With this week's Davis Cup following a superb Australian Open for followers, the ATP Tour season gets back underway with three 250 level tournaments in the coming week. Our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, previews the action...
"Last season, Karlovic had a battle royale with Estrella - their first round tie featured three tiebreaks - and he has a good record in Bogota in similar conditions on hard court as well"
Indoor Hard and Clay seasons commence in week six
After netting a 12/1 outright on Caroline Wozniacki in the women's event, as well as a superb trading position on [40.0] finalist Marin Cilic in the men's, followers of this column should be in good heart, as we see the indoor hard and clay seasons get underway on the ATP Tour.
This week, there are two indoor events in Europe, in Montpellier (France) and Sofia (Bulgaria), as well as the clay campaign starting in Quito, Ecuador.
Davis Cup travel commitments worth noting
As always, there are two major themes in play on week six of the ATP Tour, with the first being the Davis Cup, which saw players play several matches over the weekend, and are then forced to travel - sometimes long distances - to play regular tour matches several days later. It's certainly worth noting which players are needing to do this, as the effect on their bodies from travelling and considerable time zone changes is a huge negative.
After their five-set battle in Japan over the weekend, Yuichi Sugita has to travel to Montpellier, while Andreas Seppi has an arduous trip to Sofia, while Mikhail Kukushkin (Kazakhstan to Bulgaria) doesn't have quite as bad an issue, but his trip still will have been tough. Albert Ramos and Pablo Carreno-Busta (Spain to Ecuador) will have several extra days to acclimatise, given their first-round byes, while the unseeded Peter Polansky (Croatia to Ecuador) doesn't have this luxury.
Effects of altitude profound in Quito
The other over-riding theme of week six is the effect of the altitude in Quito. Standing at almost 3,000m above sea level, the capital of Ecuador has rather unique, not to mention challenging, conditions, with the effects being considerable.
Over the last three years in Quito, 81.8% of service games have been held - a figure which is 4.6% above the ATP clay mean - while there have been 0.54 aces per game achieved. This is data more commensurate with that of hard court events, and there is little doubt that both big servers and altitude specialists will benefit from these conditions.
Estrella unbeaten in Quito in three events
On the subject of altitude specialists, there is one name above all others - Victor Estrella. The Dominican has never been beaten in Quito (he's won the last three events here) and although his level in regular tournaments is mediocre at best, he must be respected here. First-round opponent, Thomaz Bellucci, is also adept at altitude, however, so the winner of their match has the potential to make a decent dent in the tournament field.
Big-serving Karlovic likely to thrive in quick conditions
The seeds are rather stronger in Quito than in recent years, with Pablo Carreno-Busta and Albert Ramos, as well as Gael Monfils, being real threats to the title. All three are strong on the surface, but given the benefit to servers from quick conditions, it will be fascinating to see how Ivo Karlovic fares, as well as the likes of Horacio Zeballos and Thiago Monteiro, who are two of the more serve-orientated clay-courters on tour.
Last season, Karlovic had a battle royale with Estrella - their first round tie featured three tiebreaks - and he has a good record in Bogota in similar conditions on hard court as well, winning the event once from three attempts, and never failing to make the quarter-finals at least. The Sportsbook is yet to finalise prices for Quito, but if we can get prices around or in excess of the current market lines of [19.0], the giant Croat looks as good an outside threat as any.
Gasquet with superb record in Montpellier
Over in France, the event in Montpellier features conditions very similar to average for indoor hard courts, and David Goffin, Damir Dzumhur, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Lucas Pouille are the seeds benefiting from byes, while defending champion Alexander Zverev sits this one out, having played Davis Cup for Germany in Australia over the weekend.
Last year's beaten finalist, Richard Gasquet, has a stellar record in one of his home events, winning in 2013, 2015 and 2016, as well as being runner-up in 2014, so he's made the final every year for the last five. He clearly enjoys conditions here, although the Sportsbook market is a touch defensive on the Frenchman, chalking him up as the third favourite at [6.0], despite having to play an extra match to the seeds with byes.
Seeded players the main market favourites in Montpellier
In that outright market, Goffin [4.5] and Tsonga [5.0] are the two main favourites, with Pouille at [7.0] also in single figures. Then there's a big gap to Andrey Rublev at [17.0], and this looks a little short to me.
Other unseeded players with greater than 100% combined hold/break percentages indoors in the last two years, and offered at big prices, include Gilles Simon, Ricardas Berankis, Julien Benneteau and Dustin Brown, although it's probably fair to suggest all four of these players are not at the peak of their abilities right now.
Tsonga with stunning indoor hard data
Assessing the draw, it's unsurprising Tsonga is one of the favourites, given the ease of the bottom half of the event, and having a combined hold/break percentage of 110.3% indoors in the last two years, should be one to beat - he's 26-6 in these matches. While it's not the biggest price, he does look the best bet in this relatively mediocre field.
Injury doubts beset big names in Sofia
Finally, in Sofia, there are injury doubts over three of the four seeds with byes - Stan Wawrinka, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Gilles Muller - while Adrian Mannarino at [8.5] has given up the opportunity to play in his home country to make this trip.
The non-seeded players are very poor here, with Robin Haase and Marius Copil facing off in probably one of the better matches of the first round, and it wouldn't be a surprise if one did manage something of a run here. Mannarino's bottom quarter is woeful, and the Frenchman's main threat is likely to come from Evgeny Donskoy, who I made value to get past Lukas Lacko in the first round on Monday. The Russian has awful break point conversion data, a situation which is likely to mean-revert in the future.
In truth, this field is something of a lottery. With a weak second quarter, perhaps Joao Sousa - previously the 250 level indoor king - might get back to some former glory at [11.0], but his level has been disappointing in recent months, and there really isn't a standout position in the Bulgarian capital in the coming week.
Follow Dan on Twitter @TennisRatings
Back Ivo Karlovic to win ATP Quito at anything in excess of [19.0]
Back Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to win ATP Montpellier at [5.0]