Tournament Previews 29 July - 4 August


There are four tournaments this week, two WTA (both on Hard Court) in the USA in Carlsbad and Washington.  Washington also has a men’s event, and as we finish the clay court season, there is action in Kitzbuhel in Austria.

I’ll start by looking at the men’s clay event, played at altitude in Kitzbuhel.  The Bet At Home Cup (apparently it's fine for betting companies to sponsor tournaments...) is a low-profile 250 event, which has been a favourite’s graveyard in recent years.  It’s got just a 56% favourite success record, which is a fair bit below the 66% clay average, the 63% 250 average and the 250’s on clay average of 60%.  So backing underdogs here would definitely appear the way forward there, and I’ll be pretty cautious about backing pre-match favourites when losing in play.  Last year the stats slightly favoured the receivers, with service hold being 74.3%, compared to the ATP average of 75.6% on clay.  However this may have been because the players were unable to save break points – just 55.1% to 59.1% clay average.  This was also theme in 2011 which featured even lower serve success – 69.9% and 53.4% break point save.  Laying servers should be very worthwhile here – it’s unlikely the majority of market will be aware of this.

Robin Haase has won two of his three ATP titles here in the last two years, defeating Philipp Kohlschreiber last year and Albert Montanes in 2011, both in three sets.  He has an incredible 9-0 record here.  How he will fare this week after losing in the final of Gstaad to Mikhail Youzhny will be interesting – will he be able to continue his amazing success here or will he get tired and bow out early? 

For me, the bottom half of the draw is significantly weaker than the top half.  Jurgen Melzer is the 4th seed and gets a bye to the second round – however he is zero threat on clay, winning just two matches on the surface from nine in the last 12 months.  Not only that, he’s held serve a mere 61.2% of the time in those matches so it’s almost certain I will take him on from the start of the tournament.  That opens up his segment of the draw nicely and after a good week, getting to the semi-finals in Gstaad, perhaps Victor Hanescu at 33/1 can make some headway and get at least to the semi-finals again.  Whoever wins the little bracket between Albert Montanes, Adrian Ungur (highly unlikely), Hanescu or Aljaz Bedene has a pretty winnable quarter-final against Melzer, Andrey Kuznetsov or the young wildcard Dominic Thiem.

The favourite out of the bottom half is Juan Monaco.  Actually I make him favourite for the tournament, but the bookmakers cannot split him with the top seed Philipp Kohlschreiber, both at 4/1.  However I can’t make a case for Kohlschreiber, as he has Haase, plus Fernando Verdasco, Carlos Berlocq and Thomaz Bellucci in his half of the draw, amongst others.  Out of those, I like Berlocq’s chances the most and at 20/1 he could be a long shot worth following.

The Citi Open in Washington is an ATP 500 Hard Court event and has a 48 player draw, so there will be plenty of opportunities there this week.  16 players are seeded which is slightly excessive and some of the seeds are pretty weak (I’m thinking Tomic, Benneteau, Simon and Baghdatis, at least).  What I like about the field here is that there are some seeds and bigger name players that have recent poor form and/or recent poor hard court records – I’m thinking at least those above, plus Grigor Dimitrov, Feliciano Lopez and perhaps Alexandr Dolgopolov (the defending champion) as well.  These are players I’m probably going to take on this week.

Favourite success is pretty mediocre.  My sample shows 68% which clearly is a lot higher than Kitzbuhel but that’s a touch lower than the overall 69% on hard courts, 70% in 500’s and 72% in hard court 500 events.  I’ll probably just treat every match on its own merits regarding favourite/underdog bias.  Both 2011 and 2012 tournaments featured very marginally above average service holds – 2012 was 79.8% which is just above the 78.0% hard court average. 

2008 and 2009 champion Juan Martin Del Potro is the top seed and justifiably is favourite.  However 2/1 appears very short, considering the quality of the field. 

Looking at the draw, I feel the second seed Kei Nishikori at 11/1 appears much better value, as he boasts impressive hard court stats and can definitely feel his way into the tournament with some easy openers – either Jack Sock or Igor Sijsling (who has a very poor recent hard court record) first up, and then either Marcos Baghdatis, Alejandro Falla or Lukas Lacko next.  He’d also have the required return game to dismantle John Isner in a quarter final too.

The top half of the bottom half of the draw is also interesting.  Milos Raonic, as 4th seed, is the top seed in that part but had a very poor grass court season and can’t be relied on currently.  Gilles Simon, the 5th seed, is weak on hard courts, getting broken far too often (he has only held 69.1% in the last 12 months on the surface), so I like a couple of veterans to cause some surprises and get out of that quarter…

Both Radek Stepanek and Nikolay Davydenko are in the winter of their careers but have still got impressive stats on hard courts.  In the last 12 months, Stepanek has held 82.0% and broken 25.0%, and Davydenko 78.9% and 31.9%.  Stepanek faces wild card Steve Johnson in the first round, followed by Feliciano Lopez next.  Should he win, he will either face Simon, Dmitry Tursunov or a qualifier.  That’s a very nice introduction to the draw and should he get that far, the 100/1 on him winning will not exist.

