We are back on the clay at Masters 1000 level with what looks to be a fascinating draw for 2021. This stop was missed on the calendar in 2020 due to COVID-19, so Fabio Fognini remains the defending champion, having won the tournament in 2019.

Nadal has dominated proceedings in the picturesque Monte Carlo for much of his career. In terms of big players with decent clay form of late, the only significant name missing from the draw is Dominic Thiem. Whilst it may be disappointing that he is not playing, I am personally happy to see him focus on putting together a training block post-injury issues instead of playing a high volume of tennis. If there is one thing I have been critical of in recent years regarding Thiem, it has been his heavy scheduling, so this is good to see regarding his chances for Roland Garros in a couple of months.

Let us look at the seeded players in each quarter, the unseeded players to watch, and wrap it all up with some outright selections.


Quarter 1

Novak Djokovic – Remains at the top of the rankings, although the gap is starting to close. Djokovic will not be too worried by this, having taken the record of most weeks at number 1 from Roger Federer, and now the bigger focus for Djokovic above all else in winning grand slam titles. That is not to say he does not care here, however when you look at his draw difficulty compared to some of the others favourites in the draw, it is hard to make a strong case for him at the current quote.

Hubert Hurkacz – The Miami Open champ is not unsuited to the clay, so I am fascinated to see how he handles the conditions this week. Like Novak, he does have tough early-round matches on the cards. After a first-round against a qualifier, he is due to face Dan Evans or 2019 finalist Dusan Lajovic, then Djokovic/Sinner. This field on clay looks a little too good for Hurkacz to win back to back 1000 titles.

David Goffin – Has shown some promise here on the clay in the past, however remains a little on the erratic side. After a patchy start in round 1 against Marin Cilic, he did finish off the Croatian with a bagel. Maybe one to keep an eye on from a trading standpoint, as he has the game to cause some trouble to the likes of Zverev on clay. Can I catch his good week?

Alexander Zverev – Has certainly shown some great flashes on clay over his career. Can he sustain it for such a big tournament on the clay? Second serve is still a significant question mark. I will not be actively opposing him (unless a nice price comes up in a potential meeting between Zverev and Goffin), but I do not have a strong desire to support him this week.

Unseeded players of note: The first unseeded name that jumps off the page is Jannik Sinner. He made the final of the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Miami and has shown some impressive in patches on the clay in his short time at the ATP level. He gets the chance to face Ramos coming off a semi-final appearance last week and can be a genuinely tough first match for Djokovic to kick off the Serbian’s clay season. Of the others, Dusan Lajovic and Lorenzo Sonego have previous form at Monte Carlo and decent lead-in form respectively.


Quarter 2

Stefanos Tsitsipas – For a player with all the tools and exploits to be a genuine threat on the clay, he does still struggle to bring it all together on the clay. I think his time will come and he will continue to improve on the surface, however, given his overall form on clay to date, I am not sure I can take him at the outright price on offer in such a strong field.

Cristian Garin – Starts round one as an underdog, which can take a bit of the pressure off for the Chilean. Another player who is best suited to the clay and is a player that could appeal here. Looks a nice price as an underdog to Auger-Aliassime in the first round, however, might be worth a small outright play instead of that initial head to head price. Can beat Tsitsipas in these conditions.

Matteo Berrettini – I will likely be jumping into him in outright markets to further the clay season progresses, however, given he has not played singles since his injury at the Australian Open it is hard to make a case here. He did play doubles with his brother in Italy last week, making the semi-finals there, however, if you do like a player in this little pocket of the draw, this is probably the best time for the clay season to oppose Berrettini. Will only get stronger as the clay season progresses.

Unseeded players of note – There are several players I can keep an eye on here. Aslan Karatsev and Lorenzo Musetti are set to do battle in round 1, with the winner to face Tsitsipas. The other standout name, in the same pocket of the draw, is Felix Auger-Aliassime. He has brought Uncle Toni (Nadal) into his team; however, I would not be expecting a dramatic change straight away. One to keep an eye on. It is interesting to note that Pablo Andujar and Alexei Popyrin now battle it out for effectively the draw of a seed, with Gael Monfils withdrawing.


Quarter 3

Andrey Rublev – Continues to make great strides in his game, however, the progression is somewhat slower on the clay. He will have flashes of significant play across the course of the clay season; however, I have some question marks over Rublev’s patience and shot selection at times. I fear the Russian may be found out on some capacity against capable clay courters in a strong field like this.

Roberto Bautista Agut – Solid without being exceptional on clay. 12-9 record on clay (0-5 against Top 20) since the start of 2019 isn’t enough to convince me to back him in a Masters 1000 on the surface.

Grigor Dimitrov – May show glimpses, however at this stage of his career on clay I do not think I can get too involved in Dimitrov outrights. Anyone who is not on Rafael Nadal will be hoping he can cause the upset of the tournament if they meet.

Rafael Nadal – Too many accolades on clay, and in Monte Carlo, to list. Done it all on the surface, and if fit will be awfully hard to beat. I think if you are looking into outrights here, given the exceptionally soft draw for the Spaniard, he needs to be kept very safe at worst if you are looking elsewhere.

Unseeded players of note – Unseeded players include Alexander Bublik, Jeremy Chardy, Taylor Fritz and Jan-Lennard Struff, however, there will need to be a MASSIVE uptick in form for any one of them to challenge Nadal.


