Top Half

Daniil Medvedev – looks to be a very short price the week before a grand slam, especially when you consider the performance he produced in Halle last week, losing to Struff in straight sets. On watching him on grass it still feels as though he is getting a grasp of how to move on the surface and how he can use his game to advantage on grass. He has the perfect serve for the conditions; however, things just do not seem to have clicked yet. I will not jump in at the short price, however, his early week projected opponents should not cause him too much grief *if* he brings a level close to his best.

Casper Ruud – Played twice on grass in his career, and is yet to win a set. Not sure I can take him at sub $20 in this field.

Pablo Carreno Busta – Outside of two wins in Antalya (in some of the hottest conditions tennis players have seen) in 2019, grass has not been kind to Pablo. He owns a 2-8 record overall on the surface and is another that I cannot justify sub-$20 personally.

Dusan Lajovic – The bad grass career form continues here with Lajovic, who is 4-19 for his career. He would need to turn things around out of nowhere to take out this tournament, and I cannot see that happening based on his performances on more preferred surfaces.

Unseeded Players of Note: This half is full of players who probably would not refer to grass as being their best surface, except for Jordan Thompson. The Australian looks to be a decent shot of progressing through that second quarter, as there are not any powerful types in form in his quarter. He might be worth taking from the top half, with a look to trade out if he meets Medvedev in a semi-final.

Of the rest, Lloyd Harris has the game to throw off Medvedev if he can find his first serve consistently, however, I do not trust his movement on the surface to see him going deep this week. Tennys Sandgren is an intriguing prospect, as is Gilles Simon, however, the recent form and past surface form do not equate to either being major value here.


Bottom Half

Ugo Humbert – The Halle champion is backing up this week in Mallorca. His leftie serve and game in general are quite well suited to the grass, so he will be looking to make the most of the short season on the surface. Like a couple of players in the women’s draw, I do question his backing up this week off the week in warm conditions in Hall. He gets a very capable opponent first up in Miomir Kecmanovic, with the winner facing the winner of Carballes Baena/Querrey in round 2. Perhaps slight unders on draw quality.

Roberto Bautista Agut – Intriguing prospect in this draw. He has a deceptively good grass-court record over his career and made the semi-final of Wimbledon in 2019 (lost to Novak from 1 set all). Should enjoy the conditions in Mallorca as well on past form on grass. The loss to Korda last week was slightly off putting, however, there still looks to be a touch of value in the price (even if it is single figures).

Karen Khachanov – can he be trusted? That is one of life’s biggest ATP questions. His forehand just does not translate well to the grass, and for mine on recent form is too hard to trust across the course of an entire week to consider for outrights. Faces a tough test first up with Pouille having a couple of qualifying wins under his belt.

Dominic Thiem – slowly returning from injury. Outside of a run to the Halle semi-finals in 2016, grass has not been the best surface for the Austrian. The ball stays low and takes away some of that margin needed for him to consistently rip it from both wings. May produce a solid week, but it will likely come as a result of low percentage tennis paying off at times.

Unseeded players of note: I mentioned one above that is looking to turn his year around, and that is qualifier Lucas Pouille. He has a career title on the surface, as well as a run to the quarter-finals of Wimbledon previously under his belt. He also has enjoyed 5 sets on court in qualifying to adjust to the conditions. He looks worth a very small dabble at triple-figure odds for mine. Other names to keep an eye on for the week are Adrian Mannarino, Sam Querrey, and Miomir Kecmanovic in the bottom half (and Feliciano Lopez if you think he can turn back the clock again on grass in 2021).


Summary

Whilst it would be foolish to count anyone out in such a draw the week before a major tournament, none of the big names in the top half stand out to be appealing prices in the circumstances. From the top half, I am more inclined to make a small play on Jordan Thompson in the outright market, in the hopes of a progression to the semi-finals. I would likely trade out if he were to meet Medvedev later in the week, however, if I have any updates to make, they will be added as the week progresses.

To the bottom half, and I will make a small play on Roberto Bautista Agut to win the tournament, given his draw and past ability shown on the grass. This is not a large selection though, as I am a little wary that he is in a half filled with some very capable grass players.

I will also make a trading selection on Lucas Pouille at triple-figure odds. Whilst the form prior to the grass is deplorable, he has slowly been finding his way back from injury and may be the type of player to benefit from wins and time on court in qualifying. He is $3+ in round 1, however, I would rather make a small play on the outright (and maybe a small head-to-head play) and consider a trade out later in the week, instead of just a larger play on the round 1 match.


Betting Strategy

BACK – 0.5 units Bautista Agut to win outright (no trade out mark) – recorded at $7.60

BACK – 0.3 units Thompson to win outright (likely look to trade out vs Medvedev in SF if eventuates) – recorded at $21

BACK – 0.2 units Pouille to win outright (likely to trade out late in the week if still alive) – recorded at $100

It is the week before Wimbledon; however, we have some fascinating draws here to lead into the 2021 edition of the grass court slam.

Let us start by taking a look at the WTA500 Viking International in Eastbourne and the ATP250 event in Mallorca. I will split each tournament in half to analyse the draw, before making outright selections.

If you have any questions about any matches, feel free to get in touch on Twitter!

