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Shanghai has finally delivered a bit of a taste of the next generation of ATP supremacy, with no Djokovic, Federer or Nadal finding their way into the final four players of the ATP Masters 1000 event. This year we ended with Medvedev, Zverev, Berrettini and Tsitsipas vying for the title. After a couple of fascinating semi-finals, we end with Medvedev and Zverev facing off in the final.

Whilst he hasn’t been at his top level for stages of this week, it has been a testament to the consistency of Medvedev to reach another final in the back half of the season. After a patchy performance against Vasek Pospisil earlier in the week, Medvedev has looked a little more self-assured in wins over Fognini and Tsitsipas to reach the final.

He continues to hit his spots well, consistently frustrating his opponents in key moments. In his current vein of form, Medvedev isn’t going to be giving his opponents anything for free in key moments, and I think that attribute is going to be key today in his match against Zverev.

Over the last couple of weeks I have certainly found myself impressed by the form of Zverev since Laver Cup, as it is a significant lift in form compared to the majority of 2019. He has looked far more confident in his ball-striking off both wings, and I do believe that when his confidence is high that Zverev owns one of the best backhands in the game.

What does appear to still be lacking a touch currently is his confidence to pull the trigger in key moments, including on a couple of those second set match points against Federer in the quarter final.

There weren’t any of those moments in his semi-final against Berrettini, helped by an incredible first serve percentage from Zverev. Of his 434 recorded matches statistically, Zverev’s first serve percentages against Berrettini and Federer both ranked in the top 7 performances for his career, so it has been an impressive run.

I don’t see that statistic maintaining that level for three matches in a row. Combine that with Medvedev’s form in clutch moments of late, and it is hard to look past Medvedev winning and covering the -1.5-game handicap today in what should be a fascinating match for a number of reasons.


Betting Strategy

 BACK – Medvedev -1.5 games for 2.5 units


Previous Tournaments

Welcome to the preview for the ATP Masters 1000 from Shanghai. The 2018 instalment of this tournament was a fascinating contest, with the 2nd seed Novak Djokovic prevailing in the final over 13th seed Borna Coric, 6-3 6-4. The hardcourt generally plays quite fast, which is worth considering when making a play this week.

As with other tournaments this year, I will break down the draw into quarters before selecting any suitable outright or trading selections.


Quarter One

Novak Djokovic sits at the top of the draw and given his impressive run in Tokyo this past week, you must assume he is back to full fitness. I could write all day about Novak, however given his impressive lead-in form, and the first-round bye assisting in the turnaround to this week. Tough to beat.

John Isner would generally come into the equation given the nature of the courts in Shanghai; however, he has received a bit of a horror draw. De Minaur first up, then a likely meeting with Djokovic in the third round, before needing three further wins? I just don’t see it on his recent form, even with his serve.

Gael Monfils remains one of the great unknowns with every ATP draw. Certainly, on ability has an appearance in the quarter finals this week if he can take advantage of a potentially tired Tsitsipas on the way through. One to watch.

Stefanos Tsitsipas looked fantastic in Beijing until he led Thiem by a set and a break in the final and went on to be blown out in the third set. Very much a confidence player, and after a poor latter half of the year, will the week in Beijing be enough to turn the tide? Can struggle off a long week and sitting in Djokovic’s quarter doesn’t fill me with a lot of confidence.

Of the rest in this section, the standout is Alex De Minaur and to a lesser extent Denis Shapovalov. Both would need to face Djokovic before round 3, so there isn’t a lot of appeal in their current prices given the draw.


Quarter Two

Daniil Medvedev is one of the form players on tour now and has now reached a stage and level of consistency that requires respect. A point here and there away from the US Open title, Medvedev backed that up with a title in his return to the court.

Should be fresh this week, and in my opinion has a very favourable draw. Should be making the semi final on recent form, unless he struggles in conditions against a Schwartzman/Simon/Fognini type of opponent.

Diego Schwartzman has certainly lifted his game in the back half of the season, however, would be disappointed with his loss to Sam Querrey last week from a commanding position.

Has the tools and the movement to challenge the best players for long periods, however the speed of the court this week may be a little much for Diego, who has a tricky first match with Vasek Pospisil, who looked very good in qualifying.

Fabio Fognini falls into a similar category as Monfils. He looked brilliant last week in the first set against Khachanov, before falling away dramatically. Given his erratic nature and the fact his draw is quite difficult to make it out of the quarter, I will pass at this stage for the week.

Karen Khachanov continues to struggle with the mantle of being a top 10 player and looks to be struggling in key moments of late. The game is there, he just needs to finish off in matches. I think the courts suit Karen this week, and with a bit of momentum and what looks to be a favourable draw in the quarter, he is worth considering from a trading perspective. From what I have recently seen, success looks to be just around the corner.

Of the rest in this section, the first name to gravitate towards is Andy Murray, who is certainly making progress in his return to the top level of singles. I don’t think he is quite in the outright discussion; however, he is worth watching as some nice prices might pop up in the head-to-head betting across the week.

Of the rest of this section, Taylor Fritz and Sam Querrey are probably the biggest threats on this type of hardcourt, however neither are in the form to consider for an outright in my opinion.


Quarter Three

Roberto Bautista-Agut is the type of player that continues to loom in these types of tournaments without really garnering any sort of attention. I would be quite keen to back him at the price this week, however the retirement trailing Querrey last week is a bit of a worry. I am going to keep an eye on him early in the week and may tweet out further thoughts on him if he looks good early in the week, as his draw is solid.

Matteo Berrettini has made the most of the NextGen players before him taking most of the attention. The Italian didn’t play his best tennis throughout the US Open, yet still managed to find a way through to the semi-final. His form has spluttered a touch through St Petersburg and Beijing, with losses to Gerasimov and Murray in 4 tiebreak sets. If Bautista-Agut isn’t at the top of his game, this could be a big opportunity for Berrettini in this section.

Nikolaz Basilashvili has the tools, it all comes down to execution. The potential is there, especially when you consider that Thiem is coming off a full week of tennis in this section. Worth a trading selection in this section in my opinion, as his best form in this section will allow him to progress.

Dominic Thiem looked fantastic on his way to the Beijing title last week, however he did end up spending a lot of time on court, especially through the semi final and final, where he found himself clawing back to victory on both occasions.

I didn’t expect him to go the distance in Beijing given his recent form, however the need to back up off a huge week may go against him in terms of his chances this week. A player like Djokovic can get on and off court quickly in early rounds to conserve energy when backing up, however Thiem doesn’t always have that ability. Happy to oppose early in the week.

Of the rest, I don’t see any players making it out of this quarter unless a huge run from an in-form qualifier Pablo Carreno-Busta or an inspired Benoit Paire, however I am happy to play around this section with a couple of selections.


Quarter Four

Alexander Zverev certainly improved his form in Beijing, before falling to Tsitsipas in the semi-final. He looked so good through the week, and it looked as though he had gained a lot of confidence from being a part of Team Europe at the Laver Cup, however old habits crept back in during the semi-final. Not sure a title is soon; however, it is nice to see his game starting to head in the right direction overall.

Borna Coric just hasn’t shown enough recently for me to consider, even with his surprise run last year to the final. With a lot of points to defend and out of form, this looks a tough prospect.

David Goffin looked solid in Tokyo, notwithstanding the fact he lost to the eventual champion in Djokovic in straight sets. Tough draw for Goffin, who has generally struggled with Roger Federer, and I don’t think the courts in Shanghai will do Goffin any favours this week. Will need to be at his absolute best, and there were enough glimpses in Tokyo to think he could match it with Federer

Roger Federer makes his way back to the tour after his shock loss to Grigor Dimitrov at the US Open. We know he is back to his best physically given his performances at the Laver Cup, so there shouldn’t be too many question marks.

Should be able to take advantage of a pretty decent draw and should at least be making the final four this week. Does have a tricky potential second round meeting with Marin Cilic, who is now unseeded, so I will monitor him early.

Of the rest in this section, Andrey Rublev and Marin Cilic stand out most, and could spring a surprise or two. Rublev has the chance to take advantage of the 12th seed Coric’s draw with a solid performance first up and should be one to watch.


Summary

From the top half, it is hard to go past Djokovic on form, so I will be steering clear of everyone else in the first quarter. At his best he is relentless, and I don’t see anyone at a value price currently in section one given they have to face Novak early.

Looking to section two for some trading value (knowing they wouldn’t meet Novak until a semi-final), and I don’t mind Karen Khachanov to find form.

From the bottom half, I am curious to see Federer play his first match in the conditions. I will look to a couple of players from a trading perspective to kick off the week.

I don’t mind Andrey Rublev and Nikolaz Basilashvili, as both are at big odds and capable of beating big names when playing their best tennis. I will monitor Bautista-Agut early in the week regarding his fitness before making a potential outright selection on him as well.


Betting Strategy

Outright Selection

 BACK – Novak Djokovic

Trading Selections

 BACK – Karen Khachanov

 BACK  – Nikolaz Basilashvili

 BACK  – Andrey Rublev

Goffin vs Medvedev

Like the women’s final, the battle of Medvedev and Goffin in a Masters 1000 final is also incredibly interesting. These two played an absolute epic at Wimbledon, and they will both be looking for the biggest win of their career as they meet in the final in Cincinnati.

Daniil Medvedev just continues to go about his business, making deep runs week after week in this North American swing. Backing up from his final against Rafael Nadal in Montreal, Medvedev made the most of his early draw this week, conserving energy by not dropping a set on the way to the semi final.

He was able to pull off the upset over Novak Djokovic, winning in 3 sets with both players having question marks over their body either coming into or during the match.

It was more validation that Medvedev is towards the front of the group pressing to challenge the Big 3, however there is still a ways to go in the best-of-5 set format.

Medvedev won this match-up in January, however was definitely the form player at the time. Goffin was able to come back from 2 sets to 1 down at Wimbledon to claim victory, squaring the ledger at 1-1.

Whilst he did struggle in Melbourne, it looked as though at Wimbledon that the further the match went on, the better Goffin was able to read the serve of Medvedev. That will come in handy today, with the serve of Medvedev such a weapon.

In July on grass, Medvedev had an average first serve speed of 197km/h, and only won 64% of points from it across the 5 sets. Goffin started to get a read on things, and the match started to turn in his favour.

A couple of the other times I have opposed Medvedev I have commented on the importance of level footing midway through service games, given his propensity to go for broke on second serves when in advantageous positions. This will again be crucial today.

With the slight concern around an arm injury from the semi final, I don’t mind taking Goffin here at the game handicap.

Considering the volume of tennis from Medvedev recently, coupled with Goffin’s ability to start to get a read on the Russian’s serve at Wimbledon, and I am happy to make a play at the +3.5 games for 2 units.


Betting Strategy

 BACK – Goffin +3.5 games for 2 units

Kuznetsova v Keys

This in my opinion is an incredibly interesting final, albeit not with the usual big names we see at the pointy end of a week in 2019. After almost missing the entire North American hardcourt swing due to issues obtaining a Visa, it is great to see Kuznetsova in the final this week after being unable to defend her title in Washington is a fantastic result.

Madison Keys has also put together a phenomenal week, and looks to be finding form at the right time with the US Open just around the corner.

You can sometimes make a case for players reaching the final having come through a draw somewhat easier than their final opponent’s week, however with Keys defeating Muguruza/Kasatkina/Halep/V Williams/Kenin and Kuznetsova defeating Sevastova/Yastremska/Stephens/Pliskova/Barty, both have had phenomenal weeks.

I do find however that at the current stages of their careers, Madison Keys seems to be playing better against bigger strikers of the ball, whereas the same can be said for Kuznetsova, who has looked really good over her last 4 sets against Pliskova and Barty in particular.

Ash Barty was very complimentary of Kuznetsova after her semi-final loss, complimenting the Russian’s ability to problem-solve within a match and find a way when her back is against the wall.

That very trait of Kuznetsova’s is part of the appeal of supporting her at the game handicap. Madison Keys has no plan B, and I am not sure I can see her plan A working against Kuznetsova on current form for the entirety of the match.

The +3.5 game handicap looks to be an exceptional starting point given the Russian’s form this week against other big strikers, and her ability to use variety to her advantage against some of the more one-dimensional players.


Betting Strategy

 BACK – Kuznetsova +3.5 games for 2 units

Welcome to the ATP preview for Cincinnati. The field is stacked, with 16 of the top 18 players in action this week. The top 8 seeds have the advantage of the first-round bye, however Rafael Nadal has withdrawn, moving his attention to the US Open after his title in Montreal.

Daniil Medvedev as the 9th seed does not have the advantage of a first round by this week, which could hamper his chances.

Below is a comment on each of the seeds in each quarter, as well as any unseeded players that are looming large for a potential big run.


Quarter One

Novak Djokovic is the deserved favourite for the tournament given his high level of tennis that he has been able to demonstrate this year. As is the case as the number 1, there is the likelihood of him needing to go through Federer in the semi final and winner of the bottom half in the final if everything went the way some expect. Has been a little patchy at times outside of Slams, so it will be interesting to see how he comes back from some vacation time post-Wimbledon.

John Isner just hasn’t quite looked at 100% over the last couple of months, and it is hard to picture him handling a path that could potentially involve Djokovic and Federer in his half alone. Should make the third round though unless handed a tricky qualifier into the section, as Lajovic and Simon have struggled lately.

I mentioned last week that Fabio Fognini is hard to trust at this level on hardcourt, and his loss to Nadal after a great first set encapsulated those thoughts. The talent is there, but not one I am considering in the outright space given his draw.

Karen Khachanov played some of his best tennis for 2019 last week in Montreal, before falling to Medvedev. A potential path of Kyrgios/Djokovic/Federer to even reach the final seems to be a tough ask.

Of the unseeded players, the biggest name to keep an eye on here is Nick Kyrgios.  He is coming off a fortnight that has involved winning a title, and then a little bit of a meltdown less than 48 hours later, which didn’t come as a shock to anyone. Does the sight of Djokovic in his quarter give him the added motivation to make a run this week? Denis Shapovalov is another that is of interest and looks like he can make a little run through the early part of the week.


Quarter Two

Roger Federer is also coming off a break since Wimbledon, so it will be interesting to see how he manages this week. Looks to have been given a pretty solid draw through his first couple of rounds considering Berrettini is coming off an injury and he has the wood over Dimitrov/Wawrinka given their past head to heads and current form. Odds look about right on the outright side of things considering he will likely need to pass both Djokovic in the semi and the best of the bottom half in the final.

Nikoloz Basilashvili is one that always catches the eye, however at this level on hardcourt looks to be a tough ask with his draw. Prefer others this week.

Daniil Medvedev will have to play another week of phenomenal tennis, his third week in a row, to win this week. Cannot see him threatening and doesn’t appear to be value at his current price.

Stefanos Tsitsipas is one that has the potential to make a big run, however, does appear to have a slightly unfortunate run in his way. It would take something special, and I think his head to head odds matches may be more appealing. Whilst he beat Federer in Australia, their last match was very eye-opening. Just doesn’t quite have the killer instinct to handle his draw in my opinion.

Of the unseeded players, only a vintage Stan Wawrinka week is between a seed and the semi finals in my opinion. I don’t see any big shocks in this section.


Quarter Three

Alexander Zverev is a player that I will continue to monitor, however it is hard to justify him as the 5th-6th favourite in this field. His form just hasn’t got that intimidation factor to it at the moment, and still looks to be lacking in power a touch on the forehand side. Prefer others at their prices.

Roberto Bautista Agut continues to produce solid tennis, without taking major scalps of late. Tough first match with Hurkacz, however has the potential to make the last 8 if he maintains his recent form.

Marin Cilic looks to be waiting for everything to click in his game. He produced two solid weeks of tennis, however, couldn’t convert his opportunities when it mattered against Thiem. Has a chance at revenge this week and looks a decent chance of making a run in this section.

Dominic Thiem is still a tricky one to gauge. Had patches of brilliance in Montreal off the quick turnaround, however I don’t find myself compelled by his odds to be completely honest. I think if they are to meet again, that Cilic may edge Thiem this week.

Of the unseeded players, Felix Auger-Aliassime has the potential to capitalize on the draw of Zverev. It is also fantastic to see Andy Murray back in a main draw, so he will be interesting to watch this week in terms of his movement for singles.


Quarter Four

Kei Nishikori didn’t set the world on fire last week with a second-round loss to Gasquet, and just doesn’t have the match practice and confidence in his body to trust now.

Borna Coric hasn’t looked fantastic in his return from injury, as his search for match practice before the US Open moves to Cincinnati. Cannot have this week.

David Goffin hasn’t played with a lot of consistency recently, so there would need to be quite the change in form to be considered an outright hope here. His chances improve with Nadal withdrawing, however before then he has a tricky first round date with Taylor Fritz. Prefer others at their prices.

Rafael Nadal has now withdrawn, with Adrian Mannarino to take his place as lucky loser. It really opens up the entire quarter.

Of the unseeded players, Alex De Minaur looks to be the standout player considering the type of players in this section, followed by perhaps Reilly Opelka.


Summary

Whilst I think the winner comes from the top half of the draw, I think the value sits in the third quarter, as well as the fourth quarter if Nadal doesn’t take his place in the field (now withdrawn).

At the prices on offer, I think there is a touch more value in the price on Federer with his draw, compared to Djokovic with that stacked first quarter.

In the bottom half, I like Cilic at the odds to make a run from the third quarter, and De Minaur in the fourth. I would hold onto De Minaur against any opponent in the bottom half except Cilic. If they meet, I will comment on this later in the week.

A loaded first quarter. A wide-open bottom half. An interesting week ahead.


Betting Strategy

Outright Selection

 BACK – Roger Federer

Trading Selections

 BACK – Marin Cilic

 BACK  – Alex De Minaur

Welcome to the preview for WTA Cincinnati. We have a new world number 1, with Naomi Osaka recapturing her throne for now.

With two Grand Slams to defend in the next five months however, she may not find herself at the top for long. Ash Barty holds the number 1 seed for the week, and it looks to be a very competitive draw, with 16 of the top 17 players in action.

Let’s break down the draw and try and find a winner.


Quarter One

Ash Barty didn’t look fantastic in her return to the hardcourt against Kenin last week, with the tape on the right shoulder a mild concern. She will be better for last week’s appearance and will need to be in what looks to be a competitive little section of the draw here.

Angelique Kerber didn’t convince me against Kasatkina last week. At her best she is incredibly hard to beat, however it has now been a little while since we have seen her best. Prefer others at their prices this week.