Quarter 4

Diego Schwartzman Commands respect on the clay, and although he did have some lapses on the South American clay, he has the game to be a threat. Whilst he will not mind the fact he shares a quarter with Daniil Medvedev, there are a couple of other big names here that are threats whilst unseeded. Has a 35/14 record on clay since the start of 2019, has beaten Nadal on the clay and has six Top-20 wins in that timeframe. Prone to being overpowered at times, however, if you are backing him in you will be getting 100% effort. At the current price, I prefer others personally given he is still on the same side of the draw as Nadal.

Pablo Carreno-Busta – Big winner last week in Marbella. This field is significantly tougher, and I am not sure I can back him in this significantly stronger field. Cannot have him shorter than Garin, Fognini, Goffin and Krajinovic looking at their respective draws.

Fabio Fognini – Defending champion with not a lot of positive lead-in form. I am not sure I can have him at the price on the form, however, I applaud anyone who is able to catch him at the right time in the outright game.

Daniil Medvedev – Made his dislike for clay known and were it not for him making me look a little silly in 2019 on the clay at times, I would be even more critical. His efforts on clay (and grass) this year will go a long way to deciding whether he is a significant threat to the number 1 spot, however, I want to see if he has made any significant improvements or changes to his game on clay before I consider him for an outright.

Unseeded players of note – You could make a case for most players in this section outside of Rune, Basilashvili (barring another miracle run) and Thompson. The four names that stand out to me are Casper Ruud, Filip Krajinovic, Karen Khachanov and Laslo Djere. Whilst you are likely to get more consistent efforts from Ruud and Djere, Khachanov and Krajinovic have the giant-killing game to be genuine trouble. I think I will prefer them as the underdog in particular match-ups more than jumping into the outrights.


Summary

What a field. This is going to be a brilliant tournament, even if it ends with an odd-on favourite saluting.

Given the soft draw for Nadal, I am finding it exceptionally hard to oppose him in any capacity. He will be my key play of 1.25 units, and to complement it I will look to the top half to find some larger prices.

I am happy to take triple-figure prices for 0.1 units in each of the first and second quarters. Perhaps the third set bagel from David Goffin will ignite the fire in Belgian. If confident, he can mix it with the likes of Zverev and Djokovic in these conditions, so worth the tiny play. In quarter 2, I did mention I would prefer to take Garin for the outright instead of a larger play on the head to head against FAA. If he can beat a player like FAA, he can match it with the likes of Tsitsipas this week. I will place another 0.1 unit there.

Betting Strategy

BACK – 1.25 units Nadal to win the tournament (recorded at $1.86)

BACK – 0.1 unit Goffin to win the tournament (recorded at $130)

BACK – 0.1 unit Garin to win the tournament (recorded at $120)

Quarter 1

Daniil Medvedev – Whilst the Russian does look a little short in the market, this presents as a massive opportunity to bridge the gap to Novak Djokovic in the race for world number 1. Too in and out of the game mentally since the Australian Open finals loss to feel comfortable launching into his price here. Keep an eye on his potential third round match with Reilly Opelka, who could cause him some genuine frustration in these conditions. Won’t be opposing in the first two rounds, however watch this space.

Reilly Opelka – Has the game and the potential to be a genuine outright threat for the week. The question is more to do with his ability to maintain that level as the tournament progresses. Has a chance to be the hero of the draw by knocking out Medvedev were they to meet in the third. I think I would rather get involved in specific match-ups for Opelka than jump into an outright.

Dan Evans – Easy to forget he is a tournament winner this year. Lost in 3 sets to eventual title winner Karatsev last week. I have a question mark around the slower conditions and whether that suits his game when you look at the other players in this section.

Dusan Lajovic – Honest competitor, however this looks to be a little too tough to consider him in the outright markets.

Felix Auger-Aliassime – Hard to confidently jump into him as a tournament winner given how often he has fallen at the final hurdle. Another who should be suited by the slow, yet lively conditions. Prefer him as a trading option or potentially as a quarter winner moreso than the outright markets.

John Isner – Another who should love the conditions, however there was far too much rust evident in Acapulco for me to possibly consider him at the prices currently displayed in the outright markets for him. Struggled with his touch around the net more than usual.

Jan-Lennard Struff – Hard to have in the outright picture in a field of this strength. Prefer others.

Roberto Bautista-Agut – His form comes and goes in waves at the moment. His best is good to match it with almost everyone in this draw, however I would have preferred he be in a quarter that didn’t involve Medvedev if I am being completely honest.

Other players of note – The main names to watch from an unseeded standpoint here are Alexei Popyrin, Frances Tiafoe and to a lesser extent the winner of Pospisil/McDonald. It is hard to get too excited about this quarter given the presence of Medvedev.


Quarter 2

Alexander Zverev – Continues to wreak havoc with comments and actions off court, however is finally starting to find a way to bring everything together on the court. Looked solid without being spectacular in his tournament win in Acapulco, coming from a break down in the first set in the final against Tsitsipas. Questions around his second serve remain however, and that may be his undoing in these weather and court speed conditions.

Nikolaz Basilashvili – Whilst he won Doha, I don’t see any current value in his outright price. Perhaps one to watch match to match.

Jannik Sinner – Continues to improve over the medium to long term sample size, however remains outgunned at times late in bigger tournaments. Cramped in warm, humid conditions at the US Open last year, so perhaps not the best weather forecast for him for the next 9-10 days. Has the potential to have a real issue with Karen Khachanov, who he is scheduled to meet in the third round.