Top Half

Aryna Sabalenka – Disappointing in her first-up outing in Berlin, where she lost to Madison Keys in the Round of 16 in 3 sets. Keys is a tough opponent on grass when things are clicking though, so I would not be writing her off based on that performance. The hardest aspect of measuring where Sabalenka stacks up in this field is the fact she has made such significant improvements in her overall game since we last saw grass in 2019.

A three-set loss to then world number 4 Kiki Bertens in the Eastbourne QF’s followed up with a loss to quality grass-courter Magdalena Rybarikova, and since then the Belarussian has improved her ranking to number 4. I do not see myself actively opposing her this week, however, I do not think her draw here justifies odds around the equal favourite mark the week before a major tournament.

Karolina Pliskova – We will not be seeing too many long points early in the week here, with Pliskova surrounded by large strikers of the ball in her quarter. I do not see this as a particular issue for the Czech, who won this tournament in 2019 without dropping a set. Of the names here in the top half, looks like the value pick on the grass at her current quote.

Bianca Andreescu – The Canadian looks very rusty in her return to the grass in Berlin, losing in straight sets in her first match to Alize Cornet. Whilst I am starting to see patches of form that are reminiscent of the 2019 performances from Andreescu, her return from injury is still a factor that needs to be considered. I personally do not see how a full week of tennis the week before Wimbledon is going to help her if she has her sights on the fortnight ahead. Not interested in the price personally.

Belinda Bencic – Coming fresh off a finals appearance in Berlin last week, where she lost to qualifier Ludmilla Samsonova in three sets. She did look good in the time she spent on court last week, however, this also raises some questions. Will a second consecutive full week on the court be detrimental to her Wimbledon chances? We shall see. I think this is a favourable quarter for the Swiss, especially given how Andreescu looked in Berlin and Keys has withdrawn. Second best-rated chance at current odds in the top half in my opinion.

Unseeded Players of Note: The top half is packed with quality ball strikers, however with such limited grass court form it is difficult to confidently back one in at the prices of $20+. Bernarda Pera showed glimpses in qualifying, however, I have question marks over her ability to close in tight moments. Veronika Kudermetova has won at the WTA level this year, however, looks a little short of what I would perceive as a value outright price given the draw. I have not seen enough from Anett Kontaveit, Petra Martic, or Shelby Rogers to consider any more than match-to-match prospects. Kiki Bertens is an intriguing prospect, however, there is no recent form to back up her past efforts on grass.


Bottom Half

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – coming off the tournament of her life (Roland Garros final), it will be interesting to see how the Russian backs up here on the grass. It is the weakest surface on career form, with a 23-26 record on grass across her career (3-8 vs Top 20 players, 11-15 vs Top 50). Price looks about right in my opinion.

Iga Swiatek – The most intriguing player in the draw for mine. She has developed her game more than anyone since the end of Wimbledon 2019, and this is her first match on the surface since that tournament, where she lost in straight sets to Viktorija Golubic whilst ranked 64 in the world. She now pops up here as the tournament favourite, however, she does find herself surrounded by some very capable players on the surface. She did win Wimbledon as a Junior, so we know she is capable on the surface. Not sure I can confidently jump into the single figure quote the week before a grand slam, although I also will not look to oppose her heavily either. Cannot wait to see what unfolds in round 1 against Heather Watson, who looked solid last week.

Elise Mertens – Gets arguably the toughest draw of all the seeded players here, with Coco Gauff in the first round. 2021 has not been overly successful for the Belgian, however, she needs to be respected. Looking at her price, I do not feel I can get involved in the outrights when there is such a threat across the net in round 1 (who has a more appealing outright price).

Elina Svitolina – 15-18 on the surface across her career, however, her last major outing was all the way to a Wimbledon Semi-Final. Looked a step off in Berlin in her straight-sets loss to Alexandrova, which highlighted that she can find herself lacking weapons when on the grass. Will be too reliant on opponents to misfire for me to find appeal in her current quote.

Unseeded Players of Note: There are a few names that stand out for mine. The first is Coco Gauff, who surprised many on the grass in 2019. Given her form improvements and general growth in her game over the 2 years that have followed, she becomes a grass-court threat for mine, especially with her bolstered first serve. Of the others, we have a title winner from last week in Ons Jabeur (perhaps like Bencic, I do not feel compelled to back the week before a slam coming off a long week of singles and doubles already), two players with form on other surfaces leading in (Badosa and Rybakina) and capable grass-courters in Jelena Ostapenko, Daria Kasatkina, Heather Watson, Anastasija Sevastova and Marta Kostyuk. At current prices though, the most appealing of this group is Coco Gauff.


Summary

It looks as though I am heading into territory I do not regularly enter: supporting Karolina Pliskova in the outright markets. Of the players in the top half, she is the most appealing at their current prices. Not a large play, but she is certainly worth a small play at double-figure odds. I will look to see how Bencic looks first up, and I may add to my portfolio after round 1.

In the bottom half, the most appealing player for mine is Coco Gauff at a similar price to Pliskova. Her game suits the surface and given the way she has improved her hardcourt and clay game in the last 18 months, I am expecting a successful couple of weeks here for the American coming off a strong grand slam result on clay.

