Week one starts tonight with the ATP Cup, not sure I’ll put in anything pre-tournament but will keep an eye on it. Doha looks pretty interesting starting in a few days, which I’ll try to find the pick once the draw has been made
Week one starts tonight with the ATP Cup, not sure I’ll put in anything pre-tournament but will keep an eye on it. Doha looks pretty interesting starting in a few days, which I’ll try to find the pick once the draw has been made
ATP Doha - The invention this year of the ATP Cup in Australia has seen a significant revamp of the first week of the ATP Tour season, including a sizeable hit to this tournament in Doha. Traditionally, a fairly lucrative curtain-raiser for a 250 event, it had attracted at least one “big-4” member in the field every year since 2005, bar 2013 and 2018. Those two years still had a couple of top-tenners playing, but this year there are none. Wawrinka and Rublev are the only top-25 players and Tiafoe, just inside the top-50, gets a seeding.
At first glance, it appears a pretty open-field with chances for many. Wawrinka’s record as top-seed over the last few years is okay; winning Geneva twice, St Petersburg final and Sofia semis despite being way below his best. His fitness appears to be back to where he wants it to be, managing to play a full-schedule in 2019 and reaching 16 in the world. He is tied for favouritism along with Raonic and Rublev, with Tsonga rounding off a fairly clear top-4 on paper. Rublev is a former finalist at this tournament two years ago, where he was soundly beaten in the final and has to be respected, while Tsonga managed to take the title in 2012 and, turning 35 this year, maybe this is the last year he can really mix with the best after such an accumulation of injuries over his career. There are sizeable question-marks over Raonic, this will be his 3rd tournament since Montreal in August and may therefore be lacking a little in match-toughness especially in key moments.
I’m more keen to oppose Raonic and Tsonga, and find someone from their quarters that can do well, which leads me to Filip Krajinovic. 2018 was clearly a difficult one for him after his Paris breakthrough, and some injuries along the way didn’t help but he showed his class in 2019 compiling a 44-20 record and reaching two finals (Budapest, Stockholm), managing to beat 7 players ranked ahead of him and losing to Berrettini and Shapovalov in the finals, which in hindsight were no bad things. He is still searching for that elusive first title but this represents a good opportunity for him, given how well he finished 2019. The draw pits him against Edmund in R1 and a veteran Spaniard in R2 either way in Verdasco or Andujar, which then could present the chance to face a ring-rusty Raonic in the quarters. I understand why the four favourites are as they are but in a fairly average field, at the start of the season where there are plenty of question-marks about fitness, i’m happy to oppose them and side with Krajinovic who’s a decent price.
Verdict - Filip Krajinovic to win @ 22/1 e/w
WTA Brisbane - Less change on the WTA side, the opening-week sees another strong field compiled at this tournament where the top-8 seeds are all ranked inside the top-13 in the world, including the top-3. Barty is the top-seed after a brilliant 2019, and is justified favourite. She’s reached a pre-AO final in each of the last couple of years, finishing runner-up in Sydney in 18 and 19, and while her record in Brisbane is much more modest (two match-wins in her career), she’s a different and much better player now.
Osaka, Ka Pliskova and Svitolina round off the top of the betting and all have won Aussie-summer titles in the last couple of years, a good gauge to how well they tend to start the year. It is worth noting that this tournament, since it began in 2009, has seen very high-quality champions, everyone bar Kanepi in 2012 was either a Grand-Slam winner or has been top-3 in the world, and with this being a Premier event, the inclination is to focus on the top of the field rather than spend too much time searching for a long-odds runner.
My preference is therefore to side with Karolina Pliskova. A two-time winner already at this event, she’s been very impressive at Premier-level lately, winning 8 times in the last 3 years (from 8 finals). She’s also the defending champion this week after coming through a relatively kind draw last year, but has been fortunate again this week landing in Konta’s section (who took a late decision to travel following knee concerns in the winter). The dangerous floaters such as Stephens, Kerber and Vekic have all landed in the opposite half, instead, Bertens and Osaka look the biggest threat from the bottom-half whom she has good records, winning her last 3 against Bertens and 2 against Osaka. Pliskova’s obvious next step is to win a slam, having won 15 WTA titles and been #1 in the world, and this acts as a perfect warmup for Melbourne where she’s likely to be one of the favourites.
Verdict - Karolina Pliskova to win @ 15/2
Week 1:ATPDoha - The invention this year of the ATP Cup in Australia has seen a significant revamp of the first week of the ATP Tour season, including a sizeable hit to this tournament in Doha. Traditionally, a fairly lucrative curtain-raiser for a 2
Kenin and Muchova will be interesting this year. Backed Muchova For Wimbledon at 80/1. She reached quarter-finals last year when ranked 68. Think there is more to come. Kenin always worth a bet. She hates losing.
Kenin and Muchova will be interesting this year. Backed Muchova For Wimbledon at 80/1. She reached quarter-finals last year when ranked 68. Think there is more to come. Kenin always worth a bet. She hates losing.
Don't massively fancy any pre-tournament plays for the new tournament in Adelaide next week, either on the mens or ladies side, so will focus on Auckland and Hobart. The weeks before a Grand-Slam can be a bit of a minefield at the best of times, so the preference is low-stakes with one eye on Melbourne in just over a week. Auckland ATP pick to come tomorrow.
