After a week's break for the Davis Cup, the ATP Tour returns to action with two indoor hard events at St. Petersburg and Metz in the coming week. Our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, returns to preview the conditions and contenders...
"The Spaniard, Bautista-Agut, is an interesting prospect to dig a little deeper into his data. He's reached the semi-final or better in seven of his previous ten indoor hard 250 or 500 level events."
Prize pool greater in St. Petersburg than Metz
Two relatively low-profile indoor hard events take centre-stage in the coming week on the ATP Tour, and with many players having Davis Cup commitments, it's worth noting that most home ties in the Davis Cup were in Europe, so there is unlikely to be many players with travel fatigue in this week's tournaments.
Despite both events being 250 level tournaments, the prize pool at St. Petersburg is around double ($1.06m) to that of Metz (€540k), although this discrepancy isn't particularly evident in the quality of the fields, which look of generally similar quality.
Slow conditions expected in Russia
In Russia, conditions are expected to be slow for indoor hard courts. Historically, just 62.4% of service points were won at the venue in the last three years, below the 63.6% ATP indoor hard mean in the last 12 months, while the aces per game count in St. Petersburg was also low - running at 0.43 per game, compared to the surface mean of 0.54.
Given this, I don't particularly expect the event to be as serve-orientated as the usual ATP indoor hard event, and thus conditions are not anticipated to be beneficial to big-servers.
Tsonga entry in St. Petersburg a surprise
Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, considering the deficiencies in most tennis players' scheduling abilities, only one big server has entered in Russia - Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - and the Frenchman's inclusion on the entry list is bizarre considering that Metz offers quicker conditions, and he's already played Davis Cup in France last weekend as well.
However, looking at the player data for the last 12 months on hard and indoor hard courts, Tsonga does lead the combined service points and return points won percentages (106.0%), although he'd also do so in his home country event also.
Bautista-Agut with track record in low-profile events
Roberto Bautista-Agut (105.8%) isn't far behind, and joins Tsonga as seeded players receiving a first round bye, as does Adrian Mannarino and Fabio Fognini. Statistically, there isn't much to get excited about with Mannarino or Fognini indoors, although both are streaky players who could easily play at a high level on a given week.
The Spaniard, Bautista-Agut, is an interesting prospect to dig a little deeper into his data. He's reached the semi-final or better in seven of his previous ten indoor hard 250 or 500 level events, and is in reasonable touch following his win in Winston Salem prior to the US Open, where he fell to Juan Martin Del Potro.
Facing either Jiri Vesely or Rogerio Dutra Da Silva in the second round ensures he'll be a strong favourite to make the quarter-finals, while there are worse quarter-final draws than the likes of Andrey Kuznetsov or the out of form Viktor Troicki. Fognini or Philipp Kohlschreiber are the main potential semi-final threats, but I see little to dissuade a position on Bautista-Agut at 4/1 with the Sportsbook.
Even-looking field facing quick conditions in Metz
Over in Metz, the field is very even-looking, with Richard Gasquet being the front-runner from a serve/return points won perspective (104.0%), although the Frenchman's bizarre preparation for the event consisted of winning the Szczecin Challenger on clay in the past week, defeating Florian Mayer in the final.
Conditions in France are much quicker than Russia, with 66.2% of service points being won in the last three years at the Arenes de Metz in the last three years. A 0.66 aces per game count is also extremely high, and it's worth noting that French players have thrived at this event, with seven of the last eight winners being home players.
The previously mentioned Tsonga actually won three of these, giving further weight to questioning his efforts to travel to Russia, while Lucas Pouille triumphed last year, and Pouille is again in the field, being one of eight players with combined serve/return points won percentages in excess of 100%.
Strong servers likely to thrive in conditions
Pouille benefits from a first round bye, along with 2014 champion David Goffin, Pablo Carreno-Busta and Gilles Muller, and in these conditions, looking at those players with above-average combined percentages, as well as strong service numbers in isolation, is likely to be advantageous.
This filters down the entry list to Gasquet, Carreno-Busta, Muller, Pouille, Mischa Zverev, and quite surprisingly (albeit from a smaller sample size than is ideal), Julien Benneteau.
I quite like the older Zverev brother in these conditions, given his serve-volley style, but given that he's in the in-form Carreno-Busta's first quarter, I'm not so keen to recommend the German.
Fast-condition specialist Copil a big price
In the second quarter, last year's winner Pouille has a gift draw, with the out of form Gilles Simon the seeded player in his quarter, and potentially the biggest threat in his quarter could come from Marius Copil, with the Romanian thriving on quick indoor courts. Those who are keen to back an outsider will see worse 40/1 each-way bets than Copil in these conditions.
Another player I like here is Gilles Muller in quarter three, with only Gasquet likely to be a major threat. Having said this, I'd have anticipated Muller to be a bigger price than the Frenchman, but he's currently 11/2 with the Sportsbook, with Gasquet at 8/1.
Quarter four is interesting, with David Goffin the obvious favourite to progress, although the Belgian has been far from impressive in main tour since his bad ankle injury at the French Open - he's only won consecutive matches at an event once since - although he impressed in victory over Nick Kyrgios in the Davis Cup yesterday. Benneteau could be a dark horse in this bracket, as well as Benoit Paire in his home country, with the Frenchman capable of exhibiting extremely variable levels of performance.
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