The first step on the way to the Asian Swing, in post-US Open tennis, is a couple of old-world stopovers. Metz, France and St. Petersburg, Russia couldn’t be farther apart in size (about 100,000 vs about 5,000,000) but, they share historical similarities in old-European lineage and bureaucratic importance and most pertinent to our concerns — they are both the site of indoor, hard court, 250’s on the ATP tour!
Hard court, indoor, 250 level tennis couldn’t be farther from last weeks outdoor, slow, hard court Slam tennis but, that means we have new metrics to look at, new motivations to consider and new, young talent to investigate. There is a lot to digest this week, so let’s dig in.
The St. Pete’s Open has been held since 1995 but, this is only it’s fifth year in the current location, at the Sibur Arena. It has historically been one of the slowest indoor hard court tournaments on tour and that has provided for some interesting results here. We know it’s slow because of the acute lack of tiebreaks played — only 39% of the matches played here in the last five years have had a tiebreak and only five of the semi-final or finals matches here over that same span have featured a breaker. That has led to finalists such as Joao Sousa, Damir Dzumhur, Fabio Fognini and Martin Klizan; hardly hard court staples. Although, Klizan is a bit of a special case that will come up again a bit later.
Where the surface manifests in the results is in the variety of hold/break numbers that make deep runs. A combined total of 105% is still the number to look for in this metric, and each of the four finals at Sibur has featured at least one contestant with this total (Raonic 105% in 2015, Stan 106% in 2016, Fognini 105% in 2017 and Thiem 111% in 2018), but it is hardly the be-all, end-all as Sousa, Dzumhur and Klizan have proven. One thing to dig into with hold/break numbers, given this depleted post-US Open field and the history of a slower venue is the break number in particular. Do we have anyone in the field who can break serve at an above-average level on hard courts? Well, only seven players in the draw have a break percentage over 20 in 2019 on hard courts and only four of those guys have been able to duplicate that feat from 2018 — Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Marton Fucsovics, and Stefano Travaglia. So, those are four names to keep an eye on.
Now, while tiebreaks are infrequent they are not irrelevant, it is still indoor, hard court tennis. There are, however, only five people in the draw with positive career tiebreak numbers — Daniil Medvedev, Matteo Berrettini, Borna Coric, RCB, and Martin Klizan. Joao Sousa, Ric Berankis, and Marton Fucsovics are three more guys, with ample sample size, that are really close to 0.500.
To go along with tiebreak success, the draw doesn’t seem to be a huge factor in making deep runs — finalists come from all over. One common factor is that one of the top four seeds, with a bye in the first round, has made the final each year at Sibur.
Medvedev is the only name running through those threads. He checks every box and is one of the best players on tour. He has two indoor, hard court titles in the last 12 months, winning Tokyo last October and Sofia this February, and he is coming off the hottest summer for anyone not named Djokovic in the last ten years. Unfortunately, Medvedev is being priced like he is part of the Big Four. And, he’s not. Yet. So, where else can we look for some value?
One other name that pops up a few times is Marton Fucsovics. He breaks serve at a solid percentage on hard courts, he is pretty proficient in tiebreaks, his combined hold/break number in 2017 and 2018 was over the magical 105% and while it is only sitting at 99% in 2019 that is due to a really rough, winless summer (Fucs has ONE win since Wimbledon). Back in the spring, Fucs made the final in Sofia and the quarter-final in Rotterdam, both on indoor hards. This seems an apt time for the Hungarian to get back on the winning track and while he doesn’t have a bye in the first round, he gets one of the six qualifiers, from a relatively lacklustre qualifying draw, and his seeded player is Borna Coric who has retired three times in his last six tournament entries, including the US Open, and also only has two wins since Wimbledon (both against guys outside the top 100) which he similarly withdrew from. At 16/1, Fucs seems a solid option.
Another flyer to look at is Martin Klizan. None of his numbers pop off the page at you…. except for one. Klizan is a bit of a special indoor player. An indoor hard court specialist if you will. On hard courts in general he wins 46% of the time. On indoors he wins 62% of the time! He has two indoor titles and he made the final here last year. His ranking is almost irrelevant (he’s 90th in the world right now) and his hold/break numbers are just about as irrelevant. He landed in the second quarter and gets a clay courter in the first round and a seeded player, in Matteo Berrettini, who could be poised for the letdown spot of the year.
One fly in the ointment is Andrey Rublev. He seems like he re-discovered his 2017 potential this summer with a final in Hamburg, quarter-finals in Cincy and Winston-Salem and a fourth round appearance at the Open. Unfortunately, he landed in Medvedev’s quarter. There is a good chance Meds continues his torrid run but, if 2/1 doesn’t interest you, Fucs and Klizan are some good longer options.
