The 2021 ATP season gets under way on Thursday, and looking ahead to the events in Antalya and Delray Beach is our tennis columnist, Dan Weston...
"Considering that the location of this week’s two events are a considerable distance away from Australia, it’s not surprising that the top players have largely avoided participating in them"
Mixed quality of players in both events
After a slightly shortened off-season compared to most years, main tour ATP action starts tomorrow with two 250 level hard court tournaments in advance of a break to allow players to travel to Australia and subsequently quarantine. The next two events following this week - warm-up events for the Australian Open - take place in Melbourne from January 31.
Considering that the location of this week's two events are a considerable distance away from Australia, it's not surprising that the top players have largely avoided participating in them - we see a rather mixed bag of field quality in both events, with numerous players typically plying their trade on the Challenger Tour getting rare main tour exposure.
Difficult to anticipate conditions in Antalya
In Antalya, round one commences at 8:30am UK time tomorrow, and it's impossible to assess conditions in advance. The tournament was played on grass between 2017 and 2019, and there hasn't been an Antalya Open played on hard court to date - we have no historical data to assess in order to ascertain likely court speed. We can only treat it as an average hard court in advance of the event.
Matteo Berrettini at 4.03/1 has marginal tournament favourite status from Alex De Minaur and David Goffin, and of these three players in single-digit pricing, it's De Minaur that I have the most faith in on hard courts - he's running at just over 106% combined service/return points won in the last 18 months on the surface - although he's exhibited a rather worrying drop in service points won percentage more recently.
De Minaur likely to progress to latter stages
De Minaur has an gift third quarter with the out-of-form Nikoloz Basilashvili and a variety of Challenger players in it, so it would be a real surprise if he failed to make the semi-finals at the very least. However, he'll also have to face the winner of quarter four at this stage, which looks a little more competitive than the other brackets - Miomir Kecmanovic 13.012/1, Emil Ruusuvuori 23.022/1 and the seeded player, Goffin 7.06/1, are more than capable hard courters, with both Kecmanovic and Ruusuvuori having high future potential as well.
While I don't have an abundance of confidence in Berrettini even against such a weak field, he has a nice draw as top seed in quarter one, and only really the out-of-form Fabio Fognini or Jan-Lennard Struff look realistic opposition even in the semi-finals.
Top seed Garin unlikely to impress on hard courts
Over in Florida, clay-courter Cristian Garin 8.88/1 is the top seed at Delray Beach and despite his status, it would be a shock to see Garin triumph in the tournament, given mediocre hard court data (just below 96% combined on hard court in the last 18 months). The Chilean has a kind draw though, with Sam Querrey only a realistic threat in the top bracket.
Hubert Hurkacz looks reasonably placed to take advantage of this. The Pole has done quite well on hard court over the last 18 months (102%) and it's difficult to envisage anyone else in quarter two having a great chance of making the latter stages. However, the market has adjusted to this pretty well, making Hurkacz the slight favourite at around 4.57/2.
Isner's threat mainly coming from young prospects
In the bottom half of the draw, second favourite John Isner 4.84/1 will have a solid chance of getting to at least the semi-finals, although some younger players such as Sebastian Korda, Soonwoo Kwon and Tommy Paul could be a threat to the big-server. Adrian Mannarino at around 13.012/1 and 2018 venue champion Frances Tiafoe 9.417/2 look best-placed in quarter three.
Given that most players haven't been in action for a number of weeks, and the fact that we know nothing about the likely conditions in Antalya, plus what seems like logical market adjustments to the draw, I'm not absurdly keen on much pre-tournament in the opening week of the season. If I was forced to pick, it would be some of the long-shots such as Ruusuvuori at 23.022/1 in Antalya, and Kwon at a slightly bigger price in Delray Beach - both have strong hard court data at lower level which they have struggled to translate to the main tour, but retain upside and I'm expecting decent seasons from both of them.
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