It's week two of the tennis season, and with the Australian Open a week away, our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, is back to see which players have chances for titles in advance of the first Grand Slam of the season...
"In a quarter which has Dzumhur and Schwartzman already in round two, and the declining Feliciano Lopez likely to join them, Verdasco has an excellent chance of progress to the semi-finals at least, and is available at 11/1 for outright glory in the coming week, with the Sportsbook."
Federer the outright Australian Open favourite as big-names withdraw
A big-price winner for us was close on week one of the new season, with 20/1 shot Guido Pella ousted in a final set tiebreak in the semi-finals of Doha, while Robin Haase also found final set elimination in Pune, at the quarter final stage.
While the action on week one of the season was fascinating, as interesting was the developments surrounding the bigger names on the men's tour.
Rafa Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and Novak Djokovic's fitness for the Australian Open is certainly questionable, while Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori pulled out of the event in the last week. All this leaves Roger Federer out on his own as the pre-tournament favourite, at [2.88] on the Exchange.
Quick conditions likely to suit big-servers in Sydney
This week's event in Sydney had a low profile start overnight, with Paolo Lorenzi, Alexandr Dolgopolov and Damir Dzumhur recording victories in the three first-round matches that took place. They join seeds with byes - Albert Ramos, Fabio Fognini, Diego Schwartzman and Gilles Muller - in the second round.
Over the last three years in Sydney, conditions have been a little quicker than hard court averages, with there being 81.5% of service games held at the venue, compared to the 79.4% hard court mean. Furthermore, 0.66 aces per game were served here, compared to the tour mean of 0.57.
With this in mind, it's reasonable to consider that more serve-orientated players will perform better at the venue than return-orientated players, but a look through the history books suggests that both genres have had some success.
A mixed bag of historical success gives event an open feel
Viktor Troicki (winner in 2015 and 2016, runner up in 2011) has done well here, and is quite a return-orientated player, as is last year's runner-up Dan Evans, who is now banned. However, Troicki's miserable run of results has continued, with defeat overnight to the aforementioned Dolgopolov.
It's also worth mentioning though, that Gilles Muller, Grigor Dimitrov, Juan Martin del Potro and Bernard Tomic have all done well in Sydney in recent years, and this quartet certainly can be described as more serve-orientated than average.
Verdasco with a better draw than others on the shortlist
Of the seeds with byes, only Muller is serve-orientated, and after a first-round defeat last week hardly putting to bed injury worries regarding the veteran from Luxembourg, it's tough to side with him in the coming week, and looking through the draw for other non-return orientated players with combined hard court hold/break percentages in excess of 100% over the last 12 months, it gives us a shortlist of Philipp Kohlschreiber, Fernando Verdasco and Mischa Zverev.
Kohlschreiber didn't play last week, having missed Paris as well at the end of last season, so it's difficult to gauge his fitness, and the German has a tricky-looking opening match against the talented young Russian, Daniil Medvedev, who has qualified to make the first round.
Perhaps Verdasco is the best pick for outright glory. He faces last week's surprise package Alex De Minaur in the opening round, and it's reasonable to consider that the Australian youngster is now going to be pretty fatigued after his efforts, which included a win over Milos Raonic.
In a quarter which has Dzumhur and Schwartzman already in round two, and the declining Feliciano Lopez likely to join them, Verdasco has an excellent chance of progress to the semi-finals at least, and is available at 11/1 for outright glory in the coming week, with the Sportsbook.
Quick conditions also likely in Auckland
Over in Auckland, New Zealand, there is another 250 level event, as players look to fine-tune their preparations for the Australian Open, and of the seeds with byes, three are American - John Isner, Jack Sock and Sam Querrey - while Juan Martin del Potro makes up the quartet.
Conditions look similar to Sydney, quicker than average for hard courts, with 82.3% of service games being held, while 0.63 aces per game were recorded, in the last three years at the event.
Again, this should suit the more-serve orientated players in the field, but this isn't reflected at all in the winners list, with David Ferrer (four titles between 2007 and 2013) being one notable player with success at the venue.
Sock with venue success but fitness worries
Last year, Jack Sock took the title, going one better than in 2016, but the American isn't coming into the event 100% fit following his issues in the Hopman Cup last week. Despite these concerns, he's 4/1 second favourite behind Del Potro (23/10), with Isner at 11/2 and 2016 winner Roberto Bautista-Agut at 8/1.
Ferrer, in decline but with such a good venue record, is available at 11/1, while the main contenders list is rounded off by Sam Querrey, who has a dire 15-27 career record in 250 level hard court events in Asia and Australasia, despite the often pacy conditions being to the American big-servers liking.
Bautista-Agut can be the man to take on Sock and Querrey
Taking on Sock and Querrey in the top half of the draw seems a fair strategy in the upcoming week, and in quite a strong-looking field for a 250, Bautista-Agut could be our man. He has had decent success here previously, and a gift opening round draw against wild-card Michael Venus. It's either him or Del Potro, who has the easiest quarter in the bottom half, but I'm not convinced of the Argentine's fitness either.
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