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  • Chris Sobey

Tennis


The eagerly anticipated 2017 ATP season gets underway in Brisbane in the early hours of Monday morning and in Doha and Chennai later on Monday morning. All three tournaments have attracted competitive fields; in particular Brisbane, which has attracted five of the world’s top-10 players. Defending champion, world number three Milos Raonic lines up as the top-seed, world number four and second Stan Wawrinka is seeded two, world number five Kei Nishikori is seeded three, world number eight Dominic Thiem is seeded four and world number nine Rafael Nadal seeded five.

Doha is the showcase event of the week as it’s attracted the world number one and two. Two time Doha winner (2008 and 2009) Sir Andy Murray is seeded one this week and defending champion Djokovic is seeded two this year, while world number ten, 11 and 12 Tomas Berdych, David Goffin and Jo Wilfried Tsonga add further quality and they should insure that Murray and Djokovic will both have to work hard if they want to win their first silverware of 2017.

Chennai is traditionally the weaker of the three tournaments and four time winner and defending champion Stan Wawrinka does not return this year, but two time winner (2009 and 2010), world number six and top-seed this week Marin Cilic is the star attraction and is definitely in with a strong chance of winning a third title this week given the quality and strength in depth of the field.

I will focus on analysing the Brisbane draw first as it gets underway before Doha and Chennia, and the top seed has won six of the last ten renewals, including five of the last seven, which bodes well for defending champ Raonics' chances this week. The second seed has a poor record at Brisbane and has won none of the last ten titles and has only been a losing finalist twice in this period (last time 2011), which does not bode well for Wawrinka’s chances this week.

Seeded players in general have a strong record at Brisbane over the last decade and a player seeded no higher than eight won eight of the last ten titles (number one seed won six titles) and a player seeded no higher than three was a losing finalist eight times in this period (last time 2016 top-seed). Unseeded players don’t have the best of records over the last decade winning the title twice (2008 and 2014) and they were a losing finalist twice in this period (2007 and 2013).

When the outright betting market opened for Brisbane defending champion Raonic was the tournament favourite, but since he lost both of his matches at the Abu Dhabi exhibition tournament against Nadal and Murray the market has been turned on its head and he is now only the joint third favourite with Nishikori and Nadal is now the tournament favourite and Wawrinka is the second favourite.

Top seed Raonic and fifth seed Nadal, who beat Berdych, Raonic and Goffin to win the Abu Dhabi exhibition tournament for the fourth time on Saturday, will now have to make the long-haul flight to Brisbane in time for the event starting in the early hours of Monday morning. Defending champion and 2015 finalist Raonic receives a first round bye and his tournament will likely commence midweek, while Nadal will have a quicker turnaround, and he get his tournament underway against Dolgopolov, most likely on Tuesday morning.

Raonic and Nadal could meet again in less than a week as they are drawn to meet at the quarter-finals stage this week. Raonic (11/2) has the advantage of receiving a first round bye and more time to recover after Abu Dhabi than Nadal, and with the top-seed having such a strong record at Brisbane (see above statistics) and the fast conditions suiting Raonic’s game so well, I believe he will turn the tables this time round should they meet again this week.

Raonic could potentially meet either, 2016 semi-finalist and fourth seed Thiem, or seventh seed Dimitrov at the semi-final stage, and on past form Thiem looks like he’s most likely opponent. Raonic leads the head-to-head 2-0 against Thiem, and both wins were on hard courts at Cincinnati and the World Tour Finals in straight sets last year, and if Raonic can raise his game to the same level as he did this time last year there is no reason why he can’t defend his title this week.

The bottom half of the draw is very competitive with second seed Wawrinka, third seed Nishikori sixth seed Pouille and other experienced players like veterans Ferrer and Simon and home hope Tomic all lining up for a shot at the title. With the second seed having never won the title or reached the final over the last decade it’s wise to avoid Wawrinka on this occasion however, the third seed has a good record at Brisbane reaching four of the last ten finals (last 2015) and with that in mind third seed Nishikori has to be respected as a contender this week.

Unseeded players have reached four of the last ten finals, winning twice (2008 and 2014), and with that in mind its worth considering an outsider this week. Bernard Tomic (22/1) reached the semi-finals last year and it took eventual winner Raonic to stop him making the final (lost 7-6 7-6). Tomic is drawn to meet Nishikori at the quarter-final stage and the head-to-head stands at 2-2. Tomic beat Nishikori at the quarter-final stage here last year and at Cincinnati later in the year and at the odds he appeals a lot more than Nishikori, especially as the fast conditions will suit his game very well and because he usually performs well on home soil.

