Tennis - This Week's Preview
The ATP Tour returns this week after a break for the first round of the 2018 Davis Cup and there are three tournaments to focus on. Two indoor hard-court events in Europe at Montpellier, France and Sofia, Bulgaria and the start of the Golden clay swing in Quito, Ecuador. Sofia and Quito are both fairly new tournaments; Quito started in 2015 and all three tournaments have been won by veteran Estrella Burgos, who lines up again in 2018, and Sofia started in 2016 and was won by top seed Bautista Agut in 2016 and Dimitrov in 2017.
Montpellier has been running a while longer (started 2010 but there was no tournament in 2011) and has been dominated by home grown players. A French player has won five of the last seven titles and they were a losing finalist in five of the last seven renewals. Gasquet, who lines up this year, has won three titles during this period and he also featured in the last five finals. With little historical data to go on I will keep my review of Quito and Sofia to a minimum.
Quito has been dominated by seeded players and veterans the last three renewals. Estrella Burgos, who won in 2015 seeded eight, 2016 seeded five and 2017 unseeded is 37 now while 2015 losing finalist Lopez (seeded 1) is now 36. In addition, 2016 finalist Bellucci, who was seeded three, is now aged 30 and 2017 finalist Lorenzi, who was seeded three, is now aged 36.
The top two seeds have never won the title at Quito and they have been a losing finalist once back in 2015, which does not bode well for top seed Carreno-Busta and second seed Ramos-Vinolas chances this week, especially as they both featured for Spain in the Davis Cup at the weekend. A seeded player no higher than eight has won two of the last three titles (last Estrella-Burgos 2016) and a player seeded no higher than three was a losing finalist the last three years (last Lorenzi 2017). An unseeded player has won one of the last three titles (last Estrella-Burgos 2017) and they have never been a losing finalist.
From a betting perspective past statistics suggest it could prove profitable to side with a veteran player who is seeded outside the top two and there are a host of such players who could challenge for the title this week. Third seed Monfils aged 31, fourth seed Lorenzi aged 36, fifth seed Zeballos aged 32, sixth-seed and defending champion Estrella-Burgos aged 37 and seventh seed Karlovic aged 37 are all potential challengers this week however, none of them really stand out as betting material this week and with that in mind I will not advise any outright selections at Quito this year.
At Sofia, Bulgaria defending champion Dimitrov does not line up to defend his title, which suggests he is not 100% fit at present, and this does seem to reflect his inconsistency so far, this year. Sofia, has been dominated by the top three seeds and the top seed has won one of the last two titles (Bautista Agut 2016) and they were never a losing finalist. The second seed has never won the title but has reached both finals in 2016 and 2017 (Troicki and Goffin). Overall, the quality and strength in depth of the Sofia draw this year is pretty average and top seed Wawrinka is the only player ranked in the top 20 and second seed Mannarino is the closest tanked player at 25.
I cannot side with top seed Wawrinka as, for me, it’s too early in his comeback from injury. Mannarino would be of interest given the good record of the second seeds but he is 29 now, has never made an ATP final and was involved in the Davis Cup singles rubbers for France at the weekend and tamely lost the opening rubber against world ranked 370 De Bakker in straight sets. Third seed and 2016 semi-finalist Muller, who also resides in the bottom half of the draw, has to be respected this week and he holds a 3-0 winning head-to-head record against Mannarino and 1-0 against fifth seed Haase, who also resides in the bottom half of the draw. However, at 5/1 he does not represent value for me and instead i’ll side with Kohlschreiber (8/1) who is a proven veteran on the ATP Tour and, if he can perform to his best, looks to have a fairly straightforward route to the semi-finals and hopefully final.
As mentioned above, Montpellier has been dominated by French players since its inception back in 2010 and defending champion and fifth seed Gasquet returns to attempt to win a fourth title. The top seed has won two of the last eight titles (last Gasquet 2016) and the top seed was a losing finalist once during this period (last Gasquet 2014). The second seed has never won the title or reached the final, which does not bode well for Pouille’s chances this week. A player seeded no higher than five has won the last eight titles (last Zverev 2017) and a player seeded no higher than eight was a losing finalist six times during this period (last Gasquet 2017). An unseeded player has never won the title during this period and they were a losing finalist once (Mathieu 2016).
From a betting perspective, past statistics suggest it’s best siding with a French player seeded no higher than five (excluding the second-seed) and with that in mind third seed Tsonga (4/1) and fifth seed Gasquet (5/1) stand out as they have the best record at Montpellier of all the French seeded players and indoors with Tsonga having won eleven career titles and Gasquet seven. While past statistics suggest it’s unlikely an unseeded player will reach the final there’s one French player I like who could possibly buck this trend. Simon (25/1) started the 2018 season in good form winning the title at Pune, he has won five indoor titles during his career, four of these came on home soil, and he has winning form against some of the main dangers in the top half of the draw like top seed Goffin and fifth seed Gasquet.