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  • Chris Sobey

Tennis


While I experienced a hit and miss (more misses) 2017 from a tennis tournament tipping perspective my preview for that year in terms of predictions and season long bets was more successful. I predicted that Guido Pella ranked 80 at the time would improve again in 2017 and go close to winning his first ATP Tournament after he reached his first ATP final on clay at Rio De Janeiro in 2016. He went agonisingly close to winning his first title in 2017, this time at Munich where he lost in the final against world number three Alexander Zverev.

I also predicted that both Pierre-Hugues Herbert ranked 78 and Damir Dzumhur ranked 77 at the time were more than capable of winning or reaching the final of an ATP 250 tournament judging by their best form in 2016. Bosnian Dzumhur was the one to shine in 2017 ending the season ranked 30 after winning two ATP titles indoors at Moscow and St Petersburg and he also reached the final at Winston-Salem. Herbert did not achieve the same heights as Dzumhur in 2017 however, he went close to reaching his second ATP final at the ATP 500 Rotterdam indoors event in February where he reached the semi-finals from qualifying and he also helped France win the Davis Cup.

I also predicted Jan-Lenard Struff, Mischa Zverev and Borna Coric would have good seasons in 2017 and would challenge for and/or win ATP 250 titles. 27-year-old Struff finished just outside the top-50 and his best results were a quarter-final at Marrakech (lost to finalist Kohlschreiber), quarter-finals Munich (lost to winner Alex Zverev on third set tiebreak), semi-finals Winston-Salem (lost to winner Bautista Agut), semi-finals St Petersburg (lost to winner Dzumhur) and quarter-finals Vienna. Veteran Mischa Zverev aged 30 ended the 2017 season ranked 33 and his best results were at the Australian Open where he reached the quarter-finals beating Murray along the way (lost to winner Federer), Geneva where he reached the final from qualifying (lost to Wawrinka), semi-finals at Stuttgart, semi-final at Metz (lost to winner Gojowcyzk) and quarter-finals at Stokholm (lost to finalist Dimitrov). Finally, 21-year-old Coric won his first ATP title at Marrakech defeating veteran Kolshcreiber in the final and he ended the season just inside the top-50.

From a 2017 ATP season betting perspective I tipped Thiem ‘To Finish in Year End Top-8’ at 9/4 and he duly obliged ending the season ranked fifth. The other ATP season long bets I tipped were Del Potro to finish ranked over 8.5 at 11/10 and this won as he ended the season ranked 11. I predicted Berdych would end the season ranked over 11.5 at Evens and this won as he ended the season ranked 19. Finally, I predicted veteran David Ferrer’s would end the season ranked over 22.5 at 10/11 and this also won as he ended the season ranked 37.

The 2018 ATP Tennis season gets underway on Sunday/the early hours of Monday morning at the ATP Brisbane event and it looks set to be another exciting and enthralling season on the ATP Tour with a nice balance of young and up and coming players and seasoned veterans playing well. I was personally very surprised to see Nadal and Federer bounce back to form in spectacular fashion in 2017 at the ripe old ages of 31 and 36 respectively after they dominated all of the Grand Slams and majority of Masters Series tournaments. There return to form was testament to their desire and hunger to be the best, but even more so to the wonders of modern sports science given their ages and well documented injury troubles.

It has to be noted that both players did not play for the majority of the latter of 2016 and with hindsight this played a big part in their 2017 success. It gave them both time to overcome troublesome injury problems, more importantly rest there ageing battered bodies and also work on new playing styles and tactics that would allow them to still compete at the elite level. While they both went on to dominate 2017 it is safe to say neither would have expected to achieve such success after long lay offs and more importantly this time round is how playing almost a full season on the ATP Tour in 2017 will affect their chances in 2018.

Nadal has already withdrawn from Brisbane stating he still has not fully recovered from his troublesome knee injury problems and thus has not been able to train and prepare for the start of the 2018 season as he would normally. Federer on the other hand does not seem to have any major physical troubles ahead of the 2018 season and he is already in Australia preparing for the Hopman Cup, which takes place between Saturday 30th December and 6th January 2018, and of course the defence of his Australian Open crown that gets underway on the 15th January. Federer is going to be cautious and selective with his tennis in 2018 and barring any major injury problems he will most likely play a similar schedule to that of 2017. He is likely to focus on the Slams and Masters 1000 Series events again and he won’t have any concerns if he has to miss tournaments should his body begin to give him any trouble.

Former world number one Novak Djokovic who has won twelve Grand Slam titles including five Australian Opens will make his eagerly awaited return to the ATP Tour at Doha on Monday where he is the defending champion. At the age of 30 Djokovic has dropped to 12 in the ATP rankings and 2018 will surely be a crucial season in terms of his future at the top of the men’s game. He is sounding bullish ahead of the new season now he is well rested physically and emotionally and over the elbow injury that resulted in him missing the second half of the 2017 season.

He stated that he has learnt a lot about himself and the game in his time away and most importantly it has provided him with more perspective in terms of his professional and personal life, something he struggled to find while immersed in thick of being a professional tennis player. During his time off Djokovic had his second child and restructured his coaching team brining in the enigmatic Czech Radek Stepanek, who only retired himself at the end of 2017 at the age of 38 after a very successful career. Stepanek will surely bring a lot to the table for Djokovic in terms of tactics, as well as an element of fun and the unorthodox, and it will be interesting to see if the Czech can help bring about an up-turn in fortunes for his new employer.

