With the ATP Tour season moving into week two, our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, returns to assess the two final warm-up events before the Australian Open starts in a week's time...
"Johnson is another player whose basic service/return points won data is better than their win percentage, and this should lean towards some positive mean-reversion. In addition, he should enjoy the quick conditions in New Zealand, and has that solid record in recent years in events immediately prior to Grand Slams. With all this considered, he's worth chancing each-way at this big price."
Beaten Medvedev one of the contenders for Sydney title
Roberto Bautista-Agut shocked Novak Djokovic to lift the trophy in Doha on Saturday, and keep up his magnificent record of winning tournaments prior to the Australian Open. He also tends to have a lot of success in Auckland, but has unsurprisingly withdrawn after his unexpected title in Qatar. There were also wins for Kevin Anderson, and in a topsy turvy final today with Daniil Medvedev, for Kei Nishikori.
Beaten finalist Medvedev is defending champion in Sydney, after getting the better of Alex De Minaur in a tight three-setter last year, and both of these take their place in this week's draw - both are around the favourites for glory here.
Young prospects at the forefront of the outright market
Stefanos Tsitsipas is the market favourite, priced around the 9/2 mark (general market pricing), with Medvedev (6/1) and De Minaur (7/1) a little further back in what looks a pretty open event. I anticipate conditions to be medium-paced, with there being little deviation from mean figures over the last few years, and such an assertion allows us to treat players on their relative merits in the coming week.
Joining seeds with byes Tsitsipas, Medvedev, Simon and Schwartzman as confirmed in round two are Martin Klizan and Jordan Thompson, who kicked off the tournament in a low-key opening day overnight, and looking at the draw, the top half looks pretty weak indeed and it's not overly surprising that Tsitsipas has been awarded favourite status on this basis, despite not boasting the best hard court data (98.7% combined serve points/return points won percentage) on hard court in the last six months.
Tsitsipas can be opposed in the coming week
Tsitsipas' strengths during this time period were winning tight sets and matches, and it's quite conceivable that he could be viably opposed in the handicap markets in matches here in Sydney. It's also extremely debatable as to whether he can continue such results without improving those base numbers - most players who overperform service/return points won expectations tend to mean-revert.
I'd be more than fine with opposing the Greek youngster in Sydney this week, but the question is with who - his top quarter looks weak, with perhaps Jeremy Chardy representing his biggest threat, while Diego Schwartzman, Lucas Pouille, Ryan Harrison and Andrey Rublev look best-placed to be a potential semi-final rival.
Of these, Schwartzman's 12 month hard court data isn't bad, and represents that his win percentage doesn't flatter him at all, while Pouille's level towards the end of 2018 wasn't impressive at all. Harrison's hard court data makes him a possible contender as well and he lost a very tight match against Nick Kyrgios last week. If you can get the best market price of around 25/1 on the American, he'd not be the worst outright pick you'd ever make.
Querrey with potential in the bottom half of the draw
In the bottom half of the draw, it wouldn't surprise me if Sam Querrey had a good hard court season. His results last year were so far down on his serve/return points won percentage that mean-reversion is as certain as it can be, but there are a number of viable other threats in this bracket, including a number of rapidly improving young prospects - we'll stick to Harrison if you can get the 25/1.
Isner favourite in open-looking Auckland event
Across in Auckland, John Isner is the 11/4 favourite with the Sportsbook in what looks another very open tournament indeed. Fabio Fognini (9/2) is second favourite, with Gael Monfils and Pablo Carreno-Busta (both 11/2) slightly further back.
All of this quartet, with the exception of Monfils, have first round byes as one of the top four seeds, with the players in the third quarter featuring the other seed, Marco Cecchinato, the beneficiary of a lucky draw, and this also now includes Steve Johnson, who has stepped up to be a seed in Bautista-Agut's absence.
Johnson can take advantage of weak third quarter
Given the seeding of Cecchinato and withdrawal of Bautista-Agut, finding a player in the third quarter to back makes a lot of sense, particularly as Fabio Fognini - not a noted fan of the anticipated quick hard courts - is the other seed in this half of the draw.
The aforementioned Johnson (33/1) makes the shortlist, with the American having an excellent record in pre-Slam warm-up events. The improving Italian prospect, Matteo Berrettini is really the only other viable option in this segment of the draw.
Johnson is another player whose basic service/return points won data is better than their win percentage, and this should lean towards some positive mean-reversion. In addition, he should enjoy the quick conditions in New Zealand, and has that solid record in recent years in events immediately prior to Grand Slams. With all this considered, he's worth chancing each-way at this big price.
Back Ryan Harrison to win ATP Sydney each-way at around 25/1
Back Steve Johnson to win ATP Auckland each-way at 33/1
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