Aryna Sabalenka did reach a final 2 weeks ago, however considering the strength of this field, she will need to find another level on her recent form, and I just don’t see it happening overnight.

Petra Kvitova is making her comeback from injury, in what may become some testing conditions. Does like the US hardcourts, and made the semi final here last year. Kvitova will be using this week as a chance to get a couple of matches under her belt as she builds to the US Open.

Of the unseeded, the first name that jumps out is Maria Sharapova, who has struggled during her comeback but does need to be respected. Anett Kontaveit is another who could cause an upset, and she is slated to play Kerber in the first round.


Quarter Two

Karolina Pliskova didn’t look fantastic in Toronto last week, losing to Andreescu in 3 sets. Has a 12-5 record at Cincinnati, including the title in 2016, and needs to be respected based on 2019 hardcourt form.

Johanna Konta has certainly looked rejuvenated in her game for 2019, however she needs to show me a bit more on hardcourt before considering her in this sort of outright market.

Anastasija Sevastova is another that has the potential to beat most on her day, I just don’t see a big run for her this week based on her recent hardcourt form.

Sloane Stephens is a bit of a lottery. She hasn’t impressed me recently, however I will keep an eye on her first couple of rounds (if there are a couple) and then make a judgement call.

Of the unseeded, Bianca Andreescu has withdrawm, leaving the winner of Dayana Yastremska vs Caroline Wozniacki as the player with the potential to make some waves in my opinion.


Quarter Three

Kiki Bertens hasn’t shown me enough on hardcourt recently to consider her for this type of outright. A tough draw doesn’t help, with a potential meeting with Venus Williams in the second round, followed by Bencic. Don’t see value in her price personally.

Belinda Bencic is one to keep an eye on today. With Bertens not in the best form and Keys struggling a touch as well, look for the Swiss to take advantage. Has some fantastic wins this year on hardcourt, and at the prices is one to watch in my opinion.

Madison Keys is a player I would rather observe only this week. Haven’t seen the consistency in her game recently to consider her a threat in this type of field.

Simona Halep has a relatively comfortable draw, and I would expect her in the quarter-finals as a minimum. Think she may have a bit of trouble with Bencic if they were to meet, and I am not entirely sure there is a truckload of value in her current price.

Of the unseeded, watch for Amanda Anisimova. There are others such as Vekic and Azarenka that can match the best on their day, however I just don’t quite see them making a threat to the title this week on form.


Quarter Four

Elina Svitolina has looked better recently, however I think she may still be a tad outmatched in a couple of areas against the likes of Williams and Osaka. Prefer others at their respective prices, however could benefit significantly from a Williams withdrawal if it were to occur.

Serena Williams has a bit of a question mark, as I am not too sure whether she will take her place in the draw. She had to withdraw from the final in Toronto, and her focus is the US Open. She doesn’t have the advantage of an extra day of break, as she doesn’t have the first round bye. Happy to monitor her situation early in the week.

Qiang Wang hasn’t played enough tennis recently for me to consider her an outright threat in this group.

Naomi Osaka could capitalise on this draw if Serena Williams decides to sit this tournament out. Much like Nadal, Williams could also contemplate the benefits and risks associated with another full week of tennis so close to a major. I like Osaka’s odds to find her way out of this section.

Of the unseeded, Elise Mertens may be the biggest threat to the big names, along with Sofia Kenin.


Summary

The top section looks absolutely stacked, however, the injury concerns around Serena Williams, and the already weaker 4th quarter looks to be Naomi Osaka’s for the taking.

In quarter 3, look for Belinda Bencic to make some waves, and a name that is a longer shot and potentially a decent trading option is Yastremska in that second quarter.

Betting Strategy

Outright Selection

 BACK – Naomi Osaka

Trading Selections

 BACK – Belinda Bencic

 BACK  – Dayana Yastremska

Welcome to the preview for this weeks ATP Masters 1000 event from Montreal, Canada. With no Djokovic or Federer as part of the field this week, there are opportunities for several players to step up and stake their claim at a 1000 title. From the original draw, we have already lost Kevin Anderson to a knee injury, allowing Milos Raonic a seeded position in his home tournament.

With Nadal’s first hardcourt match for some time and Thiem coming off the clay, it does open the door for a few others. I will split the draw in quarters, and then come to a conclusion below.


Quarter One

Rafael Nadal is the favourite this week, and you must think it is relatively justified given his lack of fitness/injury concerns since the end of the Australian Open. He is 21-3 on hardcourt of the last 12 months, with a loss via retirement to Del Potro over the best of 5 format at the US open, a third set tiebreak loss to Kyrgios and the Australian Open defeat to Djokovic. First tournament on hardcourt coming off an extended break looks a reasonable place to put your trust in the Spaniard, especially with no Djokovic/Federer

A player that took my fancy was David Goffin, until the draw game out. Tough to find himself in the Nadal pocket, and hard to take at the price to be honest.

Borna Coric just hasn’t shown me enough recently to be able to trust him. Again, it is tough when he is sitting in the quarter with the tournament favourite, and unless Nadal is below 100%, I don’t see him having trouble with Coric on recent form.

Fabio Fognini is hard to trust on hardcourt at Masters 1000 level, however if he looks good early, he could easily find himself in a quarter final given his draw, and likely toughest opponent to that point being Coric. As with Coric, prefer others given the fact he sits in the quarter with Nadal.

Of the unseeded in this section, Alex De Minaur has certainly been in fantastic form, however this draw does not look too favourable. The crafty qualifier in Dan Evans is on his doorstep in round 1, then would find himself against Nadal in round 2. We saw how much the Australian has struggled with Nadal over previous meetings, so it is tough to see De Minaur making up that much ground in such a short period.


Quarter Two

Stefanos Tsitsipas is a player that continues to deliver solid results at most tournaments across the year. 36-17 on hardcourt over the last 12 months, however, improves to 20-8 when you look at 2019. Wins over Djokovic, Federer, Zverev, Anderson and Thiem on hardcourt over the last 12 months is also handy form. My question is around his vulnerability against a player like Bautista-Agut, who sits in this quarter and is playing some very solid tennis. Think I prefer others at the price.

Gael Monfils is a hard one to gauge. He just hasn’t played enough tennis to be considered in the top chances, and I would rather watch him with interest only this week.

Roberto Bautista Agut is one I have my eye on this week, as a legitimate run to the final 4 is on the cards. Ultra-consistent, and rarely puts in a poor performance. I was impressed by his grass form, and hopefully that can translate to the hardcourt. Has beaten Djokovic twice this year, so not the worst form. Intriguing price.

Kei Nishikori falls into the Gael Monfils category a touch here as well. Off such little tennis it is hard to gauge where he is at with his body. Instead of outright selection, I may look to Kei in specific matchups across the week if he looks good early.

Of the unseeded, Taylor Fritz and Diego Schwartzman are two dangerous floaters in this section, however coming off long weeks I don’t have an interest in them from an outright perspective.


Quarter Three

Karen Khachanov just hasn’t shown enough this year to be considered in the outright markets from my opinion. Really needs to lift on his 2019 form. Would rather watch.

Milos Raonic will have the crowd at his back, and is the main beneficiary of the Anderson withdrawal, becoming a seed. Just hasn’t played enough tennis for mine to consider him in the outright markets on his current form. Looked a step below in his straight set loss to Gojowczyk last week.

Nikoloz Basilashvili is a player that continues to fascinate, as his best tennis is up there with the absolute best going around. Does find himself with a tricky draw, with the first three rounds of Lajovic, Tsonga/Struff and most likely Alex Zverev. Needs to find his best, just haven’t seen it enough on hard court this year. I would be intrigued to see his odds for matches, especially if that Zverev match-up eventuates.

One of the toughest players to read in the draw currently is Alexander Zverev. He has stated that his focus has been off-court at times due to the dramas around his management and off-court contracts. On court, he just doesn’t seem to have the confidence in his forehand at the moment. His best can do damage; however, we just haven’t seen it enough recently. I cannot have him second favourite on current form.

Of the unseeded players, Stan Wawrinka is a player I won’t directly oppose, however doesn’t strike me as value in the outright market. Felix Auger-Aliassime has shown that his best can match it with the best for periods, however I think this field on hardcourt may be a little too strong for the Canadian. I would be wanting closer to $25 in the outright markets for him pre-tournament. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has shown patches this year, however it is tough to trust be body to handle the full week on hardcourt that would be associated with an outright selection.


Quarter Four

Daniil Medvedev is coming off a full week in Washington, however he is the beneficiary of the first-round bye, which gives him a bit more time. If Kyrgios were to lose in round 1 to Edmund, I don’t mind the Russian making another run this week. The first-round bye is key.

John Isner hasn’t looked 100% since his return from injury. If he was showing a bit more consistency on his serve he could be considered, however he is in a very tough section of the draw. Won’t be actively opposing however will be looking to others in the outright markets this week.

Marin Cilic is sitting at a fascinating price this week. Didn’t do a lot wrong last week (lost to Medvedev 4-6 6-7 in a match that had only 2 break point opportunities), and in my opinion seems to match up quite well in this section against the other players. A potential meeting with Medvedev again could be swayed slightly more in his favour given the full week in Washington for the Russian.

Dominic Thiem is one of the bigger questions marks this week. Played some exceptional tennis on hardcourt earlier in the season, however, is transitioning across from Europe after claiming the Kitzbuhel title on clay this past week. Winning form is good form; however, he hasn’t played on hardcourt since Miami in March.  Record at the Canada Masters sits at 0-5, so hard to make a case for him as third favourite this week.

The main unseeded player to note in this section is Nick Kyrgios, however given his full week and question marks around fitness, and the fact he doesn’t have the first-round bye, is enough for me to not consider him in the outright markets pre-tournament. If he were to win this week, it would be phenomenal and a significant step in the right direction for his career.


Summary

At the odds-on offer, the player to beat is clearly Rafael Nadal. If he is fit, he shouldn’t have too much trouble making a very deep run this week. The main value in the top half from a trading perspective is Roberto Bautista-Agut, who has the tools and consistency to be able to challenge the big names in the top half.

From the bottom half, Cilic and Medvedev look decent value. I would take Cilic pre-tournament and wait to see Medvedev play his first match before investing.


Betting Strategy

Outright Selection

 BACK – Rafael Nadal

Trading Selections

 BACK – Roberto Bautista Agut

 BACK  – Marin Cilic

Monitor Early In The Week

 BACK  – Daniil Medvedev

Welcome to the preview for WTA Eastbourne this week. The week before a Grand Slam always has the potential for shocks and this week looks to be no exception.

Some have their eyes on Wimbledon next week, whilst others a looking to haul a solid amount of ranking points to solidify their position in what is becoming a very competitive WTA.

A couple of matches took place overnight, however there were no significant upsets outside of Petkovic defeating Kasatkina (if you could call that an upset), so all the big names are still in play.

Let’s break down the field into the top half and bottom half.


Top Half

The name at the top of the draw, and the name that I feel may be at the top of most draws for the short term is Ash Barty. She has just taken the spot at the top of the rankings thanks to her win over Julia Gorges yesterday and will be the likely top seed at Wimbledon barring some absurdity.

I think Barty would be best to take a leaf out of her own book and take the week off before Wimbledon. It worked absolutely perfectly for her when she pulled out of Strasbourg the week before Roland Garros, and given the amount of tennis she has played recently, and the fact she would well and truly have her sights set on the Wimbledon trophy, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Barty either withdraw from the tournament before her first match, or make the call mid tournament that she needs to rest.

I don’t see Barty wanting to play a full fortnight of tennis leading up to Wimbledon, which would take another fortnight of tennis to claim the title. Happy to play around her this week at the short outright price.

There are a couple of ways to look at tackling the value in the top half if you are happy to take a risk around Barty. The first would be to look at the others in her immediate section to see if there is any value, and the player that stands out to me is Johanna Konta. I think on form she should have too much for Maria Sakkari in their second-round match, and if Barty were to withdraw, she would have a relatively comfortable passage through to the quarter finals.

In this first quarter there are a couple of players who are well below their best form, and it may be worth siding against this week. I haven’t seen enough recently from Elina Svitolina to be able to support her, and in a little section of the draw with herself, Alize Cornet and Daria Gavrilova, I like the chances of Anastasija Sevastova to make a run this week. Her form recently has been solid, and I think she is capable with her variety in her game to cause a bit of trouble this week with the draw to potentially open up for her.

Moving to the second quarter, and the two names that stand out initially are Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep. Of those two, Kerber has the greater grass court form and pedigree, and looked reasonably solid in Mallorca coming off a weekend celebrating the wedding of Caroline Wozniacki.

Kerber is fit enough to withstand a longer week before Wimbledon, and looking at her draw, which includes a tired Sofia Kenin, a worn Julia Gorges and outside of a blistering performance from say a Sam Stosur, there shouldn’t be too much between her and a semi final at least based on her form.

Of the other unseeded players, Camilla Giorgi, Lesia Tsurenko and Barbora Strycova are all capable on their day, however I don’t know if they can sustain it for the full week on grass.


Bottom Half

Section three of the draw does look to be a bit of a lottery, with not a lot of significant form standing out on paper. Aryna Sabalenka continues to have some struggles with her serve, Caroline Wozniacki is coming off her wedding las week, Anett Kontaveit scraped through her round 1 win over Harriet Dart in unconvincing fashion, which leaved from the seeded side of things Kiki Bertens.

Bertens struggled at Eastbourne last year, losing to Mihaela Buzarnescu in the first round, and did struggle with a slight injury after leading 6-0 1-0 in the S-Hertogenbosch final a week ago against Alison Riske. I would rather see how she is looking early in the week, and if she puts in a strong performance against the winner of Collins-Putintseva I would be keeping her very safe considering her quarter of the draw.

For those who like a long shot with a bit of potential, I did like what I saw from Andrea Petkovic in round 1 against Daria Kasatkina, and she has reached a grass-court final in her career.

The final quarter looks to have a bit of potential, with Karolina Pliskova and Sloane Stephens the two standout names. You would imagine that Belinda Bencic is tired from her full week in Mallorca, where she lost from having match points in the second set of her final against Sofia Kenin.

A qualifier who could make a run in this section is Veronika Kudermetova, who has managed some solid results over the last 12 months and could benefit from Bencic’s fatigue and a potential round 2 meeting with Alexandrova.

If she can bring her best, you could also make a case for Jelena Ostapenko, however at the prices I prefer others.

Lying under the radar is Roland Garros finalist Market Vondrousova, however I don’t feel her past grass-court form is enough to consider her a threat this week.


Summary

Happy to go a touch wider this week. In the first quarter I don’t mind Sevastova at the price on offer, with Kerber the appealing price out of quarter two. The bottom half looks wide open in my opinion. Kudermetova and Petkovic look to have some trading potential, however if I had to pick a player to go all the way, it would be Karolina Pliskova.


Selections

Karolina Pliskova

Angelique Kerber


Trading Selections

 BACK – Anastasija Sevastova

 BACK – Veronika Kudermetova

 BACK – Andrea Petkovic

I still refer to this as ATP Queens, however for sponsorship reasons it is currently referred to as the Fever-Tree Championships. Last year saw Marin Cilic claiming the title as the number one seed, however it must be worth noting that Novak Djokovic took his spot in the draw as a wildcard as well.

It was a hotly contested final, with Cilic defeating Djokovic 5-7 7-6 6-3. Of the 8 seeded players to participate, only 2 reached the quarter finals, with 4 losing in the first round.

Let’s take a look at the draw and see where the value lies.


Top Half

There are a number of players in the top half that have shown good ability on grass over the years. These include, in no particular order, Raonic, De Minaur, Lopez, del Potro, Dimitrov, Mannarino, Kyrgios, Chardy, Edmund and Tsitsipas.

I am happy to rule a line through Milos Raonic given his withdrawal from the Semi Final in Stuttgart a couple of days ago.

Kyle Edmund is still struggling with injury, and probably on reflection shouldn’t have played most of the claycourt season.

Alex De Minaur still looks to be below his best in his recovery from osteitis pubis, which would hamper his game more than anyone on tour.

There isn’t enough recent form or potential to consider Grigor Dimitrov at present, however he does look to at least be turning the corner with a recent change in coaching staff.

Feliciano Lopez is in the twilight of his career and I don’t think he has the game currently to claim a title today.

Jeremy Chardy was able to make the semi final here last year, and over the last 12 months has played some of the better grasscourt tennis on tour, however again his recent form and late tournament ability doesn’t fill me with confidence to be on him when things tighten up on the weekend.

Adrian Mannarino was able to break his duck with the title overnight, and I would be very surprised if he were to be able to back up again this week and complete the same feat. At his price, I would prefer others.

Juan Martin Del Potro is one I am keen to keep an eye on leading into Wimbledon, however this year has shown that it can still be tough to trust his body entirely, as we saw at Roland Garros. At his price, I would rather see him play a round or two before potentially taking a lower price.

Stefanos Tsitsipas doesn’t appear to quite have a grasp of his ability on grass, as shown with his three set loss to Jarry last week. At the end of the day, his grasscourt wins over the last 12 months have come against Pouille, Barrere, Donaldson and Fabbiano, so it is hard to seem him reeling off the required wins in what looks to be a stacked field.

Of the listed players above, that leaves the polarising Nick Kyrgios as the remaining player on the list. Coming off a disappointing result in Stuttgart, albeit against the eventual champion in Matteo Berrettini, Kyrgios come to Queens having made the semi final last year.

He lost to Cilic in two tiebreaks, and regardless of the performance last week it is still clear that grass is his favourite and best performed surface. Currently sitting on the 7th line of betting, with last week’s winner in Mannarino first up, Kyrgios sits in a good position in his section to make a solid run.

His section allows a couple of the bigger names to face each other early in the week, and I would argue his quarter of Tsitsipas/Edmund/Chardy/Kukushkin/Kyrgios/Mannarino/Dimitrov/Auger-Aliassime is the weakest quarter given fitness (Edmund), form (Dimitrov) and players backing up from finals last week (Mannarino and Auger-Aliassime).


Bottom Half

The bottom half looks a little more wide open, with Kevin Anderson at the bottom of the draw off a long injury layoff.

Marin Cilic is the defending champion, and although he sits at 31-19 over the last 12 months on all surfaces, he does need to be respected on grass. I think he is a touch under the odds, although his draw isn’t too bad early.