Karen Khachanov – Ever so slightly appealing in this pocket of the draw, however will need to bring a level that is very close to his best. Played a hard fought three set match with Sinner in the week before the Australian Open, and you could argue the conditions here in Miami perhaps suit him a little more than the Italian. Worth monitoring in the outright market as perhaps a trading selection.

Grigor Dimitrov – Continues to find a way to disappoint at some stage. Not sure I can trust him in this field.

Taylor Fritz – Another with potential, however has one of the tougher first matches of all the seeds. Happy to keep an eye on the American.

Alexander Bublik – Not sure he has the drive or the consistency yet to feature heavily in previews for ATP Masters 1000 tournaments in these conditions. Prefer others.

David Goffin – Hasn’t always performed at his best level in warm humid conditions. His form has been like a rollercoaster across the start of 2021, and I don’t see value in his current outright price.

Other players of note – If his 2021 form was stronger I could make a case for Ruusuvuori here, however the main unseeded threats here are probably Tommy Paul and Cam Norrie.


Quarter 3

Diego Schwartzman – Incredibly disappointing in Acapulco last week. Not sure these are the best conditions for him overall, and I wouldn’t blame him one bit if he didn’t already have one eye on the European clay season. Not sure I can entertain at the current quotes.

Adrian Mannarino – Prefer others at Masters 1000 level.

Aslan Karatsev – Winning form is good form, so the Russian commands respect. Biggest threat in this section of the draw is Andrey Rublev, and Karatsev handled him quite well last week in Dubai. I have tossed and turned on this one, however I want to watch him for a round or two in the conditions before I dabble in him on the outrights. Looked at his most vulnerable early in the tournament last week.

Fabio Fognini – Nope.

Cristian Garin – Another likely to have one eye on the upcoming clay schedule. Cannot entertain.

Benoit Paire – Absolutely not.

Marton Fucsovics – Told Andrey Rublev he hoped he didn’t face him again for the rest of the year after the Russian defeated him again in Dubai. Fucsovics ends up projected to face Rublev in the 3rd round, and for that reason I cannot get involved here.

Andrey Rublev – Biggest threat in my opinion is Karatsev in this quarter, and his best case scenario is not facing him. Shouldn’t have too much trouble in reaching the final 8, however he will need to turn things around against Karatsev quick smart. Not the type of player to strategically attack with a new plan when facing a player he has recently lost to again in quick succession, which does worry me.

Other players of note – A couple of names of the future to keep an eye on here are Sebastian Korda and Lorenzo Musetti. It is also great to see Thanasi Kokkinakis having made his way through qualifying as well, however it is hard to consider these names in the outright markets.


Quarter 4

Denis Shapovalov – I wish he had better form at the end of tournaments, however the lack of semi final form over his career makes it hard to get excited about him in the outright markets here. Maintaining an elite level is the big question mark here, and I don’t see value I his price.

Hubert Hurkacz – He has been poor since Delray Beach, and generally doesn’t thrive in warm, humid conditions. Prefer others at the Masters 1000 level.

Ugo Humbert – Prefer him in particular match-ups than for the outright. Lacking the consistency in his game at the moment to consider him for a tournament win in this field.

Milos Raonic – Really intriguing selection. Like I mentioned with Opelka, I think the conditions here do suit the Canadian. The lead-in form is poor; however his draw is favourable. If he can find the range on serve he is going to be incredibly difficult to defeat in these conditions in my opinion. Worth an outright play here at the price in my opinion, and the lack of tennis means he comes here fresh.

Alex De Minaur – Things have gone downhill since Antalya, and this draw has the potential to turn things around for the Australian. Slower hardcourts aren’t the best for De Minaur, as he can struggle to hit through opponents with enough regularity to be threatening here, especially against a player such as Tsitsipas.

Lorenzo Sonego – Lacking the form to genuinely consider in the outrights.

Kei Nishikori – His form is heading in the right direction, and it is great to have him back on tour playing weekly. Not sure he is quite at the level to be in the M1000 outright discussion, but it is just great to have him back on tour. Monitor match to match.

Stefanos Tsitsipas – Incredibly disappointing loss in the Acapulco final against Zverev. Had multiple chances to break for *5-1, yet lost in straight sets. The poor losses in big moments are starting to stack up, and as a player that he shown that he can struggle to shake off poor performances, he looks a little too short in the outright market all things considered.

Other players of note – I don’t see any unseeded players in the quarter being an outright threat. It is nice to see a few players edging back to the tour post injury, including Nishikori, Kevin Anderson and Bjorn Fratangelo.


Summary

I am looking to give the first quarter a wide berth, as whilst I don’t want to back Medvedev, I don’t have a strong desire to lay or oppose him either. His presence sucks the value out of the rest of the quarter for mine, however if I had to pick a player it would be Opelka, followed by RBA.

In the second quarter, I am looking to make a trading selection on Khachanov to cause a bit of a surprise. Zverev is the obvious danger, however I think there is value in the price of the Russian in these conditions.

In the third quarter, I want to watch one round from Aslan Karatsev before jumping into his outright price. I think Rublev is too short to jump in, so it will be Karatsev or nothing for me in the third quarter.

