The ATP Tour continues throughout the coming week with clay events in Estoril and Munich in advance of the Madrid Masters next week. Dan Weston previews the two tournaments...
"Conversely, Nishikori has a kind quarter three with hard-courters such as Jordan Thompson, and to a lesser extent Kevin Anderson and Frances Tiafoe. He's also joined by veteran Marin Cilic and the high potential qualifier Carlos Alcaraz Garfia, who could give Nishikori his toughest test in theory."
Two small clay events this week in advance of back-to-back Masters
With back-to-back Masters events starting next Monday, in Madrid and then Rome, there's going to be a hectic schedule on the ATP Tour in advance of the French Open, which is scheduled for the majority of the first two weeks of June.
This week does give players opportunity to get some more competitive clay-court time in advance of the two big Masters events, although overplaying in advance of some lucrative events is not necessarily recommended. As with most 250s, the two tournaments this week give the top four seeds byes to round two.
Slower conditions anticipated in Estoril
In Estoril, where conditions are expected to be on the slow side of medium-paced, Denis Shapovalov is the top seed and is joined by Ugo Humbert, Kei Nishikori and Christian Garin as those seeds with direct entry to round two. Over the last three years, aces per game and service points won at the venue are low compared to the average clay venue, so those players who are return-orientated may derive slight extra benefit from conditions.
However, there's been a mixed dynamic of finalists in Portugal across the last decade, with out and out clay-courters such as Albert Montanes, Frederico Gil and Pablo Cuevas having success here, but they're joined by big-servers such as Roger Federer, Nick Kyrgios and Gilles Muller.
The outright market is competitive, with Garin at 5.85/1, and Nishikori and Shapovalov marginally further back just in excess of 7.06/1. The likes of Ugo Humbert, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Marco Cecchinato and Albert Ramos are among the next tier of players in the Exchange market.
Nishikori and Garin with kinder draws
In quarter one, top seed Shapovalov is joined by Ramos, and it would be a surprise if one of these two didn't progress to the semi-finals in a bracket where there are a few veterans who have much to prove at their age on this surface. Quarter two looks much more competitive, with seeded Humbert having to get past the likes of Cecchinato, Davidovich Fokina and qualifier Jaume Munar, who is a very competent clay-courter - that bracket looks tough to call.
Conversely, Nishikori has a kind quarter three with hard-courters such as Jordan Thompson, and to a lesser extent Kevin Anderson and Frances Tiafoe. He's also joined by veteran Marin Cilic and the high potential qualifier Carlos Alcaraz Garfia, who could give Nishikori his toughest test in theory.
Finally, Garin also has a gift bracket in quarter four and in slow clay conditions, I'd expect him to do well. He has the best clay data in the competition across the last year or two, and I'd be surprised if the current version of Richard Gasquet, or Alexander Bublik or Pedro Martinez Portero were able to get the better of him. To me, Garin is the man to beat here although whether the current price represents value is another debate - particularly if he has to face Nishikori in the semi-finals and a seeded player from the top half of the draw in the final.
Karatsev needing to back up Belgrade final
Over in Munich, conditions are more medium-paced for clay and there's an interesting dynamic here among the seeds with top 10 player Alexander Zverev 3.052/1 the number one seed, but joined by Casper Ruud 6.25/1 and Aslan Karatsev 7.26/1, two players with very high upside. Ruud is one of the best young clay players on tour, while Karatsev is the breakthrough player of the year so far - there is zero doubt about that in my mind. The Russian lost a final set tiebreak to Matteo Berrettini in the Belgrade final yesterday, and despite being ranked outside the top 20, is clearly playing at top-10 level currently.
He struggled to back-up his title in Dubai in March the week later in Miami, being thrashed by Sebastian Korda, and despite beating world number one Novak Djokovic in Belgrade last week, the jury is out as to whether Karatsev can go back-to-back with a short turnaround. If he can, he'd be a major threat to Zverev.
Korda a dangerous lurker in the draw
In the top half of the draw, the German, Zverev, plus Filip Krajinovic are the two seeds with round one byes and they look a class above what looks like a relatively weak top half of the draw, Dusan Lajovic arguably apart. The same can be said for Karatsev and Ruud, although Sebastian Korda is a dangerous lurker in Karatsev's third bracket.
Unfortunately, there's not much to disagree with in the outright markets this week, with Karatsev's potential fatigue issues illustrated by him being a bigger price than Ruud, and Korda also respected as well.
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