ATP Tour Week Eight: Long-shot Thompson worth chancing
There are another three tournaments taking place on the ATP Tour in the coming week, and returning to preview to action, is our tennis columnist, Dan Weston...
"As with Marseille, it's tough to pick out a decent outright shot - although I have seen worse options than Jordan Thompson at 50/1 with the Sportsbook. The Australian hasn't quite brought his best to ATP Tour events, but his Challenger level is high, and he's reached the quarter-final in his last two main tour tournaments, losing to high-level opposition on both occasions."
Opelka victory illustrating the fine margins for tournament success
Gael Monfils, Reilly Opelka and Marco Cecchinato were week seven winners on the men's tour, with Opelka taking his first main tour title at the age of 21, in New York. The American big-server played 13 completed sets, and won five of the eight tiebreaks that he competed in, aptly illustrating the small margins and often positive variance required to win matches and tournaments at the highest level.
Serve-orientated players have dominated Marseille
This week's action gets underway in Marseille, at 1400 UK time, with three first-round matches taking place in what is a rather low-profile start to the tournament. Conditions are likely to be on the medium-fast side for Indoor, with 81.7% of service games held over the last three years, and 0.69 aces per game served up - both figures are higher than the ATP Indoor Hard mean.
On this basis, the more serve-orientated players in the field are likely to be slightly favoured, and this is demonstrated by the winners over the last five years, with only Gilles Simon (2015) a return-orientated player. Of the runners-up in that time period, you could only suggest that Gael Monfils, who lost to Simon that year in a final set tiebreaker, fitted the return-orientated dynamic.
Return data the concern around Tsonga
The tournament looks wide-open, with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga the marginal favourite on the Exchange, at [6.20], and Stefanos Tsitsipas and Borna Coric slightly behind the market leader at [6.60] and [7.80]. Tsonga has won the title three times here, and was also runner-up in 2014, but my concerns over the Frenchman surround his dire return data following his return to tour from long-term injury. He should enjoy conditions and the venue in general though.
Question marks around numerous market leaders
Top seed Tsitsipas' top half of the draw includes the likes of Gael Monfils, David Goffin and the aforementioned Simon, while the bottom half looks less stacked, with question marks over all the main threats - Coric, Shapovalov and Tsonga. Coric is 6-8 indoors in the last two years, while Shapovalov appears to be mean-reverting to a level equivalent to his hold/break data after breaking through last season.
I'd make the top half of the draw the favourite to produce the tournament winner, but it's tough to pick out a player in particular, with my thinking on Tsitsipas being that he's over-rated based on his data, while Monfils may be fatigued following his win in Rotterdam. Goffin still doesn't give confidence that he's 100% fit.
Americans with recent success in Delray Beach
Over in America, there's a 250 event on outdoor hard in Delray Beach, Florida, with the last three winners of the event - Frances Tiafoe, Jack Sock and Sam Querrey - all American. Conditions look pretty medium-paced for an outdoor hard court, with there being little deviation from the ATP mean figures.
Top seed Juan Martin Del Potro and second seed John Isner are the strong market favourites, with the Exchange market both pricing them around the [4.50] mark for tournament success. A little further back is Nick Kyrgios, at [9.0], and defending champion Tiafoe, at [10.5]. Unusually for a 250 level tournament, there are no seeds with byes, so the winner will need to overcome five opponents to lift the trophy.
Del Potro returning to tour after four-month absence
Del Potro has the best data of players in the draw by some distance (combined hold/break data in excess of 115%) but hasn't played a competitive match since losing to Borna Coric in Shanghai at the start of October. It might take him a couple of matches to get up to speed, and a round two clash with last week's New York winner Opelka could be tough encounter.
Isner's bottom-quarter draw, as the second seed, is a gift - he isn't scheduled to face a top 100 player until at least the quarter finals - so his status as one of the favourites looks reasonable enough, while Tiafoe's third quarter looks interesting. There's a few similarly-matched players in this bracket, such as Andreas Seppi, Bernard Tomic, Jordan Thompson and George Harris, while the improving Dan Evans could also be a difficult player for the defending champion in the opening round.
Thompson worth chancing as real long-shot
As with Marseille, it's tough to pick out a decent outright shot - although I have seen worse options than Jordan Thompson at 50/1 with the Sportsbook. The Australian hasn't quite brought his best to ATP Tour events, but his Challenger level is high, and he's reached the quarter-final in his last two main tour tournaments, losing to high-level opposition on both occasions. An each-way long-shot punt for a tiny stake could be the best option here.
Return-orientated players likely to thrive in Rio
Finally, I'm expecting the red clay of Rio de Janeiro to play rather slow, and thus assisting those players with a return-orientated dynamic. The tournament has been running for five years, from 2014 onwards, and each time, the winners have been clay-courters. Arguably, only Alexandr Dolgopolov and Fernando Verdasco, of the runners-up, don't particularly favour the dirt.
Thiem more accurately priced than last week
As he was last week in Buenos Aires, top seed Dominic Thiem is the heavy tournament favourite. I said last week he looked very short, at around 6/5, and the market is still keen on the Austrian, although he's now offered at a bigger 7/5 with the Sportsbook, and [2.86] on the Exchange.
He does have a rather easier draw then he did in Argentina last week, with the likes of Guido Pella, Joao Sousa, Marco Cecchinato, Aljaz Bedene and Nicolas Jarry joining him in the top quarter, and after his retirement last time out in the Australian Open in mid-January, he might benefit from those three matches last week. I wouldn't be a major fan of Thiem at prices, but he looks more reasonably priced than he was a week ago.
Difficult to trust inconsistent Fognini
The bottom half of the draw sees a competitive bunch, with Federico Delbonis, Pablo Cuevas, Diego Schwartzman, Dusan Lajovic and Fabio Fognini all possessing competent clay court data. Fognini and Schwartzman look the main contenders, although Schwartzman's first-round match up with Cuevas is a brutal opener for a 500 level event.
The question is whether Fognini can be trusted at around [8.00]. The Italian does love the slow clay he is likely to face here, but his inconsistency is stunning. He's been beaten consecutively in two red clay event openers in South America in the last fortnight, but he's quite capable of running through the field as well. At prices, though, it is difficult to chance Fognini.
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