Betting Strategy

BACK – 0.6 units Pliskova to win outright – recorded at $11

BACK – 0.4 units Gauff to win outright – recorded at $12

First Quarter

Novak Djokovic – Playing a more limited schedule, however he is yet to make a major statement on the clay in the lead up to Roland Garros. The straight set loss to Rafael Nadal late last year will still be hurting Novak, who wants to bridge the gap in terms of grand slams titles by snatching one away from Nadal on his best surface. I doubt we see a repeat performance against Dan Evans were they to meet in the second round, and outside of Tsitsipas, it is hard to see him being majorly tested looking through this quarter overall. A live chance for the title.

Grigor Dimitrov – Watching him battle to a three set loss against Lloyd Harris in Madrid showed where his confidence level currently lies. He can cover the court well, however, lacks the confidence in his ability now to be a genuine threat here in my opinion.

Matteo Berrettini – Just missed the win in Madrid last week, after leading Zverev by a set in the final. A drop back from altitude and coming off a full week of tennis is a slight cause for concern, especially with Roland Garros a couple of weeks away.

Stefanos Tsitsipas – The player in this quarter that makes it a little hard to read. Showed in Monte Carlo what he could produce, however continues to lack consistency on the surface. The Monte Carlo title has led to him being under the odds now in the market in my opinion, especially as he needs to likely beat Djokovic to progress to the semi-final.

Unseeded players of note – This is a decent crop of players overall, with a couple of unseeded players capable of an upset on their best day. Dan Evans, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Nikolaz Basilashvili, Marin Cilic, and Alex Bublik all capable, as is Dusan Lajovic, who showed in Monte Carlo a couple of years back just what he can produce. Whilst they are all capable of causing upsets, it is hard to get invested in them from an outright standpoint.


Second Quarter

Dominic Thiem – A long week here would be an interesting approach for Dominic Thiem leading up to Roland Garros, the tournament he is targeting above all others. Rome has not been a happy hunting ground for the Austrian, and it is difficult to envisage that changing this week off such little tennis of late. I was almost anticipating Thiem withdrawing from this week to put together another training block, however he remains in the draw.

Gael Monfils – Monfils is a significant unknown quantity in this draw. We have not seen him since the Australian Open, where he broke down in his post-match media conference. Things off the court seem to be heading in the right direction with his recent engagement to Elina Svitolina, however with no recent form to consider, it is hard to make a case for him here.

Roberto Bautista Agut – Like most weeks on clay, it just feels like the Spaniard will find a player or two that is too strong and too powerful for him on the clay over best of 3. If this were best-of-5 and more of a test of endurance I would consider him in some capacity, however Rublev being so close in the draw, and having the recent edge over RBA, I cannot entertain the price.

Andrey Rublev – Showed at Monte Carlo that he is capable on the surface, however his overall clay form remains below that of the hardcourt. He can find himself having to be too aggressive against other power players who can play with a higher margin for error, and sometimes lacks the patience and craft that can be required on the clay. Nevertheless, this quarter does not look to be the strongest, and he may be able to take advantage.

Unseeded players of note – It is not the most convincing quarter of the draw, as you can tell from my writing above. In the heavier conditions, it may be the week to jump back onto Cristian Garin at longer odds. He looks the most likely as an unseeded player in this section, followed by Lorenzo Sonego.


Third Quarter

Diego Schwartzman – Diego put together one of the bigger shocks on tour in 2020 in Rome, defeating Rafael Nadal in straight sets. The drop back to slightly slower conditions this week should help DSS, who faces Auger-Aliassime in round 2. This does look to be a tough quarter in terms of capable claycourters, however he could be capable of causing a surprise or two.

David Goffin – Recently defeated Alexander Zverev in Monte Carlo, which now does not seem to be the worst form line given his success in Madrid. Loves the conditions here in Rome and is not the worst play at the longer odds. One to consider from a trading perspective.

Hubert Hurkacz – The Pole has shown glimpses of his ability on clay; however it just does not stack up against the strength of this field. It was a disappointing loss to John Millman last week, and he will need to significantly lift his form to be able to threaten this week.

Daniil Medvedev – I remain wary off his 2019 clay court patch, however, there has not been a lot since to write home about. It is worth mentioning he did miss Monte Carlo due to a positive COVID test and faded out in the third set against Garin last week in Madrid. It is hard to support him at the prices on offer.

Unseeded players of note – The first name that stands out here is Aslan Karatsev. He has the form to be a threat here given the draw, and it would not surprise me to see him in the quarter finals at the very least this week, especially if he can take Medvedev’s draw. It is a stacked section though, with the likes of Auger-Aliassime, Khachanov, Delbonis and Musetti around. If I had to pick an unseeded player in the outright market, I would be gunning for Karatsev here.


Fourth Quarter

Alexander Zverev – Fresh off winning the title in Madrid, Zverev finds his way into a tricky quarter here. He is obviously playing well, however the conditions in Rome are not as suited to the German. Looks a little under the odds given the wearing legs from Madrid.

Pablo Carreno Busta – Came from a set down in round 1 to defeat Laslo Djere. He has shown some improved form on the clay over the last month, winning the Marbella title and reaching the semi final in Barcelona. He is producing a consistent level of form and will be a challenge in the conditions. I cannot see him making his way out of this quarter.

Denis Shapovalov – Much like last week, I am more interested in his outright price than his round by round price. His price is well into the triple figures and was a tiebreak away from reaching the final here last year, losing an epic to Diego Schwartzman. Close to being a trading stake here, and I will monitor.

