The men's singles at the Indian Wells Masters begins on Thursday, and with a number of first-round clashes on the schedule, Dan Weston gives his thoughts...
"He reached the quarter-final of the US Open as a qualifier recently and has qualified again to be here. His underlying data, on hard and indoor hard courts, is pretty strong, and he should be too much for Giron"
In what is an 11-day event, first round action begins today in California with some lower-profile first-round matches on the schedule. These will continue tomorrow before the seeds begin their tournament at the weekend, following their first round byes.
It's tough to envisage conditions in advance here. Historically, the venue has played slow for a hard court - service points won percentages and aces per game numbers are far below the ATP hard court mean figures - but that was when the tournament was played in March.
With a re-jigged schedule this year, the event is now taking place around seven months later, and while I suspect conditions may be broadly similar, it would be difficult to assert much confidence in this regard.
Popyrin would be a bet but for injury concerns
Alexei Popryin v Miomir Kecmanovic: The Australian, Popyrin, is the marginal favourite in this battle of 22-year-olds born in August 1999.
Initially, I had Kecmanovic as the higher potential player of the duo - he reached a career-best of 38 earlier this year - but the Serbian has struggled to progress, and has actually lost seven of his last nine matches, with his only two victories coming as a strong favourite against wild cards ranked outside the top 100.
Popyrin has much the better data on hard court this year but there's a slight concern about his fitness after not having played since the US Open. He has had a toe injury and this is where first-round matches are tricky - how much do you trust the data, and how much of an issue is that injury?
Kwon the one to be on
Soonwoo Kwon v Guido Pella: This is another interesting match-up from a fitness perspective, with Kwon having pulled out of ATP San Diego recently but that's probably more of a precaution, given that he won in Nur Sultan (Kazakhstan) the previous week and played Davis Cup the previous weekend.
Pella has been playing at a mediocre level pretty much full-stop since the tour resumed last summer and the Argentine, in theory, shouldn't be much of a match for Kwon on a hard court - although the slower conditions could be of some potential assistance.
Kwon should get the win here without too much fuss and some handicap options can be considered.
Dutchman should delight punters on day one
Marcos Giron v Botic van de Zandschulp: I'm fascinated to see how the Dutchman, van de Zandschulp, progresses here. He reached the quarter-final of the US Open as a qualifier recently and has qualified again to be here. His underlying data, on hard and indoor hard courts, is pretty strong, and he should be too much for Giron, although the American has been in decent form in recent weeks on the Indoor Hard court events in Metz and Sofia.
My model has van de Zandschulp as a solid favourite here and if he wins this, would set up a potential round three clash with top seed Daniil Medvedev.
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