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  • Chris Sobey


Another good week for my tennis advice as at the time of writing two of our selections from last week (Cilic 9/1 and Cuevas 28/1) had made the finals of their respective tournaments. The three ATP Tournaments at Marseille, Delray Beach and Rio de Janiero had all reached the final stage and as predicted in Monday’s article the top two seeds struggled this week. The top two seeds at their respective tournaments Wawrinka, Berdych, Nadal, Ferrer and Anderson and Tomic all lost at the semi-final stage or sooner.

At Delray Beach Anderson and Tomic crashed out early and there were two surprise finalists as a result. The players to benefit and make the final were unseeded veterans and Americans Sam Querrey and Rajeev Ram, who knocked out the well fancied Del Potro and Dimitrov at the semi-final stage on Saturday.

It’s great to see two Americans contesting the final after such a barren winning spell for the country at this tournament.

At Marseille,Wawrinka lost against Paire in the quarter finals and Kyrgios gained revenge for his Australian Open loss against second seed Berdych in the semi-final, where he exhibited a masterful display of powerful aggressive serving and ground strokes that Berdych had no answers for. At the time of writing he was due to face Marin Cilic in Sunday’s final.

At Rio top seed Nadal lost against Pablo Cueva at the semi-final stage and Ferrer lost against Thiem at the quarter final stage, but Thiem then went on to lose against the unseeded Argentine Guido Pella, who was due to face Cuevas in his first ever ATP final at the time of writing.

On to this week and it’s a busy one with three more ATP Tournaments to follow before the break for Davis Cup next weekend. Two of them are ATP 500 events at Dubai and Acapulco, which should insure some top class entertainment. There is also one ATP 250 clay court event, which brings the Golden Clay Court Swing to an end, at Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Please note I could not provide prices this week as the bookmakers had not priced up the draws at the time of writing on Sunday and the draw for Acapulco had still not been revealed.

On the down side Roger Federer won’t be defending his Dubai title this week and Andy Murray understandably is not playing at all after the birth of his daughter. World number one and top seed Novak Djokovic returns to the ATP Tour for the first time since winning a record equalling sixth Australian Open crown. This week he will attempt to continue his dominance and record breaking by attempting to win a fifth Dubai title after wins in 2009-2011, again in 2013 and he made the final last year losing against Federer.

While not many will oppose him this week, history is not overwhelmingly on Djokovic’s side as the top seed. The top seed has won three of the last ten titles (last time 2013) and were a losing finalist the same number of times in this period (last time 2015). The second seed has a better record at Dubai, which bodes well for Stan Wawrinka’s chances this week. The second seed has won the title five times in the last decade and they were never a losing finalist in this period.

Seeded players in general have a very good record at Dubai and a player seeded no higher than six has won the last ten titles. Also, a seeded player has been a losing finalist eight times over the last decade, including the last seven in a row. Since 2011 two players seeded no higher than four have contested the final, which suggests the winner will come from the top four seeds, and with only two unseeded players making the final (2007 and 2008) in the last decade going for a lower seeded player seems like the best strategy.

Given the statistics for the second seed, Wawrinka appeals the most at the prices and his chances were improved by Berdych making the semi-finals at Marseille and Nick Kyrgios the final who are both in his half of the draw. Fourth seed Bautista Agut could be the biggest threat to Djokovic in the top half of the draw as the Spaniard’s form has been very impressive so far this season.

Sao Paulo is the final clay court tournament of the 2016 Golden Swing as the tour moves towards the first Masters 1000 Series tournaments of the season at Indian Wells and Miami in March. The tournament has not attracted any top-10 players or clay court heavyweights this year, but defending champion Pablo Cuevas does line up as does top seed Benoit Paire who made the semi-final at Marsielle last week. Spanish (6) and South American (4) players have dominated the tournament over the last decade winning all ten titles and two South American players won the title the last two seasons (Cueva fifth seed 2015 and Del Bonis unseeded 2014).

The top seed has experienced mixed fortune at Sao Paulo winning four of the last ten titles (last Nadal 2013) and they were a losing finalist three times in this period (last time 2010).

Seeded players in general have performed well over the last decade and a player seeded no higher than six has won eight of the last ten titles and they were also a losing finalist five times in this period (last time 2011). Unseeded players have not done well at this event in terms of winning titles, but there have been a handful of surprise finalists over the last decade and in such an open tournament expect surprises again in 2016. An unseeded player has won two of the last ten titles (last time 2014) and an unseeded player has been a losing finalist five times in this period (last 2015).

Given the overwhelming statistics regarding the past ten winners coming from Spain or South America we can narrow down our search for the winner to be a South American seeded at six or lower. Defending champion and third seed Pablo Cuevas’ chances of defending his title have to be taken seriously as such a strong experienced player, but the major negative is his final appearance at Rio last week that will make defending his title this week much tougher.

It’s also great to see seventh seed Nicolas Almagro back playing some of his best tennis after an injury plagued few seasons. He’s been rolling back the years on the red dirt this season making the final at Buenos Aires two weeks ago where he lost a nail biting final against the in-form Dominic Thiem.

In the top half of the draw Cuevas and Almagro both appeal from a betting perspective. They are drawn to meet at the quarter final stage and if they do Cuevas leads their personal head to head 4-0, which suggests Cuevas has to be the call. However, I think if he wins the Rio title the pressure to win this week will be far less as winning Rio would cover any ranking points if he does not defend his title this week. As a result Almagro appeals the most at the prices, but considering his form, a first round bye and a later start in the tournament if he won Rio it’s worth splitting your stake between Cuevas and Almagro.

In the bottom half of the draw fourth seed Frederico Del Bonis form has been steady but not spectacular so far on the red dirt this season, but he has won an ATP title and reached finals during his young career, which makes him a major contender this week. Fifth seed Ramos Vinolas would be of interest given his experience, but he faces a tough opener against compatriot Carreno-Busta and is best just watched on this occasion.

There are no real stand out unseeded players I like this week at Sao Paulo, but the experienced veteran Paul Henri Mathieu could go well if fit. He’s in the top half of the draw with Cuevas and Almagro so is best watched on this occasion. Diego Sebastian Schwartzman is worth giving another chance to after falling just a bit short against Thiem last week. With plenty of matches under his belt and an easier draw he has a chance to do well this week, but he’s drawn to face Del Bonis in the second round and on that basis is best watched this week as he lost both of their meetings on the ATP Tour that were on clay.

Finally, as a hard court tournament Acapulco has only been going since 2014 and in 2015 second seed David Ferrer beat top seed Kei Nishikori in the final while in 2013 fourth seed Grigor Dimitrov beat fifth seed Kevin Anderson in the final. At the time of writing there was still no draw available for Acapulco so I will provide you with an update on this event when I provide my next blog on Wednesday.

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