WTA Hobart - As with Auckland, a tournament located close to the coast and therefore higher, persistent winds can lead to tricky-conditions for the players. There haven't been a great deal of big-hitters making it through to the final of this event over the last several years, instead the likes of Watson, Cornet, Niculescu, Kenin have done well here along with the top-seed and two-time winner Elise Mertens, someone who's good at controlling the ball from the baseline and not making too many errors. Mertens will be the only current top-30 player in this field, which has failed to attract the big names who have instead flocked to Adelaide. She started her season in Shenzhen and made an early-exit in the quarter-finals, but despite that there's enough reasons to see why she should be comfortable favourite and I wouldn't be surprised to see her make another final, my preference is instead to focus on the other half of the draw.
Muguruza took a wildcard and comes in as second-seed, semi-finalist in Shenzhen and won her first career title in Hobart 6 years ago as a twenty year-old qualifier. On the face of it, plenty to like about her chances but she's still very much working her way back to form after a pretty miserable second-half of 2019 and a coaching-change over the winter and i'm inclined to look elsewhere. There are certainly a few positives over Magda Linette, who won her first WTA title in the Bronx before the US Open last year and is currently around her career-high ranking, but was unimpressive in her R1 loss in Shenzhen last week to Zhang who is also seeded in this half but also suffered a lacklustre loss in the next round.
Instead, my faith goes to American Lauren Davis, who is working her way back up the rankings after a dramatic dip in her fortunes. She's back up to 63 in the world after dropping outside 200 a little over a year ago, winning a couple of ITFs last year, and is a winner in similarly testing place to play tennis in Auckland highlighting her capabilities around this time of the season and coping with the wind. She started her season again in Auckland last week and ran Wozniacki close in R2, another sign that she's gaining confidence being able to compete against a good opponent. Her draw this week is pretty good, facing an Aussie wildcard in R1 and the aforementioned Linette a likely R2 opponent. If Davis can protect her serve which tends to be found out at a higher-level than this, she can gain momentum here and has a good shot to make the final, hence the preference is to back each-way.
Verdict - Lauren Davis to win @ 25/1 ew
Don't massively fancy any pre-tournament plays for the new tournament in Adelaide next week, either on the mens or ladies side, so will focus on Auckland and Hobart. The weeks before a Grand-Slam can be a bit of a minefield at the best of times, so t
ATP Auckland - Daniil Medvedev was originally expected to compete here as top-seed and would have been strongly fancied to add another title to his fast-growing resumé, but WDd due to his ATP Cup commitments which makes a lot of sense the week before a slam. His compatriot Khachanov has remained in the draw as third-seed, in fact 7 of the 8 seeds all played in the ATP Cup with seventh-seed Mannarino the odd one out (a R1 loser in Doha). The ATP Cup proved to be a pretty intense event played in tough conditions, and the ones especially who are coming over from Perth a few timezones away perhaps haven't had the best luck with the draw (the likes of Fognini, Khachanov, Isner, Ruud).
Auckland is pretty notorious for it's windy conditions, as evidenced again from the womens' event this week and the forecast is for more of the same next week. The tournament has managed to attract a good calibre of winner despite it's place in the calendar over the last few years - Ferrer, Isner and Bautista Agut are multiple champions, del Potro is a winner, these players have reputations for being mentally-strong and that includes dealing with the elements and the distraction of Melbourne the following week. Along those lines, it's worth looking at players that have good records the preceding week to a slam and that would appear to rule out top-seed Fognini (0 of his 19 tour finals have been the week before a slam). Khachanov and Shapovalov played five and four matches respectively in the ATP Cup and may have left a little too much out there, and also in their combined six finals on tour haven't finalled in a pre-slam week (Shapovalov was close in Winston Salem last year). This week also signals the start of Jannik Sinner's season which has much promise after a good 2019, but I think it's better waiting for the European indoor-swing in a few weeks for his big tour-breakthrough.
Attempting to find the player that fits the profile of a winner here from this field is tough but following his impressive 3-0 record for Poland in Sydney beating Schwartzman, Coric and Thiem, the pick this week is Hubert Hurkacz. 2019 saw his first ATP title come the week before the US Open in Winston Salem, beating four players that are also competing in Auckland (Lopez, Tiafoe, Shapovalov, Paire), and it's also worth noting that when he was ranked just inside the top-100 a year ago, he won the Canberra challenger preceding the Australian Open. His draw is good - Sonego in R1 has not won since September and hasn't translated good clay-results to hardcourt, while Tiafoe potentially in R2 is also low in confidence and then Fognini as already mentioned has a few black-marks against him. I've no doubt that if the likes of Khachanov and Shapovalov turn up with their A-games, they are worthy of their favouritism but there's enough reasoning to swerve them this week.
Verdict - Hubert Hurkacz to win @ 10/1
ATPAuckland - Daniil Medvedev was originally expected to compete here as top-seed and would have been strongly fancied to add another title to his fast-growing resumé, but WDd due to his ATP Cup commitments which makes a lot of sense the week before
Not to be for Hurkacz who was tournament-favourite 24 hours ago but unable to convert a good opportunity. Paire favourite for the final against Humbert, not sure many would have picked him to come through four 3-setters in these conditions after a testing week in Brisbane.