In a similar way to my thoughts on Tsitsipas, I don’t feel that Daniil Medvedev has quite grasped grasscourt tennis yet, and was struggling more with the surface than his own game against Lucas Pouille last week. With another potential meeting with the Frenchman in round 2, I am happy to play around the Russian this week at his quoted price.

7th seed Stan Wawrinka has never seemed to enjoy grass, with a career 28-28 record on the surface for his career. That record looks a little worse against top-20 players, with his record dropping to 2-8. Facing a quality grasscourt tennis player in round 1, I think Wawrinka is too short.

As the number 2 seed, it is hard to gauge the fitness of Kevin Anderson given his long injury layoff. To have him on the 5th line of betting is a bit much in my opinion, as I would expect he would use the time on court this week as a tune up if anything for Wimbledon in a couple of weeks.

Of the unseeded players in the bottom half, you could make a case for Pouille to perhaps make a run, or Bublik if he can put a high percentage of first serves into play. At the bigger price however I would rather side with Dan Evans, who has the potential to take advantage of the poor grass form of Wawrinka and the injury question marks of Anderson.

The worry about Evans has been the volume of tennis he has played in recent weeks, however you cannot fault his form on grass and he has to be respected this week. At a big price, it is worth a small play.


Summary

Had you asked me 12 months ago who I would look to support at Queens in 2019, I wouldn’t have told you Nick Kyrgios and Dan Evans. Nevertheless, the potential in their game is known to everyone, and they both look to be very decent prices this week. With such a quality field, I wouldn’t invest too much, however if these two bring their best tennis they are in with a shot this week.


Betting Strategy

 BACK – Nick Kyrgios

 BACK – Dan Evans

It looks to be a very competitive field in Birmingham, as the top players look to find form in the lead-up to Wimbledon. The field is missing the defending champion, with Petra Kvitova unable to take her place in the field due to injury, and in a race against time to be fit for Wimbledon.

Let’s break down both sections of the draw and see if there is any value about.


Top Half

It is quite a fascinating top half of the draw, with a lot of players capable of a deep run on potential. It does look to be a bit of a lottery.

Naomi Osaka has a friendly grass court draw, facing Sakkari first followed by Dart/Putintseva, and I would envisage her making a run to the weekend this week if she brings her best tennis.

Julia Goerges hasn’t looked fantastic since her return from injury, and although she does have some solid grass court form in her history, I need to see more of her given her physical fitness recently to consider her a chance at claiming a tournament.

Elina Svitolina is another player who just hasn’t played enough tennis for my liking to justify her price, and on her weaker surface of grass is a player I am happy to play around this week.

If her much improved clay form is any indication, then Johanna Konta is in for a good grass season. She improved out of sight on her least preferred surface, so the switch to her preferred surface and what looks to be a favorable draw. If she can get beyond Kontaveit in round 1, I like her chances to take out this half.

Of the unseeded players, Petra Martic, Kristina Mladenovic and Dayana Yastremska are probably the three most notable names to keep an eye on for the week. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Mladenovic/Konta semi final from this top half.


Bottom Half

As strange as this may sound, I do feel as though one of the finalists will come from the winner of Barty/Vekic in the first round.

Aryna Sabalenka looks to still be struggling with her serve and faces the crafty Hsieh first up in what is a big danger game. Prefer others at the prices given what she has served up recently.

Karolina Pliskova has been quite hit and miss over her career on grass. She holds a 44-22 record, however also won 2 titles and finished runner-up on 4 occasions. She needs to be respected given her willingness to come into the net more often and has developed more of an all-round game, as much as her stature allows. With a favorable draw, she could produce a decent week.

Qiang Wang doesn’t play a lot of tennis on grass, as shown by her 19-17 record, and I much prefer others here given her recent poor form.

Ash Barty is too short price wise for my liking given the strength of her first-round opponent, and the fact she is just coming off the most grueling fortnight of tennis at Roland Garros. She admitted in the days after her win that she wouldn’t be picking up a racquet for a few days, instead focusing on relaxing, meeting up with her family in the UK and playing some golf. This isn’t her Grand Final, so I am happy to play around her this week without directly opposing.

Of the unseeded players, Donna Vekic is the standout, followed by Venus Williams, however with Vekic coming off a full week and heavy schedule, and Williams playing limited tennis recently, neither appeal pre-tournament. If Vekic wins her first round, I may consider a small stake on the outright.


Summary

In the top half, I like Mladenovic and Konta to progress to the pointy end of the tournament and feel there is perhaps slightly more value in the opening price of Mladenovic.

In the bottom half, Pliskova does appeal, however I would also be keeping the winner of Barty/Vekic safe this week.

All three have shown solid grass court form in the past at times, and should be able to take advantage of their respective draws this week.


Betting Strategy

 BACK – Johanna Konta

 BACK – Kristina Mladenovic

 BACK – Karolina Pliskova

Djokovic v Nadal

The match we have all been waiting for this season on clay has finally arrived, with Djokovic and Nadal set to meet in the final in Rome.

With Nadal avenging the loss to Tsitsipas with a straight set win in the semi finals, and Djokovic surviving back to back three set matches on the way to the final., it sets up for a great final today. In what may well be a precursor to the final in a couple of weeks time in Roland Garros, this will be fascinating viewing.

Let’s have a look at some of the data for these two that you may not find when trawling through stats on results sites. Let’s start with Djokovic:

Suddenly it feels and looks as though Novak Djokovic is peaking just in time for the second major of the year. He was flawless in his final last week against Tsitsipas, and although he had a couple of three set matches this week, his form across the week has been incredibly solid.

Whilst he had to save 2 match points against Del Potro, Djokovic did a fantastic job of eating into the service games of Del Potro on a regular basis, earning a break point in 7 of his 16 service games.

The trouble in that match, where he hasn’t struggled across the other three matches for the week, was his ability to convert those break point chances into service breaks. Nevertheless, against a very solid group of opponents, to only face break points in 6/48 service games for the week is solid.

Onto Nadal:

Nadal has done a phenomenal job this week of limiting his time on court, and there was no better example of that earlier in the week with wins over Chardy and Basilashvili for the loss of two games for the day.

Whilst Nadal has only been broken once for the tournament, it should be noted that his service games haven’t been as dominant this week as Djokovic. The Spaniard has faced break points in 7/32 service games, however his save rate for the week is over 50% better than Novak, something I would imagine to even up a touch today.

I have come about as close as you can possibly come to selecting Novak here at the price on offer, however I think the reduced time on court from Nadal this week will ensure this match remains incredibly tight. I really like the chances of a long match today, given how both have been performing of late.

I would be surprised if Djokovic wasn’t able to snatch a set or at least force a tiebreak in this one given his recent form, and Nadal doesn’t seem to have that aura on invincibility of years gone.

If this were best of 5 sets, I would give the edge to Novak, however in what looks to be a hotly contested match, the over 22.5 game total looks a very nice prospect for a 2 unit selection. I don’t see either winning this in a whitewash.


Betting Strategy

 BACK – Over 22.5 Games for 2 units

Konta v Pliskova

Well I didn’t see this coming – Konta and Pliskova in the final of Rome. Konta made a meal of my two bigger outright selections in the QF (Vondrousova) and SF (Bertens), however it is difficult to fault the level of tennis she has sustained over the last fortnight.

Pliskova also handled the delays quite well over the rain-affected week, and they are both deserving finalists. Let’s break down their performances in some key areas over the week, starting with Konta:

A very solid week of tennis, backing up her final against Sakkari a couple of weeks ago. Konta’s serve stats interest me greatly from the week, as she has managed to manoeuvre her way through 61% of service games without facing a break point and been able to turn 47% of games with a break point faced into a hold of serve.

Against some quality opposition this week, namely Bertens, Vondrousova and Stephens, that data is very solid. Add to that she has been able to generate a break point in 61% of return games, and break 45% of all return games for the week against some bigger hitting opponents is all good to see in the lead-up to a match against one of the bigger strikers on tour.

Now to look at Pliskova:

Pliskova did a really good job of weathering the storm on the busiest day of the tournament, defeating Tomljanovic in straight sets and then fighting back from a set down to defeat a tired Kenin later in the day.

Pliskova has faced break points in 9% less service games this week compared to Konta, however generated break points in 14% less return games, with a lower conversion rate. Today, I would expect to see Konta return stats to drop a touch against the bigger hitting Pliskova, however the price on her to take the victory this week based on her form looks incredibly solid.

If Pliskova’s first serve percentage remains around the 60% mark as we have seen this week, I really like Konta’s chances here. Konta struggles on clay against some of the retrieving/grinding styles, however her ability to cover the court, absorb and re-direct pace and be confident in approaching the net will hold her in good stead today.

No win against Pliskova comes easily, however I think Konta is serving well enough here to win either in two tight sets or three sets.

Pliskova leads a lopsided head to head, however most have come in three sets, and their only clay meeting was 8 years ago. We would need to see a significant regression in form from the last month from Konta for her to lose in straight sets today. If she continues to hit her spots on serve, as she has in the last couple of rounds, then she is exceptional value today.


Betting Strategy

 BACK – Konta to Win for 2 units

 BACK – Over 21.5 Games for 2 units

Welcome to the preview for the Italian Open. Similar to the Mutua Madrid Masters last week, there will be an ATP and a WTA event running in Rome this week.

It is a little tricky to tip into some areas of this draw with a great deal of confidence, as some of the key players at ATP and WTA level are currently still playing in Madrid at the time of writing. I will note these throughout the preview, as I feel this is an important piece of information to include.


It was a hotly contested 2018 edition of the Italian Open, with Rafael Nadal getting the job done over Alex Zverev in the final in three sets.

This has been the most wide open clay season in a long time, with Nadal yet to claim a title on the red dirt for 2019. Let’s get stuck into the draw

I will break the draw down in half, and focus on the standout names in each.

Top Half

The big name to keep an eye on in the top section is Novak Djokovic, who looks to have found some form in Madrid. Outside of the Serbian, there are a number of players in the top quarter that could cause some damage if they bring their best tennis, including Medvedev, Del Potro, Goffin, Wawrinka, Kyrgios, Shapovalov, Cecchinato and even Carreno-Busta.

This little section is stacked, and that is before you consider qualifiers. If Novak is invested, it is hard to see him losing in the Rome conditions in this top section, however Cecchinato and Medvedev have both been able to beat him on clay over the last 12 months so it isn’t out of the question.

Given his lack of match fitness, I would be steering clear of Del Potro in the top quarter, which could lead to the winner of Goffin/Wawrinka going on a bit of a run this week. In short though, if I could only choose one player to make it out of the top quarter, it would definitely be Novak.

The second quarter may not necessarily be filled with the big names that everyone knows and (generally) loves, however there is a fair bit of clay court talent in this section. Alex Zverev looked to have taken a step forward with his performances in Madrid, having lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas in a 3 set quarter final.

He will be up against it from the outset, as the winner of Berrettini/Pouille will be his first opponent this week. I am a bit fan of Berrettini, and I think he will present as a very difficult opponent for a number of players in the coming months.

The more you watch Marin Cilic on clay, the more you come to the realization that he just needs some more matches in the legs at this stage of his comeback. He had to withdraw from his quarter final with Djokovic in Madrid due to food poisoning, so you can assume he should be right to go this week, however his recent form doesn’t particularly grab me from an outright perspective.

Two players in this section that may present a bit of trading value are the seeds in Gael Monfils and Kei Nishikori. These two could very well meet in a quarter final on their current form, and both need to be respected in the outright markets on their current form.

Guido Pella is another that has impressed, however I would be surprised if he were able to make a deep run in this draw, and may struggle with Nishikori in the second round. In years gone by Schwartzman would also be on the list of players to consider here, however his form just hasn’t quite been up to scratch on clay to start 2019. At the prices I have seen available, I would likely side with Monfils from a trading perspective in this quarter.

Bottom Half

Assuming Tsitsipas has an element of fatigue associated with his back-to-back weeks with runs to the final in Estoril and Madrid, and Federer wanting to get a couple more matches under his belt on clay in preparation for the French Open, this third quarter of the draw does open up quite a bit.

The rest of the quarter doesn’t appear to have fantastic form however, so it will be interesting to see who can take advantage here. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga pulled out of Madrid to focus on Rome, where he is using his protected ranking.

He finds a difficult opponent first up in Fabio Fognini, however it is interesting to note that Fognini’s best performance here is a quarter final, with a smattering of poor results across the years from Fabio.

If Tsonga is able to make his way through the first round, which is arguably the best round to face Fognini, then things could really open up for him at a massive outright price. Certainly one to consider.

Roger Federer impressed most with his performances in Madrid, showing that he can still match it with some of the best players on the red clay.

That being said, I don’t see a great deal of value in his price. The decision to play was last minute, and I am not entirely sure a full week on clay is going to be that beneficial for Federer in the long run. Happy to look elsewhere from an outright standpoint.

Of the others in this section, the winner of Coric vs Auger-Aliassime could also stake a claim for a deep run, with a Millman/Tiafoe/Qualifier/Federer then standing between them and a quarter final berth. My pick would be Coric, assuming he can convert some BP opportunities this week!

The 4th quarter looks like a section I am happy to avoid – Thiem and Nadal with a side of Khachanov/Bautista Agut/Basilashvili/Verdasco/Edmund. It is a competitive section, and I am happy to look elsewhere for value in the outright market. Nadal still is a justified favourite, however both him and Thiem in the section means there is value to be had elsewhere.


Summary

There aren’t any of the big name players that stand out at their current prices given they are either still in Madrid (Djokovic/Tsitsipas), not looking 100% (Nadal), have a tough draw (Thiem) or a bit of an unknown (Federer).

Instead, I am looking to some player in quarters 2 and 3 from an outright perspective at some very big prices. In quarter 2 I am happy to make a case for Monfils given his draw, as well as Nishikori, and in quarter 3 I would look to Tsonga and Coric to overcome tricky first round opponents and utilize their draws moving forward.

If I was forced into a winner – Djokovic. Instead, I will start with these four mentioned above at nice prices to cause a bit of a shock this week.


Outright Trading Prospects

 BACK TO LAY – Tsonga

 BACK TO LAY – Nishikori

 BACK TO LAY – Coric

 BACK TO LAY – Monfils

Last years tournament finished off with what can only be described as an incredibly one-sided final, with Svitolina coming away with the 6-0 6-4. Kontaveit and Sharapova made up the final four, however Svitolina and Halep were clearly the form players across the week.

Top Half

The two main standout names from a clay form perspective both find themselves in the top section of the draw. Kiki Bertens has drawn quite well, backing up from her win in Madrid last week. She faces a wildcard or qualifier in round 2, so should be feeling a little better by the time the stronger opponents fall in her path for the rest of the week.

Sabalenka hasn’t been playing well enough to convince me on clay, and Yastremska/Suarez Navarro haven’t been playing well enough to convince me of an outright selection, so it is hard to see Bertens struggling given her draw this week.

Naomi Osaka took some steps forward on clay last week, backing up her SF in Stuttgart with a QF in Madrid, where she lost to Bencic 5-7 in the third set. Clay continues to be her weakest surface, and I think you could make a case for betting around her this week.

I wouldn’t actively oppose her however, as the only seed between her and a quarter final appearance is Julia Goerges, who looked incredibly rusty returning from injury last week. I don’t see Osaka getting the job done on clay against the top named from an outrights perspective however, so I am happy to look elsewhere.

The second quarter has Simona Halep, a former champion in Rome, as well as a number of threats on their day in clay. These include, but are not limited to: Vondrousova, Strycova, Kasatkina, Williams, Williams, Mertens, Konta and Stephens.

A competitive section no doubt, and it is hard to come to a concrete conclusion here as the best form player in Halep is coming off a full week in Madrid with a difficult schedule from her first opponent in Rome. Whilst the Williams sisters and Stephens/Mertens can fight it out to see who makes the quarter final, I would keep an eye on Vondrousova here.

She should be too good for Strycova in round 1 based on their match a couple of weeks ago, and then would get first crack at Halep for the week, with the draw to then open up from there if she brings her best tennis. Definitely one to monitor from a trading standpoint.

Bottom Half

There aren’t a lot of form players screaming out to be backed in the third quarter, with Svitolina and Pliskova the seeded players in this section. This could open up an opportunity for one of the qualifiers, with no real standout player amongst the group.

On recent form, you could make a case for Azarenka to an extent, however she has struggled physically at times recently, and it would be a nervous watch as the week progresses to see if her body were able to hold up.

Svitolina doesn’t look completely confident in her body, so it will be interesting to see how she backs up her loss to Parmentier last week. It looks like she needs to find a way to get some matches under her belt, however I wouldn’t be confidently backing her in any capacity this week.

Of the other players in this section, Muguruza hasn’t looked fantastic lately, Wozniacki retired 3 games into her match in Madrid, Keys struggled a touch as well, so it doesn’t leave a whole lot of clay form in the section.

I think I would rather work around individual matches in this quarter, however Tomljanovic may be a decent trading opportunity if she finds herself in a second round against Pliskova, as that section would really open up.

The final quarter I find to be quite fascinating, and I cannot help but gravitate towards Ash Barty on form. I think she finds herself in a really friendly aspect of the draw, as Kontaveit and Kvitova would need to have played each other prior to them meeting Barty in a potential quarter final.

Whilst she has never really set the world on fire on clay, Barty does look as though she is decent value this week. She is looking the fittest I can recall seeing her on court, and that is going to play a big role in her clay season this year.

She has both the power and variety to tackle most opponents, and I would like her chance on clay against all the other players in her quarter, as well as quarter 3. Happy to make a play on her at double figure odds this week.


Summary

As mentioned above, the player from the bottom half that stands out most to me is Ash Barty at the current quote. I like her draw and think she is a very solid chance of still being around in Rome on the weekend.

From the top half, I think Bertens will be able to capitalize on a weak early draw to recover from last week, and feel as though from a trading perspective you could make a case for Vondrousova at a big price knocking off Halep early in the week.


Betting Strategy

 BACK – Ash Barty to Win

 BACK – Kiki Bertens

Outright Trading Prospects

Marketa Vondrousova

Djokovic v Tsitsipas

Credit to anyone that settled on a Djokovic vs Tsitsipas final here considering the form of Djokovic leading into the tournament and Tsitispas coming off his title in Estoril last week.

This looks to be a fascinating encounter to finish off the week, so let’s get stuck into the data for the week and then come to a conclusion on the match. Let’s start with Tsitsipas:

The first thing you notice when you look at the opponents for the week is the slow build up in ranking to facing the world number 2 in Rafael Nadal in the semi final.