The Moselle Open in Metz has been held on and off since 1980 and every year since 2003. It does it’s level best to be in-synch with other French indoor hard court tournaments like Montpellier and Marseille by having nothing but home-cooking success. It really helps to be French at a tournament where French players routinely prevail. Since it became permanent in 2003 there has only been three years where a French player didn’t make the final. Furthermore, there has only been ONE finalist who didn’t hail from Europe. This is true European indoor country. And it’s a traditionally fast indoor venue. Exactly 50% of matches played in Metz in the past five years have featured a tiebreak — top five on tour.
Being fast, having lots of tiebreaks, and skewing towards Europe fields means that the tournaments play out in a similar way each year…. except for 2017! There is no way to properly explain what happened in Metz in 2017. The number one seed that year pulled out after the draw, allowing a lucky loser into the second round, two of the four players with a bye went down in straight sets in their first match and the other two, including that lucky loser, went down in the third round and non-seeded French stalwarts like Richard Gasquet, Lucas Pouille, Gilles Simon and Nic Mahut all went down in the first or second round as -250 or better favorites. So, let’s pretend 2017 didn’t happen.
The rest of the time, things line up. All twelve semi-finalists from 2015, 2016 and 2018 have indoor hard court winning percentages over 55%, they are all close to or over 50% in tiebreaks, and only Gilles Simon, at 74% in 2016, came in holding serve more than 80% of the time on hard courts and, even including 2017, only four of the semi-finalists in the past five years had never been to Metz before (and three of those are pretty elite players in Thiem, Nishikori and Pouille).
French, proficient in tiebreaks, winning more than 55% on indoor hards, holding serve more than 80% of the time and comfortable in Metz… that, surprisingly, includes a lot of players.
Richard Gasquet and Jo-Willy Tsonga are two favorites (of both this handicapper and the French faithful) who check every box. Both are way on the wrong side of 30 though, both show signs of fitness concerns and both have single digit outright prices. So, while Tsonga in particular is tempting, they are both a pass.
Goffin and Basilashvili are the top two seeds and they both hit about half the checklist. They are European but, not French. They don’t hold serve 80% of the time but they do well on indoor hards and Goffin, in particular, maintains a combined hold/break number over the magical 105% every year (so you know he can break serve a ton if he if only holding serve 78%). They both have had success here before and both did alright at the US Open, so form shouldn’t be an issue. The concern is both have really depressed outright prices and neither seems like value.
That leaves three guys of interest. Gilles Simon is unique in that, he never holds serve 80% of the time and he is not great in tiebreaks but, he breaks serve plenty on hard courts and his win level on indoors is close to 60%. He has had unmatched success here, going 20–7 in his career, making the semi-finals here regularly, making the finals four times, and winning three titles, including last year. However, he is having a terrible summer, being unable to win back-to-back matches since June in Eastbourne. At only 16/1, it’s a pass.
Hubert Hurkacz is also an interesting case. He is holding serve 82% of the time on hards this year, he won his maiden title in Winston-Salem less than a month ago, and while he hasn’t had a ton of success indoors yet at the ATP level, he has a history of winning over 60% of the time indoors on the Challenger tour. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the easiest of draws (being saddled with Gasquet, Paire, and young Antonie Hoang in his quarter) and bookmakers have long been hip his potential — he was only 16/1 to win Winston-Salem. So, his price of 10/1 seems less appealing than what was expected after seeing him in the draw.
Someone who has a similar outright number to Hurkacz but, checks a lot more of the desired boxes is Lucas Pouille. Pouille landed the easiest quarter, is granted a bye in the first round, has won this title before (2016) and has three European indoor hard court tournaments to his name to go along with two more finals. He has always held serve more than 80% of the time, he wins on indoor hards almost 60% of the time, and he is amazing in tiebreaks. Pouille has had a pretty average summer but, this is a spot primed to serve as a springboard to a great autumn.
Two younger guys to keep an eye on, like Hurkacz but a little further down the development chain are Antoine Hoang and Ugo Humbert. It’s doubtful either wins the event but, they could be set up to win a few matches and make some noise. They are both French, accustomed to playing on indoor hards, and have had a bunch of Challenger level success on the surface. Ugo, in particular, is already routinely holding serve over 80% of the time and maintaining a combined hold/break number around 100%. Look for them to both pull some upsets.
Klizan 40/1, x0.5
Fucsovics 16/1, x0.5
Pouille, 9/1, x1