My thoughts on the AO to come tomorrow.
Hubert Hurkacz to win @ 10/1 = LOSS Lauren Davis to win @ 25/1 = LOSS
Not to be for Hurkacz who was tournament-favourite 24 hours ago but unable to convert a good opportunity. Paire favourite for the final against Humbert, not sure many would have picked him to come through four 3-setters in these conditions after a te
ATP Australian Open - The first Grand-Slam of a new decade which, surely, will signal a new era in the sport. For the last 15 years or so, they’ve been dominated by three men - Federer, Nadal and Djokovic - taking 55 majors between them, and today they still occupy the top-3 in the rankings. That’s obviously a credit to them, but also does say a bit about the generation(s) behind them that haven’t come through to challenge these three in the biggest tournaments. There have certainly been signs lately that this may be changing imminently - Medvedev has won two Masters and reached a slam-final in the last 6 months, Tsitsipas won the ATP Finals, Shapovalov reached a first Masters final - but this hasn’t been form that has yet translated to the biggest four events, where they’ve been locked out by the big-3 since the start of 2017.
So will this year and this tournament in particular be any different? On the face of it, it looks unlikely. Novak Djokovic heads the field at a shade over evens in most places following his unbeaten effort at the ATP Cup last year including another comfortable win against nearest rival Rafael Nadal in the final, who comes in as second favourite at around 9/2, while Federer, who chose not to play any competitive tennis in the lead-up, is fourth favourite at 10/1. The aforementioned man to break this trio in the market is Medvedev, generally around 8/1, and it’s understandable why as he’s only been on the up for the last several months. He’s also been one of the few players who’s proved he can live with, and beat Djokovic, especially on hardcourt where the Serb is clearly the standout player of this era. Indeed the biggest question-mark over the Russian in 2019 was his record against Nadal, whom he failed to beat in all three occasions. The third of those, at the ATP Finals, was perhaps the most worrying as he lost from an extremely strong position, which highlights that it’s maybe more of a mental-block at this stage. And this is key this week as Medvedev landed in Nadal’s section of the draw, which Djokovic will have been very happy with. A bet I quite like the look of is Nadal, Medvedev and Djokovic all to make the semi-finals at 9/2, a longer price than the “big-3” to make the last-4 @ 7/2 - Federer’s got enough question-marks about him at this stage, he’s losing more often earlier in bigger tournaments and with Shapovalov, Dimitrov and Hurkacz amongst his quarter, he feels a little vulnerable. Of course it’s not proven generally to be a good idea to write him off but he’s not the pick for me this fortnight.
Ultimately, it doesn’t look like a tournament where one of the outsiders can break through, unless one or more of the top players pick up an injury along the way. This was a factor of course in New York last year but all the evidence points to Novak Djokovic. He’s a seven-time winner at this tournament, which despite it’s extreme conditions, has always suited his game. He comes in in good form with 6 singles wins in the ATP Cup as well as the tie-winning doubles point. There are no visible signs of injury-problems, and the draw looks good for him. As much as i’d like to look for negatives and find a better price on someone else, he is the one to beat.
WTA Australian Open - Undoubtedly the tougher draw to pick, as women’s tennis has been for a long time now. There have been 19 different Grand-Slam winners on the ladies’ side in the last decade, and further evidence of the unpredictability of the WTA Tour came last year when the first 18 champions on tour were all different players.
This year has started with 3 of the five champions amongst the top-4 favourites - S Williams, Barty and Ka Pliskova - with Osaka and Halep among the market-leaders. Indeed, Serena Williams hadn’t won a title since her 2017 Australian Open success until last week in Auckland and that will feel like a big breakthrough for her, given that nerves have been the biggest barrier to her adding a 24th Grand-Slam title. She comes in as the favourite ahead of Barty, champion in Adelaide which made up for the disappointment of her early-exit in Brisbane. You can make a strong case for any of the five, but it’s certainly worth looking into the longer-prices too. Yastremska comes in with her final in Adelaide behind her and is available at 40/1, Gauff is 100/1 but it feels too soon for her, and maybe some will fancy the 150/1 on Rybakina, finalist in Shenzhen and winner in Hobart, is worth a shot.
My preference though instead is to side with who I feel is the most likely winner and that is Serena Williams. As already mentioned, she’s had the ideal warm-up with a fairly routine win in Auckland, and just to have that winning feeling back again will feel good for her even if the field wasn’t as strong as it could have been. She’ll also be incredibly motivated in Australia (as if she needs any more motivation) to equal the long-time record of Margaret Court’s 24 wins. For most players, it wouldn’t necessarily be the best thing to have landed in what looks the toughest section but Williams gets better against the strongest opponents. Barty will have been satisfied with her draw and her form coming in, but with the heat on her as the standout Australian hope, male or female, it’ll be tough for her to live up to that pressure. Pliskova @ 11/1 is a very tempting price in a weaker section of the draw, and Halep at the same price is a former finalist here, but her tendency to struggle in the earlier-rounds can be her undoing and indeed she has a very difficult opener against Brady.
Djokovic and S Williams are favourites in their respective draws, but I don’t too much fancy backing them individually so instead will take a chance on the double which pays out at a much more attractive double-figure price.