That’s the same price available on the Russian veteran, Davydenko.  He gets a bye into round 2, and then takes on either James Blake or Marinko Matosevic.  After that, it’s either the promising youngster, Denis Kudla, a qualifier or the out of form Raonic.   With Davydenko being a player the market prices very much on current form, it’s highly likely that his 100/1 will contract significantly should he get past the Canadian.

Another player available from the raft at 100/1 is Ivan Dodig, in the bottom half of the top half of the draw.  I like the Croatian’s chances of having a run this week – he either takes on Tobias Kamke or Ricardas Berankis (who he beat last week) in the second round, followed by Tommy Haas (no doubt a huge threat).  However I feel he does have the game to trouble the German, and he’s also not at all overawed about playing more illustrious opponents.  Should he get past Haas, his likely opponents are either Grigor Dimitrov (who currently has no real hard court record to boast of) or Sam Querrey, who will be a tough, but again beatable, opponent.

The WTA Citi Open also takes place in Washington this week.  This is the lower calibre of the two WTA events, being an International event.

Angelique Kerber, the world number 9, is the top seed, in a tournament which last year featured marginally more service holds (64.7% to the 63.1% average) last year. 

The betting isn’t available yet, but I make the bottom half of the draw much weaker than the top half, in what promises to be a very open tournament.  Sloane Stephens is the second seed and therefore is seeded to come through the bottom half of the draw, but I’m not going to recommend her, feeling she will be priced short and also I prefer the chances of Mona Barthel (who will definitely be happy returning to hard courts – especially one which may be slightly quicker than average) and Andrea Petkovic.  Both have decent hard court stats over the last year and I like the chances of one of these to come through the weaker bottom half to make the final. 

After disappointing last week in Stanford, could Madison Keys have a run here?  Her stats would indicate she has a decent chance of a semi-final place.  I feel it’s between her and Ekaterina Makarova to make it through to a probable semi-final with Kerber, who has a pretty facile run to that point.  I think only defending champion Magdalena Rybarikova represents a realistic threat to her in the first quarter of the draw.

The Premier event, the Mercury Insurance Open, in Carlsbad has attracted more top players with world number 3, Victoria Azarenka the top seed.  How fit will she be after withdrawing from Wimbledon with injury?  She can’t be backed with any confidence at all priced at 11/8 due to that – although it must be said her hard court record is an incredible 31-1 in the last 12 months, breaking opponents a truly amazing 61.5% in that time.

Last year Dominika Cibulkova defeated Marion Bartoli in the final and due to injury herself, Bartoli isn’t competing.  Cibulkova takes on Agnieszka Radwanska (this years 2nd seed and 2011 champion) in the final of Stanford tonight.

Last year Carlsbad had a high service hold percentage of 67.9%, well above the WTA average of 62.9%.  Therefore laying the server should be applied very carefully and selectively this week for in-play traders. 

Top players can cope with consecutive tournaments a lot better than the lower ranked players.  It’s my firm belief that fitness (as well as mental strength) is a big difference between top players and lower ones and my stats on this back my beliefs up.   Therefore I like the chances of Agniezska Radwanska to make it through to the final.  She’s 6/1 to win the event.  According to my hold/break statistics, Petra Kvitova and Sam Stosur should be her main threats but both are currently struggling with form and I’d make Radwanska a decent favourite to get past either of those.

I’m surprised to see Svetlana Kuznetsova installed as equal 4th favourite at 11/1 with Stosur.  Her hard court stats in the last year are nothing special at all and based on those I can’t see her easily getting past either Laura Robson or Petra Kvitova in the quarter finals. 

I’m not keen on sticking my neck out in the top half of the draw, with Azarenka the overwhelming favourite should she be 100% fit, and otherwise it’s fairly open.  Jelena Jankovic, Roberta Vinci, Dominika Cibulkova and Ana Ivanovic have similar decent hard court stats whilst the half also contains promising youngsters Mallory Burdette and Monica Puig, as well as the improving Bethanie Mattek-Sands, whose game should be well suited to a fast hard court 

You can take my recommendations whichever way you would like.  If liquidity allows, you can back-to-lay on Betfair.  For longer odds, each way selections are also possible.  Last week I recommended Robin Haase (finalist at Gstaad at 50/1), and Elina Svitolina (I didn’t have the odds at the time of writing but I believe 12/1 was available to win Baku). 

This week’s recommendations:-

ATP Kitzbuhel:  Victor Hanescu (33/1), Carlos Berlocq (20/1), Juan Monaco (4/1).

ATP Washington:- Kei Nishikori (11/1), Radek Stepanek (100/1), Nikolay Davydenko (100/1), Ivan Dodig (100/1).

WTA Washington:-  No prices currently available, but I like the chances of Andrea Petkovic, Mona Barthel and Madison Keys to make a good run in this.

WTA Carlsbad:- Agnieszka Radwanska (6/1).

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