Rafael Nadal – I said it last week and I will say it again: Nadal is using every tournament as a means of building up his form for Roland Garros. There is not a result from him this week that is going to cause me to be concerned about his RG chances, unless there is a fitness issue. Whilst he is a little longer in terms of his odds this week, his draw ultimately looks to be a little tougher than that of some of the other top chances.

Unseeded players of note – outside of Jannik Sinner and perhaps Kei Nishikori, there are not any players on recent form that are cause for great concern. In previous years you could make a case for Fabio Fognini, but it has been tough going for the Italian lately.


Summary

Much like last week, I am happy to play around Rafael Nadal at the odds available. This will involve taking Novak Djokovic as an outright selection, as this looks to be a good spot in the draw to take advantage. Whilst Tsitsipas is a capable opponent come the quarter finals were they to meet, looking at their respective outright odds, the Serbian is the player that appeals in the first quarter.

I am happy to make a trading selection in the second quarter, and this week that player is Cristian Garin. I have no issue with taking a larger price in this quarter with Thiem and Rublev as the favourites, and Garin should enjoy the conditions in Rome moreso than Madrid last week. I would look to trade out of that spot were her to meet Djokovic (or Tsitsipas) in the semi-final.

There is one outright and one trading selection for mine in the third quarter. As I mentioned, it is a very capable quarter, however on recent form Aslan Karatsev is most appealing at the prices on offer. He has shown himself on hardcourt what he can produce, and his clay efforts in Belgrade have shown his ability to handle the clay at the top level. Of the rest, it is hard to fault the form of David Goffin in these conditions, and he is a player I would rather take as an outright at long odds for a fraction of a unit than to get involved in too many of his matches this week.

Whilst I am happy to be playing around Nadal in the outright market, I do not have any great appeal from an outright or trading standpoint in this quarter. I will watch the early tennis and if anything presents as value, I will add this later.

Betting Strategy

BACK – 0.75 units Djokovic to win (recorded at $3.80)

BACK – 0.2 units Karatsev to win (recorded at $28)

Trading Selections

BACK – 0.2 units Garin to win (recorded at $75) – earliest trade out if facing Djokovic/Tsitsipas in SF.

BACK – 0.2 units Goffin to win (recorded at $150) – earliest trade out if facing Karatsev in QF

First Quarter

Ash Barty – sits equal second in the outright market, as she continues to produce impressive results week after week. Barty is not generally a player who plays an overly heavy schedule, so I am not entirely sold on her this week at the prices in some heavier conditions. It looked as though her schedule was starting to catch up with her in that final in Madrid, and that was after a couple of days off before her final. Prefer others at their respective prices this week.

Elise Mertens – After beating Simona Halep last week in Madrid, Mertens retired due to injury last week down 1-6 0-4 to Aryna Sabalenka. I am happy to veer away from any players with injury clouds so close to Roland Garros.

Maria Sakkari – It was a disappointing loss last week for Sakkari, who had her chances late against Karolina Muchova. These conditions will suit her this week moreso than Madrid, and with both Madrid finalists and a potentially injured Mertens in her quarter, Sakkari may be able to take advantage given her style of game. Looks to be a trading selection here for the week.

Aryna Sabalenka – Looked fantastic in Madrid, however the conditions this week will not suit her as much in my opinion. With a long week last week, and capable players around her in the draw, her price does not appeal to me greatly.

Unseeded players of note – with fatigue a factor for Sabalenka and Barty, there may be the potential for upsets here. Players such as Veronika Kudermetova and Yulia Putintseva could surprise, and when you look at the quarter, almost every player has shown clay court glimpses and will not look out of place on the surface. It may be a case of finding the right player from a trading standpoint.


Second Quarter

Sofia Kenin – Hard to have on recent form, which is a funny thing to say given she was the Roland Garros runner-up in 2020. The other three seeds in this quarter all have better form than the American. I need to see more from her before jumping into outrights.

Iga Swiatek – Lost the much-hyped battle to Ash Barty in Madrid last week, however she was not disgraced by any means. A slightly easier earlier draw for her this week, and with Kenin out of form and some question marks around the fitness of Garbine Muguruza, she may just be able to take advantage.

Garbine Muguruza – Like I mentioned last week, Muguruza needs to be at 100% for me to get involved in her outright odds. She withdrew again last week and is running out of time to get on court on the red clay in the lead-up to Roland Garros. One to monitor, if she plays.

Elina Svitolina – Disappointing last week in Madrid, letting a handful of match points go by in a three set loss to Teichmann early in the week. The potential is there on clay; however she just lacks the consistency at times. I do not think I can back up and take her again this week, but at the same time I will not be actively opposing her. Considered as a trading option perhaps, however I want to see her play her first round match before getting involved.

Unseeded players of note – The looming danger as an unseeded player on recent form is Karolina Muchova, followed by Anisimova, Pavlyuchenkova, Zidansek and Krejcikova. It will take an impressive performance to knock off Swiatek though, so there is not a lot of appeal in the bigger prices.


Third Quarter

Karolina Pliskova – I just do not know if I can trust Pliskova, especially given how strong this draw is overall. If I miss the boat on Pliskova I will not be disappointed, as it will have taken a long time for the boat to arrive.