Also, the ladies’ draw to me represents a couple of opportunities for players at a longer price in the quarter-markets. I find it pretty hard to take Barty as a 2/1 favourite in the top-quarter so instead i’m putting faith in Madison Keys to come through that section. She opened her season in good style by reaching the Brisbane final and had her chances to win that, and will like the surface-change which should suit the bigger-hitters this fortnight. Kvitova is also in this section but i’d worry about her health in these particular conditions as an asthma-sufferer. I’ll also add in a player from the fourth-quarter and that’s Amanda Anisimova. She broke through last year winning her first WTA title and going onto reach the semis in Paris, on that occasion blowing a very good opportunity to make the final. She’s come through personal tragedy in the last few months with her father’s sudden passing, but a semi-final showing in Auckland was a promising opening to her year despite the beatdown against Williams, where Anisimova admitted beforehand that it’d always been her dream to face her and nerves clearly hampered her. That is less of a factor in this part of the draw where Ka Pliskova leads the way ahead of Svitolina, who lost badly in Brisbane to start the year. Bertens is seeded nine but has some fitness question-marks, while a former champion in Kerber is fourth-favourite in this section despite carrying no form at all for a while now. Anisimova will pretty soon be amongst these names at the top of the sport and this represents a good opportunity for her to reach another semi-final at this level and possibly even more.
Verdict Djokovic/S Williams double to win @ 11/1 Keys to win Quarter 1 @ 11/2 Anisimova to win Quarter 4 @ 9/1
ATPAustralian Open - The first Grand-Slam of a new decade which, surely, will signal a new era in the sport. For the last 15 years or so, they’ve been dominated by three men - Federer, Nadal and Djokovic - taking 55 majors between them, and today t
Djokovic/S Williams double to win @ 11/1 = LOSS Keys to win Quarter 1 @ 11/2 = LOSS Anisimova to win Quarter 4 @ 9/1 = LOSS
Didn't get a sniff there, Williams' loss particularly galling given how that section opened up. Also frustrating to see Kenin doing well when i'd have been happy to back her in any other section...one to forget.
Quite a few ATP/WTA tournaments back next week, including perhaps one of the weakest 250 entry-lists there's ever been...
Djokovic/S Williams double to win @ 11/1 = LOSSKeys to win Quarter 1 @ 11/2 = LOSSAnisimova to win Quarter 4 @ 9/1 = LOSSDidn't get a sniff there, Williams' loss particularly galling given how that section opened up. Also frustrating to see Kenin doi
I thought Sofia Kenin would be one to follow this year. To reach the final in Australia is some achievment. She fights so hard for every point and never gives up. Just hope she can get the job done and give me a good start to the year. Dont get many 55/1 winners.
I thought Sofia Kenin would be one to follow this year. To reach the final in Australia is some achievment.She fights so hard for every point and never gives up. Just hope she can get the job done and give me a good start to the year.Dont get many 55
ATP Pune - This has every chance of being the weakest tour-level field of the season, Pune has moved in the calendar from opening the season in week-one to a 'graveyard-slot' just after the Australian Open. That has left the tournament with just a single player ranked inside the world's top-65, Benoit Paire (ranked 21), and the top-8 seeds just about all inside the top-100. All this considered, it's fair to view this with a slight Challenger-level feel, given all the players here have been playing at that level over various times in the last 12 months.
Paire himself is of course favourite and is available at around 4/1. He's started the season well with 7 wins from 10, including the run to the final in Auckland where he only just missed out on the title. He was seeded 1 in Winston Salem where he made the final in August, as well as his last CH-final in Marbella. He also has a decent record in this tournament, reaching the semi-finals in 2018 and the quarter-finals in 2019. Given his record in finals (losing record at both ATP and Challenger-level), it feels like a better idea to avoid him outright and his price is too short for each-way benefit, so the preference is to look at the bottom-half of the draw.
There's little to be excited about with Ricardas Berankis despite being seeded-two - three Challenger-titles in 2019 are the pluses but difficult to make a case beyond that. Stefano Travaglia is seeded third, and has some recent form with finals in Bendigo last month, as well as a couple of wins for Italy in Perth in the ATP Cup. His countryman Stefano Caruso has managed to get a seeding at 95 in the world, but all his best stuff has come away from hardcourts. Yuichi Sugita deserves respect, having reached finals in his last two CH events including Noumea last month, and made semis at the end of 2019 in Stockholm when a lucky-loser. He was a winner in Pune at challenger-level 6 years ago.
Instead, in such a wide-open field, i'm inclined to take a chance on a German working his way back up the rankings after some injury-hell. Cedrik-Marcel Stebe was unranked in Spring last year, but since then has risen to just outside the top-150 having reached his maiden ATP-final in Gstaad. He's carrying some form into this week, having made the semis in Noumea and losing a five-setter to the top-seed Paire in Melbourne in R1. He faces a tricky match in R1 against Karlovic, which will sharpen him up straight away but there's a lot to like about his current upward-trend and is more than capable of getting on a run in this field.