I am happy to go a little wider here in the final quarter and keep the staking a little lower. A player that appeals at the current quote is Milos Raonic, who should be suited by both the conditions here as well as the draw. At his price he is worth a small outright play.

Please note: Qualifiers have not been placed in the draw at the time of writing. I will update selections as necessary based on qualifier placement.

Betting Strategy

BACK – 0.3 units Raonic to win (recorded at $19)

Trading Selections

BACK to LAY – 0.3 units Khachanov to win (recorded at $36)

Hold Fire

BACK – Karatsev to win (stay tuned)

An opportunity for big ranking points is available to players this week in Miami, with a number of big names withdrawing in the lead-up to the tournament.

Let’s take a look at the seeded players for the women’s tournament, plus other players to watch, before finalising outright and trading selections:

Quarter 1

Ash Barty – Skipped the tour since WTA Adelaide citing injury, which she claimed she didn’t have at the Australian Open. Heads to Miami as she starts to lose a grip on the number 1 ranking, and will need to significantly improve on the form we saw from her in the early stages of 2021. She is a really hard player to judge at the moment. This section of the draw is a little difficult, and for the price she is in the outright markets, I would want to have seen more from her since the tour resumed. Wait and see.

Alison Riske – Disappointing since the tour resumed late last year. She would likely need to beat Barty, Azarenka and Sabalenka just to get out of her quarter. Prefer others.

Angelique Kerber – Another who has disappointed over the course of the last 7 months. I am waiting and waiting and waiting for a resurgence and it hasn’t occurred. Tough to see her getting past Azarenka on current form.

Victoria Azarenka – Has to command attention based on her North American form in the latter part of 2020. Hampered by injury in Doha, causing her to withdraw from her semi-final with Muguruza. It will be around 3 weeks between matches, so should be okay physically. One to watch.

Belinda Bencic – Performed quite poorly outside of her run to the final in Adelaide in what was a weak draw. Difficult to see her coming out of the quarter, let alone considering her for the outright markets.

Marketa Vondrousova – Should be suited by the slower conditions in Miami, however in my opinion it is still a little difficult to make a case for her here.

Veronika Kudermetova – Being so close to Sabalenka in the draw takes away some of her value here, however, she is certainly a danger for Sabalenka early in this draw. I think I would prefer to take her match to match as if she does win through she would be a decent underdog against Sabalenka as well as Barty/Azarenka, as well as the semi-final and final in most editions.

Aryna Sabalenka – The bigger the tournament the less appealing Sabalenka generally becomes. In this instance though, it is the tough draw that is off-putting from my perspective. Kudermetova will be a tricky out, as will Barty or Azarenka. Under the odds for my liking.

Other players of note – The main unseeded name that stands out is Danielle Collins. On 2021 form you could also make a case for Marta Kostyuk to cause an upset or two, however, she has not played since contracting a more severe case of COVID, so it is difficult to gauge her fitness levels. I’d have also been more interested in a Williams/Diyas first round a couple of years ago. Unless Jelena Ostapenko can produce a vintage 10 days of tennis, or a qualifier makes an impact, it is hard to make a case for any other unseeded player. I have been waiting for Wang Xiyu to come on and find some confidence, however, it hasn’t eventuated.


Quarter 2

Simona Halep – Conditions should suit the Romanian, who has looked solid to start the year. Only losses this year have been to Alexandrova in the week before the Australian Open (and whilst injured), and to Serena at the Australian Open. Will be better for the break, and this looks to be a very decent draw for her overall. One to watch with interest in my opinion, and a player I will not be opposing in any capacity.

Coco Gauff – Starting to make more inroads in some of the smaller tournaments, however, there are too many top names that are either more powerful, more consistent, or both, to consider her in the outright markets here.

Madison Keys – Great to see her back on the tour, however, I just haven’t seen enough to make a case for her. Best win has come against a jetlagged Bencic and given she is still shaking off the rust, I am happy to look elsewhere in the draw.

Iga Swiatek – The biggest threat to Halep in this eighth of the draw, although she did lose to the Romanian when she was below 100% at the Australian Open. Just hasn’t quite been consistent enough on hardcourt to jump into her at this price in a hardcourt tournament with a draw this strong.

Petra Kvitova – The form of Petra has been strong of late, however, the conditions here are not made to suit. The slower conditions coupled with the humidity, which does impact her endurance, makes it hard to be enticed by her current price on the exchange.

Johanna Konta – Conditions should suit her, however, there just isn’t enough form to warrant discussion in the outright markets at present. Could challenge Kvitova in the right conditions were they to meet.

Ekaterina Alexandrova – Becomes an appealing prospect in most draws, and the slower conditions aren’t the worst for her this week. Lacks to polish to her game to be able to attack her in an outright market with confidence. Can she bring her best for enough matches in a row to be a threat? I have question marks.

Elina Svitolina – Another who falls into the category of ‘conditions should suit however lack of recent form a worry’. Up against it from the outset in this draw.

Other players of note – On recent form, the main player to watch is Barbora Krejcikova. From there the key names include Kuznetsova/Cornet/Sevastova/Garcia, however, I don’t see them threatening on recent form. A player of the future to watch in this section of the draw is Robin Montgomery.


Quarter 3

Bianca Andreescu – Fitness is the big question mark here. Still finding her form and fitness, and a soft start to her draw may work in her favour here. Intriguing prospect.

