work to do to make sure the right picks are being made, but I am hoping the clay court season can help move back into the black and get this season moving in the right direction ahead of the French Open.
Richard Gasquet - 3.5 games v Nicolas Almagro: When you think of these two players, the immediate feeling is that Nicolas Almagro is the stronger clay court player. However that might have a lot to do with having a bias towards Spanish players on clay courts and the layers are right to not underestimate Richard Gasquet who has had some strong results on this surface.
It is still no surprise to see that Almagro's best results over the last few seasons have come on the clay courts and this is a dangerous First Round match for Gasquet. Almagro did reach the Final in Buenos Aires, but otherwise he has had some early losses on the clay courts this season and I do think he is short of the level of a couple of years ago following his return from an injury.
He is still good enough to give Richard Gasquet plenty to think about when he is serving well, but the Spaniard has been a little up and down with his performances all season. That is where Gasquet can take advantage if he is serving well, but this should still be a very good match to watch, especially when they both go toe to toe from the backhand wing.
I am looking for Gasquet to just have a little more out of his returning game than Almagro in this one and that should lead to a few more break points. If he can play those effectively, I believe the Frenchman will battle through to the Second Round behind a 76, 63 win on Monday in what looks the pick of matches to watch.
Grigor Dimitrov - 4.5 games v Filip Krajinovic: Grigor Dimitrov reached the Quarter Final here in Monte Carlo last season but it is going to take some effort for him to do the same in 2016. Inconsistent performances from day to day continue to hurt Dimitrov and prevent him from making a significant leap in the World Rankings, but he should still have too much for Filip Krajinovic who has come through the Qualifiers to reach the main draw.
The Serbian player remains outside of the top 100 in the World Rankings although that could change at the end of this tournament. It is a big gap for him to bridge when he faces Dimitrov and Krajinovic has not had a lot of success at this level and that has a lot to do with the serve which is not the biggest weapon.
I do think Krajinovic will have some joy on the return of serve though as Dimitrov can be erratic behind his own serve, but ultimately I think the Bulgarian will have a little too much quality for him. It will likely need a couple of breaks of serve in each set to get over this number as I can't see Dimitrov having a match where he is not giving Krajinovic some chances too.
However I do think Dimitrov will prove to the better player on the day and the clay should allow him to have enough success in the return games to come through 64, 63.
Guido Pella - 2.5 games v Pierre-Hugues Herbert: This is an interesting First Round match and I do think Guido Pella might be a little underrated in this one against the Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Of course the latter will be confident having come through the Qualifiers to reach the main draw, but Herbert has not really produced his best tennis on the clay in the past.
There is plenty to like about Herbert's game as he possesses a decent serve and is capable off the ground. I do think his movement can be an issue and that is probably a big reason he struggles on the clay courts where he has to extend rallies and really work the point out.
That will be difficult against Pella who has reached the Final of a main Tour event on the clay courts in 2016 and whose lefty serve can be an issue for opponents. I do think Pella is yet to reach his full potential, but he should be more comfortable on the clay courts and can make a big improvement to his current World Ranking in the next two months.
This match will come down to which of the two players is able to dictate behind the first serve the best. However I also can't ignore the struggles Herbert has had on the clay courts in the past and the difficult way he has come through the Qualifiers could also play a part in this one. After a tight first set, I expect Pella to take control and eventually come through with a 76, 63 win and a place in the Second Round to take on Andy Murray.
MY PICKS: Richard Gasquet - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov - 4.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Guido Pella - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Season 2015: - 21.81 Units (1812 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
Season 2014: + 45.05 Units (1586.5 Units Staked, + 2.84% Yield)