Verdict Cedrik-Marcel Stebe to win @ 20/1 e/w
Córdoba - A new tournament in 2019, Córdoba now marks the start of the South American clay-swing which marks the opportunities for the many clay-specialists on tour to earn their living again. Juan Ignacio Londero was a surprise-winner last year as a wildcard, and he comes in seeded this year in what is a much stronger field than in India. All eight seeded players have won titles at tour-level, only Verdasco lacks a tour-final in the last 12 months, and it's led by top-seed Diego Schwartzman, the only top-20 player here. He's followed by Guido Pella, who lost to Londero from a set up in last year's final and third-seed Cristian Garin who broke through on tour with his maiden two titles in Houston and Munich. Being the first tour-level tournament on this surface since last summer makes it a tricky one to judge, and there have been plenty of Challengers on clay in that time which offer a little insight into who's going to be welcoming this part of the calendar more than others.
Londero's win last year was a bit of an upset but he did at least carry a little more form then (3 wins) than on this occasion, where he comes in on a 0-6 streak. Argentines, who tend to receive great support in their rare home-tournaments, have done pretty well in Córdoba and Buenos Aires (next week), with 7 different home players making finals in the aforementioned tournaments since 2008. But Spaniards have generally tended to dominate this part of the season, with the likes of Ferrer, Almagro and of course Nadal, in the handful of forays to this part of the world, all regular titleists. Nadal is not in South America this year, so the highest-ranked player from Spain that lines up in Córdoba is Albert Ramos. He holds a few positives - went through a sizeable dip in form after an impressive 2017, but in last year's Summer clay-swing he made Bastard SF, Kitzbuhel final and sandwiching those by winning the title in Gstaad. The negative is his place in the draw where he'd likely face Schwartzman in the QF, whom he is 0-4 (no sets won) against and is yet to figure out.
The top-seed Schwartzman is a tempting pick, and only lost his first sets in Melbourne in the fourth-round to the eventual winner Djokovic. That said, i'm more keen to take the slightly better price on his compatriot Guido Pella on the other side of the draw. Finalist last year in the inaugural edition of this tournament and beat Schwartzman along the way, Pella has proven his worth in this part of the season by backing that up with semis in Buenos Aires and then his maiden title in Sao Paulo. He compiled a 21-9 record on the dirt in 2019, despite a disappointing end to the European-swing in May, but he's obviously much more at home here and will get good support. As second-seed, he has received the R1 bye, and has Verdasco for company before any semi-final but should be favoured to make the final and hopefully go one better than last year.
Verdict Guido Pella to win @ 6/1
ATPPune - This has every chance of being the weakest tour-level field of the season, Pune has moved in the calendar from opening the season in week-one to a 'graveyard-slot' just after the Australian Open. That has left the tournament with just a sin
ATP Buenos Aires - First foray into the in-play but this looked too good to turn down. A fairly barmy quarter-final night saw two semi-finalists win through despite obvious physical travails. The last four remaining below:
Schwartzman vs P Sousa Ruud vs Londero
Diego Schwartzman was the beneficiary of a fairly embarrassing choke from Pablo Cuevas, doing so while the Argentine top-seed was clearly battling a hamstring problem. It’ll be tough for him to play the weekend in anything like a good physical condition but he won’t want to bow out of his most important home-tournament. His opponent, Pedro Sousa, was also struggling in his win over Thiago Monteiro, and considering all this, it’s difficult to take either top-half finalist, whoever it is, as a serious contender on Sunday, barring miraculous recoveries.
The bottom-line is, even with the aforementioned injury issues plaguing Schwartzman and lucky-loser Sousa, i’ve still very much liked Casper Ruud’s form from the bottom-half, who has moved into favouritism on the back of these circumstances. The Norwegian has been on blistering form all week, dropping serve just once and not even giving up break-points in his opening two matches. Dusan Lajovic wilted towards the end of their quarter-final, but Ruud was giving nothing up and dominating with his forehand throughout. Juan Ignacio Londero is a tricky customer of course, and will also look to try to dictate with his forehand but I have to take more confidence in Ruud’s form as he eyes his first (of what should be many) titles at this level.
Verdict: Casper Ruud to win @ 2.37
Will hopefully get something up for WTA Dubai and one of the three ATP events before next week.
ATPBuenos Aires - First foray into the in-play but this looked too good to turn down. A fairly barmy quarter-final night saw two semi-finalists win through despite obvious physical travails. The last four remaining below:Schwartzman vs P SousaRuud vs
ATP Delray Beach: The tournaments in Rio De Janeiro and Marseille have attracted the better fields this week, but this field catches my eye.
Milos Raonic tops the betting as 11/4 favourite but his R1 defeat in favoured indoor-conditions last week in New York highlight the risk involved backing that price. Taylor Fritz is third-seed and will appeal to many playing at home but since his strong summer last year, he hasn’t looked at his best and the same could be said for Reilly Opelka.
This leads us onto the top-seed and it’s the first time in his career that Nick Kyrgios is the top-seed at an ATP Tour event. It’s also his first outing since a positive Australian summer, on and off the court, and it remains to be seen if he really is a new player now. At 4/1, he could easily make that price look silly if he does indeed turn up at his best but there’s just too many examples in the near and distant past to suggest this price should be swerved and instead he'll be one to keep an eye on in the bigger tournaments around the corner when he should be properly geared up.
