Tennis is finally ready to kick off in 2020. Oh, I know there is some crazy, duplicative (tell me how it’s different from the new Davis Cup?), doubles-excluding, three-venue tournament going on in Australia… but, who’s watching that.
Doha gets some stand-alone status this week, at least in terms of a trophy an individual can raise. So, let’s break it down and see if we can’t predict who will be winning that title.
Doha got a new surfacing before the 2018 event and the last two years couldn’t have produced more varied results. 8 tiebreaks in 2018, 14 in 2019; 14 matches in 2018 that went the distance, only 9 in 2019; favorites went 23–7 in 2018 and 20–10 in 2019. One further point of departure for Doha, from editions of the past, is that with so many players committed to the ATP Cup Doha will have byes for the first time. The last two years, with the new surface, are also the first two editions since 2004! when one of the top four seeds didn’t win. So, this year could get weird.
This draw is pretty top heavy with only one top 20 player and three top 30 players. The four players who were granted byes are the four big seeds and their outright prices are therefore greatly reduced from the rest of the pack. Let’s investigate them and their quarters.
Stan headlines the draw and the top quarter. It’s not fun to pump the tires of the betting favorite but sometimes it can still be value. Stan is available at +450 at most books and it is hard not to want to grab that. His draw sees two qualifiers (who turned out to be Barrere and Ymer) and a few mid-card kind of players who he has great head-to-heads with. His toughest path, on paper, would be Chardy, Bublik, Raonic, Rublev. Those matches could be lined, roughly, -400, -350, -125, -110. If that’s the case, it makes Wawrinka around 4/1, meaning +450 isn’t a bad deal. Stan has a solid record in the opening weeks of the season — he won Chennai four times during this week of the calendar in previous years and has made the finals here before. He attended Doha last year and made the quarters (and don’t forget, he’s got an Aussie Open title). If Stan comes in motivated and healthy, he has the draw and the track record and price to make him a decent option.
The second quarter, including its big seed Milos Raonic, is probably best avoided. Tennys Sandgren is motivated to find some points (he won Auckland in 2018 and may not be able to defend it next week) but had a terrible end to 2019 playing only three matches after the US Open which included a loss in the Houston Challenger to #333 Michael Redlicki; Verdasco is on the wrong side of 35 and hasn’t won a title since 2016, let alone a hard court title (2010!); Kyle Edmund also had a rough 2019 but did end it well with a 3–0 performance at the Davis Cup. If you had to take someone in the second quarter, it’s probably Edmund at anywhere between 14/1 and 20/1. Milos is the big dog here but, his 2019 was, again, marred by injuries. Raonic only had three wins after the grass season ended last year, an injured Pouille, the #281 ranked Tim Smyczek, and Cameron Norrie. It’s just not inspiring. If he is healthy maybe he can serve his way through this but, it’s doubtful and not value at +550.
The third quarter also contains a big seed that may be fade-able. Tsonga had a solid 2019, winning two ATP titles and a Challenger title. But, dig a little deeper. He has basically become a servebot, winning both his ATP titles on indoor hards and only going 7–6 on outdoor hardcourts. In fact, six of his last seven titles have been on indoor hards and he hasn’t won or been to a final of an outdoor hardcourt event since 2015. He is gettable at this event. The flyers in this quarter who look interesting are Frances Tiafoe and Miomir Kecmanovic. Tiafoe didn’t have a stellar 2019, other than a deep run at the Aussie but he has had success in conditions similar to this — outdoor hards on the ocean side, in wind (Tiafoe won Delray Beach in 2018). He has a moderately tough first match with qualifier Fucsovics but he will be favored in that match and his second match will be considerably easier. If Tsonga gets upset early Tiafoe could have a nice path. He is the right age for a breakout and I could see him taking a step forward in 2020.
Kecmanovic is in a similar situation to Tiafoe. They both had rough second halfs in 2019 and both finished up out in the semis at the NextGen event. Kecmanovic isn’t primed for the top 20 anytime soon but, his hold/break numbers on hard courts in 2019 were very impressive (third only to Rublev and Verdasco in this field) and if he gets past Thompson in the first round, he may be able to ambush Tsonga. Tsonga does not travel overly well anymore. You have to go back to this tournament in 2017 to find the last time Tsonga played outside of Europe, Australia or the US. At 33/1 (Unibet) Kecmanovic is worth a quarter unit.
The fourth quarter, like the first, should be chalky. Rublev is primed for a hell of a 2020. A good run at the US Open, followed by a title in Moscow and a wonderful 4–0 record at the Davis Cup in November. He can hang with the big boys (beat Federer in Cincinnati and Tsitsipas in New York, close losses to Medvedev and Berrettini in the fall) and +450 (Unibet) isn’t a terrible price. His toughest path would be Kukushkin, Sonego, Tsonga, Wawrinka and with prices around -300, -300, -200 and -110 you can get to about +400 on a money line rollover.
It’s the first week of the year, go easy.
Wawrinka +450, x 0.5 (bet365)
Rublev +450, x0.5 (Unibet)
Tiafoe +2000, x0.25 (Unibet)
Kecmanovic +3300, x0.25 (Unibet)