Following a week off from regular tour action due to the Davis Cup, the ATP Tour returns with two indoor hard court events. Our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, is back to preview the tournaments...
"Conditions in St Petersburg are likely to be pretty slow for an Indoor Hard venue. Across the last three years on the ATP Tour, 80.3% of service games have been held, but this figure drops to 77.1% here. "
The ATP Tour returns to Indoor Hard courts this week
The Indoor events this week in Europe signal the start of the latter stages of the season - with just under two months left, and no Grand Slams, there are just two Masters and the season-ending World Tour Finals remaining of the major tournaments on the calendar, and the surfaces are split between Indoor Hard (Europe) and outdoor hard (Asia).
Understanding fatigue useful post-Davis Cup
Prior to this move to Asia, there are two fairly low-profile indoor tournaments this week in Metz and St Petersburg, and as always after Davis Cup week, there needs to be consideration given to those players who had arduous playing or travel schedules over the previous weekend.
One example of a player who will have had to fly long distances is Guido Pella, with the Argentine needing to fly from his native country to Russia - surely not a straightforward exercise - prior to his first-round meeting with a qualifier in St Petersburg. In previous years, more players used to play immediately after long Davis Cup journeys, but with players being a little more aware of the effect of this on their bodies, this is less commonplace.
Slow conditions anticipated in Russia
Conditions in St Petersburg are likely to be pretty slow for an Indoor Hard venue. Across the last three years on the ATP Tour, 80.3% of service games have been held, but this figure drops to 77.1% here. In addition, the 0.41 aces per game figure is very low (not far off clay numbers) and is 0.15 aces per game lower than the ATP Tour average.
With this in mind, it looks unlikely that serve-orientated players will derive any benefit from conditions, at least compared to other indoor venues, and in fairness, there aren't an abundance of these in the entry list. Denis Shapovalov is one example though, and I do feel that the Canadian does his best work in quicker conditions generally - perhaps he might have been better served going to Metz, assuming there aren't any other factors at play in his decision-making (for example, Russia is closer to Asia than France).
Looking at the entry list, it's clear to see that big-servers also have not thrived. This decade, only Milos Raonic is a winner that has fitted into this profile, with last year's final between Damir Dzumhur and Fabio Fognini a rather return-orientated clash.
Opposing Cecchinato in quarter two makes sense
The draw is interesting to analyse, with quarter two a worthwhile starting place. Marco Cecchinato is the seed with a bye, but the Italian has no track record whatsoever away from clay, although he might enjoy the slower conditions a little more than normal. Taking on the Italian surely is mandatory though.
However, the key question is who to do it with. Roberto Bautista-Agut would be a logical choice in normal circumstances, but the Spaniard hasn't been fit and is coming off the back of a marathon Davis Cup meeting with Lucas Pouille. Perhaps Marcos Baghdatis, at a huge 33/1, is worth considering as an each-way option. The Cypriot, despite a decline, is still running at above 100% for his combined serve/return points won percentage on hard/indoor hard this year, and given the ease of his draw in quarter two, he looks an interesting long-shot option.
Despite the presence of a few qualifiers, the bottom half of the draw looks to have more depth, with some solid indoor competitors mixed with strong young prospects, as well as a potentially resurgent Stan Wawrinka, so a small stake on Baghdatis is our play in Russia.
Indoor specialists likely to thrive in Metz
Over in Metz, conditions are likely to be much quicker, with 83.2% of service games held across the last three years and a very high 0.64 aces per game figure. Certainly, I'd anticipate big-servers to enjoy proceedings much more than in Russia.
This is evidenced a little by the previous winners list, with players with good indoor records such as Lucas Pouille, David Goffin and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga among recent winners.
Nishikori and Gasquet vulnerable at the top of the market
Top seed Kei Nishikori is the 11/4 favourite following a solid showing in the US Open, with Richard Gasquet narrowly behind at 10/3. It will be interesting to see how Nishikori performs, given his potential second round clash with previous winners Peter Gojowczyk and the aforementioned Tsonga (who hasn't been fit for quite some time). Wild card Ugo Humbert also is a player of high potential in this bracket.
As for Gasquet, he has a gift draw in quarter three without any big names apart from the declining Gilles Simon. However, I'm not convinced that he's fully fit either, given that he's only won two matches (both as a heavy favourite) since he gave a walkover in the second round of Hamburg two months ago.
Indoor specialist Pouille with a strong chance in quarter two
In the bottom quarter, Stefanos Tsitsipas is the seed with a bye but still has lots to prove indoors, and may be tested by some of the lower-profile names in the bracket, such as Max Marterer, Adrian Mannarino or Marton Fucsovics, and with so many doubts on many players, the player I do prefer more than most is Lucas Pouille in quarter two.
The Frenchman has a first round bye and an excellent indoor record (109.1% combined hold/break percentage in the last 12 months), but the Sportsbook aren't taking any chances whatsoever by making him the 6/1 third favourite. If he was a little bigger - 7/1+ - he'd look to be the best of a bad bunch here in North East France.
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