The International Tennis Hall of Fame tournament… in Rhode Island. It’s the true silly season of tennis, post-Wimbledon. The next few weeks sees the tennis tour play on all three surfaces across Europe and North America before truly entering the second hard court season in August. July is a strange month for tennis.
So, tennis fans are blessed with a grass tournament and two clay events this week. All of which lack a certain air of importance. But, let’s dig in and find some winners.
This may be the easiest write-up of the year. There is ONE player in the top 40 in the draw. There are only 12 of 32 spots in the draw allotted to someone in the top 100. This is one of the worst fields of the season. Isner has won this event three times and if he doesn’t win it this year, well, maybe he should reconsider things.
It’s kind of amazing that he is available at +333 (or higher in some places). Take it. And Run, don’t walk.
Maybe the most picturesque stop on the tour takes us to Umag, Croatia. It is super, duper hot there this time of year, so it’s all evening tennis, under the lights — afternoon for us North America east-coasters. This tournament is lightly attended, to put it mildly, but, yet is almost routinely won by a “big” name. There are five top 50 players in the field, including top ten talent Fabio Fognini but, also at least ten (pending qualifying) players outside the top 100 in the draw.
What usually happens here is one or two of the big seeds are just in town for a little post-Wimbledon vacation and go out in their first match (in the last five years a player with a bye has lost their first match every year) and another of the big seeds wins it (Thiem in 2015, Fog in 2016, Cecchinato in 2018). Andrey Rublev is the one, recent surprise winner, coming through qualifying and shocking the field in 2017. All of the seeds here this week have warts — Fog’s motivation is always in question and he did not get a friendly draw, Lajovic hasn’t won any matches since his Cinderella run in Monte Carlo, and Coric missed Wimbledon with an injury. The seed with the best chance is probably Laslo Djere, who has a title and a couple of other semi-finals already in 2019. The concern with him would be that his semi-final may include Fognini and Djere would seem to be in pretty terrible form, going 1–3 during the grass season. Maybe a return to clay props him up but, there may be a better option in the draw.
One of the only guys in the draw, who is not a big four seed, with a history of winning titles, specifically on clay, is Martin Klizan. Klizan loves clay and he excels in this weird portion of the season, post-Wimbledon, pre-hard court. He’s won Hamburg and Kitzbuhel before, both tournaments squashed into the weird tennis month of July. Umag would complete the July European trifecta for him. His clay court stats, be they combined hold/break stats or career winning percentage on the surface, or prowess in tiebreaks, match up with anyone else in the draw. His 108% combined hold/break on clay in 2018 trails only Coric in this field. He is one of only seven players in the field with a positive tiebreak record and he has the third highest career winning percentage on clay in the field (behind Fog and Djere). He also landed in the quarter with Coric, who may not be 100% healthy yet. At 16/1, Klizan is the pick.
Bastad is easily the most interesting tournament of the week (as it usually is). The field is (relatively) loaded for a 250. What they are lacking in top 20 talent they make up for with depth. Four guys in the top 50, only seven guys outside the top 100 and another top 50 guy is in qualifying. There are lots of options to like here.
Like Umag, this tournament is hardly ever won by a surprise player. When it isn’t the top seed, it’s a clay specialist who was in consideration (Benoit Paire in 2015 and Carlos Berlocq in 2013 would be the most “shocking” winners).
There are so many names to consider here. Verdasco has gone deep here, like, nine or ten times. Always making the semis (four times) or the finals (two times). He never wins though and he has a tough, tough draw. Cristian Garin already has two titles and another finals appearance in 2019. But, he also does not have a fun draw, with Nic Jarry and Jeremy Chardy in the top quarter. Pablo Cuevas has won this tournament before and has a huge serve to wield. What’s concerning is that he hasn’t won a title outside of South America since pulling the Bastad, Umag double in 2014. The plan here instead is to split some money between a few options.
Richard Gasquet is a seed with a decent draw. Nobody in top 60 landed in his quarter and he is the only seeded player who has no chance of meeting a qualifier in his first match (more on that later). Gasquet excels in 250’s (all fifteen of his titles are in 250’s) and he excels on clay (career 0.631 winner, 111% combined hold/break on clay last year). At 9/1 he is the best seeded option.
The fourth quarter is loaded but, that means a lot of potentially long, draining matches. The person who may benefit from that is a youthful Casper Ruud. He has been to a semi-final and a final on clay this year and sandwiched around Wimbledon he made a clay Challenger semi and quarter. He is seemingly in good form, has already transitioned from grass, he’s already had success here (quarter-finals last year) and lastly, he avoids playing a qualifier spot in his first two matches (again, more on that later).
If you are looking for a long shot or an option in the top half of the bracket, consider Thiago Monteiro. Like, Ruud, he has already been back on clay for a week, winning the German Challenger event after Wimbledon. He has a big serve, solid clay stats and is obviously in good form. At 25/1, he is worth a few dollars.
One thing to keep an eye on… Pablo Carreno Busta missed the sign-up for the tournament and is in the qualifying draw. He is a former top 10 player and is very proficient on clay. He should qualify for the main draw and he will possibly make life difficult for one of the three seeds not named Richard Gasquet.
Isner — Newport x1
Klizan — Umag x1
Gasquet — Bastad x0.5
Ruud — Bastad x0.25
Monteiro — Bastad x0.25