The ATP Tour returns this week after a break for the Davis Cup and there are three tournaments to focus on; two indoor hard court events in Europe at Montpellier, France and Sofia, Bulgaria and the start of the Golden clay swing in Quito, Equador.
Quito and Sofia are new tournaments; Quioto started in 2016 and both tournaments were won by veteran Estrella Burgos and Sofia started in 2016 and was won by top-seed Bautista Agut. Montpellier has been running a while longer since 2010 and has been dominated by home grown players; Gasquet has won three of last four titles (2016, 2015, and 2013) and was a losing finalist in the other (2014) and Monfils won the other two titles (2010 and 2014) and was a losing finalist once (2012).
With little historical data to go on I will keep my review of Quito and Sofia to a minimum. Quito has been dominated by seeded players and veterans the last two renewals; Estrella Burgos who won in 2015 seeded 8 and 2016 seeded 5 is 36 now, 2016 finalist Bellucci who was seeded 3 is now aged 29 and 2015 finalist Lopez was 32. The top two seeds have never won the title and the top-seed made the final once in 2015.
The top half of the draw features top-seed Karlovic aged 37, defending champion Estrella Burgos aged 36, who is unseeded this year, fourth seed Bellucci aged 29 and sixth seed Zeballos aged 31. All are very experienced pro’s and ATP tournament winners on clay at this level and at the prices Bellucci (10/1) and Karlovic (11/1) appeal the most.
Defending champion Estrella Burgos does not appeal as he’s unseeded this year and it’s statistically unlikely he will win three tournaments in a row. Karlovic has winning form against the main dangers in the top half of the draw and should excel in the very high altitude conditions, as he won the Bogota title on clay back 2013. 2016 finalist Bellucci likes the quick conditions here and if he’s fully fit should go close to winning the title again.
The bottom half of the draw is headed by second seed Ramos-Vinolas aged 29, who won his first ATP title last season on clay, and Third seed Lorenzi aged 35, who also won his first ATP title last year on clay. Lorenzi (5/1) warmed up well for this week playing for Italy in the Davis Cup in Argentina on clay, and as the second seed has never won the title or reached the final I will side with the third seed on this occasion as he has winning form against Ramos-Vinolas.
At Sofia the top-two seeds are Thiem and Goffin and both will be popular in the betting after solid starts to 2017. However, fourth seed and defending champion Bautista Agut and third seed and home hope Dimitrov have eclipsed both players so far in 2017 winning ATP titles and both had good runs at the Australian Open, especially Dimitrov who lost an agonisingly close semi-final against Nadal. Of the two I’ll go with Dimitrov (11/4) from the top-half of the draw as he will love playing in front of his home crowd and I’m confident he will win if he comes anywhere close to repeating his form in Australia last month.
In the bottom half of the draw second seed Goffin and fourth seed Bautista Agut are second and third favourites and both will be difficult to beat this week. However, Goffin did not play in the Davis Cup at the weekend suggesting he is not fully fit and with second seeds generally having a very poor record at ATP 250 tournaments I’m happy to oppose him this week. Defending champion Bautista Agut did play in the Davis Cup at the weekend and was instrumental, helping Spain reach the quarter-finals by winning both of his singles rubbers.
He’s been playing non-stop since the start of the year though, and while he will be motivated to defend his ranking points this week I think he may get caught out by fatigue if he reaches the business end of the tournament. One player who is more than capable of taking advantage is veteran lefty, 2016 semi-finalist and fifth seed Gilles Muller (14/1), who won a long overdue first ATP title at Sydney last month. He’s looking in the best form of his career at present, will be fresh having not played in the Davis Cup and clearly loves the conditions having reached the semi-finals last year and is worth siding with at more than double the odds of Goffin and Bautista Agut.
As mentioned above Montpellier has been dominated by French players since its inception back in 2010 and defending champion and third seed Gasquet returns to attempt a three-peat this year. A player seeded no higher than five has won the last five titles and a player seeded no higher than eight was a losing finalist at four of the last five renewals.
Gasquet (5/1), who resides in the top half of the draw along with top-seed Cilic, fifth seed Lopez, sixth seed Mischa Zverev and Britain’s Dan Evans, looked in great form for France in the Davis Cup over in Japan at the weekend and with a first round bye he should get enough time to recover and prepare for the defence of his title this week. On form Evans or Zverev may pose the most serious challenge, but Gasquet has never lost to either, excels at this venue and he’s my idea of the winner this week.
The bottom half of the draw features second seed Tsonga, fourth seed and NextGen star Alexander Zverev, eighth seed Verdasco and 2016 finalist Mathieu. Of the four Tsonga looks the most likely finalist given how well French players have performed here in the past, but the second seed has never won the title or reached the final and at the prices he makes little appeal. There have been three non-French finalists in the tournaments history (Ljubicic, Berdych and Janowicz) and fourth seed Zverev and eighth seed Verdasco are both capable of repeating this trend as they’ve both won ATP indoor hard court tournaments.
At the prices Verdasco (22/1) appeals the most as he’s four times the odds of Zverev and has winning form against him and Tsonga. Sticking with the trend of French players reaching the final I’ll highlight one from the bottom half of the draw and that is Chardy (40/1). He has winning form against the majority of the main dangers in the bottom half of the draw and if he can stay focused, serve well and most importantly keep the unforced errors down there’s no reason spring a surprise at big odds as Mathieu did the same last year when unseeded.