Amanda Anisimova – One of the biggest unknown factors in this draw, as she continues to delay her return to the tour. Could produce anything this week.

Petra Martic – Absolutely cannot have in this draw on recent form.

Garbine Muguruza – Fortunate to be in an eighth of the draw with someone coming off a long layoff (Anisimova), a player in the midst of their return to the tour (Andreescu) and a player with no recent significant form on hardcourt (Martic). Whilst the early draw is on the more comfortable side, beating Brady/Rybakina/Jabeur/Kenin, just for the privilege to face Osaka in a semi-final, has me thinking the current odds in the outright market for her are a little short.

Jennifer Brady – Looked fantastic in Melbourne, then made the right decision to pull the pin and skip Dubai to take a break before Miami. Needs to be respected in most hardcourt draws given her North American hardcourt form. The surface is perhaps not as favourable for her overall, and I have her hitting trouble around Sofia Kenin this week.

Elena Rybakina – I’ve been a big advocate for her of late, however her form has left a lot to be desired. This looks to be a little tough on recent form.

Ons Jabeur – I just feel she cannot play enough important matches with a good enough first serve percentage across the course of a big tournament week to be a significant threat. Until she can improve this, I will monitor her match to match in most instances.

Sofia Kenin – Buying on the dip here. Was clearly below her best and brewing something across the course of the Australian swing, and that culminated in her appendix being removed in Melbourne. After nearly six weeks off, and back in favourable conditions, this looks to be a superb spot for Kenin. I will play her as a trading selection here, however, I am only likely to trade off her if she is to meet Naomi Osaka in a semi-final.

Other players of note – The standout names in this section on recent form are Sara Sorribes Tormo and Kaia Kanepi. Both have tough first rounds (Pera and Davis respectively), then even harder second rounds in Brady and Rybakina. Another potentially suited by the conditions may be Jil Teichmann.


Quarter 4

Karolina Pliskova – Perhaps the player that has suffered more than any other from the reduced prize money. Just doesn’t seem engaged and interested, and although she holds an 18-7 record here in Miami and reached the final in the most recent edition in 2019, it is awfully hard to make a case for her on recent form. Whilst I don’t mind her on the slower hardcourt, I don’t like that she is so close to Jessica Pegula, who has had her measure of late, as well as the fact she is in the same quarter as Osaka.

Jessica Pegula – Whilst I don’t think the conditions in Miami are made to entirely suit Pegula, her recent form does warrant respect. I personally have her struggling more against Sakkari in this eighth of the draw than Pliskova, however hard to see her threatening Osaka.

Maria Sakkari – Shouldn’t be too worried about the slower hardcourt conditions and the humidity, however, she should be worried by the need to beat one of Pliskova/Pegula just to get a shot at most likely Osaka. One to watch though match to match, as I do think her overall form is trending upward.

Kiki Bertens – Too soon into her comeback to be talking about winning tournaments of this magnitude.

Elise Mertens – On her day could be a threat to Osaka, however, she is likely to find trouble with a form player in the last eight or even 16. Reliant on errors from some of the bigger strikers makes things difficult.

Anett Kontaveit – I normally have more of an interest in supporting Kontaveit earlier in tournaments as she can falter a little at the pointy end. Being so close to Mertens and then Osaka in the draw is a concern though.

Naomi Osaka – Commands favouritism in every match-up on the hardcourt for the foreseeable future. Her best level wins this, and it is more about desire and application than it will be about ability in my opinion. Is the care for tournaments outside of grand slams as high on the radar of Osaka? I am in a bind with her, as I want to see her first-up before drawing a conclusion. If Potapova is able to beat Tomljanovic in round 1 I am anticipating a decent value head to head price for the Russian against Osaka. Watch this space, a bit like the Australian Open.

Other players of note – The names that catch the eye more than most here are Anastasia Potapova and Marie Bouzkova on more recent form.


Summary

This is a tricky little draw, with some big names unseen since Melbourne, and others have played very well through the Dubai/Doha swing.

In the top half, the name that stands out the most at current prices is Simona Halep. Being on the other side of the draw to the likes of Osaka and Muguruza is appealing, and she has the type of game to cause the likes of Barty some trouble. I won’t be opposing her in any way this week and will start the weeks with a small outright play on her.

From a trading standpoint, my eyes are drawn to the first quarter and the price on Victoria Azarenka. Staking will be low given her back injury a couple of weeks back, however, she has the game and form in these conditions to feature late in the tournament.

Looking to the bottom half I am going to initially hold fire on backing Osaka at her quote. If she looks decent after her first outing I may make a play on her to cover other outrights in the book. Instead, the appeal in the bottom half at the current prices for mine is Sofia Kenin.

Good luck, and as always if you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Please note: Qualifiers have not been placed in the draw at the time of writing. I will update selections as necessary based on qualifier placement.

Betting Strategy

BACK – 0.75 units Simona Halep (recorded at $15)

BACK – 0.4 units Sofia Kenin (recorded at $34)

Trading Selections

BACK to LAY – 0.35 units Victoria Azarenka (recorded at $22)

Welcome to the ATP preview for this week, covering Dubai. Roger Federer has withdrawn from the tournament, Novak Djokovic has skipped it and Rafael Nadal has turned down a late wildcard, leaving Dominic Thiem as the top seed for the tournament.

Let’s take a look at the seeds in each quarter, players to watch, and tie it all together with some outright and trading thoughts.

