Following around a five-month lay-off, main tour Tennis action gets back underway in Palermo today, and Dan Weston has eight first-round matches to discuss for our opening day preview...
"From the start of 2019 onwards, Errani's weak serve has struggled even more, and she's winning far below 50% of service points during this time period, even at ITF level, and my view is that an opponent in Cirstea who has posted around-average return data should be able to take advantage here. "
Welcome return to main tour Tennis action today in Palermo
It feels like it has been much longer than five months since we last saw main tour tennis action, but the return of the WTA Tour in Palermo is certainly a welcome one, as tennis joins most other main sports in returning to action. With the US Open scheduled for the end of August, all preparation is likely to be focused on success in New York, although several of the tournaments this month are on clay, and that is the case here in Palermo throughout the coming week.
Return-orientated matches likely on today's schedule
Based on the data from last year's event, surprisingly won by Jill Teichmann, conditions are likely to be medium-slow for a clay court, so I'm not expecting an abundance of serve-orientated matches, although the final match on the schedule between Kristyna Pliskova and Maria Sakkari is the most likely to conform to that dynamic - matches get underway at 1500 UK time this afternoon and there aren't any very strong favourites in any match, with all favourites currently priced in excess of 1.40 on the Exchange.
Cirstea to cover handicap against Errani
One of the earlier matches on the schedule features Sara Errani and Sorana Cirstea, and this is certainly a match which should be very return-orientated given Errani's weak, and further declining, serve. At her peak, Errani was a magnificent clay courter, but at 33 years of age, her powers are now on the wane and she's needed a wild-card to get main draw entry in her home country.
Cirstea traded in excess of [1.60] when the market opened and that, to me, was an absurd price. From the start of 2019 onwards, Errani's weak serve has struggled even more, and she's winning far below 50% of service points during this time period, even at ITF level, and my view is that an opponent in Cirstea who has posted around-average return data should be able to take advantage here.
Errani still has a strong return game, but it's tough to look past Cirstea here. My model made her considerably shorter than current market prices, and while I'm recommending cautious staking in this opening week of the resumed season, Cirstea looks the pick of the bunch here today in terms of value. The 4/7 about the Romanian with the Sportsbook is market-leading, as is Cirstea -2.5 games on the game handicap, which is 5/6, and this is my selection for today's matches.
Alexandrova facing fitness-doubt Mladenovic
In other matches, I'd be keen to take on Ekaterina Alexandrova on clay - the Russian does her best work in quicker conditions - but it's difficult to do so even at odds against for her opponent, Kristina Mladenovic. My numbers suggest Mladenovic is markedly the better clay courter, but she retired last time out several weeks ago in a French exhibition tournament when a set down to a player ranked outside the top 600. If Mladenovic is fit, the [2.02] would be an excellent price, but with those fitness doubts surrounding Mladenovic, it might be worth waiting for round two to oppose Alexandrova.
I'm also interested to see how Elisabetta Cocciaretto perfoms against a strong clay-courter in Polona Hercog. Cocciaretto's ITF level data is pretty decent for a player having recently turned 19 years of age, and she looks a player worth keeping an eye on for clay tournaments in the future - she is likely to be able to translate that success to main tour level. However, today, I think Hercog is priced relatively accurately at [1.54].
Clay-court exhibition time could benefit Siegemund
Finally, it will be interesting to see who prevails in one of the earlier matches on the schedule, between Laura Siegemund and Irina Begu. Both have a pretty decent historical peak level on clay, but Siegemund has played numerous clay exhibition tournaments in her native Germany in the last couple of months. Even though most of her matches were against low-ranked opposition, she could benefit from this against Begu, who struggled a little in a Romanian exhibition event at the start of July, losing several matches as a strong favourite.
Follow Dan on Twitter @TennisRatings