So, in what is a pretty open field, my personal preference is to take on Kyrgios straight away by backing his R1 opponent Tommy Paul. The American has perhaps taken longer than some imagined to break through at this level but the signs lately are strong - he made the semi-finals in Adelaide as a qualifier, then proceeded to defeat Grigor Dimitrov in an epic five-setter in Australia to make the third-round of a slam for the first time. Those 9 matches in the space of a couple of weeks may have took their toll and he was well beaten in R1 in New York last week, but this is now someone who’s become a serial winner at CH-level and this is the sort of 250 field where he can make his mark on the main-tour. Delray Beach has indeed seen a few new champions crowned, including last year’s winner Radu Albot, as well as Kei Nishikori, Ernests Gulbis and Jack Sock in the last several years. Of course, this could easily go down in pretty simple fashion straight away but he’s the same price as Jack Sock and longer than Ryan Harrison, both of whom have clearly had their issues on court lately. I was pretty tempted to side with Frances Tiafoe as well at 33/1 but will stick to this at small stakes.
Verdict: Tommy Paul to win @ 50/1 e/w
WTA Dubai: As usual, a strong field has congregated at this event with the $700,000 winners fund attracting 8 of the world's top-15. It's notable for the return of the wildcarded Kim Clijsters to tour after over 7 years out. It was a brave one to pick for her, originally drawing Kiki Bertens in R1 before the Dutchwoman withdrew but instead she's been re-drawn to face Australian Open finalist Garbiñe Muguruza which ought to be a step too far for her. There will, of course, be better opportunities for the Belgian than here.
Due to some ridiculous circumstances in Debrecen, that tournament was unable to take place in the same week and the knock-on effect to this tournament has resulted in one of the strongest qualifying-draws you'll see, where 31 in the world Julia Görges is seeded 1 and 57 in the world Ajla Tomljanović is seeded - for comparison, 57th in the world would have been seeded 7 in Hua Hin main-draw this week. This strong qualifying-draw is worth noting as, at first glance, the bottom-half of the main-draw looks rather weaker with 5 Q/LL spots, but amongst the bottom-half is the Australian Open champion Sonia Kenin, who faces arguably the hottest player on tour Elena Rybakina in R1.
As this is a Premier event, i'd expect the top players to turn up and that's where i'm pinning my hopes. Without a title since she won the WTA Finals for the first time in 2018, i'm picking this to be the place where Elina Svitolina can get back to winning ways. The Ukrainian is a two-time winner here, in 2017 and 2018, so she's coming back to a place where she's had good success in the past and carries a total 16-3 record at this event. Winning titles at this level has never been a particular issue for Svitolina, indeed up until recently her slam-record has been the problem but she's on her way to solving that with her first two slam semi-finals last year. To keep making strides there, she'll need to maintain good results throughout the season for confidence at the biggest events. Her poor recent form is obviously a large contributing-factor to her starting-price here, a couple of defeats amongst them that were rather tank-like, but i'm confident she can solve that here by getting a couple of early wins and re-building her confidence.
Verdict: Elina Svitolina to win @ 12/1
ATPDelray Beach: The tournaments in Rio De Janeiro and Marseille have attracted the better fields this week, but this field catches my eye.Milos Raonic tops the betting as 11/4 favourite but his R1 defeat in favoured indoor-conditions last week in Ne
Fairly hopeful that this Svitolina loss should at least be the lowest point of the season, that's the positive spin i'll take.
Anyway, Ruud = WIN which was welcomed. Paul goes tonight, keen to at least get something going there.
Fairly hopeful that this Svitolina loss should at least be the lowest point of the season, that's the positive spin i'll take.Anyway, Ruud = WIN which was welcomed. Paul goes tonight, keen to at least get something going there.
Karolina Muchova my early Wimbledon bet has started the year in very poor form. 1st round exit's in two of her three tournaments already. Lost deciding set 0-6 yesterday. So many of these girls seem to give up when things start to go wrong. Hope she's not one of those. Last year was all about winning. Now she's got to show some fight.
Karolina Muchova my early Wimbledon bet has started the year in very poor form. 1st round exit's in two of her three tournaments already. Lost deciding set 0-6 yesterday.So many of these girls seem to give up when things start to go wrong. Hope she's
WTA Palermo: Maybe someone can convince me otherwise but this tournament feels pretty open, being the first one back on tour in over 4 months.
My one dart-throw will be taking on a seeded player in the first match today so it could be short-lived, but willing to give Arantxa Rus a go at a decent price. She possesses a strong career-record on clay over the years, by far her best surface, and indeed has gone 54-15 since the start of 2019 and as such has seen her ranking climb from well outside the top-200 to 70 when lockdown struck. It came at a fairly bad time for her as well as she reached the semis in Monterrey on the hardcourts in February which could have been a good boost going into the clay-swing, but instead she picks back up here at a place where she reached the quarters in 2019.
The draw in Palermo is fairly balanced but this is about as extenuating a circumstance as you'll get leading into a main-draw tournament, with no form to speak of apart from exhibitions and whatever practice videos you want to read into from various players' social-media accounts. Martic and Vondrousova understandably lead the market based on good claycourt pedigree at a higher level but this isn't a normal tournament, so lower-stakes on a lively outsider feels the way to go to ease back in.
Verdict: Arantxa Rus to win @ 50/1 ew
WTAPalermo: Maybe someone can convince me otherwise but this tournament feels pretty open, being the first one back on tour in over 4 months.My one dart-throw will be taking on a seeded player in the first match today so it could be short-lived, but
ATP St Petersburg: The indoor-season returns in the week originally scheduled before the tour's suspension, this time with changes though and one of those is the upgrade in St Petersburg's status to a 500 event. As such, a pretty decent field has been assembled there with all 8 seeds residing inside the top-30 in the world.