Tsitsipas is really starting to make a name for himself with his big match performances, having claimed Djokovic, Nadal (on clay no less) and Federer as scalps to date in his career. He seems to perform decently against any big name that doesn’t have the surname Medvedev.

His stats for the week look pretty solid; he has held nearly 83% of service games, held in over half the service games where he faced a break point, and converted nearly 70% of games with break point opportunities into a break of serve.

It is impressive to note that all four opponents this week have also put in a high first serve percentage, so to be able to earn a break point in nearly 48% of return games for the week, including 8 of Nadal’s 14 service games, is an impressive feat in my opinion.

His matches have been more break oriented than Djokovics, however it looks to be a pretty solid stat line through the 4 matches. In two matches against the world number 4 (Zverev) and 2 (Nadal), Tsitsipas earned BPs in 13 of 29 return games, converting 9 games into breaks, whilst only dropping serve 6 times across 6 sets.

Now to compare to Djokovic:

We have a smaller sample size here with Cilic withdrawing from the quarter final match-up, however you will notice looking at the stats that the three matches have been far more serve oriented than Tsitsipas.

Whilst it is fantastic that Djokovic has been able to convert every game in which he had a break point into a break of serve, that sort of form is certainly non-sustainable. His best tennis on clay in some time came against Thiem in the Semi Final, however again he took advantage of his limited opportunities.

Whilst there is a bit of hype around that semi final performance of Djokovic, I do feel as though the odds favour him a little too much based off that one performance.

Novak was only able to generate 5 games with break point chances out of 18 return games against Fritz/Chardy, and the Thiem scoreline looked good because he converted 3/3 opportunties compared to 3/10 across 6 separate return games for Thiem. Any sort of leveling out in the short term here would suggest that the value lies with Tsitsipas.

Yes, you can say that Tsitsipas was fortunate that Nadal perhaps wasn’t at his best yesterday, however you still need to play quite well to defeat Nadal on clay in his home country, especially with Tsitsipas’ openly admitting his struggles against Nadal earlier in the year.

That is a big mental block that he has been able to overcome, and tonight he finds himself against a player he has beaten on hardcourt before.

I like Tsitispas as the price today, and I will split my selections across the head to head and the game handicap. Look for the longer term form of Tsitispas to match up well here against Djokovic.

If Djokovic continues his absurd break point conversion, then fair play to him, however, a 3.5 game start for Tsitsipas does seem generous in my opinion.


Betting Strategy

 BACK – Tsitsipas +3.5 games for 3 units

 BACK – Tsitsipas to Win for 1 unit

Halep vs Bertens

This is a really interesting final between two of the form claycourters on tour at the moment. When you take a glance at the runs to the final for both players, statistically they have been far and away the best two players on court this week.

Both players have had difficult runs to the final (Halep vs Gasparyan/Konta/Kuzmova/Barty/Bencic and Bertens vs Siniakova/Ostapenko/Sevastova/Kvitova/Stephens), and both have handled the conditions and their opponents incredibly well.

Let’s start with Bertens:

 

Kiki has put together a very solid week against a better ranked group of opponents compared to Halep. She has held 75% of her service games without facing a break point, held 84% of the time, and earned a break point in 2 out of every 3 return games on average for the week. Whilst the stats do look good, none of her opponents fall into that grinding, ball retrieving type of opponent she comes up against today in Halep. That being said, to generate break points in 29 of 44 return games against this lot, and convert on 23 occasions, is quite impressive.

Now to compare to Halep, and you will see a very similar set of data:

 

Simona has been equally as dominant this week, however her strength of opponent is slightly less than that of Bertens. She has built her game around her return of serve and finding rhythm through her rallying, and looks to be as good as I have seen in some time. Against the bigger strikers of the ball, Halep put together some terrific displays of tennis, and her win against Barty, and her first and third sets against Bencic should not be understated. With all that being said, where am I leaning with the data above?

My initial feeling was to follow along the lines that I suggested at the start of the week and that is to support Halep, however I get the feeling this match may not be as one-sided as initially thought. Bertens, unless against a player outside the Top 30, rarely commands the respect of bookmakers in the head to head. Looking at the prices, handicaps and game totals, I feel  the total games OVER in this instance looks to be the best value.

Bertens has played too well this week to find herself on the end of a one-sided defeat. I think the Madrid conditions do suit her slightly moreso than a lot of other, slower clay surfaces, and will even things up slightly here against Halep. The data for Halep hasn’t been as strong through the last two matches, whereas Bertens has been quite consistent throughout the tournament.

I like Halep to win, however I think Bertens will be able to make a run at some point to perhaps take a set or force a tiebreak. I will make a 2 unit selection on the total games over 21.5, however I also think Halep to win 2-1 presents as a bit of value as well for those with an eye on a larger price.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – 2 units total games over 21.5

The 2018 Men’s edition threw up a shock of sorts, with Rafael Nadal losing to Dominic Thiem in the Quarter Finals. The Austrian then went on to make the final, where he lost to Alexander Zverev 4-6 4-6. It was quite a wide open affair early in the week, with 8 of the 16 seeds failing to make it past the second round.

As the players jostle for form in the lead-up to the French Open in just 3 weeks time, it will be fascinating to see what unfolds this week. Nadal has looked vulnerable – can he regain that form on clay that makes him look almost invincible? Can Thiem sustain his run? Will Federer make a dream return to clay? Can another name stake a claim as a French Open threat?

I wanted to have a deeper look at both halves of the draw to see if there was any significant value from a trading perspective, or if any of the other big names stood out as having favourable draws, as the Nadal draw does look tricky.

I will break the draw down in half, and focus on the standout names in each.


Top Half

Quarter 1

Now that his recent run of form has led him to be unseeded at these sort of tournaments, Grigor Dimitrov will find himself in some tricky positions in the coming weeks and months. Whilst he does have a qualifier in round 1, Novak Djokovic will await him in round 2. Djokovic hasn’t really set the world on fire over the last couple of months on both clay and hardcourt, and it can sometimes feel a bit uncomfortable writing about him in these moments. You know just how good he is, and it is just a matter of time until it clicks (generally over best of 5 sets).

I think looking at his price, and the question marks around his game and mindset lately lead  me to look elsewhere for a value spot. He has been doing a lot of training with Thiem and Wawrinka this week, but I need to see it translate over to in-match. If he was $5 or higher I would probably consider, but I will pass.

Like with Monte Carlo, there is another fascinating round 1 match here that may go a long way to shaping the outcome of the section. Diego Schwartzman hasn’t been playing the consistent brand of clay tennis we have come to know and love, however he has drawn a player I was hoping to obtain an easier draw in Marco Cecchinato.

Cecchinato made the semi final in Munich, so is coming off a full week – as a result I am happy to leave him off my betting list this week. If he beats Diego in round 1 and looks comfortable, I may bring him into trading consideration as a threat to Novak Djokovic.

We already had the unknown of Djokovic in this quarter, and they have also decided to throw a below-par Marin Cilic and a Juan Martin Del Potro returning from injury. It is incredibly difficult to gauge where players are at in this quarter, and when you add into the equation a couple of players with recent clay form that is decent (Lajovic and Djere), and two players who can set the world on fire at their best (Kyrgios and Struff) and any number of decent players coming out of qualifying and you have yourself a really difficult section to buy into here.

I don’t feel compelled to back Kyrgios on clay given his recent thoughts on the surface, Struff is too up and down to trust, Cilic has looked scratchy on clay on his return to the court, and Del Potro is the great unknown. If you can get a decent price about Laslo Djere, he is someone who I think could really surprise this week. I wrote a lot about Lajovic’s stats leading up to the final as being quite impressive (and very hard to sustain), and I feel Djere can beat him in round 1, which would set himself up perfectly against a Del Potro with no match practice under his belt. He is long odds, but the trading reward around Djere could be immense.

Quarter 2

Moving to the second quarter, which again looks stacked with a bunch of form clay players and a couple of unknowns. Federer and Gasquet are making their return to clay and from injury respectively, so they are hard to gauge form wise. Monfils and Fognini have both had some injury concerns in the past month, and will be looking for court time, but should have one eye on Roland Garros in a couple of weeks.

Pablo Carreno Busta is looking for time on court on his comeback from injury. The strongest, most consistent formline in this second quarter is Dominic Thiem. I am not sold on the fitness of Fognini post Monte Carlo, and looking at the draw, Thiem has a pretty favourable outlook until the quarter finals, where the others will have already played each other in this section. Thiem the standout for mine.


Bottom Half

Quarter 3

This looks to be quite wide open when you consider the strength of some of the other sections. Zverev, albeit the defending champion, still looks vulnerable on the surface and I cannot trust him on his current form against the top players. David Ferrer is playing his last tournament of his career, and although on paper it looks to be a tough prospect in Roberto Bautista Agut, it should be noted that Agut is currently in Munich waiting to play his rain delayed semi final, which would then potentially lead to a finals appearance later in the day. With RBA in a tricky situational spot, and Zverev out of form, Ferrer could be looking at a Quarter Final run in his last tournament.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, currently in Estoril awaiting his final against Cuevas, is another that could be tired off a long week, however as the 8th seed he has the added benefit of a first round bye. He needs to be respected on his form, however can struggle backing up long weeks, and will no doubt have one eye on Paris given his efforts at the Austalian Open. Of the others in this section, Khachanov is terribly out of form, De Minaur looked scratchy in his return in Estoril, Coric and Pouille are scheduled for each other in round 1, and Sousa hasn’t shown his clay form of 2018. That leaves the wildcard in Munar as the only other significant threat in this section on form, and should be respected, along with Fernando Versdasco. At the prices and on potential, Ferrer appeals, followed by Coric and to a lesser extent Munar.

Quarter 4

I don’t think Rafael Nadal is going to enjoy looking at the draw. Searching for matches on clay to get into a groove for Roland Garros, Nadal will face wither Auger-Aliassime or Shapovalov in round 2, and it won’t get a lot easier from there. There are a number of players in this section that could threaten, most notably Kei Nishikori, who found his range and form in Barcelona and in my eyes looks a good value price based on his draw. With Nadal, and others such as Medvedev, Wawrinka and Pella, as well as other threats that can perform on clay in Tiafoe, Kohlshchreiber, Basilashvili and even Gilles Simon capable of upsets with their best tennis. With Nadal so short, and so much potential in this section, there is nothing at the current prices on the exchange that stand out.


Summary

What a fascinating draw we have for this week. From the top half, the top hope at the prices is Dominic Thiem to back up his form in Barcelona. He looks to be playing a more consistent brand of tennis, and it is getting the job done on clay. For a longer shot, Laslo Djere looks a big price and capable of a decent run.

On paper, Ferrer’s draw does look shocking, however with Bautista Agut in Munich, and Zverev out of touch, look for Ferrer to potentially make a vintage run in his final tournament.

There is always an element of risk opposing the two favourites in Djokovic and Nadal, however they both feel a touch short at current odds. Combine that with the unknowns with Federer on clay currently, and you have the appeal of playing around the big 3.


Betting Strategy

 BACK – Dominic Thiem to Win


Trading Options

 BACK – Laslo Djere

 BACK – David Ferrer

A very decent field is here again to contest in Madrid, headlined by world number 1 Naomi Osaka and defending champion Petra Kvitova. The 2018 edition was highlighted by some impressive performances from some of the bigger strikers on tour, with the final 4 of Pliskova, Kvitova, Bertens and Garcia battling it out for the title. With a couple of the big name players finding some form recently, it will be fascinating to watch this one pan out.

Thanks to the Saturday main draw start, there have already been some upsets. Let’s see what the draw looks like as we get ready for a big week of tennis.


Top Half

Quarter 1

The first quarter has already lost a big name, with Anett Kontaveit losing to Sasnovich overnight, having won the first set 6-0. This result has opened up the top section, especially for those like myself who are comfortable to oppose Naomi Osaka on clay. This loss from Kontaveit really does open the door for Elise Mertens in the top section, should she manage her way past a tricky qualifier in Schmiedlova.

Another Saturday elimination in this section was that of Aryna Sabalenka, who lost in straight sets to Svetlana Kuznetsova. This has opened up some opportunities for not only Kuznetsova, but others such as Pliskova, Bencic, and even Kozlova and Yastremska.

Kozlova looked very solid in qualifying, and should be respected in her early matches (although I am not sure she is worth thinking about beyond the first three rounds). Although a bit on an unknown in terms of clay ability at WTA level, Yastremska does look an interesting prospect, which makes it a little frustrating that she has drawn Pliskova in round 1.

Quarter 2

The second quarter has two standout players at their prices in my opinion, and they are Simona Halep and Ash Barty. Barty is looking incredibly comfortable on all surfaces currently, and coming off her hardcourt season she must be respected. Halep looked good in her Fed Cup efforts against France, and there is no reason to feel the need to oppose her this week. She does have a tricky round 1 against a qualifier in Gasparyan, however with Rabat finallists in Konta and Sakkari also lurking in the section coming off long weeks, the draw does seem very favourable.


Bottom Half

Quarter 3

Somebody is going to get a massive opportunity out of the third quarter of the draw, the question is: who? Kerber is on her weakest surface, Muguruza isn’t setting the world on fire, Azarenka has struggled at times to put together a full week of tennis physically, Stephens is coming off celebrating her engagement the other day and hasn’t been in fantastic form, Wozniacki is a bit of an unknown outside of her Charleston form, and Wang hasn’t set the clay circuit on fire this year. That does leave the form player of the section as Petra Martic, however Muguruza and Kerber to start isn’t the best draw. Nothing really appeals in this third quarter, as wide open as it seems.

Quarter 4

The final quarter is also wide open, containing the likes of Kvitova, Bertens, Sevastova, Keys, and even Ostapenko. Ostapenko was blistering yesterday against Pavlyuchenkova, and could be one to watch here at a big price.

She has Bertens next, which is winnable, and would really open up her draw a touch moving forward. The main danger to everyone however is the second seed and defending champion, Petra Kvitova, who was dominant in her first round win against Kenin. It is hard to make a case for opposing her currently, such is her form and previous form in Madrid.


Summary

In my opinion, the two standout names here are familiar ones in Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova. I think the consistency of Halep is key here, and I think she is the one I would want to be on….so long as she doesn’t face Kvitova in the final. I will make a play on both, as they are both solid odds in my opinion.

I also like Mertens given the upsets that occurred overnight. From a trading perspective, I don’t mind Ostapenko from the bottom half. All four selections are proven on clay, and familiar to the big moments. Fingers crossed a couple remain by the weekend.


Betting Strategy

 BACK – Simona Halep to Win

 BACK – Petra Kvitova

 BACK – Elise Mertens


Trading Options

 BACK – Jelena Ostapenko

Fognini v Lajovic

Anyone who was able to select Fognini and Lajovic as their finalists based on recent form – I tip my cap to you.

This certainly isn’t the final most saw coming, however I still think it has the potential to be a fantastic final, with these two players matching up incredibly well overall.

Let’s first look at the run to the final of Dusan Lajovic, including his serve and return stats against each opponent.

 

As you can see from the data above, Lajovic has done a phenomenal job to date this week in clutch situations. He has held 63.13% of service games where he has faced a break point, and converted 80% of games where he has earned a break point into a break of serve.

His strength of opponent by way of average rank is lower than Fognini, and you could subjectively note that Lajovic has been on the good end of Thiem splitting up with his coach, and the potential letdown spot of Medvedev after beating Djokovic.

Overall, fantastic stats, but to me there feels like there is an element of overperformance compared to the mean for Dusan. We could see this continue, but I would imagine as the match progresses that we may see these overall stats drop.

Now let’s take a look at the stats for Fognini.

 

For what is a more difficult route to the final, and when you consider the tricky positions Fognini found himself in against Rublev and Coric, his stats for the week look pretty solid overall.

His strength of opponent here is also stronger in my opinion, with Rublev better than a 90th ranked player, and the obvious need to have come through Rafael Nadal on the way to the final.

As much as it is something that I generally don’t consider, I think Lajovic has actually found himself overperforming slightly in the big moments through his matches this week, and against a stronger claycourt opponent in Fognini today, things may become a whole lot more difficult.

It is also worth considering that this is Lajovic’s first career ATP final (compared to Fognini’s 18th), and situational nerves must be taken into consideration as well.

The only negative to taking Fognini in a stronger fashion is the potential letdown spot here after playing Nadal. Fognini has struggled backing up wins against Nadal in the past, however the ease in which he defeated Nadal yesterday should mean there was little physical impact on his body.

I am happy to take Fognini here at the -2.5 game handicap for a 2 unit selection. I think his data matches up quite well here, especially when you consider the positions he found himself in against Coric and Rublev.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Fognini -2.5 games handicap for 2.5 units.

Welcome to the preview for the Monte Carlo Masters. The 2018 edition of the tournament was dominated by withdrawals before the tournament, and by Rafael Nadal during the tournament. The Spaniard was absolutely ruthless throughout, not dropping a set for the tournament, and not even looking close to dropping a set to be honest. To give an indication of the level of dominance, Nadal dropped 21 games for the entire tournament.

As we transition to the big clay tournaments, Nadal is obviously always going to be front and centre of these previews. Now it would be easy to simply sit here behind my computer, tip Nadal and move on to the next tournament, however I wanted to have a deeper look at both halves of the draw to see if there was any significant value from a trading perspective, or if any of the other big names stood out as having favourable draws.

I will break the draw down in half, and focus on the standout names in each.


Top Half

When you think about claycourt tennis, and you look at the top half of the draw, it is hard not to initially gravitate towards Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem. Djokovic has put together an 11-5 record over the last 12 months, however it must be noted that he certainly wasn’t working through the 2018 clay season at 100%. You are looking at around $4.00 on the exchange at the time of writing and to be honest, when you consider the way he played through Indian Wells and Miami, it doesn’t fill you with a lot of confidence. In his post match conferences after both tournaments he alluded to not feeling as though his mind was fully focussed on his tennis, and that did show across both tournaments. Djokovic holds a 32-10 record at Monte Carlo, having won the tournament in 2013 and 2015. Looking around for value outside of Nadal, who has won this tournament 11 times, I would be wanted a bit more value that what is currently on offer for Djokovic.

