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  • Chris Sobey



At the time of writing the three ATP Tournaments at Rotterdam, Memphis and Buenos Aires had reached the final stage. As predicted KEI nishikori made the final again in MEMPHIS.

In the main event of the week the ATP 500 in Rotterdam the statistics proved correct again as the top two seeds lost, Gasquet withdrawing injured pre-tournament and Cilic losing at the quarter final stage against Kohlschreiber (which I predicted midweek). At the time of writing fifth seed Monfils made the final and was set to face the unseeded Martin Klizan who rode his luck in the quarter finals saving five match points and again in the semi-finals against veteran qualifier Nicholas Mahut.

Over in Buenos Aires there were shocks a plenty with top seeds Rafa and David Ferrer crashing out at the semi-final stage against fifth seed Dominic Thiem and the unseeded Nicolas Almagro, who has made an amazing return to form this week after a long injury interjected baron spell. These results broke a spell of the top seed winning the last six titles and with Thiem, who knocked out the top-seed Nadal, we potentially have the future King of Clay in our midst as if he wins this title it will be his fourth in total (all on clay) at the age of 22.

Before the ATP Tour movies to Indian Wells for the first Masters 1000 Series of the season we have another busy week with three ATP Tour tournaments on show. We have another ATP 500 event, this week in the sunny realms of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, another European Indoor tournament in Marseille, France and the first North American outdoor hard court tournament of the season at Delray Beach, Florida USA.

We will start in Europe at Marseille, which has attracted a very strong field, with three top-10 players like top seed Wawrinka, second seed Berdych and third seed Gasquet. French players have performed well at Marseille with six winners in the last decade, including defending champion Gilles Simon, who is seeded fifth this week.

The statistics don’t bode well for the top-two seeds Wawrinka and Berdych this week as the top seed has won the title only once in the last decade (2011) and has been a losing finalist once in this period (2013). The second seed has never won the title in the last decade and was a losing finalist once in this period (2014) ad on this basis theres no value in backing either on this occasion.

Seeded players in general have performed well with a player seeded no higher than five winning seven of the last 10 titles, including the last five in a row, and a seeded player seeded no higher than eight has been a losing finalist six times in the last decade, including the last three years. Unseeded players have performed well at Marseille also with three winners in the last decade (last 2010) and an unseeded player has been a losing finalist on four occasions (last 2012).

The top half of the draw looks pretty open with Wawrinka, fourth seed Cilic (9/1) and Rotterdam finalist and seventh seed Gael Monfils being the most popular from a betting perspective. Veteran French serve and volley specialist and Rotterdam qualifier Nicholas Mahut (25/1) came within a whisker of making the Rotterdam final last week. He’ll be disappointed after throwing away a chance of making the final at Rotterdam last week, however, he’s clearly in very good form and with not having to qualify this week has every chance of going well again if he has fully recovered from his tough exertions last week.

It’s also tempting to side with fourth seed Marin Cilic (9/1) in the top half of the draw as well as he fits the profile of a potential finalist/winner and his section of the draw is very winnable based on player form. However, his form this year has been frustrating with all his defeats being very tight, but he showed signs at Rotterdam last week that he could go well this week and with an arguably easier draw he has to be given a chance at a decent price.

In the bottom half of the draw Richard Gasquet (15/2) fits the profile, with the one negative being his withdrawal from Rotterdam last week due to a back/groin injury, which should benefit from a weeks rest Fifth seed and defending champion Gilles Simon has looked in good shape this season so far and will be 100% focussed on defending his title and ranking points this week. The major positive is they both have a winning record against second seed Berdych, if they did meet at the semi-final stage, but the main negative is Simon is drawn to face Gasquet in the quarter finals and with Gasquet leading the head to head 6-1 he would have to be the preference.

Over in North America at Delray Beach we have the first outdoor hard court tournament of the season. Surprisingly home grown players don’t have a good record with only one winner from the USA in the last decade (Fish 2009) and two losing finalist (2008 and 2015). Defending champion and third seed Ivo Karlovic returns as does seventh seed and 2015 finalist Donald Young, but both players form this season has been disappointing and I don’t see either contending this season.

The top two seeds have a poor record at Delray Beach, which does not bode well for top seed Kevin Anderson or second seed Bernard Tomic. The top seed has won one of the last 10 titles (2009) and been a losing finalist twice in this period (2007 and 2008). The second seed has never won the title in the last decade and has only been a losing finalist once (2010)

Seeded players in general have performed well and player seeded no higher than seven has won seven of the last ten titles, including three of the last four and a seeded player no higher than #6 has been a losing finliast six times in this period. There has also been a handful of surprise winners and finalists and four unseeded players won the title in the last decade (last 2013) and there were five losing finalists in this period, including three of the last four seasons.

Looking at seeded players who have the talent and credentials to win this week , Grigor Dmitrov (5/1) is in what looks like a very winnable bottom half of the draw. His focus and form looks much stronger this year and if he plays anywhere near his best he should be contesting the final and hopefully winning on Sunday.

There are thin pickings in terms of unseeded players who may be able to spring a surprise this week. Memphis finalist Taylor Fritz has been given a spot in the main draw but its unlikely he’ll go all the way this week given his age of 18 and a lot of tough matches last week. Memphis semi-finalist Sam Querrey would be of interest on home soil in conditions that suit, but his last title win was back in 2012 on hard courts and he’s not even made a final on the surface since then (both last year clay and grass).

Before moving on to Rio Its great to see former World No. 4 and Delray Beach winner Juan Martin del Potro making another attempt at a return from his troublesome wrist injury that has unfortunately kept him out of action since March 2015, where he lost in the first round of the Miami Masters. He faces a tough first round against American Dennis Kudla, but regardless of the result it will be great to see him come through the experience unscathed and hopefully injury free.

As the ATP 500 Rio is a new tournament with only two years history there’s not a huge amount of historical statistics to use. Nadal won as the top seed in 2014 beating the unseeded Dolgopolov in the final, last year Nadal lost as top seed and the second seed Ferrer beat fourth seed Fognini. After Nadal’s performances this season and last week I wont be backing him at the current price.

The top half of the draw looks quite competitive with the likes of Almagro (playing Buenos Aires final at time of writing), 2014 finalist Dolgopolov, eighth seed Bellucci, third seed Tsonga, multiple clay court titles winner Pablo Cuevas, ATP clay court title winner Frederico Del Bonis and sixth seed Jack Sock all lining up. At the prices Cuevas and Sock/Delbonis as outsiders appeal the most to me as they been solid this season and all won titles on the surface.

In the bottom half of the draw second seed Ferrer is the player to beat and will be desperate to make up for losing at the semi-final stage at Buenos Aires last week. However, like Nadal there are more chinks beginning to show in Ferrer’s dominance and he also looks opposable again this week. Fourth seed John Isner, last years finalist, seventh seed Fognini, multiple clay court title winner Monaco and Buenos Airee finalist and fifth seed Dominic Thiem are some of the star players who will attempt to dethrone Ferrer and Fognini and possibly the unseeded Diego Schwartzman who is a steadily improving player and clay court specialist.

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