The Asian Swing gets underway in earnest this week as the Tour heads to China for two relatively new events — the Chengdu Open is in its fourth year and the inaugural version of the Zhuhai Open.
This may be the toughest week of the season to handicap — it is the first week of the Asian timezone, it follows the Laver Cup and contains two 250 events, with very little history that proceed two very well paying 500 level events next week, with long lineages. Motivation will be tough to decipher, acclimatizing to conditions will be paramount and finding the right value will be the goal given the lack of ‘chalk’ winners in this week of the calendar.
The ‘lesser’ field this week falls to Chengdu, despite its veteran status compared to Zhuhai; albeit short in the grand scheme of things. This is the fourth year in Chengdu and there are a few things to consider before digging into the attendees. First, this tournament is played a slight altitude. Chengdu is way into the interior of China, nowhere near the modern, plush, east coast, and has an elevation of 500m or 1600 ft. Second, despite being outside, the altitude means it can play pretty fast here (last year there were 18 tiebreaks in 27 matches). Third, it’s upset ridden. In 2015, the pre-courser to Chengdu, in Kuala Lumpur, half of the eight quarter-finalists were outside the top 40; in 2016, the first time in Chengdu, no one in the top 20 made the semi-finals, and the winner was a 20 year, 101st ranked Khachanov; in 2017 it got truly wild and no one in the top 40 even made the quarter-finals, let alone the semis, while the winner was 78th ranked Denis Istomin over the 103rd ranked Marcos Baghdatis; last year, Fognini was the only one in the top 50 to make the semis and he lost in the finals to qualifier and 101st ranked Bernard Tomic. Expect chaos.
The big seeds in Chengdu are John Isner, Benoit Paire, Grigor Dimitrov and Felix Auger-Aliassime. Isner has only ever won two titles off American soil and they were both in Auckland and both more than five distant. In his Asian career (Shanghai, Tokyo, Beijing, Chengdu, Kuala Lumpur) he has only ever won more than two matches in a row one time; 2010 in Beijing. In addition to this, he is coming off the Laver Cup. He is probably not a threat and 5/1 is probably not value.
Paire is coming off his 29th!!! tournament this year in Metz. And he went to the semi-finals there and was up a set before the gas ran out. He dropped the last two sets 16,26 to Bedene. The only success he has ever had in Asia was one final in Tokyo in 2015. The rest of his starts have resulted in first or second-round exits.
FAA’s only Asian history is here in Chengdu, last year. He made the quarters and was eliminated by Tomic. FAA could be primed for a turn-around but, his results since Wimbledon have been atrocious. His only win over anyone in the top 50 was Opelka in three sets in Washington. At 6/1 that just doesn’t cut it.
That leaves Grigor Dimitrov among the big dogs. He re-announced himself on the ‘scene’ at the US Open, making the semi-finals. That literally came out of nowhere though, as Dimitrov was coming off one win in six tournaments. So, is he the guy at the US Open or the guy from this summer who couldn’t win a match? He’s made a bunch of trips to the Far East and has had mixed results but, he is at least comfortable here. Unfortunately, it’s possible the third quarter may actually be the toughest one of the bunch and Dimitrov at 4/1 or 5/1 doesn’t seem like a good deal.
So, where else to look in the draw? As just mentioned the third quarter looks tough — options there would include Daniel Evans and Taylor Fritz. Evans has no history of playing ATP level events in Asia but, Fritz has had great success here in Chengdu. A quarter-final and a semi-final appearance are pretty amazing but he comes in off three straight first-round exits. Those losses could be the result of burn out from back to back finals and three weeks of rest before heading to Chengdu could have him refreshed.
A better option may be in the second quarter. Kyle Edmund gets a potentially exhausted Paire, a struggling Carreno Busta and an ageing Verdasco as his challenges in the quarter. Edmund had a very successful 2018 Asian Swing, making deep runs in Beijing and Shanghai and he has been to Chengdu before, in 2017. His only ATP title came in this fall section of the season, in Antwerp last year. Two of his three losses this summer were to the hottest player on tour (Medvedev at Cincy and Montreal) and there is a chance Edmund can ramp it up again this fall. His combined hold/break hard court numbers always hover around 100% and he is very close to evening his tiebreak record at 0.500. At 16/1, this seems like a solid option.
A brand new event, with a star-studded cast. This is not unusual, even considering the odd location on the calendar. New events routinely spend some big bucks to attract big names and then they fade back into the pack of regular 250 level events. Last year, New York debuted a 250 event and attracted five players in the top 30, including Isner, Querrey, Anderson and Nishikori. This year? Just Isner. The Lyon Open is another recent example — in the inaugural event in 2017, it attracted Raonic, Tsonga, Berdych, Kyrgios, a recovering Del Potro and a teenaged Coric. This year? Nic Basilashvili was the only top 20 seed to attend. There are plenty more examples but, the point remains — new tournaments spend money to get players to attend the first editions. Motivations will be questioned all over the draw.
Tsitsipas, RBA, and Kyrgios are all top 30 players in attendance but, all three were in Geneva at the Laver Cup. Coric was trucked in the finals in St. Pete’s on Sunday and dropped a set in every match he played. Pouille was also in action, losing in the semis in Metz. And Gael Monfils is 4/1.
Who has great hard court stats, should be motivated, at 20 years old, has a history of success on outdoor hard courts and is comfortable in this time zone? Alex DeMinaur. He has had great success in Australia the last two years and he’s played plenty in Asia in his short career. He has the easiest of the quarters — being granted a first round match against John Millman, who was in a Challenger final on Sunday, a recovering Andy Murray, a below-par Tennys Sandgren and a Borna Coric, who like Millman, was in a final on Sunday. At 16/1, he has a great shot to get out of his quarter and his semi-final opponent could be a surprise as both Kyrgios and RBA are coming from Geneva and may not be 100% focused on a 250 in China. Zhuhai is a real crap-shoot and ADM feels like a young guy, with an already established history of success, who should be motivated for another title.
Edmund 16/1, x0.5
DeMinaur 16/1, x0.5