Dominic Thiem is a really interesting prospect. Along with Djokovic, Thiem is a player that has been able to register wins against Nadal in the past, including on clay in Madrid last year. Whilst he has shown in the past to struggle to match it against Nadal over long stretches (ie. Best of 5), he can redline for periods in best of three tennis. I think he is the best value to come out of the top draw currently. He will have taken a lot of confidence from his title at Indian Wells, and that should translate with what looks to be a friendly draw here. I would be shocked if he didn’t make at least the semi finals here, and would probably support him in any potential semi final meeting looking at the draw.

Unfortunately, the two players that I really wanted to keep an eye on in the top half have drawn each other in the first round – Kyle Edmund and Diego Schwartzman. I think their odds represent better value on the exchange than say a Stefanos Tsitsipas, who looks to have struggled a little lately with the added attention that came with his start to the year. Both players have form on clay, and I would argue could have a massive chance of upsetting Djokovic in a potential 3rd round meeting were it to eventuate.

There isn’t a whole lot of other value by way of outrights in the top half. Karen Khachanov has been too wayward to trust on 2019 form, and the likes of Medvedev and Goffin, who are also in this half, I wouldn’t be backing due to either recent form (Goffin) or career clay form (Medvedev).


Bottom Half

It is obviously important to acknowledge that sitting in the 64th slow in the draw is the number 2 seed, Rafael Nadal. Almost every clay court he steps on to these days he has the crowd at his back, such is the focus and appeal of Nadal on the red stuff. He looks to have a pretty decent draw as well, with no names really standing out as a massive chance of an upset in his quarter at least. I don’t think Cilic is a threat on clay currently; I don’t think Wawrinka’s form warrants being a threat currently on clay.

Of the others, you could make a case for say a Berrettini or a Shapovalov to maybe snatch a set with some unbelievable tennis, however I cannot see it happening personally. Upon reaching the semi final, I would class the biggest threats for Nadal as Kei Nishikori or Alexander Zverev, however their recent form doesn’t instil confidence either. Looking deeper into that section to find a value pick that could trade right in with a semi final appearance, I would look at Felix Auger Aliassime or even a Fabio Fognini with his draw, however it is slim pickings. If you are of the belief that Zverev just isn’t quite there at the moment, making a play for Felix to steal his draw and make a run seems like a nice trading spot.


Summary

When you cannot find any sleepers in a clay half that already has Rafael Nadal in it, then sometimes it is better to monitor the situation early on in the week. From the top half I would class Thiem as value and look to trade out of his situation if he were to face Nadal in the final. As a long shot that could come in with a potential upset, I would be looking at the winner of Schwartzman vs Edmund, ideally Edmund.

All roads lead to Nadal taking the title here, with Thiem and Edmund the best value chances to upset from the top half, and Auger-Aliassime the best value chance to make a deep run at a big price from the bottom half.

There are two ways to approach this:

  • Play Nadal and Thiem only, with plan to trade out of Thiem to an extent if he were to face Nadal in the final. Separately, look for individual opportunities for Edmund vs Djokovic in a third round and Auger-Aliassime vs Zverev in the second round in their respective head to head matches.
  • Play larger stake Nadal, medium stake Thiem, and smaller stakes on Auger-Aliassime and Edmund in the outright market as an entry point into the week.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Rafael Nadal

 BACK –Dominic Thiem

Federer v Isner

Not the final many envisaged, however it has been hard to fault the form of these two over the last couple of matches in particular, as Roger Federer is the final roadblock standing between John Isner and defending his title in Miami.

John Isner has put together a tiebreak-filled week and a half, with straight sets wins over Sonego, Ramos, Edmund, Bautista-Agut and Auger-Aliassime. Across the five matches, he has faced 13 break points, of which he has saved 9. He was also able to break FAA in both sets when the young Canadian had an opportunity to serve out both sets.

I think when it is all said and done, this match will ultimately come down to the opportunities that Federer will have to break the serve of Isner. Let’s break down the 60 service games Isner has played for the tournament:

Held to 0 = 17 (service games) or 28%
Held to 15 = 17 (28%)
Held to 30 = 16 (27%)
Held to 40 = 6 (10%)
Broken = 4 (7%)

If you minimise that sample to the 4th round, quarter-final and semi-final, the percentages change to:

Held to 0 = 8 (22%)
Held to 15 = 8 (22%)
Held to 30 = 13 (36%)
Held to 40 = 4 (11%)
Broken = 3 (8%)

That means that against Bautista-Agut, Edmund and Auger-Aliassime, 55% of service games ended 40/30 or worse for Isner, which isn’t a fantastic strike rate for a player with a serve as big as Isner.

Against a number of opponents, Isner is able to use the slower court to his advantage, allowing himself a touch more time to set up with the forehand for his next shot behind his serve. That is okay against players who are unable to utilise an effective slice return, such as Federer has, so I think it may be a bit of a different story today for Isner.

Radu Albot will be ruing the missed opportunities that came in their round 2 meeting, where Federer was still getting over the Indian Wells Final loss to Dominic Thiem. Since then for Federer, it has been onwards and upwards, largely thanks due to the rain delays and days off between matches for Federer across the tournament.

Federer has looked particularly dominant across his last three matches, with crushing victories over Medvedev, Anderson and Shapovalov, all who own above average first serves.

I think the daytime conditions in Miami play into the hands of Federer as well. Isner was very lucky in both sets the other day that the occasion got the better of Auger-Aliassime, however that won’t be the case today.

Based on the serve stats of Isner over the last couple of rounds, and the calibre of opponent today, I am happy to make a play on Federer at the game handicap today. I would rather take that, as I feel Federer can cover in 3 sets as well, so I prefer the game handicap over the total games going under 25.5 at a slightly higher price.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Federer -2.5 for 4 units.

(3 and 3.5 also fine numbers but just adjust staking to be a little lower)

Barty vs Pliskova

I have been burned by Karolina Pliskova a couple of times this week, however with every match across the week, I do feel as though she has found an opponent that is a worse match-up for her overall. Today, it happens again with Ash Barty, who I think may be the trickiest opponent of all for Karolina Pliskova in these conditions.

It has been an interesting ride to the final for Pliskova. She dominated Martic early, then found herself a couple of points from a third set. She then needed three long sets against an injured Alize Cornet (injured just before first set tiebreak), then found herself down a set and break to Putintseva, then came back from a tough second set situation to beat Vondrousova in straight sets, then defeated Halep in straight sets after trailing 3-5. I think I was most shocked by the capitulation from Halep, although a rhythm player such as herself would have struggled with the rain delay and the timing of that delay in the first set.

I have mentioned in the past that part of the focus when playing Pliskova is the attempt to exploit her movement. That being said, her movement side to side isn’t too bad, and she is very dangerous particularly on the forehand side when taking it on the run. The area to focus when playing Pliskova is to go back behind Pliskova’s direction of movement, as well as her forward/backwards movement. The best way to exploit that is to be comfortable in approaching the net, and her opponent today in Ash Barty has all the right tools to exploit Pliskova perfectly.

Ash Barty has put together some very impressive tennis in favourable conditions, with five very impressive wins over Yastremska, Stosur, Bertens, Kvitova and Kontaveit. She dropped two sets along the way (to Bertens and Kvitova), however her return game this week has been incredibly impressive. She won over half of return points against Yastremska, Bertens and Kontaveit, and 44% of points on return against Bertens and Kvitova. She has faced big serving along the way, and it doesn’t seem to have troubled her in her current form.

If you cast an eye over their past head to head form on hardcourt, it currently sits at 1-1. Barty defeated Pliskova on a fast hardcourt in 2017 in a third set tiebreak, and Pliskova got the upper hand in their meeting at the US Open. What should be noted from their US Open meeting is the fact that Pliskova was 8/8 on break point saves, whilst Barty was 0/2.

In these conditions, I think the match rests on the racquet of Ash Barty. Considering the form she has displayed this year, she has certainly taken her form to another level, and I think she is fantastic value here. I have settled for 3.5 units, as this is the biggest final of Barty’s career, so the confidence drops back from a higher staking.

BETTING STRATEGY

 BACK – 3.5 units Barty to defeat Pliskova at $1.84

After quite a rollercoaster Indian Wells, which saw Dominic Thiem get the better of Roger Federer from a set down in the final, a couple of the younger guard have attempted to stake their claim; whilst Rafael Nadal was struck down by a persistent knee injury, and Novak Djokovic admitted some off-court dramas took away from his focus and standard tournament routine. It sets the tone for an interesting couple of weeks ahead in Miami.

The field setup is similar to Indian Wells, with the top 32 players getting the bye in round 1. The court speed should be fairly similar to what was seen in Indian Wells, with the added potential for some slightly different weather conditions across the week and a half of tennis.

The weather in the next week tends to be heading to the mid to high 20 degrees Celsius, with the humidity sitting in the 60% range during the day and rising slightly at night. Whilst the courts are slow and it can neutralise the serve of some, it needs to be worth remembering that this can also help some of the bigger players, such as Isner and Raonic, who can use their powerful serve as a means to set up their second shot behind their forehand.

There are a couple of things you do need to consider from a scheduling standpoint. To go deep at Indian Wells and then back that up in Miami is generally a very impressive feat. The volume of tennis across this 3-4 week swing is intense for those who have played a lot of tennis at Indian Wells, and want to back that up in Miami. draw.

Last year, the final four players standing were ranked 4 (Zverev), 5 (Del Potro), 14 (Isner) and 16 (Carreno Busta). It turned out that Isner was the one to benefit from the conditions most, coming from a set down to defeat Zverev in the final. Isner did put together some very solid tennis, with wins over the likes of Cilic, Raonic and Del Potro on the way to the final.

When writing about Indian Wells last week, the preview did focus on the three big names in the game at the moment in Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It will be a little different in my opinion this week, as one isn’t playing, and another I have concerns about given their run at Indian Wells. That does leave a bit of value to potentially be found in the draw in some other places.

Looking in the first quarter, and I think now that things have been able to quieten down a touch on the ATP Player Council news side of things (which I won’t go into today), it will give Novak Djokovic the opportunity to focus on his tennis again.

He did look out of sorts in Indian Wells, however looking over a longer sample, he is still clearly the player to beat in this tournament, and the other players prices that I don’t mind all fall in different quarters to Djokovic. His first match will be tough in comparison to other players, as he is scheduled to play the winner of Berdcyh/Tomic, however I do have high hopes overall for Novak in Miami.

In the second quarter, if you are happy to oppose Dominic Thiem coming off his long week in Indian Wells, as well as the recent form of Kei Nishikori, and the injury concerns of Gael Monfils that all fall in section 2, it is certainly a wide open affair.

A player to watch here is Nick Kyrgios, however it might be worth watching him in round 2 first to gauge his form level. Players who could present good trading options (wouldn’t expect them to win the tournament but at their best could go very deep) include Coric, Fucsovics and Basilashvili. Of those three, Fucsovics has the best draw, especially if Thiem is a touch fatigued.

In my opinion the third quarter is quite tricky. Even with Rafael Nadal not taking part in the tournament, and Roger Federer sitting at a similar price to last week, I just don’t know if I can trust Federer to back up here and play a full tournament again after his finals appearance at Indian Wells.

Federer has already agreed to play some clay tournaments this year, extending his schedule, and this time last year found himself on the end of a defeat in the second round to Thanasi Kokkinakis. I don’t think we should be expecting peak Roger Federer this week, and as a result I am happy to play around him in his section.

One player who could really benefit if Federer is below 100% is Stan Wawrinka, who may catch Federer early in round 3 and be able to utilise his draw. He is definitely one to consider from a trading perspective in my opinion.

The bottom quarter in my opinion is Alex Zverev’s to lose. His draw is an incredibly friendly one, with his only main threat being Tsitsipas, unless a Shapovalov or a Gulbis goes on a vintage run. At his price available, and considering I am happy to oppose Roger Federer in the third quarter, this seems a logical outright selection in my opinion.

To sum up, I think Djokovic is definitely the one to beat, however Zverev presents as a great play to take now, and look to lay off in the event of a Zverev/Djokovic final. Hopefully when I am back to cover the final next weekend we have some options to address.


Betting Strategy

 BACK – Novak Djokovic to Win

 BACK – Alexander Zverev to Win


Trading Options

Stan Wawrinka

Nick Kyrgios (if he wins his first match)

Marton Fucsovics

After one of the more surprising results we have seen in recent times with Bianca Andreescu lifting the title, we now head across the country to Miami to see what surprise the WTA has in store for us all.

As I mentioned in the ATP preview, the field setup is similar to Indian Wells this week, with the top 32 players getting the bye in round 1. The court speed should be fairly similar to what was seen in Indian Wells, with the added potential for some slightly different weather conditions across the week and a half of tennis. The weather in the next week tends to be heading to the mid to high 20 degrees Celsius, with the humidity sitting in the 60% range during the day and rising slightly at night.

I will break down the draw into quarters, highlighting some outright and trading options for the next 10 days of tennis.


Quarter 1

The first quarter is a bit of a funny one – Naomi Osaka just hasn’t quite regained that form that saw her win back to back Grand Slam titles. With talk of a back injury, and all of the recent media spotlight, it has taken away from her tennis a bit, but one thing we know with Osaka is that her form can come back as quickly as it disappeared, so she is worth keeping an eye on.

I would ignore her Miami results from last year as she was fatigued from her Indian Wells run, however her form last week didn’t grab me enough to make a play at the price on offer.

Others who are a threat in this section include Aryna Sabalenka, Amanda Anisimova, Bianca Andreescu, Sofia Kenin and Angelique Kerber, with Tomljanovic, Wozniacki, and Muguruza on the next tier, however those three would need a significant lift in form on their recent efforts. Using the theory that Andreescu and Kerber may struggle backing up here, you can make a case for a couple of the other players at big prices.

Whilst I don’t see Kerber winning the tournament, I don’t feel like I need to oppose her in any capacity either. I have a feeling that whoever wins a potential match between Anisimova and Sabalenka will make some serious waves this week.

I think Sabalenka will have learnt from her Australian Open loss to the American, however both look to be very solid outright prices in what is a loaded quarter of the draw.


Quarter 2

The second quarter looks to me as though there are some really great opportunities for a few players to make a deep run, with Petra Kvitova the standout mainly due to her friendly draw. One to watch in this section is Victoria Azarenka, who has started to build a little bit of form and is worth acknowledging here at longer odds.

Other names that currently sit at good prices include Ash Barty and Dayana Yastremska, however it may be worth backing whoever wins their second round encounter as their draw does open up.

I think Madison Keys is short on tennis, Pavlyuchenkova is still below 100% with her shoulder issue, and Viktoria Kuzmova could spring a big surprise if she can get by the Russian in round 2. Sitting well into triple figure odds, Kuzmova does look a decent trading option.


Quarter 3

The third quarter is an interesting one as well, containing the likes of Sloane Stephens, Karolina Pliskova, Belinda Bencic, Anastasija Sevastova, Elise Mertens, and a couple of other players that catch my eye in Marketa Vondrousova and Jelena Ostapenko. I think the courts are a touch too slow for Pliskova on her current form, so I am happy to look elsewhere.

Whilst I said last week it is always worth keeping Sloane Stephens safe in big tournaments in the US, she hasn’t shown a great deal to consider at the price currently available. If she were to make the Quarter Finals however, I would definitely be keeping her safe, as she builds into tournaments very nicely.

For this quarter, I feel the winner of Vondrousova/Ostapenko may be able to put together a really nice run, and they had a very nice 3-set battle in Indian Wells last week. The slower courts play into the hands of Ostapenko, who made the final here last year, and I wouldn’t put a big run past her again this year in conditions she enjoys.

Whilst the odds on Ostapenko to defeat Vondrousova are quite high, I do feel as though if she is confident, Ostapenko is far more capable of a deep run than Vondrousova. It has a ‘lose first match or go very deep’ feel to Ostapenko, so we shall see what she can deliver.


Quarter 4

The fourth quarter feels like there are only a couple of chances, especially with Elina Svitolina playing with some soreness in her knee. That does open things up for a couple of other players, with Serena Williams and Simona Halep the main beneficiaries.

I don’t think Venus Williams is quite at 100% and I am happy to take her out of calculations, and whilst there are other players in this section that could pull off an upset or two, the only other real threat is a redlining Danielle Collins or perhaps a career best week from Yafan Wang.

From a trading perspective you could hope for Wang to get the better of Svitolina early, however from an outright perspective the nicest draw seems to be Halep. It is hard to know how Serena is feeling, and if you aren’t sure about how the favourite is feeling, it is hard to justify selecting her to win the tournament. It may be worth watching her early rounds and keeping her safe in outright markets.


Summary

Another wide open WTA event, which can be tricky to find the winner. Nevertheless, there are a couple of longer odds chances that I am happy to include this week.

I am happy to sit out what I feel is a very competitive top section, and focus on Kvitova and Halep’s friendly draws, as well as Ostapenko as more of a long-shot selection.

From a trading perspective, Kuzmova and Wang both find themselves up against seeds with favourable draws, but under injury clouds, so they could both make solid runs this week.


Betting Strategy

 BACK – Petra Kvitova to Win

 BACK – Jelena Ostapenko to Win

 BACK – Simona Halep to Win


Trading Options

Yafan Wang

Viktoria Kuzmova

Federer vs Thiem

I think this match will actually be incredibly interesting, albeit not the final everyone was initially expecting when the tournament began (well done to those who found Thiem to make the final here).

Roger Federer has continued on his merry way from his title performance in Dubai, having not dropped a set on the way to the final this year. His Indian Wells record over the years is seriously impressive, and it is hard to find any particular cracks in the armour of Federer currently, especially in the best of 3 set arena.

I think Federer is currently the best player in the game on hardcourt in best-of-3 set tennis. I feel the longer matches are starting to head away from him a little bit, however his best-of-3 set tennis this year has been near flawless. The slower Indian Wells hardcourt doesn’t seem to phase him too much, however in the final he comes up against a player that also prefers the slower court, and has the movement and power to even cause a little bit of trouble tomorrow.

I have had a couple of very nice results on Dominic Thiem the last few rounds, as he has put together some very solid tennis. His first two rounds really built up the confidence, as he needed to play quality tennis to hit through the likes of Thompson and Simon in dominant fashion.

Things really picked up from there for Thiem, who has produced some exceptional tennis in his last two matches (aided by Monfils withdrawing before their quarter final), defeating two big servers in Ivo Karlovic and Milos Raonic.

Things will be a touch slower for Thiem today, however it will be tough for Thiem to keep his unforced errors down in a similar fashion to his last two matches. I do however feel as though he has the movement and power on this type of hardcourt to keep this match quite close. The total is currently sitting at 22.5 games, which I feel is something worth making a small play on when siding with the total going over.

