Asian hard court events continue this week on the ATP Tour with tournaments in Beijing and Tokyo. Returning to preview the action is our tennis columnist, Dan Weston...
"Raonic's data across the last three months is strong, winning 74.7% of service points and 33.7% of return points (108.4% combined) which is close to elite level, not to mention as good as his previous best which saw him ranked in the top five."
De Minaur close to decent returns in Shenzhen
There are often very fine margins for outright success, and this was illustrated last week with our selection, Alex De Minaur, failing to convert two match points in his semi-final which would have at least got each-way returns on the 16/1 recommended.
Two further tournaments this week gives us the opportunity to pick ourselves up from that blow, and both are 500 level events, played on hard court (outdoors and indoors), so there will be plenty of decent action in the coming week.
Slow conditions expected in Beijing
In Beijing, I anticipate conditions to be slow and rather different to those expected in Shanghai next week. Just 76.9% of service games have been held in the last three years, 2.3% below the ATP mean, and just 0.50 aces per game have been served at the venue during this time period.
When discussing this tournament, it's also worth mentioning the pollution that players have complained about, and perhaps some bettors keen to exploit this phenomenon this week might wish do some research on whether there is a tendency for more retirements, certain scorelines and any impact that this may have on player propensity for comebacks in matches.
Del Potro and Zverev market leaders
Top seed Juan Martin Del Potro is the tournament favourite, with the Sportsbook offering the Argentine at 11/4 at the time of writing, with Alexander Zverev next up in the market at 10/3. Grigor Dimitrov (6/1) and today's Chengdu runner-up Fabio Fognini (9/1) are the other players with single-digit pricing.
Lack of elite level players on display
Only Tomas Berdych, in 2011, has been a non-elite winner of this event this decade, with Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal the other champions, and top 10 players virtually exclusively have been runners-up. Based on this, it appears a reasonable assumption to make that top players take this event very seriously in the run-up to the Shanghai Masters next week.
However, there is a lack of top players on display, with just three - the top three favourites - taking to the courts in China this week, so some lower-profile finalists are possible.
Tough field to profile with question marks over many
Of the top four favourites, both Del Potro and in particular, Dimitrov, will not enjoy the slow conditions, while Fognini may and has a gift draw in quarter two, with the hard-court hating Marco Cecchinato the other seed in this bracket. In truth, it's pretty tough to find much value in Beijing, with the top players having had little court time since the US Open, and there are definitely easier fields to profile.
New indoor venue in Tokyo
Moving on to Tokyo, I think there is a new venue as opposed to previous years, with the tournament now being played indoors. On this basis, it's difficult to establish how the courts will play, although the average indoor hard court will probably play to a similar speed to the expected conditions in Shanghai next week.
Cilic favourite despite tricky draw
The field is strong, with Marin Cilic the 9/2 favourite. Kei Nishikori, in his native tournament, is slightly behind at 5/1, with Kevin Anderson and Milos Raonic further back at 11/2 and 13/2, respectively.
Despite favourite status, Cilic's draw is far from easy, with Stan Wawrinka, Denis Shapovalov and Hyeon Chung among the major threats in the first quarter. Raonic's draw is much easier, with three qualifiers in quarter two, along with the likes of Diego Schwartzman, Adrian Mannarino and Steve Johnson.
Raonic can be chanced following return to peak levels
However, it's often difficult to trust Raonic in these type of events. The Canadian has a track record of pulling out in the latter stages of tournaments and it's tough to trust him simply based on that. Having said this though, Raonic's data across the last three months is strong, winning 74.7% of service points and 33.7% of return points (108.4% combined) which is close to elite level, not to mention as good as his previous best which saw him ranked in the top five.
Is it worth taking the risk on the Canadian here? At these prices, with these numbers across the last three months, and a kind draw, he looks the best of a bad bunch, particularly with the opposite bottom half of the draw having some decent names and some young players with decent potential.