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  • Chris Sobey

Tennis


No joy with last week’s outright tournament selections even though we came close with a semi-finalist at Brisbane in top-seed and defending champion Dimitrov, who lost to third seed and eventual winner Kyrgios from a set up and for the first time. I also advised finalist and second seed Anderson at Pune, who lost against a resurgent and unseeded Simon in the final. I advised a few match selections during last week that would have returned healthy profits if you had followed the advice. I advised Simon to defeat Bautista Agut and Cilic at Pune and opposing Raonic in his first match against De Minaur at Brisbane.

As mentioned above veteran Simon bounced back to form to win his first ATP title since 2015 at Pune, India and at Doha compatriot and fellow veteran Monfils won his first ATP title since Washington back in 2016. He received a wild card for the event as his ranking had slipped to 46 by the end of last season and he defeated the unseeded Next Generation star Rublev in Saturday’s final. Simon and Monfils also bucked the 10-year trend at Pune and Doha by becoming the first unseeded players to win their respective titles in over a decade. Overall it was a good week for the Next Generation of potential future stars with Aussies teenager and Wild Card De Minaur reaching the semi-finals and American qualifier Mmoh aged 19 reaching the quarter-finals at Brisbane. Rublev reached his first ATP hard court final at Doha, but it was the veterans who dominated again last week with Simon at 33 defeating Anderson aged 31 in the Pune final and at Doha 31-year-old Monfils was the victor.

On to this week’s action and there are two ATP 250 tournaments being played in Sydney and Auckland, which both got underway in the early hours of Sunday morning. With both tournaments being played the week before the Australian Open they have a history of throwing up surprises and big priced winners, and this has occurred most frequently at Sydney over the last decade. The top two seeds don't have a good record at Sydney over the last decade and the top-seed has won one of the last ten titles (last 2014) and they were never a losing finalist in this period. The second seed has performed even worse over the last decade having never won the title or reached the final. This does not bode well for top-seed Ramos-Vinolas and second seed and defending champion Muller’s chances this week.

Seeded players faired a bit better and a player seeded no higher than six won four of the last titles (last Muller 2017) and they were a losing finalist twice during this period (last Dimitrov 2016). Unseeded players have a very good record at Sydney winning six of the last ten titles (last Qualifier Troicki 2015) and they were a losing finalist eight times in this period (last time qualifier Evans 2017). Judging by past statistics the best betting strategy looks to be going for an unseeded veteran or an experienced younger player and while it’s tempting to follow veteran Simon again I expect his focus will now be shifting to the Australian Open that gets underway Monday 15th.

The one unseeded player who stands out from the top-half of the draw for me is Dolgopolov (14/1), who played well at Brisbane last week reaching the quarter-finals where he lost against third seed and eventual winner Kyrgios, which is no disgrace. Dolgopolov experienced a resurgence in form last season and on last week’s evidence he has picked up where he left off. He matches the profile of recent Sydney winners and finalists who were also unseeded and were experienced veterans of the ATP Tour. The quick conditions at Sydney will suit his aggressive style of play and if he serves well this week he has a great chance of winning his fifth ATP title.

I’ll also go for another veteran at Sydney and give Verdasco (14/1) another chance after advising him last week. He came up against the in-form Next Generation star Rublev at Doha last week and losing against him is no disgrace. Hopefully his run out at Doha last week will have blown any cobwebs away and while he has a tough opener against young Aussie Next Generation star De Minaur, who reached the semi-finals at Brisbane last week, I don’t expect he will fare as well this time round after all of the adrenaline and energy he expended last week. Verdasco, also has a tough draw with the likes of third seed Schwartzman, seventh seed Dzumhur and compatriot and veteran Lopez in his section, but he is as good if not better than any of these players on his day, and as long as he is fit and healthy I expect him to put up a good fight this week.

Qualifier Medvedev (28/1) has form at this time of the season having reached the final at Chennai in 2017. He has the advantage of playing two competitive qualifying matches, the quick conditions should suit his big serve and aggressive attacking style of play and as long as he serves well this week and is fit and healthy he could spring a surprise at decent odds.

Over at Auckland defending champion Sock lines up for a shot at joining compatriot Isner as a two-time winner at Auckland this week, but there are doubts surrounding his fitness as he picked up an injury at the Hopman Cup last week where he lost two of his three matches. While Sock is the only top-10 player taking part at Auckland it is still a competitive experienced field with five past winners of the tournament taking part. Second seed and 2009 winner Del Potro lines up for a shot at winning a second title and fourth seed and two-time winner (2010 and 2014) Isner is going for a third title. Fifth seed and 2016 winner Bautista Agut and seventh seed Ferrer, who has won the tournament four times (2007, 2011, 2012 and 2013) also take part.