Petra Kvitova – Lost in three sets to eventual finalist last week in Ash Barty. I think the Madrid conditions do suit her a little more than Rome, however she has shown in the past that she is more than capable on any surface. I would have rather seen her in a quarter that did not possess the name ‘Halep’ to be honest. Every chance of reaching the final 8, however looking at the draw she may struggle from that point.

Jo Konta – Cannot entertain currently in these outright previews.

Simona Halep – The one to beat this week. The conditions are well suited to Halep, and the draw looks favourable. She sits in the half opposite Barty/Swiatek/Sabalenka and is the deserving favourite as a result. Whilst she does find herself outgunned at times on clay, these conditions should make that a little more difficult. Primed for a big week here.

Unseeded players of note – The main unseeded name that stands out is Marketa Vondrousova, followed by Ostapenko, Teichmann, Kerber, Sevastova, Zvonareva and Tomljanovic. On current form though it is hard to see any of them topping Halep in these conditions.


Fourth Quarter

Serena Williams – First sighting since the Australian Open. With a 4-1 record on clay since the start of 2019, and 2 walkovers in tournaments, it is hard to get excited about backing her in an outright market.

Belinda Bencic – Form appears to be trending in the right direction, with a quarter final appearance in Madrid last week after wins against Mladenovic, Pera and Jabeur. Not sure she is quite at the level of outright clay wins; however she is likely to be tough opposition for Williams were they to meet in the third round.

Jennifer Brady – Clay is not her surface, and the odds reflect that. Whilst this quarter is an open one in terms of clay form of the top seeds, she would need to dramatically improve her clay form to be a threat.

Naomi Osaka – Continues to look uncomfortable on the clay, as shown by her loss last week to Muchova. In slower, heavier conditions this week, she would need to play significantly better to feature on the weekend. Not beyond her, however she has not convinced me enough to bite at her price.

Unseeded players of note – In what looks to be a quarter that is capable of being attacked, there are not any unseeded players that are eye-catchers on recent form. The likes of Shelby Rogers and Daria Kasatkina have displayed glimpses, however I would rather them cause individual upsets than jump into their outright prices. There is potential on clay from the likes of Martic, Podoroska, Siegemund and Kostyuk, however with Halep looking in a potential semi-final, it is hard to get too excited by the longer odds.


Summary

There is one player that I am keen to back from an outright perspective this week, and that is Simona Halep. She sits in the other half of the draw to the likes of Barty/Sabalenka/Swiatek and looks to be well suited by the conditions.

I will also take a trading selection from the top half, as well as the bottom quarter. From the top half it will be Maria Sakkari, and from the bottom section it will be Marta Kostyuk at 300s. The main play for the week is comfortably Halep though, and I will monitor the early matches before any further investment.

Betting Strategy

BACK – 0.75 units Halep to win (recorded at $4)

Trading

BACK – 0.15 units Sakkari to win (recorded at $36)

BACK – 0.1 units Kostyuk to win (if can be matched at $300 once liquidity improves)

The women got underway a couple of days ago, and it is now time for the men to join the party in Madrid.

Novak Djokovic is a late withdrawal from Madrid; however, this looks to be an impressive field for the men. Let us get straight into the quarter-by-quarter previews.


Quarter 1

Rafael Nadal: Too many accolades to list. There are two factors at play here. We all know that Nadal is the best to ever step foot on the red clay at the top level, but we also know that his sole focus now is his desire to win grand slams. I do not think I can get involved in the prices that are currently available for Nadal in the outright picture. Roland Garros creeps closer, and I do not know how many more battles like the one he had with Tsitsipas in Barcelona are needed prior to the Grand Slam. Will not be a pushover by any stretch, but at the same time, you need to be aware of the end game for Rafa.

Jannik Sinner: Curious to see how he stacks up against Nadal in a potential third-round meeting. He nearly took the first set off him at Roland Garros last year, and you could argue these conditions are more suited to the Italian. Backed up a poor showing in Monte Carlo (lost to Djokovic 4-6 2-6) with a semi-final showing in Barcelona. Looks to ever so slightly be outgunned against the very best on clay, and I would rather him being a little further away from Nadal in the draw, instead of having to try and do the rest of the draw a favour.

Hubert Hurkacz: Whilst he has shown glimpses on the clay over the years, I have not seen enough to entertain him in this draw.

Alexander Zverev: One of the harder players to get a read on for the tournament. Things looked to be heading in the right direction after he won the title in Acapulco, before losses to Goffin in Monte Carlo, and Ivashka in Munich, after serving for the match, has been a little underwhelming. Based on his draw difficulty, I do not see value in the current odds.

Unseeded players of note: Whilst there are a couple of names that stand out, it is hard to make strong cases given how close they are to Nadal in the draw. I would love to see Carlos Alcaraz get to face Nadal in round 2 to get a taste of where his game needs to get to in the coming years. I think the match of the first round is Kei Nishikori vs Karen Khachanov, with the winner earning a shot at Zverev. Jan-Lennard Struff is coming off a final yesterday, and outside of Dan Evans, I do not see too many others capable of a significant upset on their day in these conditions.


Quarter 2

Dominic Thiem: Welcome back to the tour Dominic Thiem. The start to the year just was not what we came to expect from the Austrian given his end to 2020. Injuries finally caught up with him, and he needed to step away from the tour to heal. As a player that tends to thrive with a schedule a touch on the heavier side, it will be interesting to see his level first up. I am happy to watch on, as there are question marks around his fitness level, and whether this is a test to see where he is at with Roland Garros around the corner.