Daniil Medvedev, defending champion who won this tournament in the midst of his stellar 2019 run, leads the field and rightly also leads the market as a 3/1 favourite. There will surely be many takers at that price; he won this without dropping a set last year and at his best has shown he can compete now at any level, including 9 finals at tour-level last year. But he's yet to reach one in 2020, and while this week represents as good an opportunity as any, there's not a lot of recent evidence to suggest he's right at this price.
I'm not personally of the opinion that taking claycourt-form from Rome through to Paris is the best idea for this event or any of the next few weeks, while it's a handy guide as to who's playing well or not, this time of year is a pretty specialised stretch and a good chance for some of the players who enjoy the conditions indoors to gain some late points/money in 2020.
Shapovalov and Rublev, both in the bottom-half, have strong chances but both have played a lot of tennis lately and may find this, with bigger tournaments around the corner, as a step too far. Pospisil is one who showed positive form in New York and should enjoy conditions, but a tricky draw as well as regular fitness issues puts me off on this occasion.
Among those who can prosper here, Reilly Opelka stands out as one who's been overpriced in this field. Now a two-time winner at this level with hardcourt titles in New York (indoors) and Delray Beach, this could represent a good chance to step up at 500-level. It was around this time last year where he picked up some form in Basel to make the semi-finals (d Goffin, Bautista Agut), and in addition to that was impressive in making the quarter-finals in "Cincinnati" in the summer before injury stopped him. He hasn't won since then, but too much can't be looked into a tricky draw in NY and a claycourt defeat. The big test in this draw would seemingly arrive in R2 against the aforementioned Medvedev if both win their respective R1 matches, but catching the Russian early and cold with his serve/forehand could represent his best chance and from there may be able to gather momentum. Happy to stick with each-way small-stakes for this tournament.
Verdict: Reilly Opelka to win @ 33/1 ew
ATP Cologne 1: One of four new tournaments added to this hastily-arranged indoor-swing (one of the others being Cologne 2 next week), Cologne 1 (or the bett1HULKS Indoors as they'd like it to be known) offers another chance for players to kick-off their late indoor-season, and although this has taken 250-status while St Petersburg has been upped to a 500, this tournament in west-Germany has managed to assemble almost as strong a field as the one in Russia. Indications from qualifying suggest it's not the quickest of courts, which may highlight why most who prefer quicker conditions have travelled to Russia instead.
Alexander Zverev is top-seed and the only top-tenner here, and like Medvedev in Russia, will be strongly fancied by many to win his home-event. Zverev holds a good record in home-tournaments throughout his career; it was Hamburg in 2014 where he was an impressive semi-finalist as a 17 year-old, but success in Munich twice and two finals in Halle show he has little problem in dealing with home expectations. 2020 has certainly been something of a breakout season for him at slam-level, with semis in Australia and a first final in New York (where he certainly should ultimately have won). Worth noting he holds a 1-5 record in BO3 tournaments, but only one of those defeats was pre-lockdown (vs Murray in "Cincinnati"), again a match he should've won, and it's clear the work he was doing with Ferrer in the summer has moved his game on. Zverev's price doesn't attract me enough to back him here, instead he could be a good shout in Paris or London towards the end of the year, but he certainly could make a run here.
My preference is to look to the bottom-half of this particular event; Bautista Agut can perform on any surface at any time of year, but he's not gained particularly good results since his match against Djokovic in "Cincinnati" which appears to have taken a bit out of him, and taking an MTO in defeat to Carreño Busta last week in Paris suggests something's not totally right. Auger-Aliassime will win tournaments like these eventually but there just look to be too many black-marks against his name both with form and closing out events and isn't an attractive enough price. Paire is seeded fourth but his form since the tour's return has been pretty miserable. Hurkacz does appeal at a decent price but has very little positive to fall back on since lockdown bar a win over a tired Rublev in Rome, it's hard to take much confidence there. Instead, I see this as being a very good chance for a bigger price to reach the final and my preference is Marton Fucsovics. Six wins and two losses on the US hardcourts after lockdown was an impressive return and, while I don't want to take too much from the Parisian clay, a four-set win over Medvedev there in R1 is a very good sign of where his game and confidence is right now. He's a titleist at this level before and reached an indoor-final last year in Sofia, there's no doubt he is capable in this company and is worth a shot at this price. Simon ought to be a good opponent for R1, someone who can test him making a lot of balls but one he should beat, then Bautista Agut who has a R1 bye could be caught cold. Each-way again is the play here.
Verdict: Marton Fucsovics to win @ 22/1 ew
ATPSt Petersburg: The indoor-season returns in the week originally scheduled before the tour's suspension, this time with changes though and one of those is the upgrade in St Petersburg's status to a 500 event. As such, a pretty decent field has been
ATP Cologne 2: Organisers of this new dual-event will have been very content to see their home-favourite and number-one seed Sascha Zverev take the title in the first week, and while he wasn't without his ups and downs, he was a worthy winner in what was a tournament that went pretty much to the formbook with him consigning other high-seed Auger-Aliassime to a sixth final defeat out of six.
