Competing 500 level events! That’s a theme throughout the ATP calendar — as Dubai and Acapulco happen the same week, Halle and Queens happen the same week, in June, and later this year Vienna and Basel will coincide. The crown jewel of the 500 level series though, the Beijing Open, gets played this week, alongside fellow 500 level event, the Tokyo Open. Both are hard courts, that play on the faster side, with centre courts under retractable roofs, in capital cities, and both are well attended as warmups to next weeks Master Series event in Shanghai. It’s just that Beijing is slightly better attended than Tokyo. This could be because Beijing has a purse that is almost double the size of Tokyo’s but hey, that’s just a guess.
Tokyo gets the headliner this week, as Novak Djokovic makes his first visit to the Japanese capital. Djokovic was a regular in Beijing, winning that tournament an incredible six times in its short history. But, he’s opted for a little change this year so, first things first, we need to handicap the Serb.
There is no dispute when Novak is healthy and motivated, he is the best on tour. He hasn’t played since he retired down a few sets to Wawrinka at the US Open and he has never been to this venue before. So, there is hope he may not walk through this field. Although, that outcome certainly exists. Novak is the chalkiest of outrights this week, at -138, and the field is a little watered down in comparison to its sister event in Beijing. There are only three top 20 players here this week and none of them landed anywhere near Novak. He gets a qualifier in his first-round match and Lucas Pouille, at #24, is the highest-ranked competitor in his quarter. But, Djoker has played Pouille twice this year on hard courts and neither has been a challenge. In fact, the toughest competition for Djokovic in his quarter may be Hubert Hurkacz. His game is on the rise and he played well against Novak at Wimbledon. Statistically, there is not much of an argument to make AGAINST Djokovic — this tournament caters to higher seeded players, players who are rested and did not play last week, and players that are near the top of the charts in holding serve and. Novak checks all those boxes. So, assuming he is healthy, Novak’s hold/break numbers on hard courts should speak for themselves (121% combined this year, 117% last year, far above the rest of the field) and we should look in the bottom half for an outright.
No one in the past five years has made the Tokyo final outside the top 35, they usually need to have played in Tokyo before, it helps if they didn’t play last week, and all twelve of the semi-finalists in the past three seasons have had combined hold/break numbers over 102% by this point in the season. That highlights a few guys in the bottom half — Filip Krajinovic, Adrian Mannarino, Jordan Thompson, Alex DeMinaur and Borna Coric.
Krajinovic goes really well indoors, with good runs in Montpellier and Metz this year, and he may be the best option in the weakest quarter, the third. It’s the most wide-open section with Paire as the big seed in the quarter and his motivations are always in question. The semi-final and final look daunting though but, at 28/1 Kraj is interesting. He comes in with a combined hold/break number that is always over 100%, he is over 0.500 for his career on hard courts and he is not terrible against big servers (9–15 for his ATP careers). Opelka is the big server being referenced there and he is a terror indoors (hit an outright on him in New York this year!) He has very little experience in Asia though and that eliminates him. Thompson has never been to Tokyo before and most of his hardcourt success is derived from the early part of the calendar. Since Wimbledon, Thompson has entered six hardcourt events and only won back-to-back matches at one of them. Also, he has Mannarino, Coric and DeMinaur in his quarter of the draw. Mannarino is not someone that inspires in 500’s and 1000’s, so he’s out. Coric is obviously one of the bigger names but, his 2019 is litered with him dropping big matches in bad fashion (case in point, the St. Pete’s final two weeks ago). That leaves DeMinaur. He is coming off a title in Zhuhai (his third this year!) so he may not be 100% but, there is precedent for this. In 2014 Nishikori won Kuala Lumpar and then Tokyo and in 2017 Goffin won Shenzhen and then Tokyo. So, DeMinaur can do it! His hard court stats are next level at the moment and he is trustworthy to beat the older, higher ranked players that next-genners tend to struggle with (see RBA last week, Nishikori at the Open). Whether you also like Kraj and ADM, or fancy someone else in the bottom half, the recommendation here is to take that outright each/way if possible to avoid the Djoker sledgehammer in the final.
Beijing is a unique event. It’s relatively new by ATP standards, its been won SIX times in its short history by the same dude (who is not in attendance this week), it’s got the largest purse of 500 events by far so it draws a huge field and it’s a pretty quick hardcourt event with lots of similar results. In the last three years, the only player outside the top 20 to make the semis was Basilashvili last year when there was a string of upsets. Ten of the twelve semi-finalists in the last three years have held serve more than 80% of the time and likewise, eleven of the twelve had combined hold/break numbers on hard courts over 100% (Basil being an outlier both times). Every semi-finalist has been a plus player in tiebreaks and it helps to have not played last week.
With that criteria it’s easy to pick out Monfils, Thiem, RBA, Zverev, Berrettini, Dimitrov, Isner and Basilashvili as the cream of the crop here.
Isner has never been past the quarter-finals of any Asian tournament in his lengthy career. Berrettini has only been to Asia one time on the ATP tour and his prices since the US Open have been way depressed anyway. Monfils, uniquely, is not someone who travels for the Asian Swing on a regular basis. He has skipped this section of the calendar in its entirety three times in the last six years. Thiem has looked not great since the US Open where he showed up ill (he lost in Davis Cup to a Finnish kid most people have never heard of). There has been no repeat winner here since Pete Sampras in 1994 and Basil hardly seems like the kind of guy to repeat with this field. That leaves RBA, Dimitrov and Zverev.
RBA heads to the Far East each year but, other than Shanghai in 2016, where he made the final, he has been out in the second or third in every tournament he has entered and frankly, he got destroyed by ADM in the semis last week in Zhuhai.
Dimitrov has had great success in Asia and his form at the US Open looked amazing. The only thing keeping him from earning an outright ticket this week is a super hard first round match. Dimitrov drew Rublev and it’s possible the winner of that match makes the final from the top half.
That leaves Zverev. Zverev has had solid success in Asia, making the semis here in Beijing in 2017 and the semis in Shanghai last year. He attends Beijing every year, and his stats on hard courts are beyond reproach. It’s not a Slam and there is no Big Three member here for him to choke against, so, at 9/1 he seems the best option.
ADM 16/1 x0.5 each way (which means one full unit)
Krajinovic 16/1 x0.5 each way (which means one full unit)
Zverev 9/1 x1