Grigor Dimitrov: You must go too far back to find the form that gets him into the outright conversation.

Roberto Bautista Agut: Continues to find a better player on clay each tournament. I think he may struggle to get past Rublev this week, and there does not appear to be a lot of value in his price.

Andrey Rublev: Likely to take advantage of the quarter and is paired with a rusty Thiem. Made waves by beating Nadal at Monte Carlo, however, was found out in the final against Tsitsipas who was able to play with more margin. His best tennis on the surface can match it with the best, however, the question is how long is he able to sustain that level? Odds look about right, however, I may add him to my list if Thiem looks well below par.

Unseeded players of note: I think a rusty Thiem may get a test first up if he is to face Pablo Andujar, however, I do not see a semi-final surprise from this quarter, to be honest. Alex De Minaur could cause a bit of trouble, however, unless Marco Cecchinato regains the form of a few years ago, it is hard to see any surprises here.


Quarter 3

Diego Schwartzman: I think Diego is going to struggle here a little bit. Heavier conditions and the best of 5 formats both suit him a lot more than we are going to see here in Madrid. His biggest advantage is earning a round 1 bye. I will monitor him early in the week.

Denis Shapovalov: Continues to ride the rollercoaster that is the ATP tour. Whilst the fluctuations in his overall level are noticeable and more noticeable than most. When he is in a form slump, things look ugly on the court for the Canadian. It does not take too much for things to turn Shapovalov. In the blink of an eye, Shapovalov put together one of his best performances in recent memory in round 1. I would rather get involved in his outright price than too many game handicaps match to match. I do not think he should be triple figures.

Felix Auger-Aliassime: the gradual progression is easy to see, however, things will not change overnight. Bright future, but this may be a little too tough.

Stefanos Tsitsipas: His game continues to evolve on the clay, and it is heading in the right direction. Won the title in Monte Carlo, albeit against a weaker draw than you would expect for a Masters 1000 winner. He backed it up in Barcelona, defeating Munar, De Minaur, Auger-Aliassime, and Sinner on his way to the Barcelona final, where he lost to Nadal in a tight 3-set match. All signs point to an overall improvement; however, his outright price does look a little short given the draw. Will need to play one of Ruud/Auger-Aliassime/Norrie/Krajinovic in the third round, then one of Schwartzman/Humbert/Karatsev/Bublik/Shapovalov just to get out of the quarter. I think the draw may be a little tougher than the odds suggest.

Unseeded players of note: The main name that stands out as an unseeded threat is Aslan Karatsev, but he does not represent value in these markets now. The hype is real and justified, however, this is an incredibly tough draw for the Russian in my opinion.  Casper Ruud is another name that stands out; however, he has been a touch inconsistent of late and this draw may be a little too tough on current form.


Quarter 4

Matteo Berrettini: One to watch. Coming off a title in Belgrade where he defeated Cecchinato, Krajinovic, Daniel, and Karatsev along the way. I remarked the other week that his time will come. It may already have come; however, he still looks to be a big price given he is at the other end of the draw to Nadal. I could name on one hand the number of players that could beat Berrettini in these conditions if he is at or near the top of his game on clay, and none of those names are in this section. If he continues to build, he will be a tough opponent.

Pablo Carreno-Busta: The Marbella champion is 9-2 on clay for 2021, with the only losses coming to Casper Ruud (coming off a title the previous week) and Rafael Nadal. Looks to be playing his best tennis against players who do not have the ability to overpower him. PCB used to be of a different mold to many Spaniards with his best results coming on hard, however, he will present as a tough out this week.

Cristian Garin: Whilst his clay-court prowess is evident for all to see, this worrying trend of third set fadeouts over the last couple of tournaments is a little concerning. He has lost to Nishikori and Norrie in 3 sets over the last two tournaments. He prefers the going a little heavier than what we are likely to see in Madrid, so I am happy to look elsewhere this week.

Daniil Medvedev: I am probably a little more wary of Medvedev than most after the Russian made me look a little silly on the clay in 2019. Since then he has not shown anything to make me consider him heavily in the outright market, however, any tournament that does not have Djokovic in the field is an opportunity for Medvedev to bridge the gap to number 1. Likely to struggle once the final 8 eventuates and no value at the current price.

Unseeded players of note: The most in-form of the unseeded players is Albert Ramos, who is coming off claiming a title last week. Fatigue is likely to be a factor, as is the stronger competition this week. Of the others, the likes of Davidovich-Fokina, Fognini, Koepfer, Delbonis, Fritz and Opelka could spring an upset, however I do not see them finding a way out of the quarter without a sharp rise in form.


Summary

I have thought long and hard on this one over the last couple of days. The easy option to take here is to back in Nadal at the short price and see what unfolds. I have been burned by a couple of outright favourites withdrawing from tournaments recently, and I don’t see the desire to jump into the $2 for Nadal.  I am happy to play around the Spaniard with small staking.

I will not be opposing Nadal within the first quarter, however, there are some appealing prices that pop up in the bottom half. The first name, and more importantly price, that grabs my attention is Matteo Berrettini. He will have gained a significant amount of confidence from his title in Belgrade, and more importantly, will be trusting his body a little more since his injury at the Australian Open.