Those two once again enter the draw for this tournament along with fellow semi-finalist Davidovich Fokina (Bautista Agut was in but withdrew, as did Murray) - the draw has been pretty kind to Zverev in this respect, pitting the other two in the bottom-half along with one of the form players of the claycourt-swing Diego Schwartzman (seeded two). Add in Kyle Edmund, an indoor-titleist this year and Marin Cilic and you've got a pretty tough bottom-half to predict so instead my focus swings to the top-half.
One thing Zverev has struggled to do in recent times is back up a good week; you have to go back to May 2018 on the clay for the last time he made back-to-back finals on tour (w Madrid, r/u Rome), and while you can more than reasonably ignore that given there's no travel issues on this occasion, there could be something in that, as well as the fact he wasn't in anything like his best form in Cologne 1 but it was enough to win in a fairly average field. So my instinct is to fade him and instead look to some of the others in that half who can challenge him.
Shapovalov, as previously-mentioned, has played a lot of tennis lately (16 matches in the last 6 weeks) and i'm still not convinced he can maintain, although clearly one who enjoys these conditions. Mannarino and Hurkacz are seeded, the former has relatively good pedigree around this time of year but doesn't tick enough boxes for me. Instead i'm going to back someone who's been on the up for a while now and has continued that lately. A quarter-final including a win over Zverev in Paris suggests that Jannik Sinner will be riding on a wave of confidence, and i'm of the opinion indoors, with his serve and rangy groundstrokes, will be his best opportunity for big wins in the years to come. Of course, his best week so far came when winning the NextGen Finals last year as a largely unfancied wildcard but he's proven that was no fluke with a run to the semis in Antwerp last year as a 100/1 shot, reaching the Rotterdam 500 quarters (a match he should've won) and an indoor title at Challenger-level all indoors in the last 12 months. He'll be at a career-high ranking inside the top-50 on Monday and has landed a fairly favourable section of the draw this week facing Hurkacz in R1 who has struggled to show form on tour at all since January. I'm pretty sure Sinner will be a fixture inside the top-20 very soon and the opportunity to play in this field offers a good opportunity to gain his first final and possibly title on the main-tour.
Verdict: Jannik Sinner to win @ 9/1 ew
WTA Ostrava: Given some local reports, it seems that the WTA Tour have done well to even get this tournament on in a badly-affected area in Czechia but the players who've turned up for this hastily-organised WTA Premier will be happy to have the opportunity to end the season on a high.
Unsurprisingly given the bareness of the schedule, this tournament (which currently looks like being the only one between Paris and Linz) has attracted a strong field led by two top-tenners in Elina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova. Both returned decent results in the Euro clay-swing, a title and a final between them, but both also suffered relatively disappointing French Open defeats, in particular Svitolina let slip a huge opportunity to win a slam and that probably will take some time to get over. It is worth remembering that her best career-moment came in winning the season-ending WTA Finals in 2018 indoors, so she's capable of finding form again in these conditions but has too often shown tendencies to be overpowered by form players.
Given how strong this field is (all direct-entrants are top-40), there are some interesting prices to be had and i'd find it hard to justify backing a single-figured priced player of which there are a few here. The WTA Tour is little if not unpredictable as shown again in Paris with Swiatek winning as an unseeded player, and the top players all being fairly underwhelming. There's a good argument to take a chance therefore on one of the longer-shots including Pliskova's twin-sister Kristyna who has the game to prosper in these conditions if firing (66/1), or Ostapenko, a titleist indoors in Luxembourg a year ago and showed glimpses of her best in Paris earlier in the month (33/1).
I'm more drawn to someone that I think is overpriced slightly towards the middle of the market in Dayana Yastremska; on her day, as with much of the WTA Tour, she's capable of the very good or the very bad and I think her price here suggests she's worth a shot at finding the former. A multiple-winner at tour-level now, Yastremska has showed typically mixed form since the restart with 7 wins and 5 losses, but also the coach-split from Bajin amongst that won't have helped things. Her game isn't particularly conducive to clay but she did manage some decent wins and has shown in the past she can switch her form on pretty quickly; winning Strasbourg last year off a 4 match losing-run, won Hong Kong a couple of years ago off a 2-3 run, suffered a R1 loss in Brisbane this year before running #1 Barty close in the Adelaide final. She's arguably a better, more consistent and more patient player nowadays as evidenced by her ranking being stable in the top-30 all year and really it wouldn't be a surprise if she was one of the next young players to take a giant step forward in the near future. Her draw here is a test, with Brady first up but she's rather lost momentum since her strong summer-run with one match/defeat in the last few weeks. Rybakina is another in that section who has lost a little form lately and the opportunity to face Ka Pliskova in that half, whom she easily beat last time, can't hold too many fears for Yastremska who, if she's able to build up a head of steam, has a chance to add another title to her resumè. Azarenka, one of the clear form players since the restart, being in the other half is helpful as well as Mertens and Svitolina, so there's a few from the bottom-half that I like the look of but Yastremska gets the pick this time.
Verdict: Dayana Yastremska to win @ 50/1 ew
ATPCologne 2: Organisers of this new dual-event will have been very content to see their home-favourite and number-one seed Sascha Zverev take the title in the first week, and while he wasn't without his ups and downs, he was a worthy winner in what