Andy Murray and his troublesome serve from Rome (above).

Last week in Madrid, in this same spot almost, we were marveling at how heavily Nadal was favored over the world’s best tennis player, Novak Djokovic.  For posterity, that line was again:

Nadal:  – 300

Djokovic:  + 220

Tomorrow, Djokovic looks for his 37th consecutive win, and for some other impressive notables.  Djokovic is seeking his 5th masters shield of the year, and more importantly, he vies to become the first player to ever defeat Rafael Nadal in 4 consecutive finals, and in two consecutive clay court finals.  But Djoker is a little tired, having battled a very able Andy Murray to exhaustion in the late semi-final today.

For the second week in a row, Djokovic is in the featured semi–an impressive statement about Djokovic’s more pleasing style.  As we told you last night, Andy Murray is no + 450 underdog, and he didn’t play like one.  Murray served for the match before a vintage Andy Murray crisis of confidence that saw him go all wishy washy, throwing in doubles in the type of collapse we thought were in the kid’s past.  Unfortunate, since we would have been quite happy to see Murray win today, and preserve John McEnroe’s open record 42-0 start to the 1984 season.

And with how Murray played Nadal in Monte Carlo, we’d take our chances with the kid in this kind of spot, even on his poorest surface.  Save for a few minutes today, Murray seems to have gotten some things figured out about playing on clay, and against the worlds # 1 and 2 players, especially.  He loops the ball back, not giving them the pace that either guy likes to work with.  Murray is also one of the few players with the patience and stamina to go deep into rallies with these 2 and not be disadvantaged.  We may like him as a “darkhorse” at Roland Garros, and think his marriage to the drop shot, ill used by him on other surfaces, will be to his benefit in France.

So, you ask if we are rooting for Nadal to end Djokovic’s start of season run, the way the Djoker ended Nadal’s 37 match winning streak on clay last week?  Only for our hero, John John would we even consider it.  And if you are wondering who has the longest match run aside from Nadal on another surface, that would be John McEnroe as well, who won 75 consecutive matches indoors between 1983 and 1985, a feat we find more impressive than Nadal’s 76 on clay.  Especially since indoors back then was fast court tennis at its best, and the man with the best hands won.  The fact is, tomorrow’s match is only for a Masters shield, and the real battle comes on the final Sunday at Roland Garros.  As is our tradition when players face off who we eventually hope will fall to Federer, we hope for classic clay court tennis.

You know the type.  Exhaustive, blood, sweat and tears tennis, if not shot making tennis.

Anyway, here are the lines for tomorrow in Rome:

Nadal:  – 240

Djokovic:  + 180

And:

Sharapova:  – 180

Stosur:  + 140

We see Nadal as a much better value this week, and we wouldn’t be surprised if that line evens out a bit more.  Neither player was too taxed this week, except Nadal a little early by an Italian nobody, and then of course Djokovic today by Murray, who was attempting to become the first Brit since the 70’s to make a a final on clay.  Still, we wouldn’t touch Nadal/Djokovic this week, and we are not in love with this money line the way we were last week, when we had a feeling that Djokovic was unstoppable.

As for the ladies, Sharapova is a very shaky favorite on clay and Stosur is a very good underdog.  Gun to our head, we’d go Stosur here.  But we wouldn’t love it.

Check out the finals tomorrow on TTC, starting with the men at 10 PM EST.

Crack (http://crackbillionair.wordpress.com, http://www.crackbillionair.com)