The ATP Tour moves to China this week, with events in Shenzhen and Chengdu heralding the commencement of the Asian hard court swing. Our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, returns to preview the tournaments...
"The standout player in this bottom half is David Goffin, with the Belgian likely to be available at around 4/1. Similarly to Chengdu, the bottom half of the draw is of extremely questionable quality - Paolo Lorenzi is the other seed with a bye - and this mediocre quality is aptly illustrated by the fact that I have to pluck out the likes of Donald Young and Jeremy Chardy as expected major threats."
Mediocre fields as the Asian hard court swing begins
Both of this weeks Chinese events will be played on hard courts, with the Chengdu tournament ($1.03m) offering slightly more financial rewards than Shenzhen ($667k), despite both being 250 level events.
Despite this, there is very little discernible difference in the quality of the entry list from a leading player perspective, with Alexander Zverev and David Goffin leading the contenders in Shenzhen, while Dominic Thiem does so in Chengdu. However, the fields of both events are of very low quality and the majority of players wouldn't be out of place in Challenger Tour events.
Thiem unbackable given travelling and poor Asian record
From a ranking and reputation perspective, Thiem is the logical favourite in Chengdu, with his 9/5 price with the Sportsbook considerably the shortest in the field, but for me, he's an easy swerve this week.
Firstly, the Austrian has had huge issues in Asia historically, with this stage of the season being where his horrendous scheduling tends to lead to accumulated fatigue, and his 3-6 record in these post-US Open Asian events bears testament to that.
Last year here, he was defeated by Albert Ramos in his second match and furthermore, Thiem is travelling from the Czech Republic, where he participated in the inaugural Laver Cup at the weekend, and is unlikely to arrive in peak condition.
Fritz an outside selection to trouble Thiem
Main threats for Thiem in his first quarter come in the shape of Borna Coric, Taylor Fritz, and possibly Viktor Troicki, if the Serb can get back towards his best level.
Fritz was forced to qualify, and has a nice round one draw against local player Di Wu. The American is scheduled to face Thiem in the quarter-finals, and with a combined hold/break percentage over 100% on hard court in the last 12 months, could easily be a solid longshot pick when the qualifiers get added to the Sportsbook market. He's likely to be available at around 40/1.
Khachanov can take advantage of weak draw
In the bottom half, Karen Khachanov looks the obvious danger in what is a very weak section of the draw. Spanish clay-courter Albert Ramos is the other seed with a bye, and there is a dearth of quality here - Kyle Edmund has solid stats, but has been injured, while Bernard Tomic's level is anybody's guess.
Yuichi Sugita, in his home continent, will have his supporters in what looks more like a Challenger draw in the bottom quarter, but the Japanese player has significantly over-performed on key points in his dream year and is likely to mean-revert in the near future.
At 8/1 in a weak half of the draw, Khachanov really looks like the obvious choice.
Zverev tough to side with in Shenzhen
Over in Shenzhen, historical numbers indicate that conditions will be very slightly on the fast side of medium - similar to Chengdu - and another Laver Cup traveller, Alexander Zverev, is the top seed and tournament favourite at 2.265/4.
Dangers for Zverev in his top half of the draw include brother Mischa - although he retired with injury in the semi-finals of Metz on Saturday - Steve Darcis, and last week's St. Petersburg winner, Damir Dzumhur.
Alexandr Dolgopolov, at his best form, would also be a difficult opponent, and I'm interested to see how he fares against the South African qualifier, George Harris. I've noted that the strong-serving Harris has been under-rated a great deal in Challengers so far in his young career and in his second ever main tour match, is unlikely to be outclassed.
Given the demands of travelling, I'm not entirely keen on the younger Zverev at this price, and taking him on with an each-way shot in the bottom half of the draw can be considered.
Goffin the standout in woeful bottom half of the draw
The standout player in this bottom half is David Goffin, with the Belgian likely to be available at around 4/1. Similarly to Chengdu, the bottom half of the draw is of extremely questionable quality - Paolo Lorenzi is the other seed with a bye - and this mediocre quality is aptly illustrated by the fact that I have to pluck out the likes of Donald Young and Jeremy Chardy as expected major threats.
Considering this, Goffin looks the obvious each-way choice and if he plays remotely close to his best level, he should make Sunday's final without huge difficulty in what is an extremely weak-looking event.
Back Taylor Fritz each-way at around 40/1 to win ATP Chengdu
Back Karen Khachanov at 8/1 to win ATP Chengdu
Back David Goffin each-way at 4/1 to win ATP Shenzhen
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