I like him to take advantage of the 4th quarter, where I anticipate him starting as a favourite in each match through to the final four if he were to progress (rate him above Medvedev on clay). He is my outright play here.

On the trading front, I do not mind the triple-figure odds that are available for Denis Shapovalov. I prefer a small nibble here than backing him matches for the week. Given his struggles at the pointy end of tournaments throughout his career, I will re-assess my position if the time comes later in the week.

Betting Strategy

BACK – 0.4 units Matteo Berrettini (recorded at $46)

Trading Selections

BACK – 0.3 units Denis Shapovalov to win (recorded at $110)

Welcome to the outright preview for Madrid. The women’s tournament is first up, being played over the next week and a half, with the men’s tournament kicking off in a couple of days.

The focus of this preview will be the women’s draw. It is interesting to note regarding the conditions mentioned by defending champion Kiki Bertens this week. “I think the altitude is helping me a little bit. The courts, I really love them. Especially when you play on the centre court or the other two courts, it is kind of indoors.’

Let us look at each quarter, the seeded players, and the players to watch, before finalising the plays for this tournament.


Quarter 1

Ash Barty – Continued her winning ways in Stuttgart, claiming another title for the year to go with the Yarra Valley Classic and the Miami Open. Her record for 2021 now stands at 20-3, and two of those losses in Melbourne (to Muchova) and Adelaide (to Collins) led to an injury layoff of one month. Whilst the win-loss column is dominant, her wins have not all been smooth sailing. Kristina Kucova served for the match against her in Miami in her first match, and Barty also came back from the absolute brink against Pliskova and Svitolina in Stuttgart. She is not dominant by any stretch of the imagination. Given the propensity to find herself in trouble, or out of the tournament, at some point in recent tournaments, it may be worth inputting an unmatched bet in the outright market at a higher price to offset your book.

Iga Swiatek – It is impressive in 2021 to be considered one of the three tournament favourites, whilst also finding yourself as the seeded player closest to Ash Barty in the draw. This is her first tournament on clay since she won Roland Garros at the end of last year. Her form on the hardcourts this year has been solid without being spectacular. I get the impression that she will build into her clay season over the next couple of weeks. Off no recent clay tennis, I would want slightly longer odds than what is currently available given the strength of this first quarter.

Petra Kvitova – Given her best tennis on hardcourt and grass, the clay-court game of Kvitova can fly under the radar at times. Made the semi-final at Roland Garros last year and looked solid in Stuttgart before losing to Svitolina from 6-3 5-2 up. Whilst I am not investing in her in the outright markets, her play is keeping me away from the other seeds listed above. Capable on her best day.

Kiki Bertens – whilst she is the defending champion, she still is on the injury comeback. Would be a significant jump was she to challenge this quarter, let alone the overall draw. Cannot have her at present, but I will be watching her closely.

Unseeded players of note – The seeded players command the most attention in this quarter for good reason, however, if I had to pick one unseeded player here to make a push, I would look to Veronika Kudermetova. She gets Elena Vesnina returning to tour in round 1, and likely Bertens in round 2. I would rather she have not been in the Swiatek/Barty quarter though.


Quarter 2

Elina Svitolina – Engaged life seems to be suiting her, with back to back semi-final appearances in Miami and Stuttgart, losing to eventual champion Ash Barty on both occasions. Will have taken a lot of confidence from her comeback victory over Petra Kvitova last week, and it looks as though things are starting to click. One to consider from a trading standpoint now on current odds.

Jo Konta – her best is very capable; it just has not been sighted for too long to get excited at the long odds.

Garbine Muguruza – A big threat in this quarter, although we have not seen her since her retirement in Charleston up 6-0 2-2. After her medical timeout for a left knee issue, she did not look as assured in her movement and took the precaution to retire and prep for the red clay season. As a player that is so finely tuned and needs everything to be close to 100% to play at her best (which I would argue can match anyone on tour on her best day), I would be wanted a touch more in her outright price given the question marks.

Belinda Bencic – Odds are in triple figures for a reason. Bencic just has not found range in her form, making it hard to make a case here in this draw.

Unseeded players of note – A list of players capable of causing upsets in this pocket of the draw, that perhaps do not have the form to justify taking at longer prices this week includes Yulia Putintseva, Jil Teichmann, Paula Badosa, Barbora Krejcikova and Ons Jabeur.


Quarter 3

Aryna Sabalenka – It feels from the outside as though she is every so slightly taking some steps in the right direction this year with her play and her temperament in the biggest moments, however, I think there is still a slight mismatch between her chances and her odds. I think it is starting to balance out, and Sabalenka is edging closer to being value, however with the MTO in the final last week, and the strength of this quarter, I am happy to sit it out.

Victoria Azarenka – An intriguing player in this draw. For the most part, since the tour resumed late last year, it takes great players (or a lesser player redlining) to get the better of Azarenka. She struggled out of the quarantine in Australia, pulled out of Doha with injury after playing quite wells, then lost to Ash Barty in 3 sets in Miami. The form overall is not too bad, and with Madrid unlikely to produce exceptionally heavy conditions, she presents as a threat here in my opinion.