I think the way Thiem and Federer have both played this week, that three sets certainly isn’t out of the question, however at least one tiebreak set may also be enough to push this one over, in what I feel will be a closer match than most suspect.

BETTING STRATEGY

 BACK – 2 units Federer/Thiem over 22.5 total games

Kerber vs Andreescu

Here we have a match-up of very contrasting styles, for a number of reasons. On one hand, we have a former three-time Grand Slam Champion in Angelique Kerber, who has reached the summit of the WTA before, and is eager to do it again. On the other hand we have one of the up-and-coming stars of the game in 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu, who has put together a very impressive three months of tennis to kick off 2019.

There is no doubt that I am in the same boat as many who have been incredibly impressed with the tennis Andreescu has put together this year. She has stunned many this week on her road to the final, defeating the likes of Cibulkova, Muguruza and Svitolina. For all the positives that have come with her game to start this year, I did get the feeling that her third set the other day against Svitolina did seem remarkably familiar to how the Canadian was looking as the tournament wore on in Auckland to start the year. Multiple times that week, against the likes of Wozniacki, Hsieh and Venus Williams, Andreescu looked to be physically on the absolute brink, as the amount of tennis started to really add up. It finally took a toll on Andreescu that week in the final, when after leading 6-2 against Julia Goerges, she started to struggle more and more physically, falling away dramatically in the third set, which she lost 1-6.

I saw some very similar physical characteristics from Andreescu yesterday against Svitolina, however the key difference being the Canadian was able to fend off 9 of 10 break points she faced in the final set, whilst converting 2 of 3 opportunities of her own. Although she has a day break, with the amount of tennis played this week, plus the level of nervous energy that will be expended both before and during the biggest match of her career to date, it does beg the question: how much will Bianca have left in the tank?

With my own personal doubts about Andreescu’s ability to back up tomorrow at 100%, those doubts are certainly magnified when you consider the calibre of her opponent across the net. Angelique Kerber is a formidable force, and she has put together some very impressive performances against other big strikers of the ball this week. Kerber is coming into the final having defeated Sabalenka, Venus Williams and Bencic in her last 3 matches, which included coming from 1-4* down in the third against my outright selection in Sabalenka. She is moving incredibly well, and her counter-punching style has worked quite well on court this week. She will give nothing to Andreescu for free, meaning the 18 year old will have to try and earn everything in the biggest match of her career to date.

Another little interesting stat, albeit a small sample size, is Andreescu’s record against left handers in the last 12 months. Whilst boasting an impressive 60-16 record across all levels, Andreescu is 3-4 against left handers. Regardless of that stat, I get the feeling that on this slower hardcourt, Kerber should have too much for Andreescu across the three sets. The -2.5 game handicap is an incredibly appealing prospect, and something that could cover in either a straight sets or three set victory for Kerber. Happy to make this a 4 unit selection

BETTING STRATEGY

 BACK – 4 units Kerber -2.5 game handicap

Welcome to the preview for ATP Indian Wells.

As mentioned in the WTA preview as well, from a court pace index perspective, Indian Wells falls into one of the slower hardcourts of all the Masters 1000 hardcourts. It should also be remembered that this year’s tournament favourite, Novak Djokovic, was nowhere near 100% at the time of Indian Wells 2018, and the likes of Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios didn’t take their place in the tournament last year.

The 2019 edition sadly will not include the defending champion in the field, with Juan Martin del Potro unable to take his place in the field due to injury. It was an epic final against Roger Federer last year, with Federer unable to convert 3 championship points on his own serve late in the final set, before del Potro broke back, and ultimately prevailed 6-4 6-7 7-6.

Let’s take a look at some of the players that I think have drawn quite well for this years tournament, and who I think may present a decent price from a trading perspective.

If you have any questions regarding any specific players in the draw, feel free to contact me on Twitter (@Ace_Previews)


Novak Djokovic

Whilst he hasn’t drawn particularly well, you obviously need to respect Novak Djokovic in any tournament he plays at the moment. The way he finished off the Australian Open was simply breathtaking. When you consider Federer and Nadal both fall in the other half the draw, that would generally indicate that Djokovic’s draw is quite favourable. Nevertheless, he has found himself with a couple of potential tricky opponents to kick things off this fortnight.

After a second round against Ymer/Fratangelo, Djokovic’s run to the final could look like Kyrgios, Monfils, Thiem and Zverev, and that is just to make the final. It is a bit of a shame that the draw has turned out this way, as I was hoping that Gael Monfils would end up with a favourable draw this week. Nevertheless, Djokovic must be respected on form, however considering his path to the final and the potential obstacles needed to overcome just to reach the final, I am not sure there is any value in his price currently.

Roger Federer

Fresh off claiming his 100th career ATP title, Roger Federer comes into this tournament as second favourite. The number 4 seed finds himself in a decent section of the draw, sharing his quarter with other seeds of Fucsovics, Edmund, Fognini, Cilic, Shapovalov, Pouille and Nishikori. Cilic (if fit) and Nishikori are scheduled to meet each other before either is due to meet Federer, which also works in his advantage. One floating opponent in the section that is unseeded and worth acknowledging is Stan Wawrinka, however on current form Federer should be too good.

I would be quite shocked to see Federer losing this week before the semi final, however I would have my concerns for Federer against either Nadal or Djokovic in these conditions late in the tournament.

Rafael Nadal

I think out of the top 3 players, Nadal has the best draw overall. Projected toughest opponents at each round rests at Donaldson, Schwartzman, Medvedev, Isner, then Federer in a likely semi final. Certainly playing well enough this year to be a great chance here in conditions that do suit him as being a touch slower. I think on current form he would be a fantastic chance against Federer in this conditions as well, and I would mark him as the favourite from the bottom half in terms of odds to reach the final. I think Djokovic may be a touch too good for him, but there is enough value in the current price from an outright perspective to make a play in my opinion. Biggest early threat is Medvedev in my opinion.


Rest of the Field

I will work through a  list of players that could challenge late in the week with their best tennis, moving from the top of the draw to the bottom.

Nick Kyrgios remains a bit of an enigma, however I am genuinely curious to see how he backs up his Acapulco title. Defending no points this week as he withdrew before the tournament last year. I would watch his second round match before casting any judgement (would imagine he would be a big price vs Djokovic in third round if he made it).

Gael Monfils is another player to keep an eye on, however his draw isn’t the easiest. Starting to play with a bit more consistency than we are used to seeing, and could surprise at a big price. I would imagine he would be underdog in every match from Round 4 onwards, so probably better to wait and see how he starts. Conditions should suit.

I haven’t seen enough from Dominic Thiem this year to trust him just yet, and cannot consider him currently from an outrights perspective. Curious to see how he plays today.

Alexander Zverev has been given an incredibly favourable draw, and personally think his current quote is value. Proven to be able to beat Djokovic (as we saw late last year), he could be the beneficiary of a very favourable draw, so I would expect at least a semi final performance on best form. Worth considering at the price from a trading perspective.

I am happy to overlook Raonic, Tsitsipas, Cilic and Anderson due to a mix of conditions not suiting and form/injury clouds.

Kei Nishikori is one to watch, however I just feel like he will find a couple better than him from an outright perspective this week.

Daniil Medvedev is in my opinion the biggest threat to Nadal reaching at least the semi final, however I don’t feel like he can challenger Nadal in these conditions on current form.


Summary

If you are looking for a pure selection as to who *should* win this tournament, it is very hard to look beyond Djokovic. With potential matches against Kyrgios, Monfils, Thiem, Zverev and Nadal/Federer however leads me to think there isn’t a lot of value in his price for this tournament.

Instead, from a draw standpoint, I think you could do a lot worse than start the tournament with an outright play on Rafael Nadal this week, with a smaller play on Zverev. That way, both halves are covered with players who have a decent road to the semi final.

I would trade out on Zverev for a slight profit at worst if he ultimately met Djokovic in a semi final, and would monitor the progress of Nadal during the week and make a call in the semi final or final as needed. Hopefully they can both progress deep this week.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Rafael Nadal to Win (monitor trading price)

 BACK – Alexander Zverev to Win (monitor trading price)

Welcome to the preview for WTA Indian Wells.

It was a really fascinating tournament last year, with the final 4 of Halep/Osaka/V Williams/Kasatkina battling it out for the title. It was Osaka who would finally stamp her name as one of the top players on tour, defeating Kasatkina 6-3 6-2 in the final, in what turned out to be a pretty defining moment  when you look at the career trajectories of both players.

From a court pace index perspective, Indian Wells falls into one of the slower hardcourts of all the Masters 1000 hardcourts. It is worth noting, and may explain why players such as Kasatkina had a very decent 2018 tournament.

Let’s take a look at some of the players that I think have drawn quite well for this years tournament, and who I think may present a decent price from a trading perspective.

If you have any questions regarding any specific players in the draw, feel free to contact me on Twitter (@Ace_Previews)


Ones to Watch

Aryna Sabalenka

When you look at the four players I have listed in the ones to watch, and note that Sabalenka is the main player to watch from the top half (other 3 from bottom half), then the prices currently available for Sabalenka appear to be pretty decent value.

Her form has gone under the radar to start 2019. She won the title in Shenzhen, albeit unconvincingly, then backed that up with a third round loss at the Australian Open (I think we all remember how well Anisimova played that day). She has played two more tournaments since, losing to the eventual winner of the tournament on both occasions (Bertens and Bencic).

She has proven herself at all levels except Grand Slam level. Her best is good enough to beat almost any player, and I think on form she can match it quite well with all the players in her section of the draw. Her power allows her to hit through counterpunchers quite well, and I feel for her to be beaten this week it would take an elite performance from a player such as Kvitova to send Sabalenka packing and on the way to Miami.

Serena Williams

I think it would take something pretty significant for Serena Williams to not fall into the “Ones to watch” category in a tournament that she is playing, such is her stature in the game. She commands respect, so she deserves acknowledgement in this section. That being said, I am not sure there is enough value in her price as a favourite, considering this draw is incredibly competitive.

We haven’t seen Serena since the Australian Open, and to be the favourite with a potential early draw of Azarenka, Muguruza, Bertens and Stephens, and that is just to get out of the quarter. You will see below that my interest in this quarter lies elsewhere at a bigger price.

Sloane Stephens

The bigger the tournament, the better the Sloane Stephens that steps onto court. That is the general rule, and Stephens generally does save her best tennis to be played on US soil. She must be respected, and looking at her draw it doesn’t seem too bad at all.

Stephens hasn’t played a lot of tennis over the early months, and she did have an uncharacteristic loss in Acapulco last week. However, her Premier and Grand Slam record is worthy of a lot of respect, so you can assume she will bring her best tennis. Slower surface won’t be too much of a concern either, as she is solid on all surfaces with all speeds.

Sloane finds herself in a seeded section with Cibulkova, Wang and Mertens, all of who Stephens should be able to handle. Her biggest threat in her quarter rests with Serena Williams, however I think at the prices on offer from an outright perspective, I think I slightly prefer to look at Sloane from an outright perspective, and perhaps trade out some aspect if Stephens finds herself in a quarter final match-up with Serena.

Simona Halep

Court speed plays into her favour here a touch. I think she has gone past the likes of Kerber, Svitolina and Wozniacki as the dominant counter-puncher in the game. Simona has played some brilliant tennis in the last 12 months, and looking at her section of the draw, it looks to be a pretty favourable one, with Sasnovich, Ostapenko/Kasatkina, Barty/Garcia/Buzarnescu/Svitolina falling in her section. If she brings her best tennis, she should find herself in a semi final at worst. Worth respecting at the price.


Rest of the Field

This ‘Ones to watch’ section could become incredibly long, such is the quality of this field. Players such as Kvitova, Pliskova, Svitolina, Osaka, Barty, Bencic, Keys, Muguruza, Bertens, Sevastova, Wozniacki and Mertens are also in this field, and that list is chances is not an exhaustive list, such is the open nature of this tournament. I think another player that needs to be kept safe is Petra Kvitova, as I mentioned above that I felt she was the biggest threat to Sabalenka in that top half of the draw.

Out of the longer odds players, one to watch may be Donna Vekic, who could surprise with a run to the semi finals, in what may be a bit of a wider open section (if you have the courage to back around Osaka, Pliskova and even Sevastova).


Summary

Looking at the draw, I think from a pure odds perspective, the value lies with Sabalenka in the top half, and Stephens and Halep in the bottom half. It is hard to be too confident with such a wide open tournament with so many live chances, however these three players all represent nice value. If I had to pick, I would go Sabalenka, then Stephens, then Halep in order of value at their respective prices.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Aryna Sabalenka to Win

 BACK – Sloane Stephens to Win

 BACK – Simona Halep to Win

Tsitsipas v Federer

Here we have a rematch of what turned out to be quite an Australian Open duel. It was only just over a month ago that Tsitsipas was able to make a name for himself (outside of those who are keen tennis observers), defeating Federer in 4 sets in a night match in Melbourne.

That night in Melbourne, Tsitsipas prevailed 6-7 7-6 7-5 7-6. The key difference for the match was certainly break point conversion, with Tsitsipas converting 1 of his 3 opportunities, and Federer converting none of his 12 opportunities. It was a bit of a perfect storm for Federer that night, as I don’t feel his body is as suited to best of 5 set tennis anymore.

Why I say it was a bit of a perfect storm, it is more to do with the fact that Federer was unable to convert some early opportunities on the Tsitsipas serve, which built up the level of frustration that night, which resulted in a large amount of nervous energy spent, and as the match wore on, so did the unforced errors from the racquet of Federer. It was uncharacteristic of Federer given his form of the last 12-18 months, however pressure can do funny things to the best players.

As we move to Dubai and the final here, I look at the form of both players coming into the final, as well as the accumulated fatigue from Tsitsipas (noting his full week last week on indoor hard). I think if there is ever a chance for Federer to exact revenge on Tsitsipas, this may well be the opportunity, in what is also quite a big match.

After shaking off some rust in the early rounds against Kohlschreiber and Verdasco, Federer slowly built his form up over the course of the week, culminating in a 6-2 6-2 whitewash of Borna Coric overnight. It was exactly what Federer needed, especially when you consider Tsitsipas had just spent 3 hours on court with Monfils, ending in a third set tiebreak.

Federer is normally one who will learn from his prior mistakes, but is also a player who will be able to pick up some pointers from other recent opponents of Tsitsipas, such as Monfils. Look for Federer to keep the ball short and low onto the backhand of Tsitsipas, which will more often than not lead to a slice for Stefanos. This play should see Federer approach the net more comofrtably, in conditions I think suit him tonight.

I am happy to make a 4 unit selection on Federer to cover the -2.5 game handicap.

BETTING STRATEGY

 BACK – 4 units Federer -2.5 game handicap

Kvitova vs Bencic

I still have their meeting from the Australian Open fresh in my mind for this match. Straight after the 6-1 6-4 whitewash, Bencic took to Instragram to write “When Petra is on fire, she’s on fire”, acknowledging how helpless she felt on court against Kvitova. Bencic can be quite self deprecating at times (almost to a fault), however this sign of outward praise to her opponent showed just how much respect she has for Kvitova, and just how hard she found it on the other side of the net. Bencic was in pretty good form then, and slightly better form now with a string of comebacks over the last couple of rounds, but you have to ask just how much will change from that previous meeting?

Petra Kvitova wasn’t exactly fresh going into that match with Bencic in January. She had come off a full week of tennis where she claimed the Sydney title (Bencic had a long week too, reaching a semi final in Hobart), and was absolutely ruthless in the early rounds of the Australian Open. With the conditions in Dubai perhaps slightly more favourable for Kvitova, it makes you wonder how much Bencic can turn this around?

The Swiss has put together a very solid week of tennis. After wins against Hradecka and Voegele, she has gone on to record 3 set victories over Sabalenka, Halep and Svitolina. She saved 6 match points against Sabalenka, and came from a set down against Halep, and a 3-5 third set deficit against Svitolina in the Semi Final. She has almost looked better at times when under the pump and in losing positions, however has found a way in each occasion.

Petra Kvitova has been solid without being convincing this week, however I do like her to lift her performance coming off her win from a set down against Hsieh. The bigger the opponent has struck the ball this week, the better the performance from Kvitova. She can sometimes struggle for patches against players that can serve big and hit spots for periods of a match (ie. Brady in set 2 on Wednesday), however I don’t think Bencic’s first serve packs a big enough punch to fall into this category.

I am comfortable making a 2 unit play on this match going under 21.5 total games. I was tossing up this and Kvitova -4.5 games, however I am happy to settle on this option. I think Petra should be too good, and will take her career finals record at all levels to 34-11.

BETTING STRATEGY

 BACK – 2 units Total Games Under 21.5

Welcome to my early preview for WTA Dubai. As a Premier Mandatory event, we get to see the best of the best in action, with very few players missing. In fact, of the top 20 players, the only ones we are missing are Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki, Serena Williams, Ash Barty and Madison Keys.

With a stacked field, there will be so many quality matches that will take place in the coming week. The weather conditions look to be sitting in the low to mid 20 degrees, with not too much wind or rain about. Perfect conditions for tennis, and the players will have no excuses.

I thought I would glance over the top 20 players in the field, as well as make a comment on some of the other players in the field that have managed to play themselves into a bit of form.

The 2018 version of WTA Dubai saw Elina Svitolina take home the title, defeating Daria Kasatkina in the final, 6-4 6-0. It wasn’t smooth sailing for the Russian on her way to reaching the final, with some quality encounters with the likes of Muguruza (amazing second set tiebreak, ended 13-11 with Kasatkina saving MPs) and Konta. There weren’t a great number of upsets, with 5 of the top 6 players reaching the quarter finals, and 3 of the top 6 reaching the semi-finals.

I will start with the players that in my opinion have displayed the best form so far in 2019 and work my way down.

If you have any questions regarding any specific players in the draw, feel free to contact me on Twitter (@Ace_Previews)


It seems only fair to start with the current world number 1, Naomi Osaka. Fresh off her Australian Open win, I felt herself and Sascha Bajin were on the road to becoming an unstoppable combination, until things fell apart very quickly. Not long after the AO, they unfollowed each other on their social medias, and Osaka finally announced they had split, with no specific reason given for the change of heart. I think his absence will be felt by Osaka in the short term.

All you need to do is look at the way Bajin was able to re-direct Osaka at times during tight moments in on-court coaching to understand the significance of the partnership. I think I would rather have my money elsewhere, due to the relative unknowns that come with this tournament.

