Nishikori has shown he has what it takes for French challenge

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Japanese superstar Kei Nishikori won his first clay-court title in Barcelona at the weekend and requires consideration at 66/1 for the big one in Paris this May.

The 24-year-old had enjoyed all of his previous success on the faster surfaces but will now begin to be looked upon as more than just a hard-court talent after capturing his fifth title.

After being forced into a deciding set against Roberto Bautista-Agut in the second round, the world number 12 recorded four largely bloodless victories with no more sets conceded and no tiebreaks required.

Admittedly, the two-time National Indoor champion is never likely to meet a lower ranked player than world number 47 Santiago Giraldo in a top-level final but it was nevertheless impressive to see the favourite dismiss the challenge with such ease when the expectation was so high.

Those that followed Nishikori’s results from the week before will not have been surprised after the Florida resident toppled David Ferrer and then Roger Federer in his own backyard, however, those results shouldn’t have come as a shock either.

Nishikori has shared his six meetings with Ferrer and has actually had the better of the three times he last faced the 17-time Grand Slam winner.

After pulling out of his Miami semi-final with Novak Djokovic with a groin injury his record with the world number two remained poised at one a piece and although he has failed to register a win against either Andy Murray or Rafael Nadal his record against the big guns strongly suggests a deep run at one of the Majors is on the horizon.

The fact that his best effort to date is a quarter-final appearance at the Australian Open two years ago is disappointing for a player who has been in the top-20 for as long as he has but age is very much on his side and the victory in Barcelona is definitely evidence that he hasn’t stopped maturing and improving his game.

On the other side of the draw, Maria Sharapova won in Stuttgart for the third straight year and will be rightly confident of going one better than her final appearance at Roland Garros last year.

The 2012 French Open champion was securing her 30th WTA title at the age of 27, however, in terms of the second Grand Slam of the year the performance of her beaten opponent in Germany could be just as significant.

As noted here some weeks ago, Ana Ivanovic looks increasingly ready to challenge again for the title she won back in 2008 and reaching her third final from just eight events this campaign has done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm.

Grigor Dimitrov also managed to pick up the winning thread again and match his loved one with his second trophy of the season in Bucharest following on from his victory in Acapulco last month.

The Bulgarian is also 66/1 to win in the French capital and build on his first Grand Slam quarter-final recorded in Melbourne in January.

Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor notched her first title of her career by beating Romina Oprandi in the Grand Prix in Marrakech and has earned a speculative quote of 250/1 to win her first Major in May.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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