Last Updated: 2018-02-05
The tennis season kicks back into gear post-Aussie Open with a split schedule — part of the tour will be in Europe enjoying the indoor hard courts of Sofia, Bulgaria and Montpellier, France while the clay courters will start up the Golden Swing in South America with the Ecuador Open in Quito.
Let’s go chronologically and start in Sofia, which runs about 7 hours ahead of EST. The field in Sofia is surprisingly weak considering last year saw Grigor Dimitrov and David Goffin battling for the title. This year the event is headlined by injury-re-habbing Stan Wawrinka and… not much else. Here’s the outrights:
There’s not a ton to like to here at the top of the board. Stan is the cream of the crop, talent wise. But, how healthy is he? He did NOT look sharp going out in straight sets to Tennys Sandgren at the Aussie. And +250 on the outright is a gross price for a potentially injured head-liner who notoriously doesn’t care at 250 events. Adrian Mannarino will be travelling from near-by France having just competed (badly) in his first Davis Cup. The form was not there and I can’t get behind him. I usually am a big backer of Philip Kohlschrieber. And +700 is not a bad price. But, he has started the season slow (0–2) and if he does happen to run into Stan, who is on his side of the bracket, he’ll be toast. Wawrinka owns Kohl, with a 5–0 head-to-head record, losing only one set, on clay, way back in 2008. Muller is the one low priced favorite who is a decent option at +600, as he can serve it. There will be plenty of tb’s and aces on this in-door fast track (there were 9 tb’s in the 12 first round matches last year) and Muller holds serve 89% of time, highest among the entrants at this tourney.
There are a bunch of high priced options that I think you can write off right away — local guys from Bulgaria who don’t regularly play on the tour and Challenger guys who get into a bunch of 250 and 500 level events each year like Jaziri, Albot, Kavcic, Djere, etc.
The place to look in these types of tourneys is in the soft middle. Guys like Troicki, Istomin, Haase, Seppi. One of them usually makes a run. I like Marcos Baghdatis at +1600. At an even 100, Bags has the hold/break stats to keep up with the big guys; he’s motivated – he’s never played here before, so, he’s not here for a paycheque; he has a great, great record in tb’s (which as just mentioned should be important here), and he has a decent draw — the big seeds on his side of the draw are Mannarino and Muller, both of which Bags holds a nice head-to-head record against.
Over in Montpellier, about 6 hours ahead of EST, its all about France. The tournament moved here from Lyon in 2010 and there has been a French finalist every year since; three times both finalists were French. The draw is over-loaded by French players; stars, grinders, and youngsters all. There are currently 10 French players in the draw with two more still alive in qualifying. Here are the outrights:
David Goffin played Sofia last year and lost in the final so, its odd to see him here in Montpellier. Considering he is not French, +400 seems short odds but, he may well go all the way. Goffin played in 3 in-door hard court finals last year alone.
All three Russian young guns are entered here but, KK is better on clay and horrible on indoors (.304 winning percentage and only .380 on hards overall); Rublev is the same, a .381 in-door winning percentage; Medvedev is the best choice, a hard court title on his resume and an 11–9 record on in-door courts.
As mentioned above there are ten French players. Unfortunately, they are all priced extremely short considering the field and who they would have to run through — books obviously know French players excel here too. But, here’s a brief look anyway: Tsonga won three in-door titles last year; Pouille has won an in-door title in each of the last two years; Gasquet, while he didn’t win one last year, has won 6 in-doors in the last 6 years including 3 here in Montpellier; Simon, while not on his game in recent years, has a title already this year. The odds are terrible but, any one of them could conceivably win.
I don’t have a solid read here. Take Medvedev at 20/1 or close your eyes and pick a Frenchman.
The third tournament this week is in Quito. And this is the fun one. The Ecuador Open has been played three times… and won by the same guy…. EACH time. And we’re not talking about Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic. Those guys routinely defend titles each year. And there has been plenty of stars in the past who returned to the same tourney year after year, winning it. But, this is no star. This is Victor Estrella Burgos. ATP rank, #86. Titles on tour, 3. Location of said 3 titles, Quito. Finals elsewhere, 0. Age, 37. You can’t make this up. Everyone should be cheering for this guy. Everyone should be betting on this guy. I sure can’t say I bet on him in 2015. Who would have? But, here’s a tweet from 2016…
And here’s the next year, in 2017…
You have to hit him again this year. He might not win again but, how can you bet against him? Here’s the field he’s up against, its not overly impressive:
Monfils is the star here. But, do some research. This tournament is played at extreme altitude. That’s VEB’s advantage. Monfils played in 14 tournaments last year. The highest altitude I could find was Madrid, at like 300 meters. In fact, most, if not all the tournaments he played where at sea level, like right on the water. I have no idea what he is doing in Quito.
The good clay courters, on the other hand, are a significant challenge to VEB. Lorenzi has gone deep here and met his end at VEB’s hands in the finals last year. He is decently priced at 9/1. ARV wins matches on clay and he has made the semi’s both times he’s played Quito. But, 5/1 seems short. If Thiem is the next Nadal on clay, then PCB is the next Ferrer. He will grind for the next ten years in these 250 and 500 clay events. His odds are super short at +350 but, he has the best clay numbers here (outside Monfils) and I feel like he starts to win this year. A lot. He is the biggest threat to VEB.
There are three young clay court stars to keep an eye on here this week – Nicolas Jarry, Casper Ruud, and Corentin Moutet. I like all three of them to do big things this year. Jarry is coming off a nice Davis Cup weekend, Ruud is 8–3 on the year already, and Moutet, the one to really watch, has the draw. Moutet is winning on clay at close to a 75% clip on the futures tour, he’s 18 years old and I like his draw. I expect to see him in the quarter-finals against PCB. Just look at his odds. Why is an 18 year with no ATP level matches only +2500?
Thomas Bellucci is also in the draw and unfortunately draws VEB in round one. That’s terrible for everyone involved, tournament organizers included. VEB has won all three tournaments here and his foil has been Bellucci; a Joker to VEB’s Batman. They have played each year, twice in the semis and once in the finals. Its fitting they will play a fourth year and too bad its in the first round. If there is a potential threat to VEB, outside of the big seeded clay players, its here in the first round. A guy with three years revenge on his mind.
I like PCB, I like a flyer on Moutet or at least bet him in every match he plays and I like VEB… because, well, how can you argue with perfect. I’ll just leave this here, 15–0:
Sofia — Baghdatis +1600
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Montpellier — nothing
Quito — PCB +350
Quito — VEB +1200