Quarter 1

Dominic Thiem: Whilst I cannot quite put my finger on it, Thiem doesn’t look to be at his best at this stage of the year. Injury issues that impacted him at times late in 2020 reappeared at the Australian Open, causing him to struggle backing up from his 5 set match with Kyrgios to face Dimitrov. Looked solid without being exceptional last week in Doha, losing to eventual finalist Bautista-Agut. Is he more interested in prepping for Roland Garros at this stage of the year?

Filip Krajinovic: Haven’t seen a lot from the Serbian, playing his first match since losing to Medvedev in 5 at the AO by falling to David Goffin in Doha in straight sets last week. The difference between his best and his worst is probably the greatest of all the seeded players in this tournament, which makes it hard to trust him in an outright sense. That being said, he has the game to genuinely trouble Thiem on current form. Could steal a reasonable draw if you’re willing to take a risk earlier in the week.

Borna Coric:  Looked great in Rotterdam until a no-show performance in the semi-final against Fucsovics. At this stage, with limited exceptional form of late, he strikes me as a player I am more interested in taking match to match, than trusting his ability to maintain his level late in tournaments. He is building in form, but this draw may be a little too difficult.

David Goffin: There have been glimpses from the Belgian this year, with some great performances (won Montpellier and made Antalya SF) and some average performances. Lost deep in a third set tiebreak to Fritz last week, who went on the make the SF. There is form around the majority of the players he has been losing too (see Popyrin Singapore title), and given I am not overly keen on Thiem in this quarter, Goffin is enticing.

Other players of interest in this quarter are Kei Nishikori and Reilly Opelka. It is a fascinating match first up, with the winner a tough opponent for Goffin in round 2. I don’t know if Nishikori is quite at the level yet of putting together an entire week of top level tennis, however, he has certainly made big strides over the last month. Can Opelka serve well enough for long enough? Hard to trust at the moment.


Quarter 2

Denis Shapovalov: I continue to struggle to get a read on the Canadian. He has all the talent and shots in the world, but all the pieces of the puzzle just haven’t clicked together. When things click it will be hard to beat him, however, I just don’t know if I can trust him based on his early 2021 season form in all honesty.

Hubert Hurkacz: He has disappointed me overall this year, both at ATP and grand slam level. I need to see more consistency from him before I jump into him in ATP 500 future markets. Vulnerable at the moment.

Alex De Minaur: Another who has shown flashes this year, however, he would certainly be disappointed with how things have unfolded since flying to Melbourne for the Australian Open. He will have a tough couple of matches to kick things off and will need to significantly lift his form. The conditions should suit him, so I won’t be actively opposing him, however, I need to see more from him to consider him in an outright. Will have a tough second-round match with Jeremy Chardy, who has shown some good form of late.

Karen Khachanov: Another who continues to impress and frustrate all at the same time. After a couple of impressive performances a few weeks back, he throws in a loss to Tsitsipas from a set up and a loss to Ebden from a set up. I cannot justify an outright play, and will likely have his hands full with Alexei Popyrin in round 2 to kick off his tournament.

Of the unseeded players that are already in the draw, Alexei Popyrin looks to be the biggest threat on recent form. Whilst he has played a little better on the indoor hardcourt (Singapore champion), he has finally regained the confidence he had lost with injuries plaguing his last 12-18 months. Others I will look at in particular match-ups are Richard Gasquet and perhaps even Jan-Lennard Struff in the right spot.


Quarter 3:

Lorenzo Sonego: The Italian has taken the spot in the draw of Stan Wawrinka, who has pulled the pin of the rest of the hardcourt season citing fatigue, getting ready for the clay. I don’t think I can find justification for Sonego in ATP500 hardcourt outright markets at the moment.

Dan Evans: Lost to Roger Federer last week in his return to the tour. The Brit would have been a touch disappointed, given a rusty Federer was able to get the better of him in that third set with no match practice in over a year. Easy to forget that he has a title to his name this year, and in this section of the draw needs to be respected. Good trading spot given he is closest to Sonego in the seeded pairings.

Jannik Sinner: We know what he is capable of producing at the top level. The next step for the Italian: delivering with consistency. It will come, however, I think he is a little under the odds in the betting markets given his more recent form. More value to win Roland Garros than this tournament at the current quotes.

Roberto Bautista Agut: The Spaniard knows who he is playing in round 2, with Matt Ebden the beneficiary of the SE spot. Will enjoy the first-round bye coming off his finals loss in Doha. Given that Wawrinka has come out of this quarter, there is a great opportunity here for the Spaniard.

Of the unseeded players in this section, the names with the best recent form around them are Alexander Bublik and Aslan Karatsev. Of the others, I haven’t seen enough from John Millman to start 2021, and the same can be said for Yoshihito Nishioka and Egor Gerasimov.


Quarter 4

Pablo Carreno Busta: We haven’t seen the Spaniard since the Australian Open, where his tournament was ended up an abdominal injury against Dimitrov. I would rather sit out backing him off no recent form since his injury, especially with some of the other names lurking in this quarter of the draw.

Dusan Lajovic: Continues to deliver decent performances without being overly spectacular. I don’t think I can have him in the outright market here.

Taylor Fritz: Took some steps in the right direction last week, reaching the semi-final of Doha. He lost to Basilashvili as a heavy favourite though and now starts his tournament against the same opponent this week. With Andrey Rublev so close to him in the draw as well, it is hard to get *too* excited over him in the outright market.