The top-seed has an average record at Auckland winning four of the las ten titles (last Ferrer 2013) and they were never a losing finalist in this period, which does not bode well for Sock’s chances this week. The second seed has a very poor record at Auckland having never won the title over the last decade, and they were a losing finalist only once in this period (2013), which does not bode well for Del Potro’s chances this week. Seeded players, in general, have a strong record at Auckland and a player seeded no higher than eight won eight of the last ten titles (last Sock 2017)) and they were a losing finalist four times during this period (last 2013). An unseeded player has only won two of the last ten titles (last 2015 Vesely qualifier), but they were a losing finalist six times during this period, including the last three seasons (last 2016 Sock).

To add further quality to an already competitive field eighth seed and Doha and Brisbane finalists Rublev and Harrison also feature this week, but I’ll be surprised if either player performs as well as they did last week after expending all that adrenaline and energy. From a betting perspective 2009 finalist and third seed this week Querrey (8/1) is worth siding with as he’s an experienced veteran of the ATP Tour who has form at Auckland and with doubts surrounding top-seed Sock’s fitness and 2016 winner and fifth seed Bautista Agut form the American could be the player to take advantage. Next Generation star and Wild Card Tsitsipas (25/1) from Greece is worth a shot from the top-half of the draw this week after he impressed last season breaking in to the top-100 for the first time at the tender age of 19.

He reached the quarter-finals at Doha last week from qualifying where he defeated experienced veterans Mayer and Gasquet before eventually losing against top-seed Thiem in a close match. He faces Rublev first up and if he can overcome this challenge he has every chance of going deep this week with doubts surrounding Sock’s fitness and Bautista Agut’s form. The bottom half of the draw is more competitive on paper with former winners and experienced veterans of the tour like second seed Del Potro, fourth seed Isner, seventh seed Ferrer and the unseeded Sugita, who experienced his best ever season on the ATP Tour in 2017 winning his first ATP title at the age of 29. There are also a host of younger talented experienced players like Doha semi-finalist Pella and 2017 Auckland finalist Sousa in the draw. Also, there are a few Next Generation stars in this section of the draw that include Next Generation ATP Finals winner Chung, Britain’s Kyle Edmunds (faces Chung in Auckland opener) and Shapovalov who may get the chance to face second seed Del Potro if he wins his opener against qualifier Dutra Silva.

The record of the second seed at Auckland means I cannot side with Del Potro even though he has the talent and ability to buck this trend. Instead I will take a big chance on seventh seed and veteran 35-year-old Ferrer (16/1) reliving his glory years at Auckland where he has won four titles, including three in a row. He was good enough in 2017 to win his twenty eighth career ATP title at Bastad and he would not be lining up again this season if he did not feel he could continue to challenge for titles of this nature. It’s tempting to go for Edmunds this week after his good form last week at Brisbane, where he defeated talented Next Generation stars Shapovalov and Chung and eventually lost to defending champion Dimitrov. However, he went over on his ankle during his match against Dimitrov at Brisbane and that is enough to avoid advising him this week as it could have hampered his preparations for this week if it flared up after that match. The unseeded players from the bottom half of the draw that could go well this week if the seeds fail to perform are Chung, Doha semi-finalist Pella and Japan’s Sugita and of the three Chung appeals the most, as like Edmund he is on the verge of reaching his first ATP final and winning a title, which should occur in 2018 if he stays fit and healthy.

From a match betting perspective, it could be profitable to Double up American Johnson and Next Generation star Tsitsipas at Auckland (odds 3.0). Johnson faces Brisbane finalist Harrison, leads the head-to-head 2-0 and Harrison will have little time to prepare for this this match having celebrated his final run only yesterday. Tsitsipas faces Rublev who has to travel from Doha to Auckland after celebrating his title win on Saturday and will also have little time to prepare for this match and thus could be caught cold as well. It could also prove profitable to oppose Simon (1.8) at Sydney against Next Generation American star Donaldson as Simon has the added stress of travelling from Pune, India to Sydney and will have had little time to prepare for this match after his title celebrations on Saturday. Next Generation star Khachanov (odds 1.6) could also struggle against Sugita at Auckland as the experienced pro from Japan is usually underestimated in these types of matches where there is little between the two players in terms of ranking and form. He also leads the head-to-head 1-0 after defeating the young Russian at the Cincinnati on hard courts last season, which means he knows what it takes to win this.


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