Petra Kvitova is the key player to watch in my opinion. The Australian Open Runner-up has put together a very impressive body of work in 2019, with a 13-3 record, and some excuses for a couple of those as well. With the weather schedule to be cooler for most of the week, with limited humidity, the courts should play into the hands of Kvitova quite well. I feel that if Kvitova can bring her absolute best tennis on any given day, she can beat anyone on tour. The big question is: will she?

Simona Halep is a player you certainly must respect. In completed matches in Dubai, Halep holds a 10-2 record, having claimed the title in 2015. She is in the very early stages with her new coach, however her performances at the Australian Open, Fed Cup and this week in Doha warrant respect. Things are starting to click again on court for Halep, and that can spell trouble for her opponents. One to watch this week.

Elina Svitolina comes back here as the back to back defending champion after her impressive 2017 and 2018 campaign. She is currently playing in Doha, where it is slightly hard to get a read on her form as her draw (Ostapenko and Muchova) on the way to the semi final has been quite favourable.

She isn’t my top selection this week on form, however if she manages to find herself in the other half of the draw to Kvitova/Sabalenka, she might be worth a nibble from a trading perspective.  Based on her schedule, she may be in for a long week in Doha currently, which would be great for her, but not great for Dubai.

Angelique Kerber is another player you must respect, however just doesn’t seem to have that confidence in her ability to finish off points at the moment. She can be found wanting against some of the bigger hitters of the ball (i.e. Collins at the Australian Open), and in this field I get the feeling she may find a couple better.

Karolina Pliskova is another player who I think will be very suited to the courts and conditions in Dubai this week. She holds a 6-6 record overall in Dubai, with one run to the semi-final. On her Aus Open run she needs to be respected here, however it is hard to gauge her tennis as she pulled out of Doha this week with a viral illness. I’d rather not be on her as a starting point, and monitor the situation moving forward throughout the week if necessary.

Aryna Sabalenka is a player who has made giant strides in the last 12 months at every level except Grand Slam. You do need to respect her, with her losses this year coming to Kvitova (backing up to Sydney after winning the title in Shenzhen), Anisimova (who couldn’t do a thing wrong that day) and Bertens. Must be respected dropping back to Premier Mandatory Level (I was keen to oppose at the Australian Open) and will be one of my selections this week given the conditions.

Kiki Bertens just hasn’t had everything click for her to start 2019. A couple of uncharacteristic losses plagued January, before she was able to take the St Petersburg title a couple of weeks ago. I feel there are better options in this field given form and conditions, however I wouldn’t find myself actively opposing her in the early rounds either.

Julia Goerges is a player you always must respect in the early rounds, however in a field like this, I feel she will always find one or two better. Her absolute best tennis can match anyone, however the consistency and ability to maintain that best level against the best remains an issue. One to watch based on the draw.

Elise Mertens just hasn’t displayed the form you would want to consider her in any capacity for an outright selection. She may present as good value in a specific head to head, however she would need a significant uptick in her current form to be considered a good outright chance this week.

Caroline Wozniacki just hasn’t got enough tennis under her belt to be able to trust her here – I think at her stage of career with her unfortunate diagnosis of RA, she will be up against it. Needs to be respected, as her best tennis can still beat anyone, however it is just difficult to know if we will see it. Not going out of my way to oppose her, and at the same time not going out of my way to support her.


Of the rest of the players in the draw, there doesn’t appear to be too many players that are a decent chance of pulling away and taking the title. You could perhaps make a case for Vekic, or even a Tomljanovic/Pavlyuchenkova type could spring a decent run, but I doubt given the strength of the field they will be the last one standing this week. A player like Yastremska, if she were to make the main draw, is also a player to watch.


Summary

Of the players listed, the four main players I will be keeping an eye on as the draw is released are:

  • Petra Kvitova
  • Aryna Sabalenka
  • Elina Svitolina
  • Simona Halep

There is a mix of two of the bigger power hitters, and two of the better counterpunching players in women’s tennis. Dubai has been quick in the past, however that doesn’t phase Svitolina and Halep as their court movement and presence is exceptional. The Svitolina selection comes more from the fact she is a confidence player and winning this title the last 2 years instils quite a bit of confidence.

If I had to pick one player – Kvitova. There are so many live chances however and feel that a player such as Halep will present as value as well.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Petra Kvitova to Win

 BACK – Simona Halep to Win

Unfortunately the two selections from Brisbane were unable to make the final, with Alex De Minaur beaten by a resurgent Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Quarter Finals, and Kyle Edmund struggling from the offset, pulling out of this weeks tournament in Sydney as well citing a knee injury.

Onto Sydney, where there is a very decent field in play for a tournament the week before a Grand Slam. You need to be very careful with such tournaments, as a few players would rather have a bit of a break leading into the Australian Open, whereas others cannot pass up the opportunity for a potential title, regardless of what week of the year it occurs.

2018 saw a Qualifier meet a Special Exempt in the final, as Daniil Medvedev defeat Alex De Minaur in the final. In a sign of just how much can change in 12 months on the ATP tour, Medvedev is the number 2 seed this week and De Minaur is seeded 5th. The 2018 field was far weaker, with Ramos, Muller, Schwartzman and Fognini the top 4 seeds.

The field looks to open up in a couple of sections, which may lead to a bit of value being found. There is a mix of players who have either played a lot of tennis this week, or played a lot of tennis in Sydney in 2018 and then went on to struggle at the Australian Open. Here are the top players in each section, plus some comments on others of interest.

If you have any questions regarding any specific players in the draw, feel free to contact me on Twitter (@Ace_Previews)


Top Half

Stefanos Tsitsipas: Beneficiary of the round 1 bye as top seed. Should be able to progress very deep in the tournament, as his best tennis is well and above the best of the majority of those in the top half of the draw. Can struggle against players who tend to keep the ball low as well at times. The question is, with a full week of tennis in the books at the Hopman Cup: how much tennis does he want to play this week? A question of talent vs motivation.

Andreas Seppi: I would imagine won’t have too many tournaments this year as a seed, so he would be looking to take advantage of this opportunity to the best of his ability. Whilst his best performances on hardcourt have come on indoor, he has shown some of his best tennis over the last couple of years on Australian soil. He won a very competitive Canberra Challenger title the week before the Australian Open last year, before going on to make the 4th round in Melbourne. Defending those points will be crucial this year, and I would imagine any opportunity to bank ranking points will be attacked. Gets Chardy in the first round coming off a long week in Brisbane, which should help springboard his week. Will struggle most against Tsitsipas, Simon and Klizan in his section.

Diego Schwartzman: was able to make his way through to the 4th round of the Australian Open last year, however he only managed 9 further hardcourt wins for the rest of the year. Whilst I completely admire his playing style, I just cannot have him in this field considering his early season form over the last couple of years. Like Seppi, Schwartzman does have some serious points to defend in January, but I think his absolute limit in this field, even with his section swamped with qualifiers, is the Semi Final at an absolute stretch.

Lucas Pouille: didn’t set the world on fire in Perth as a part of the Hopman Cup, in a similar way to how he probably considers 2018 to be disappointing overall. By the end of February, Pouille had won the tournament in Montpellier (def Gasquet), made the final in Marseille (lost to Khachanov) and then in Dubai (lost to Bautista Agut), however went 14-17 on hardcourt for the rest of the year. I would need to see things turn around before confidently siding with him in an outright market.

Best of the Rest in Top Half: When you look at the unseeded players in the top half, the initial name you gravitate towards is Martin Klizan. His best tennis is absolutely blistering, and he generally builds in form and confidence as a tournament progresses. The issue with that is he can be susceptible to an early exit, and his first opponent in Popyrin is no slouch at all, and plays better feeding off pace from his opponents. If he plays well in round 1, I would consider him for a small outright stake.


Bottom Half

Marton Fucsovics: has travelled from Doha, where he lost in the second round to Novak Djokovic in a tight 3 set match. It did start to get away from him late (lost third set 1-6), and I am not sure the travel from Doha to Sydney is going to help his cause either. Fucsovics made a couple of ATP Quarter Finals (Vienna and Beijing) in 2018, however I just haven’t seen enough on hardcourt over the last 12-18 months to consider him a threat for the overall title.

Gilles Simon: is a really intriguing prospect for the title this week. I would completely ignore his first round flop here last year against Jared Donaldson for a couple of reasons. The first being that Simon had barely hopped off the plan after winning the title in Pune, India, the week before, and the second one being he travelled to Australia in 2018 without his coaching team. Based on his draw this week, he should be finding himself in Sydney at the weekend. Has the game style to trouble most match-ups, and at this stage of his career, I would imagine he would be very keen to take advantage of such a draw.

Alex De Minaur: came of age at ATP Sydney 2018, going on a dream run to reach the final (lost to Medvedev). He did comment after the tournament that the toll that effort put on his body did impact his ability to be at his best in Round 1 in Melbourne, where he lost to Tomas Berdych. His biggest struggles at present come against the bigger, mobile hitters of the ball (Cilic/Tsonga etc) as they are able to attack his second serve in particular to good effect. Curious to see how he goes this week.

Daniil Medvedev: is still in Brisbane at the time of writing this article, with the Russian putting together a very solid week of tennis. His draw wasn’t comfortable, with a second round win over Andy Murray and a Quarter Final win over Milos Raonic, where he looked very good in key moments. He again performed well in some tricky situations in his first set against Tsonga, however he did waste a number of opportunities to break. I think Medvedev uses the likes of Zverev/Shapovalov/Khachanov as a bit of a foil (whether he likes it or not), and people can forget just how good he can be at times. He has put together some very impressive performances pre-Slam, winning the week before the Australian Open and US Open in 2018. Considering he has gone the distance in Brisbane this week, I would be very surprised to see him back up from a humid week and blitz the field again so close to the start of a Grand Slam. I think reaching the final in Brisbane has reduced his chances of a good result in Sydney, however that is a positive in the long run (big couple of weeks ahead).

Of the rest in the bottom half of the draw, I would say John Millman has the best chance of impacting late in the tournament. He looked to be hitting the ball quite well in Brisbane, and should thrive in front of the home crowd, as will the rest of the Australians. Other potentials from the bottom half include Sam Querrey at his best level, as if he is serving well he can cause quite a bit of trouble. On his late 2018 form however, I would rather look elsewhere in the outright market.


Summary

Whilst a little bit on the risky side, I am happy to play around the favourites of Medvedev, Tsitsipas and De Minaur for reasons I mentioned above. My focus turns to Gilles Simon as the main value selection, with Martin Klizan as more of a longshot. I would wait until after Klizan’s round 1 match to consider a small play. I think Simon’s two biggest threats in the section are Medvedev and De Minaur, who would meet before facing the Frenchman, and should also have one eye on next week.

I would have a small go at anything over $12.50 for Simon, as it can be difficult with so many variables in play the week before a Grand Slam to tackle anything too confidently.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Gilles Simon at $12.50 or more.

It was a case of so close but yet so far in Brisbane, with Naomi Osaka playing some solid tennis until her semi final against Lesia Tsurenko. In her post-match media conference, Osaka admitted that she didn’t have the right attitude on court, and will learn from the situation moving forward.

It does give me concerns around her ability to handle the pressure in Melbourne as a Grand Slam Champion, so it will be interesting to see how she handles things in the coming weeks.

Onto Sydney, with a very loaded field to contest for the APIA International. This year will see some cooler conditions than 2018, where Angelique Kerber managed to get the better of Ash Barty in the final.

If you have any questions about any specific players, please get in touch on Twitter (@Ace_Previews).


Top Half

Simona Halep: Top seed, however doesn’t normally make a habit of playing the week before a Grand Slam. Her last tournament played the week before a Grand Slam was in Eastbourne in 2017 prior to Wimbledon, where she lost to Wozniacki in the Quarter Final.

It is a really interesting decision by Halep to switch up a schedule that seemed to work so well last year (made the Australian Open Final). She is starting the year without a coach, with Darren Cahill stepping away from the full time grind of the tennis coaching tour.

She needs to be respected this week as the number 1 seed, however with a tricky quarter and the Australian Open around the corner, it will be interesting to see what type of tennis is delivered this week.

Karolina Pliskova: At the time of writing, Pliskova has just wrapped up the Brisbane title with her third 3-setter of the week, coming from a set and 3-5 down to take the title over Lesia Tsurenko. Although these players are scheduled to meet again in Round 1 in Sydney, I would be shocked to see Tsurenko take part considering her ankle injury early in the third set of the final.

In a similar fashion to some of the other players who have put in big first weeks on tour, I would be quite surprised to see Pliskova feature late in this tournament.

After reaching the Semi Final in Brisbane last year, Pliskova took the next week off to focus on the Australian Open. She did the same in 2017 after claiming the Brisbane title, so it will be interesting to see if she heads down to Sydney in the knowledge of her first round opponent suffering with an injury. I would expect her to withdraw from the tournament.

Sloane Stephens: Backing Sloane Stephens the week before a Grand Slam is generally asking for trouble. You only need to look at Nurnberg last year, where she lost to Putintseva in Round 1 in one of the more disinterested performances you’ll see. She won 3 games here in her first round last year against Giorgi, and you have to go back to Eastbourne in 2015 to find a semi final appearance the week before Wimbledon.

It is generally not her week, and even with a relatively friendly draw I wouldn’t foresee this being her week either. Lives for the bigger tournaments.

Kiki Bertens: Lost a tight three set match to Donna Vekic in Brisbane, who is playing some of the best tennis of her career. I think in what shapes to be quite a tricky week, herself or Gavrilova could spring a surprise out of this section. Has the power and the shotmaking, and beats the best players on her best 2018 form, so this isn’t beyond her this week.

Best of the Rest: Of those capable of surprising in the week before a Grand Slam include Daria Gavrilova, Ash Barty, Elise Mertens, Garbine Muguruza and Anett Kontaveit. Of that list, Barty is the most appealing, however I think her odds are a touch too short overall considering her potential road to the final.

I think Gavrilova has the best chance of surprising at long odds, and could make her way to a potential quarter final at least from a trading perspective, as she shares a 4-player section with Sloane Stephens and two qualifiers.


Bottom Half

Daria Kasatkina: Surrounded by qualifiers in her section, however that didn’t help her at all in Brisbane, where she lost in 3 sets to hometown favourite Kimberly Birrell. Looked a touch off in Brisbane, and has never really set the world on fire in Australia for one reason or another. Whilst her best would challenge most, I am still waiting to see her become more aggressive with her stroke play in key moments.

Anastasija Sevastova: Looked the goods early in Brisbane, and looked the better player in her Quarter Final with Osaka, before falling away dramatically in sets 2 and 3. She has a friendly draw, and at her best should at least be making the Semi Final here if she brings her best effort. It isn’t just a friendly draw, it is a very friendly draw, and she would want to take advantage. Can match it with everyone except Kerber in her half on current form.

Petra Kvitova: Whilst her comeback and 3 hour win against Collins was admirable, it absolutely ruined Kvitova’s chances against Kontaveit approximately 18 hours later. Her legs looked heavy, and it felt as though she needs some more match fitness early in the season before trusting from an outright perspective.

She will enjoy the cooler conditions compared to last year, as heat and humidity don’t go hand in hand with Kvitova’s best tennis. That being said, she does have positive memories of Sydney, having won the title in 2015 as well as reaching the Semi Final in 2012 and 2014. I need to see more before backing with confidence in an outright market.

Angelique Kerber: The player to beat in opinion. Her tennis at the Hopman Cup was very solid, and it looks like she will be one of the players to beat in a number of big tournaments in 2019. I think the bottom half may come down to Kerber vs Sevastova, where I think Kerber may have a little too much late tournament experience. She won the title in 2018, then went on to perform well at the Australian Open, so I think we can expect a solid turnout from the German in this field.

Best of the Rest: I think the first name outside the seeds to stand out is Aryna Savalenka, who is playing some inspired tennis since midway through 2018. I would be quite surprised if she were to make her way through the field this week after a long week to claim the Shenzhen title to start 2019. Sabalenka looked very sluggish at times across the week, however lifted when needed.


Summary

This draw is loaded with quality, but that presents a very tricky prospect of trying to pick out a winner the week before a Grand Slam. From a pure value and trading standpoint, it may be worth a play on Gavrilova at a big price, with a look to trade out for a profit after a potential quarter final appearance (like her little section with Stephens and 2 qualifiers).

The main selection comes from the bottom half, as you know what type of performance you are going to get from a player such as Kerber, so I have to side with her this week.

If you want a long-shot floating qualifier to cause some trouble, I would look no further than Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Daria Gavrilova (Lay off Stake if she reaches the QF)

 BACK – Ekaterina Alexandrova

 BACK – Angelique Kerber

ATP Brisbane Final Preview

Not before 19:00, Pat Rafter Arena

Whilst it was nice to see the resurgence of some familiar faces this week such as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the Brisbane final will end up featuring two of the players who hit some really solid form late in 2018, with Daniil Medvedev and Kei Nishikori set for a re-match of the 2018 Tokyo final (Medvedev won in straight sets). Let’s have a look at the road to the final for both players.

Daniil Medvedev

Medvedev had to make his way through three very solid players on his way to the final, however you get the feeling it may have been more difficult for him against these three 5-10 years ago. The Russian was very strong late in set 1 against Andy Murray, and he was able to capitalise quite well on the match rust of the Brit, racing to a 4-0 lead in the second set. It wasn’t Murray at his best, as he did struggle a bit to back up from his match the day before, so I wouldn’t read too much into the match.

Whilst Medvedev was very good on break point saves against Milos Raonic, it is not the same Canadian we have come to know over the last couple of years. I cannot recall the last time Raonic dropped serve from 40/0 deep in a final set, however that did happen on Friday. Medvedev was able to save all 8 break point opportunities on serve, and his flatter style of hitting was advantageous against the Canadian.

Another player Medvedev matched up well against was his semi final opponent in Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. As Medvedev is able to hit the ball quite flat off both wings, the Russian didn’t give Tsonga anywhere near as many opportunities to run around and attack with his forehand. He kept the pressure on in key moments, and Tsonga faltered from 6-4 up in the first set tiebreak. Another solid performance from the Russian, however Tsonga was nowhere near the level of his match with De Minaur, and it cost him the victory.

