Low-level Grass and clay court action this week
This week sees the grass court season draw to a conclusion this week in Newport, while we have two clay tournaments as the European clay court season resumes following the grass-court interlude in the last five weeks.
Following Wimbledon, no top 10 player is in action this week across the three events, and given this, it's reasonable to assert that we will not be enjoying elite-level tennis action in the upcoming seven days.
Pablo Carreno-Busta and David Goffin take the top seed billings on clay in Bastad and Umag, respectively, and both have extreme question marks surrounding their fitness after missing SW19 with injuries. John Isner is the top seed in his home country, in Newport.
Tough to interpret historical conditions in Newport
Looking at Newport first, despite the tournament being on grass, there could be markedly different conditions to that which we experienced at Wimbledon, and indeed, at some other European grass court events, with the historical data difficult to interpret.
In the last 12 months on the ATP Tour, grass events saw 84.1% of service games held, and historically, up to and including 2014, Newport had a much lower hold percentage than this, frequently not breaking the 80% mark. However, in 2015 (85.1%) and 2016 (92.0%) we saw a higher percentage than average, and with the three-year event mean coming in at 86.5%, I'm fine with grading the event as pretty fast. It may well be the case that a different grass, or ball, was used from 2015 onwards.
Big-servers and grass specialists thrive in Newport
Finalists in Rhode Island generally comprise either big-servers (John Isner and Ivo Karlovic) or grass court specialists (Lleyton Hewitt and Nicolas Mahut), as well as the Newport specialist, Rajeev Ram, who has a stunning 28-11 venue record despite being ranked outside the top 100 for the majority of the events he's played here.
After numerous withdrawals, the 33-year-old Ram has finally been shoe-horned into the draw, and faces a qualifier in his opening match. Taking the American on this week comes with a significant warning.
With the dynamic of finalists clearly established, we have a clear blueprint to follow, and we can categorise big-servers in the draw as Isner, Karlovic, Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Reilly Opelka, with the grass court specialist being mainly Adrian Mannarino, and to some extent Denis Kudla and the aforementioned Ram.
Difficult to find a player to oppose declining Isner
I'm of the opinion that Isner has considerably declined this season, but taking him on with a bye in the top half of the draw, with a first round bye and then facing one of two unknown qualifiers in the second isn't ideal, particularly with Herbert, whose grass numbers don't even reach the 100% combined hold/break mark, as the seed in this segment. However, Herbert does have a gift draw - Ilya Marchenko is the other seed in his quarter - but I'd prefer bigger than the 10/1 currently available with the Sportsbook.
On this basis, we must look for value in the bottom half of the draw, with Karlovic at 5/1, and Adrian Mannarino, at 13/2, obvious threats. However, Karlovic picked up an injury in his five-set Wimbledon defeat to Aljaz Bedene, and this price on Mannarino looks far from generous. The huge-serving Reilly Opelka is another danger, but the 16/1 on the young American looks very skinny given how unproven he is on the main tour.
With no player particularly standing out, I'm not particularly keen to recommend any player in Newport this week, and the 5/1 with the Sportsbook to back 'Any Other Player' may well end up the best selection.
Carreno-Busta and Cuevas with fitness doubts in Sweden
Over in Bastad, top seed Carreno-Busta's fitness is in doubt, as is fellow seed Pablo Cuevas - they both missed Wimbledon. Karen Khachanov, who is on the verge of US Open seeding, and defending champion, Albert Ramos, make up the remaining seeds with byes in the first round.
Conditions in Sweden are likely to be slow, with 2.3% fewer service points being won than the ATP clay court mean, and the winners roll show that traditional clay-courters thrive at the event, with Cuevas, Carlos Berlocq, David Ferrer and Tommy Robredo joining Ramos as winners in recent years.
Identifying traditional clay courters a solid plan
With this in mind, identifying a player without fitness doubts, with strong clay stats with an emphasis on good return data should get us a decent shortlist, and Ramos, as well as Diego Schwartzman, look the best prospects, although Schwartzman's first quarter looks pretty stacked. I'd prefer to get bigger on Ramos, than the current [4.1] on the Exchange, and would look towards [5.50] as more of a value price. If we can get matched at this mark, I'd be fine with it.
Also worth considering, perhaps, in such a weak event, is David Ferrer. Of course, we know that the Spaniard has declined, but he fits the profile of previous winners, and indeed, has done so in 2007 and 2012, as well as making the final in 2011. He faces a qualifier in advance of fitness doubts Thomaz Bellucci and Dustin Brown, and finds himself in injury-doubt Cuevas' quarter. If we can get matched at around [13.0], this would be fine too.
Slow conditions also expected in Croatia
In Umag, Croatia, conditions are also expected to be slow, with fewer aces per game, service points won and service holds than the average men's clay court tournament. Fabio Fognini is the defending champion, and as with Bastad, clay courters have fared well in recent years, with Dominic Thiem, Cuevas and Robredo all recent winners, while Joao Sousa, Marcel Granollers and Potito Starace have been runners-up since 2010.
Therefore again, it seems viable to look at this return-orientated clay courter dynamic to pick a winner, and I couldn't possibly consider top seed and tournament favourite, David Goffin, with his fitness issues, or Gael Monfils at such a skinny price, with my suspicion that he's not fully fit either.
On this basis, Fognini at 8/1 looks to have a chance of retaining his title - he has an excellent record on slow clay - and with a bye followed by either Nicolas Kicker or the declining Mikhail Youzhny in prospect in round two, he looks capable of easing himself into the event in straightforward fashion, and the Italian - temperamental but talented, and suited by the conditions - is our recommendation this week.
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