Moving on to Doha and the Qatar tournament has been dominated by top-10 players over the last decade and a player seeded no higher than four has won the last ten titles. Surprisingly the top-seed does not have the best record at Doha only winning two of the last ten titles (2014 and 2016), but they did win two of the last three renewals, and they were never a losing finalist in this period. The second seed has won three of the last ten titles (last time 2013) and was a losing finalist twice in this period (last time 2016).

Seeded players in general have a strong record and a player seeded no higher than four won the last ten titles (third seed best record winning four titles) and a player seeded no higher than six was a losing finalist seven times in this period (fourth seed losing finalist four times). Unseeded players don’t have a good record at Doha over the last decade winning none of the last ten titles and an unseeded player was a losing finalist three times in this period (last time 2014).

Sir Andy Murray won his final match of 2016 beating Raonic in straight sets in the third place play-off match at the Abu Dhabi Exhibition tournament, after early losing to Goffin in straight sets in his first match of the event. Defending champion Djokovic has not played any exhibition matches and Doha will be his first competitive tournament since losing in the final of the World Tour Finals against Murray.

Murray (6/4) has a strong chance of winning a third Doha title this week and his main dangers in the top-half of the draw on paper are 2015 finalist and third seed Berdych, 2012 winner and fifth seed Tsonga and seventh seed Kohlschreiber, all of who he has a winning head-to-head record against. Second seed Djokovic will also be a popular choice this week as he also has a winnable draw from the bottom half. His main dangers on paper are fourth seed Goffin and sixth seed and 2015 semi-finalist Karlovic, who defeated Djokovic here in 2015.

From a betting perspective it’s hard to oppose Murray (6/4) winning this week, but defending champion Djokovic could be vulnerable having not played any warm up matches this year and at the odds sixth seed Karlovic (40/1) could be the player to benefit as he’s beat Djokovic here before. Fourth seed Goffin would also appeal based on the fourth seeds record at Doha over the last decade (one win 2015 and four finals 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012) and his final appearance at the Abu Dhabi exhibition event last week, but with Karlovic a potential quarter-final opponent and available at double the odds of Goffin I will just stick with the veteran Croatian this week.

At Chennai the top four seeds have dominated the tournament over the last decade and northern European players have the best record winning the last ten titles. The top seed has won three of the last ten titles, including the last three in a row, and they were a losing finalist twice in this period (last time 2012). The second seed has won two of the last ten titles (last time 2013) and was never a losing finalist in this period.

Seeded players in general have a strong record at Chennai and a player seeded no higher than four has won the last ten titles (top seed won last three titles) and a player seeded no higher than eight was a losing finalist six times in this period (last time 2016). Unseeded players won none of the last ten titles and they were a losing finalist four times in this period (last time 2015).

Top seed and two time Chennai winner Marin Cilic (price tbc) is the stand out player at Chennai and with the top-seed winning the last three titles and making five of the last ten finals, it will be a shock if he does not win a third title this week. The main dangers in the top-half of the draw look to be third seed Ramos-Vinolas and sixth seed and 2016 finalist Coric, but Cilic has a winning head-to-head record against both so it’s unlikely either will be good enough to stop him this week.

The bottom half of the draw is more competitive and second seed and 2013 finalist Bautista-Agut is the player to beat. However, the second seed has a poor record at Chennai having only won the title twice over the last decade (last time 2013), they have never been a losing finalist in this period, and it’s worth opposing Bautista-Agut on this basis. With seeded players having such a strong record at Chennai fourth seed Klizan looks the most likely to benefit if Bautista-Agut does not make the final from the bottom half of the draw as the fourth seed has won two of the last ten titles (last time 2012). He has a winning record against fifth seed and 2013 and 2016 semi-finalist Paire and against seventh seed and 2008 winner Youzhny.

Since 2013 Britain’s Aljaz Bedene (price tbc) has a good record at Chennai; he reached the quarter-finals once in 2014, semi-finals twice 2013 and 2016 and final once in 2015 and on each occasion was beaten by the eventual tournament winner. He leads the head-to-head against veteran Garcia-Lopez 2-0 and fifth seed Paire 1-0, but has a losing record against fourth seed Klizan 3-1, although all four matches came back in 2012 and 2009 on clay. He also has winning form against Bautista-Agut with the head-to-head standing at 2-2, which includes a semi-final win at Chennai in 2015, and at the odds he’s worth siding with along with Klizan.


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