Andrey Rublev: After winning the title in Rotterdam, Rublev made his way all the way to the semi-final in Doha without having to step on the court. Gasquet and Fucsovics withdrew before facing the Russian, who then lost to Bautista-Agut in the semi-final. I won’t hold too much weight on that result given the title the week before, and this attackable ATP 500 on the horizon. It is hard to fault him overall, and this looks a nice draw for the Russian.

Of the unseeded player to catch the eye, the obvious one is Nikolaz Basilashvili coming off his Doha title. The form came out of absolutely nowhere, however, I would be impressed if he did back up at a decent level this week. Other players to consider game to game are Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Marton Fucsovics. Jordan Thompson is also back on the court for the first time since injury impacted his Australian Open, however will need to be on from the outset given this draw.

Please note: given the main draw starts before qualifying ends, a number of places are yet to be filled in the draw. This doesn’t look to be the strongest draw of qualifiers, and I would be surprised if any featured heavily in the outright markets.


Summary

Whilst some of the big names may be missing, there are a couple of nice spots of players that may be worth small plays for the week.

I am happy to play around the short price of Thiem in the top half, and the price that appeals most in this instance is David Goffin. It will only be a small play, but on his recent form, which is continuing to build, his price does catch my eye.

Out of the bottom half, the only name I am interested in getting involved with at the current prices is in fact Andrey Rublev. His biggest threat in the half is Sinner, who is perhaps a touch under the odds. Rublev will enjoy being on the other side of the draw to both Thiem and Bautista-Agut and should look to capitalize if recent form is any indication.

Looking to trading spots, the name that stands out in the top half is Alexei Popyrin and in the bottom half Dan Evans. The Popyrin selection is more due to the question marks I have around the prices of all the seeded players in that quarter on exposed form.

Regarding Evans, I am happy to place a small trading spot on him and will look to trade out if he faces Rublev in a semi-final. The draw is a little quirky with all seeds getting a first-round bye, so do keep that in mind if targeting some bigger prices for unseeded players.

Betting Strategy

BACK – 0.5 units Rublev to win (recorded at $4)

BACK – 0.25 units Goffin to win (recorded at $15)

Trading Selections

BACK – 0.15 units Evans to win (recorded at $34)

BACK – 0.1 units Popyrin to win (recorded at $81)

The women’s tour stops in Dubai this week for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Winners of this tournament since 2015 include Elina Svitolina (2017 & 2018), Belinda Bencic (2019), Simona Halep (2015 & 2020) and…. Sara Errani (2016).

Let’s take a look at the seeded players in each section of the draw, the unseeded dangers, and come up with some overall outright selections for the week.

Quarter 1

Elina Svitolina – Svitolina will enjoy coming to a tournament where she has had great success over the years. She needs a boost as well, as she hasn’t been at a level near her best for some time now, however this isn’t the worst draw for her at all. She won’t be blown off the court by Sakkari if they are to meet, and Keys and Bencic are early into their returns to the tour from their respective injuries (and Svitolina would only need to face one of them). I don’t like getting involved in Svitolina outrights too much, but this is a pretty favourable draw by her standards. What is stopping me? She couldn’t get past Azarenka with a back injury last week, so I am not sure I can trust her at the price.

Maria Sakkari – Started the year in a blaze of glory in Abu Dhabi, however, hasn’t shown the consistency I would like to see from her to get involved in an outright capacity. A tough first round match with Krejcikova will be a test for her, and if she were to meet Svitolina it would be a fantastic test of her new aggressive, more attacking mindset.

Madison Keys – A hard one to gauge in the field. Whilst she did defeat Bencic last week, that was more a situational win more than anything (Bencic backing up from her WTA final and just clearing quarantine in Doha before their match). Needs the time on court more than anything at this stage, so I am happy to sit this one out on her and won’t be too disappointed if she were to make a run.

Belinda Bencic – The form lines suggests as a recent finalist (Adelaide) that she is on the improve, and as a past winner here will be another looking for a confidence boost. Don’t be too put off by the loss to Keys last week given the quick turnaround for her. I have other doubts though, such as the strength of the field in Adelaide that involved her finals appearance. I need to see before backing her in the outright markets. We may see some short term match to match value if too much has been read into last weeks’ loss.

Unseeded Dangers – There are several match-to-match threats, however given the strength of this field overall it may be difficult to make a case for them in terms of winning the title overall. Players on this list on recent form include Barbora Krejcikova, Anastasia Potapova and Veronika Kudermetova are the biggest threats on recent form (I would give Kudermetova the edge of the three). Other more experienced players, who haven’t shown enough recent form for outright consideration, are Jelena Ostapenko, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Svetlana Kuznetsova.


Quarter 2

Petra Kvitova – Completely and utterly dominant in Doha last week, only dropping one set on her way to the title. Shouldn’t be too much concern for her backing up physically this week given the dominance of her last two wins, and the short travel situation. The bigger question at play is her general ability to maintain the level that she displayed in Doha. When she is at her best there aren’t too many that have the ability to dictate the outcome of matches against Petra, however given her win last week, and the strength of this field, I don’t see any value in her outright price for this tournament.