Elise Mertens – Istanbul provided another great example of why I struggle to get involved in Mertens in outright markets. As the tournaments reach the pointy end, the performances of Mertens can drop off a touch, as we saw her lose the final as a very heavy favourite. Hard to make a case for her when you consider the other three seeds in this section, and some of the unseeded names as well. It will be a tough ask.

Simona Halep – Powerful players redlining remains an issue for Halep. Whilst there were some concerns heading into last week given Halep’s shoulder issues in Miami, she seemed to start the tournament quite well. She was simply blown off the court against Sabalenka, and in these slightly more controlled clay conditions on the centre court, there may be that vulnerability again this week.

Unseeded players of note – There are several players here that have shown themselves to be very capable on the clay in recent years, even if their short term form has not been amazing. Daria Kasatkina remains a tough out on clay given her style, and Elena Rybakina is a couple of wins from finding her brutal pre-COVID form. Sorana Cirstea shocked many by winning Istanbul, so it starting to command more respect in these draws, and Jessica Pegula is capable, albeit not on her favourite surface. Another with redlining capability is Ekaterina Alexandrova.


Quarter 4

Karolina Pliskova – I did not think I would be sitting here thinking Pliskova would be popping up as value on clay, but she is not too far away from it. This quarter looks to be one that can be attacked, and this does not look to be the worst draw for Pliskova. Her odds are currently about right; however, I may add some further comments during the tournament if she looks settled on court against Gauff in round 1. The more centre court matches the better for the Czech.

Jennifer Brady – Yet to win since making the final of the Australian Open. The switch to clay will not help a great deal from an outright standpoint. No discernible clay form to validate her as being value.

Maria Sakkari – an intriguing player in this draw. I think losing to Kvitova in 3 sets on indoor clay last week is not the worst form leading into this tournament. I have been higher on her clay ability in previous years, so the uptick in hardcourt form to start this year does lead me to think she can take the next step on clay in 2021. Whilst she may come unstuck a little later in tournaments, I think this draw dynamic sets up quite well for her. She will have a challenge first up with Anisimova, but I would rather her have a crack at a top seed early in the week with less pressure, then look to build if successful. Worth a trading selection.

Naomi Osaka – I need to see more from Osaka on clay before justifying her outright prices. We saw to start the year that Osaka was being more aggressive behind that first serve, and clay may not be as forgiving to this approach. As a player who hits with less margin for error than most at the top of the game, I will be keeping an eye on her this week.

Unseeded players of note – On a similar train of thought to my beliefs around Mertens are my thoughts around Anett Kontaveit. She is a genuine threat at her best level; however, I do think nerves still rear their ugly head late in tournaments. Two players coming off injuries of different kinds are Amanda Anisimova and Karolina Muchova, and I do not see value in their prices pre-tournament. Coco Gauff has not shown enough on clay and can be found lacking the necessary power against at the top players, and in my opinion that leaves former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko. I will be watching Ostapenko’s first match though, just to gauge her form in these conditions.


Summary

This is a very impressive draw for this time of year, and it looks the be filled of very competitive pockets of the draw. If you are aggressive, you would need to find the winner of the Barty/Swiatek match, however, add to that the need to back up into a potential quarter-final with Petra Kvitova or a Kudermetova, and it looks to be a tough ask in the conditions.

I am going to look to the other quarters in my quest for value. I like Svitolina as a trading selection in quarter 2. The question marks around Muguruza are too great to get involved at short odds, and I will look to trade out of Svitolina if she meets Barty in the semi-final (less so if Swiatek).

In the third quarter, I am happy to play around Sabalenka and Halep by taking the longer odds on Azarenka. Her form is sound to start the year outside of quarantine issues, and she has shown herself capable in similar conditions on clay. For mine, she will be a tough out.

In the fourth quarter, I will be placing a trading selection on Maria Sakkari. I am expecting a boost in her clay form along similar lines to her hardcourt form. The extra aggression will be important, and she has form around other players in this section. I prefer her from a trading standpoint as if she were to beat Osaka, the hype will likely drive down her price, and I think if she were to reach the final 4 that nerves are likely to come into play.

Betting Strategy

BACK – 0.5 units Azarenka to win (recorded at $34)

Trading Selections

BACK – 0.3 units Svitolina to win (recorded at $24)

BACK – 0.2 units Sakkari to win (recorded at $34)

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

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

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


Quarter 1

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

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

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

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

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


Quarter 2

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

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

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

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


Quarter 3

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

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

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

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

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


Quarter 4

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

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

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

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

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


Summary

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

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

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

Betting Strategy

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

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

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

Quarter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Quarter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Quarter 3

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

Adrian Mannarino – Prefer others at Masters 1000 level.

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

Fabio Fognini – Nope.

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

Benoit Paire – Absolutely not.

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

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

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


Quarter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Betting Strategy

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

Trading Selections

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

Hold Fire

BACK – Karatsev to win (stay tuned)

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

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

Quarter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Quarter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Quarter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Quarter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betting Strategy

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

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

Trading Selections

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

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

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

Quarter 1

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

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

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

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

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


Quarter 2

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

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

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

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

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


Quarter 3:

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

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

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

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

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


Quarter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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


Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Betting Strategy

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

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

Trading Selections

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

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

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

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

Quarter 1

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

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

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

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

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


Quarter 2

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

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

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

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


Quarter 3

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

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

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

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

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


Quarter 4

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

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

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

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


Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outright Selections

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

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

Trading Selections

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

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


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