The main clay season begins on week 15 of the ATP Tour, with two low-profile 250 level tournaments on the schedule in Houston and Marrakech. Our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, looks at the players equipped to succeed in the coming week...
"Robin Haase is an interesting underdog, with the Dutchman in reasonable form - his recent defeats have mostly come against quality opposition in tight matches and his clay data isn't bad either (around 103% combined hold/break in the last two years). He faces Mirza Basic in his opener with his potential round two opponent, Joao Sousa, having just 97% combined hold/break percentage on the surface in the last two years. He can be backed each-way at 22/1 with the Sportsbook."
Ramos the top seed in medium-fast conditions in Morocco
Tennis action starts at 14:00 UK time this week in Morocco, with ATP Marrakech getting underway. The 32 man draw sees no first-round byes for the top four seeds, and the players are fighting for a €500,000 prize fund.
Albert Ramos is the top seed in what are anticipated to be conditions on the quicker side for clay. In the two years that the event has taken place, 63.0% of service points have been won, compared to 62.4% across all ATP events on clay. In addition, the aces per game count is high, at 0.41 compared to the ATP mean of 0.38. In reality, I'm expecting conditions to be quite a bit pacier than those we saw in the previous Moroccan clay event, in Casablanca, up until 2015.
Borna Coric has an excellent record at the event, being runner-up to Federico Delbonis in 2016, and defeating Philipp Kohlschreiber in 2017, but last year's champion isn't here to defend his title. In his absence, Richard Gasquet is the [5.6] favourite on the Exchange for the title, with top seed Ramos [7.2], Kohlschreiber at [7.4] and Kyle Edmund at [8.2] in what looks a wide-open event.
Haase with the potential to make a run at a big price
Looking at the draw, the top half looks less strong than the bottom, with Ramos and Kohlschreiber the main contenders to come through that top half. Robin Haase and Alexandr Dolgopolov will also be respected, while it will be interesting to see if Pablo Andujar can back-up his win in the Alicante Challenger - he was grossly under-rated by the markets in Spain last week - as he continues his injury comeback.
Statistically, I'm happy to rule out Dolgopolov - his hold/break stats on clay in the last two years are unspectacular, while I'm also worried about Kohlschreiber's fatigue levels in the coming week following a five set defeat (in addition, a long one, at 57 games).
Robin Haase is an interesting underdog, with the Dutchman in reasonable form - his recent defeats have mostly come against quality opposition in tight matches and his clay data isn't bad either (around 103% combined hold/break in the last two years). He faces Mirza Basic in his opener with his potential round two opponent, Joao Sousa, having just 97% combined hold/break percentage on the surface in the last two years. He can be backed each-way at 22/1 with the Sportsbook.
More quality in the bottom half of the draw in Marrakech
The bottom half of the draw is more stacked, with the likes of Benoit Paire, Gilles Simon, Paolo Lorenzi, Andreas Seppi as well as the aforementioned Gasquet and Edmund, and not to mention Max Marterer, Roberto Carballes Baena and Marton Fucsovics as well. Given this, getting on Haase at a big price in the top half is our recommendation in Morocco.
Quick conditons in Houston historically suiting American talent
Over in Houston, conditions are also quicker than average for clay, with 63.9% of service points won and 0.49 aces per game served across the last three years. American representation has been strong, with at least one finalist in every year except 2015 since the turn of the decade, and with this in mind, it's evident that with the likes of Sam Querrey, Jack Sock, John Isner and Steve Johnson having success at the venue, traditional clay courters haven't been dominant in this tournament.
John Isner, at [4.0] and Nick Kyrgios, at [4.3] vie for favourite status in Texas, with Sam Querrey and Jack Sock also in single-digit prices, at the time of writing, and these four players make up the list of seeded players who have the benefit of a first-round bye.
Zeballos one of a few underdogs who have a chance in open event
Of these, only Querrey and Kyrgios - albeit with a limited sample last season - have demonstrated a reasonable level on the dirt in recent times, so this event really does look ripe for underdog success in the outright market, particularly by identifying players in the top half of the draw who can progress at big prices.
This top half looks weak, with few players adept on the surface in it, but how about taking a chance on the 33/1 Horacio Zeballos, each-way? Clay is the Argentine's favourite surface, and he's hardly facing the who's who of men's clay court tennis, facing Yoshihito Nishioka in his opener, before potentially Sock in the second round.
If the bottom half of the draw opens up, Fernando Verdasco and Guido Pella look well-placed to take advantage. Both have excellent clay data from the last 12 months, and are priced at 14/1 and 40/1, respectively.
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