Djokovic’s focus will of course be on winning as many Slams and Masters 1000 Series as possible in 2018 (he still holds the joint record of 30 for the latter with Nadal) and of course regaining the number one ranking. If he is back to his best mentally and physically he is going to be difficult to beat and stop reaching the top of the rankings again in 2018 and the only concern is how he copes with having not played competitively for the last six months. After also missing a big chunk of the 2017 ATP season due to a hip injury and dispensing of coach Ivan Lendl for the second time it looks like Andy Murray may struggle to reach the heights that took him to the top of the men’s ranking in 2016. He is uncertain about his future due to his hip and about being 100% psychologically and physically ready having not played competitively for so long. Also, the fact he has let is coach Lendl go is a significant move and considering he experienced the majority of his big successes with him may suggest he does not think he will be competing at that level for a period of time.

Multiple Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka and former top-10 player Milos Raonic also missed a big chunk of 2017 due to injury and both withdrew from the Abu Dhabi exhibition event this week. Wawrinka, because his pre-season training is behind schedule and he claims he is not ready to compete at this level yet and Raonic preferred to head to Melbourne early and spend the next few weeks training and practicing there. Wawrinka is recovering from double knee surgery and its hard to predict how his 2018 season will go and ill be surprised if he makes the type of return from injury Federer did in 2017, but its not out of the question if he can get back to full fitness.

Raonic has had to endure far more injury troubles so far during his short career and the worst of them seem to come when he established himself as a top-10 player and was playing more competitive tennis as a result. Physically he is not built the same as the majority of top players and this seems to be the reason why he keeps getting injured. Its possible he could be one of them players like Nishikori whose career is plagued by injury problems, which is a real shame as he looked like a potential future Grand Slam winner and world number one. Nishikori also missed the second half of the 2017 season due to a right wrist injury and his season is due to commence at Sydney which takes place the week before the Australian Open.

Just like the Grand Slams the Masters 1000 Series events were all dominated and won by top-10 players in 2017. Federer won three (Indian Wells, Miami and Shanghai), Nadal two (Monte Carlo and Madrid), Zverev two (Rome and Canada) and Dimitrov and Sock one (Cincinnati and Paris) and it’s safe to say 2018 will be no different. Of the 69 ATP Tournaments played in 2017 (including Grand Slams and ATP Finals) 31 were won by current top-10 players. There were seven debutant ATP tournament winners in 2017 and the oldest was Gilles Muller at 33 (Sydney & s-Hertogenbosch), the youngest was Rublev at 19 (Umag) and the other winners were Harrison aged 24 (Memphis), Coric aged 21 (Marrakech), Sugita aged 28 (Antalya), Dzumhur aged 25 (Moscow & St Petersburg) and finally Gojowczyk aged 28 (Metz).

The majority of ATP tournaments were won by more experienced players and 40 of the 68 ATP Tournaments were won by a player aged 29 or over, and 35 were won by a player aged 30 or over. I expect this trend will continue on the ATP Tour this season with the younger generation possibly closing the gap marginally. Players who I think are on the brink of breaking through at Grand Slam level and possibly reaching their first final or winning their first Slam in 2018 are world number three Dimitrov, world number four Zverev and world number five Thiem. Dimitrov and Thiem have both already come very close reaching semi-finals at Australia and Roland Garros respectively and 2018 could be the year Zverev finally makes the breakthrough at a Slam as he’s evidently got the game and temperament.

From a 2017 ATP season betting perspective there are a handful of season-long bets that I like. World number four Alexander Zverev and three Grigor Dimitrov are both well placed to mount a challenge for the number one ranking. If Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray fail to perform at their best in 2018 and dominate the major tournaments either one could capitalise if they continue to improve and at the prices (12/1 Zverev and 25/1 Dimitrov) both are worth a small investment. From a season rankings betting perspective world number eight Jack Sock is good value to finish ranked higher than 17 (Season Ending Ranking Under 16.5 @ 5/6) as he was not 100% fit in 2017 and finished the season strongly winning the Paris Masters, which suggests he is well placed to consolidate his top-10 position.

Lucas Pouille was also not 100% fit during the first half of the 2017 season and he looks good value to end the 2018 in the top-20 (Season Ending Ranking Under 19.5 @ 5/6) as he’s a consistent top-class and future top-10 player. Finally, Nadal ‘Not to win a Grand Slam’ @ 2/1 is worth considering given he has had little time to rest and prepare for the 2018 season due to the reoccurrence of his troublesome knee injury and its definitely possible this continue to trouble him during the 2018 season if he chooses not to take the time of to fully recover like he did in 2017.

The Hopman Cup also gets underway tomorrow and ends on the 6th January. It is a two-group round robin International team event. The teams taking part in Group A are Alexander Zverev and Angelique Kerber for Germany, Vasek Pospisl and Eugenie Bouchard for Canada, David Goffin and Elise Mertens for Belgium and Thanasi Kokkinakis and Daria Gavrilova. Group B is made up of Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic for Switzerland, Jack Sock and Coco Vandewhege for the USA who were runners up in 2017, Karen Khachanov and Anastasia Pavyluchenkova for Russia and Yuichi Sugita and Naomi Osaka for Japan. From a betting perspective the USA (4/1) areworth considering as Sock and Vandewhege are both good team players; Sock won the Wimbledon doubles title and Vandewhege was the key player in the USA 2017 Fed Cup victory. Belgium (12/1) are also worth considering as both players are good team players; Goffin won the Davis Cup in 2016 and reached the final in 2017 and Mertens was part of the team that qualified for the World Fed Cup Group in 2017.

Don’t forget to tune in to my Tennis Blog on Monday when I will preview the three ATP Tournaments taking place next week at Brisbane, Doha and new event at Pune, India, which replaces Chennai.


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