Elena Rybakina – Rybakina has slightly become a victim of her own expectations to an extent. Her rise over the 18 months pre-COVID was exceptional, as was her ability to produce solid tennis on all surfaces in all conditions makes her a threat in most conditions. After going through a phase of being under the odds for most of her matches, she is slowly starting to edge towards being value. Could be a threat to Kvitova in the early stages, and looks to be a nice price in the outrights given the way this draw shapes.

Marketa Vondrousova – I haven’t seen enough from Vondrousova to be jumping at her outright price here in any capacity. I need to see a more consistent level, especially given round 2 would be against one of Gauff or Alexandrova.

Kiki Bertens – She remarked that she was hoping to win a game on her return to the tour from injury last week in Doha. She won two. No thank you.


Quarter 3

Iga Swiatek – The fantastic form of Swiatek has continued over recent weeks. She dominated her way through the draw in Adelaide, albeit a weaker draw, and showed the dominance you would hope to see from her in that situation. Swiatek made the smart move to bypass tournament play last week to rest and should be in a great position to make a push again in a more competitive field here. Happy to consider in the outright market again in these conditions, until she gives me a reason to not support her.

Garbine Muguruza – Looked fantastic in Doha until the final, where Kvitova was completely and utterly dominant. There remains a large gulf between her best and her worst, and that is still showing up at times within the same match. A potential meeting with Swiatek in the third round will be telling this section. Under the outright odds.

Anett Kontaveit – Looked brilliant in Doha last week, until she didn’t. There will be an asterisk next to the win over Jennifer Brady given Brady has wrapped this section of her tour and gone home after an exhausting campaign in Melbourne. I just don’t trust her enough at the end of big tournaments to consider for outrights.

Aryna Sabalenka – Benefits from the first round bye here as well, after falling to Muguruza in three sets last week. Sabalenka falls into the category of Kvitova in that her best can be almost unplayable, however she just hasn’t got the same runs on the board overall for her career. I do rate her as a player, but she continues to come up under her odds in tournaments of this strength.

Unseeded Dangers – Compared to other quarters, this one doesn’t have the same depth overall. Amanda Anisimova would generally be a threat, however, hasn’t played this year and is hard to consider. The one name that has displayed some decent recent for is Daria Kasatkina and catching Sabalenka early and having the potential to steal her draw may not be the worst for the Russian.


Quarter 4

Victoria Azarenka – Withdrew from the Doha semi final with back issues, which plagued her whilst still beating Svitolina in the quarter final. Hard to have her in the outright market given the physical ailment. One to watch just to gauge her level early in the week.

Elise Mertens – Much like Svitolina, I am trying to not get involved in outright market plays on Mertens too often this year. It does make it hard though when her draw is such friendly one. We haven’t seen her on court since the Australian Open, however these conditions are likely to suit her as well. In a quarter with Martic and Pliskova, and an injured Azarenka as the other seeds, is solid compared to the other quarters. Will be making a trading selection.

Petra Martic – Another player who I haven’t seen enough from on the hardcourts to considering her recent from. Hard to make a case in this field, however I am going to be more interested as we head to the clay season.

Karolina Pliskova – Continues to disappoint. For all the disappointment though, she still goes up at a price that is quite hard to entertain, even with the bye in round 1. Will likely need to turn that tables come round 3 if a potential meeting with Jessica Pegula arises again. Too many in this section can challenger her on current form. I need to see more from her to consider her for outright markets again.


Summary

This looks to be a stacked draw overall, with some pockets proving to be far more difficult than others.

The top half looks to be the one to attack, however the first quarter is a real pain. I was *this* close to including Svitolina, however her inability to beat an injured Azarenka last week, and her lack of consistency over a longer period has led me to not get involved pre-tournament. She should still be able to win this quarter, however, will likely be an underdog in both the semi final and final if she reaches them. She is in the uncomfortable outright discussion of ‘should win the quarter, but probably not value at the pointy end of the tournament’.

The second quarter looks to be a case of ‘will Kvitova back up last week?’ and there is every chance she might. At her odds though I cannot entertain, and I will instead side with Elena Rybakina at odds above 30-1 in this section. It is a tough draw, but her best can be good enough here. There is also appeal as I would have her as a favourite against anyone who comes out of the first quarter in a semi-final.

Three of the top 4 favourites for the title are in the third quarter. Muguruza is around 2nd favourite and Swiatek is 4th favourite, yet they are slated to meet in the third round. I would give Swiatek the edge on form, however they still would face Sabalenka in a quarter final were they both to progress. Given I don’t like the odds on Sabalenka and Muguruza, I will make a small outright play on Swiatek to complement my trading selection for this quarter.

The appeal in Sabalenka is that on paper, her early draw is the best of the top names. I am going to question that slightly, as I think a second round match with Daria Kasatkina has the makings of an incredibly difficult opponent for the conditions. Kasatkina looks to be a decent trading selection here for a small amount at 70-1 or better.

If you can find a player to back with confidence in the fourth quarter, I would recommend it. I will make a trading selection on Mertens here given the concerns over Azarenka’s fitness, however, will be more inclined to pull the trigger on getting out of my bet if she makes the final four in some capacity.

Suggested Bets (please note 1 unit = 1% of bankroll)

Outright Selections

BACK – 0.4 units Swiatek to win (recorded at $11)

BACK – 0.3 units Rybakina to win (recorded at $32)

Trading Selections

BACK – 0.2 units Elise Mertens (recorded at $19)

BACK – 0.2 units Daria Kasatkina (recorded at $80)


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