Kei Nishikori

It is hard to come up with any negative to describe the run to the final of Nishikori. After his first round bye, he was clinical against Denis Kudla (7-5 6-2, 0 break points faced). His consistency and solid form was on full display on Thursday night as he dispatched Grigor Dimitrov 7-5 7-5. Kei did have a lapse early in set 3, falling down *0-3, however looked the far better player the rest of the way.

The off-season break seems to have done wonders, with another clinical semi final performance as well. Jeremy Chardy’s forehand unfortunately didn’t turn up for the semi-final, and Nishikori’s consistency off both wings drove him into the ground.

Summary

I have been really impressed with the consistency of performance from Kei Nishikori this week. The off-season appears to have worked wonders for him, as he looks refreshed and the fittest I have seen him on court for some time. It felt like the late 2018 form could be attributed to fatigue, having wrapped up his 2017 season in August due to injury. It also looks like he may have done a bit more lower body strength work in his time off, and it looks to have paid dividends early.

Whilst Medvedev matched up relatively well against his other 3 opponents, I don’t think today will be so friendly. Whilst Medvedev was able to beat Nishikori in Tokyo late last year, Nishikori wasn’t in the shape he is currently displaying, and I feel the transition to outdoor also favours the Japanese World Number 9. You can put question marks against all three of Medvedev’s opponents this week in one way or another, and this completely different match-up against one of the cleanest strikers of the ball on tour is something else entirely.

Look for Nishikori to push Medvedev out wide and utilise the open court as much as possible. The goal is to keep Medvedev moving and force him to go for low percentage shots. If he makes them, then well done to him, but I would rather back Nishikori in this situation at the odds available.

I think we are getting a great value price for Nishikori to win the title, and I am comfortable making a 3 unit selection.

BETTING STRATEGY

 BACK – 3 units Nishikori to defeat Medvedev

WTA Brisbane Final Preview

Not before 17:00, Pat Rafter Arena

In what has been quite an up-and-down week of tennis, we finally come to the women’s final of the Brisbane International. For those who love big hitting and clean striking of the ball, this will certainly be a match to watch. Let’s have a quick look at both players and their roads to the final this week.

Lesia Tsurenko

Tsurenko has put together a very solid body of work to start 2019, making the final with four consecutive straight sets victories. Round 1 she was absolutely clinical against Mihaela Buzarnescu, winning 6-0 6-2, with 80% of first and 71% of second serves won (58/85 points won overall). Losing only 9 points on serve to a player as powerful as Buzarnescu is very impressive, and it helped set the tone for the rest of the week.

Surprisingly, one of the opponents that Tsurenko had most difficulty with this week was Kimberley Birrell, with the Ukrainian winning only 62% of first serve and 57% of second serves. This match was won on return however, with Tsurenko able to break the Australian 5 times on the way to a 6-4 6-3 victory.

Anett Kontaveit had probably the best chance of knocking off Tsurenko, as she had the chance to serve for the first set in their Quarter Final on Friday night. Kontaveit waivered slightly, and Tsurenko capitalised by taking the first set 7-5, before skipping out to an early break lead in the second set. Her first serve was again dominant, hitting the mark 72% of the time and winning 78% of those points. Kontaveit was clearly frustrated with the variety behind Tsurenko’s first serve, and struggled to return consistently throughout.

Whilst it was very clear that Naomi Osaka wasn’t at her best mentally, Lesia still did a fantastic job of finishing the match off against the US Open Champion. The tactics on serve were very clear from Tsurenko, and she did a fantastic job again, landing 75% of serves in play and winning 80% of the time. Her tactics were perfect, and her court movement to start the year has been exceptional.

Karolina Pliskova

I wouldn’t say it has been the most dominant week of tennis that I have ever seen from Karolina Pliskova. It started with a tight 3 set win over Yulia Putintseva 4-6 6-3 6-4. Her second serve presented some issues, winning only 12 of 28, however the weaker serve of Putintseva ended up the difference on the day.

Whilst the scoreboard against Marie Bouzkova seemed one-sided at 7-5 6-2, the match was hanging in the balance early. Break point conversion was key for Pliskova, as she was able to convert 5 of 6 BP opportunities. When you combine that with winning 77% of points behind her first serve, you are generally going to have a positive outcome.

It was a night session quarter final against Tomljanovic, and a 6-1 1-6 6-1 result in favour of the Czech. Pliskova had a serious drop-off in set 2, before turning things around in set 3. Her serve numbers were solid, winning 75% behind the first serve, as well as winning 46% of points on return for the match.

Pliskova again found herself with some moments of uneasiness in the semi final, but was able to progress past Donna Vekic 6-3 6-4. Her high percentage first serve was the difference maker again, getting 70% of first serves in play and winning those points 74% of the time. Vekic struggled on serve, dropping in 7 double faults and winning only 36% of points on her second serve. Pliskova did give Vekic a couple of opportunities to get back into the match late, however Vekic was unable to convert.

Summary

At the odds that are currently available, I am very keen to make a play on Tsurenko to lift the trophy in Brisbane. It has been very hard to fault her form this week, and she has look switched on from point one in each match. Whilst their past meetings range from 2009-2017, Pliskova leads 3-2 overall, with Tsurenko winning both hardcourt meetings in 2011 and 2015.

For those who have been following my service, I mentioned prior to the Tomljanovic match that I felt that mobilie big hitting players are one style that is currently best placed to topple Pliskova. I think the most impressive part about Tsurenko’s week has been her court movement – she seems to be moving very well defensively compared to a lot of her tennis in 2018. She looks to be trusting her body a bit more, and moving with confidence is a big step forward in my opinion. She has had two matches back to back now against other big hitters (Kontaveit and Osaka), so she should have no trouble adjusting to the pace of Pliskova. I would be happy to take any price above  ~$2.40 here for Tsurenko to tart the year off with a title.

BETTING STRATEGY

 BACK – 2 units Tsurenko to defeat Pliskova

The 2019 ATP season is kicking off this week, with tennis taking place in Brisbane, Doha and Pune. This week, my focus is ATP Brisbane.

There is always an element of caution with the first week of the season, as there is not a lot of exposed form for players as they have not played in a couple of months. Some have actively flaunted their November/December training exploits all over social media, whereas others have been toiling away in private, looking to gain an edge to start the year.

Last year we saw a far weaker field than 2019, with the following players as the top 8 seeds:

  • Grigor Dimitrov (lost in SF)
  • Andy Murray (withdrew pre-tournament)
  •  Nick Kyrgios (champion)
  • Milos Raonic (lost in 2nd round, had 1st round bye)
  • Gilles Muller (lost in first round)
  • Diego Schwartzman (lost in first round)
  • Damir Dzumhur (lost in first round)
  • Mischa Zverev (lost in second round)

It is common to see some slightly stronger fields two weeks out from a Grand Slam, as many players are wary that they want to get matches under their belt, without necessarily entering the Australian Open with an element of fatigue. It can be approached differently by different players, so tread carefully, especially in round 1 and 2.

I am splitting the draw in half here, and both halves look to be very competitive with 13 top-50 players scheduled to take part.


TOP HALF

Rafael Nadal started to show signs of hardcourt tennis catching up with him in 2018. He was scheduled to play 12 hardcourt tournaments for the year, yet withdrew from 9 of them. Of the remaining 3, he won one (Toronto) and retired in two (Aus Open and US Open). You have to go back to Doha in 2013 to find the last time that Nadal commenced his year with a title in week 1, as it has not been a happy hunting ground of late.

He has completed a solid chunk of his pre-season at the Rafael Nadal academy in Spain, where temperatures differ somewhat compared to a Brisbane summer. There are some reports around that Nadal is hoping to be 100% fit for the Australian Open, so it is hard to gauge just how fit he is for Brisbane. His performance against Kevin Anderson in their Dubai exhibition was worrying, as was his subsequent withdrawal from his second match.

Andy Murray made a very cautious return to tennis in 2018, looking to ease his way back into the grind of professional tennis. Although he did not play a lot of tennis, he needs to be respected here – his 5 losses in 2018 came to Kyrgios on grass, Edmund on grass,  Pouille in 3 sets, and Verdasco twice (once at US Open best of 5 sets coming off not a lot of tennis). Wins over Goffin, Edmund and Wawrinka also occurred within his return.

You could tell just how cautiously he was approaching 2018 with his withdrawal from Wimbledon, as well as his match against De Minaur after a late finish against Copil the night before in Washington. He reported on Friday that he still does have some pain in that hip, but he needs to play matches to see how it feels backing up day after day. I do not think he is ready for a full week of competitive tennis in these conditions with tennis consecutive days – if he wins, then his return is well ahead of schedule.

Others in this section include Alex De Minaur, who you know is going to bring his absolute best tennis in front of the supportive home crowd. I think of the top 8 players in this tournament, De Minaur has managed to snaffle the best draw of all. Nadal has pulled out of his second exhibition in Dubai with knee soreness, and I would imaging could think of better things to do than grind down De Minaur on an Australian hardcourt so soon before a Grand Slam.

You know what whilst he has not quite made his mark at Grand Slam level just yet, Danlil Medvedev is sitting in this draw ready to pounce. With his Sydney title from last year he is looking to defend as many points as possible early in the season. I like the Russian to feature prominently, however his draw is far more difficult than the top section of De Minaur/Nadal, with a potential match with Andy Murray looming in round 2.

Another relative unknown coming into the start of 2019 is just how Milos Raonic is going to attack the season. Injury wrecked his 2018, and until he appears to have total confidence in his body, it is hard to tip him with a great deal of confidence.

When you consider Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is also sitting in this half coming back from an injury interrupted year, there are a couple of question marks that require attention.


BOTTOM HALF

After calling it quits on the 2017 season in August due to injury, it was great to see Kei Nishikori back playing some of his best tennis late last year. After skipping the Australian Open, Nishikori settled in to the season with a couple of Challenger appearances, before finishing the year back in the top 10 with no points to defend in the next couple of weeks.

Nishikori was able to grab wins over Cilic, Federer, Zverev, Dimitrov, Anderson and Thiem in 2018. Nishikori has reached the final in Brisbane in 2017 (looked injured towards end of the match), and at his current price on the Exchange looks to be a touch short for my liking.

Kyle Edmund did exceptionally well to finish the season in the top 15, largely helped by his Semi Final appearance at the Australian Open, his Quarter Final in Brisbane (rolled his ankle against Dimitrov), and reaching the final in Marrakech and claiming the title in Antwerp late in the year.

Considering the middle part of his year was ruined by tonsillitis, I have high hopes that Edmund may be able to take another step forward with his consistency this year. His start in January is going to be incredibly important, as he has a lot of points to defend between now and the Australian Open. One to watch for mine as he has the game to match it with Kyrgios and Nishikori, the biggest threats in this half in my opinion.

The draw does not get any weaker when you consider that Nick Kyrgios is the lowest seed, looking to defend his 2017 title. You cannot help but consider him a massive chance again this year, especially if you trust his improved mindset towards tennis. I think we should be able to tell early in the week what his mindset looks like for Brisbane, and fingers crossed for his sake that he can bring a level similar to 2017.

Also in this half are Grigor Dimitrov, who won here in 2017, and Ryan Harrison, the runner-up from 2018. Both have tough draws and will need to lift on their late 2018 form to feature late in the week.


SUMMARY

No matter how you look at it, this field is solid. I have highlighted 1 player from the top half and 2 players from the bottom half that appeal in my opinion.

Considering how Nadal looked in his exhibition loss to Anderson, and his reported pain experienced during the match, I think the top half really opens up for Alex De Minaur. I think Nadal will either withdraw as he did last year, or De Minaur will present a really difficult match-up for him in front of the home Australian crowd in their projected Quarter Final.

Considering the draw, I think De Minaur is a decent price – I would imagine he would start close to favourite against anyone in the Semi Final, so I think anything over $8 for him to win looks very decent.

In the bottom section, I think whoever wins the projected meeting between Kyrgios and Edmund should be a very good chance of making their way through to the final. It is hard to fault the form of both on Australian soil, and I would like their chances against either Nishikori/Dimitrov in a potential Semi Final.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Alex De Minaur to win for 1 unit

 BACK – Kyle Edmund to win (bet for stake back if meets Kyrgios in Quarter Final) for 0.75 units

With the weather forecast not looking as brutal in Brisbane in comparison to the Australian Open and other tournaments last year, hopefully there will be fewer retirements and it may be easier to find a bit of value amongst the draw. Forecasts suggest that the temperature should sit in the high 20’s, with humidity sitting around 60% – Not the worst weather for tennis by any means.

With the draw now complete, I have split my preview into the top and bottom half in the hunt for value on the Exchange.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch on Twitter (@Ace_Previews).


TOP HALF

Elina Svitolina had quite an indifferent 2018 by her lofty standards. Her year started well in Brisbane last year, trailed off significantly in the middle before winning the WTA Finals to cap off 2018. The world number 7 comes up against a far stronger field than 2018 in my opinion, and will need to be at her absolute best to defend as many ranking points as possible.

My worry with Svitolina is how she manages those above average strikers of the ball who can redline for periods (the Pliskova/Osaka types), so her draw isn’t too bad considering the above. It looks as though she has spent the last month in the gym from a conditioning standpoint, so I’ll be keeping an eye on how she commences her season.

Sloane Stephens brings her best tennis in the biggest moments, as shown by her superior Grand Slam and WTA Premier records over the last 12-18 months. That being said, Australia hasn’t been her favourite country by way of performance. I am not sure if it is due to how she manages her training loads across the off-season, or a general dislike of the conditions, but she just hasn’t clicked on the Australian hardcourt over the last couple of years.

I am happy to put down Stephens’ loss in the first round of the Australian Open last year to a mixture of a very good opponent (Zhang), combined with the pressure of backing up off winning the previous Grand Slam that took place at Flushing Meadows in 2016. This is a tough draw overall, and I’d like to see how she is on court before backing.

Elise Mertens will look to take another massive step in 2019. Her game is slightly overmatched on hardcourt against players such as Osaka and Kvitova, however I really like the way she has approached her last two Australian seasons (winning title in Hobart in 2017 and 2018).

An Australian Open semi finalist last year, keep an eye on the ultra-consistent Mertens over the next month. For this week, I think she finds herself in a very difficult section of the draw, and I prefer others at current odds.

Karolina Pliskova started to regain some of her best tennis late in 2018, and at her best she can be a very difficult prospect. I was really impressed with some of her tennis in Japan post-US Open Open, and has looked comfortable on court in Brisbane. I prefer others at the price considering the draw and the nature of this top half.

Kiki Bertens surprised a lot of people in 2018 with her consistency across all services. She needs to be respected in specific match-ups, but I think I like too many others ahead of her, including her first round match-up in Elise Mertens.


BOTTOM HALF

Naomi Osaka was able to break through for her first Grand Slam at the 2018 US Open, and now the big question is: how does she manage as the hunted instead of the hunter? Osaka is one of a select few who is almost unbeatable when they play their best tennis, and some of her best tennis came in the latter part of 2018.

Osaka is clearly clicking with coach Sashca Bajin, and it will be fascinating to see how starts 2019. Osaka’s Australian form over the last 2 years has been hit and miss. She is defending no points this week as she didn’t play until Hobart in 2018 (lost in 1st round), before making the 4th round in Melbourne (lost to Halep).

Sloane Stephens really struggled to back up her US Open win in similar circumstances last year, so it will be interesting to see how Osaka handles the pressure leading into a Grand Slam. Personally, I think she has been given a very nice draw, and I would be very surprised if she wasn’t still in Brisbane on the weekend.

Anastasija Sevastova is back again, defending her semi final points from 2018. She is a player that needs to be respected, however I just haven’t seen enough late tournament form and composure on hardcourt to consider her in an outright capacity. Instead, I will keep an eye on her for specific match-ups across the week.

Another player who has never really seemed to find her best tennis in Australia to start the year is Petra Kvitova, who lost in the 2nd round in Sydney and the first round at the Australian Open in 2018. In fact, you need to go back to Sydney in 2015 for the Czech’s best tennis being delivered in Australia (won Sydney title).

All in all, it is great to have Kvitova back on the tour considering the severity of the hand injury suffered during a home invasion and attack on her Czech residence in late 2016. I think Kvitova benefits most from the slightly cooler forecast conditions this week, however her Australian form over the last couple of years doesn’t stand out.

When she is playing her absolute best tennis, she can be unstoppable for bursts of a match. With her draw I’d anticipate at least a quarter final showing, however her odds appear a touch too short for my liking for the outright.

Daria Kasatkina is making a name for herself as one of the best retreivers in the game, however I do still question her tactics and game style in particular situations. If she had displayed some more consistent aggression in stroke-play across matches, I would probably be supporting her in both Brisbane and Melbourne.

Instead, her style of play finds herself reliant on her opponent not playing their best for patches. I am still wary that her second serve is below average, and can leave her vulnerable. I won’t be backing her this week, but I am very interested to see what tennis she can deliver from a tactical standpoint.

Prior to her ankle injury in August, Mihaela Buzarnescu was putting together an incredibly impressive 2018 season. Sitting comfortably within the top 30, the Romanian has all the shots to be a serious threat at her best.

I think the odds for her this week are slightly inflated due to her poor finish to the year after her injury. It looks as though she has been in Brisbane preparing for a few days now, and will benefit from the slightly cooler conditions this year.

When you back Buzarnescu you do need to be prepared for a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, however her talent is undeniable and at the longer odds she seems a solid prospect in what I perceive to be the weaker lower half.

Of the rest of the players scattered amongst the draw, their absolute best tennis could cause trouble, although I need to see how they start their campaigns first and foremost before supporting.

There is no point making major guesses the first week of a very long season. This list of players includes Suarez Navarro, Kontaveit, Tsurenko, Siniakova, Vekic, Collins, Gavrilova, Konta, Mladenovic, Stosur and Putintseva. As I said, it is a very tough draw.


SUMMARY

I think the best plan of attack for this field is to be quite cautious. As I said in the introduction, up to 16 players could be considered genuine chances when you look at this field in the first week of the year.

As I feel the top half of the draw is a bit more of a lottery, I have decided to focus on two players in the bottom half.

Winning form is good form, and with one of the nicer draws of the top names I am happy to side with Naomi Osaka to win the tournament.

Outside of Osaka, the other price that appeals is that of Mihaela Buzarnescu, who is more than capable of a solid run through some of the other big hitters in her section.

I think there are enough question marks around others in the bottom half to make small plays on both, and if I see a trading opportunity during the week I will keep you posted on Twitter.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Naomi Osaka to win for 1 unit

 BACK – Mihaela Buzarnescu to win for 0.3 units


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