Three tennis tournaments on three continents, in three wildly different time zones. A perfect recipe to get over the winter blues that come with the end of tennis’ first slam of the year!
Let’s start in the further east, Pune, India. The tournament is only in its third edition, having moved from Chennai in 2018. It’s also been shifted around in the calendar, as its first two years were spent in the opening week of the season. So, there are lots of things that are fresh about this event.
The first two years saw big servers make headway, as Kevin Anderson, Marin Cilic and Ivo Karlovic all made the semis. But, not be outdone, skilled ball retriever Gilles Simon made the semi’s both years and won the inaugural edition (Simon is a casualty of the shift in the calendar, as he is at one of his various home tournaments, in Montpellier, this week). So, there is no one path to victory. Seeds have been powerful here, with six of eight over the past two years making the semis and one of the seeds who lost his opening match lost to Simon the year he won it. What is interesting to note is that the seeds here this year are hardly daunting. The field is so depleted with the calendar move that Benoit Paire is the only player in the… wait for it… TOP 70!!! That’s a shame.
Let’s break Paire down first since he is the outlier. He is one of only two players in the field with multiple titles on the ATP (Karlovic has 8), he’s been to nine finals, he wins tiebreaks at a 51% rate in a tournament where tiebreaks are super prevalent (18 in ’18, 20 in ‘19), like Simon before him Paire breaks serve around 25% of the time on hard courts (best in the field), and he’s started the season hot making the Auckland final. The issue with Paire is never the stats though; it’s about whether he cares. Considering he is French and should probably be in Montpellier, it’s weird he chose to come here (maybe loyalty after attending the last two years). With his depressed price due to the disparity in rank, it’s probably best to either sit out his first match to see if he cares and/or just rollover his moneyline. It’s hard to predict how that rollover would work but, if his path is chalk you are probably looking at qualifier, Gojo/Taro, Kwon, Berankis. If he is priced around -250 and -300 for each of those matches his rollover would pay between +300 and +350. No option is really enticing.
So, where else to look? Who has a good tiebreak record, wins over 50% of the time on hard courts or at least prefers hard courts as a surface, break serve around 22–25% of the time on hard courts and has a decent draw? Berankis and Travaglia as seeded players don’t interest as Travaglia struggles on hard courts (37% winner) and Berankis isn’t consistent enough (combined hold/break numbers vary from 91% to 102%). Soonwoo Kwon looks the best-seeded option. A bye in the first round, Gunneswaran or Maden in the second round (both ranked outside the top 100, Gunne has never made a QF and Maden has only ever made two, both in Europe), followed by contemporary Hoang or Lorenzi/Gerasimov in the quarters. No gimme’s but Gerasimov is an indoor guy and Lorenzi is a clay guy. Kwon could be the seed who skates through his quarter.
Outside of the seeded players it really is a mixed bag. Peter Gojowczyk looks the best option. Nearly 0.500 on hards, nearly 0.500 in tiebreaks, breaks serve very close to 20% of the time and has won a hard court title before (albeit on indoors). The issue is he landed in Paire’s quarter. If Paire is motivated that is a loss. Yuchi Sugita also breaks serve close to 20% and won a grass title so he may enjoy the faster surface here in Pune. The issue is he is terrible in tiebreaks, generally, and his career hardcourt winning percentage is 0.388.
Two guys who are of interest are the Belarusians. Ivashka and Gerasimov are both predominately indoor hardcourt players, so that makes them a little iffy but the draw is not taxing for either. They have great tiebreak records and decent hard court stats. The issue is their price is really low at 14/1 so, books appear to see the same factors. Kwon or nothing!
This may be the most blasé of the tournament breakdowns this week. A suddenly much more interesting draw with the late wildcards of Monfils and Dimitrov but a tournament that has produced nothing but chalk in recent seasons, and French chalk at that (we did benefit from that last year, Tsonga was the outright option here last year for an 8/1 winner).
Four of the last five winners have all been French (2015 Gasquet, 2016 Gasquet, 2018 Pouille, 2019 Tsonga) and the one who wasn’t, Zverev, beat Gasquet in the 2017 finals. Every title in that span has been won by one of the top four seeds and all the finalists share dominate indoor hard court stats — good at tiebreaks, big serve (preferably holding serve around 85%), hard court winning percentages bordering on 60% (Pouille and Zverev were around 55% but they were just getting their careers going).
Monfils fits all the criteria but with the change in the schedule he’s coming from Australia with no break and he played last Sunday in round four. It’s pretty hard to quantify that potential travel fatigue considering this schedule hasn’t existed before. Also, his price is 3/1 and he will be challenged in his quarter by Popyrin and Carreno Busta. Gross.
Goffin and, Pune regular, Gilles Simon, both have quality numbers, especially indoors. But, they are super similar in that they struggle in tiebreaks and they don’t hold serve 80% of the time, having to rely on breaking serve — which may prove difficult in these conditions (see Tsonga last year). Simon gets a super tricky first-round match and while Goffin’s quarter looks easier, much will depend on whether Auger-Aliassime shows up. Their prices are not attractive either.
Dimitrov is making his first trek to Montpellier, on a wild card entry. You would have to guess this is due to a surprise early exit from the Aussie. Grigor will probably have an easy go of it in round two, playing Sousa or Barrere but it should get significantly harder from there.
That leaves Shapovalov as the low priced, big seeded option. His game is suited for indoor hards. He won his first title last year on this kind of surface in Stockholm and played incredibly on indoors last fall at the Davis Cup and in Paris. His Aussie performance was dismal but he has had a full two weeks to get over that. With a winning tiebreak record, a 54% record on hard courts and a serve that is always held more than 82% of the time, he is ready for another title.
FAA and Gasquet were two considerations at bigger numbers. But, both have drawbacks. FAA is all over the map, being terrible at the ATP Cup, decent in Adelaide, and bad again at the Aussie (even his wins in Adelaide weren’t overly impressive) and FAA has almost no experience indoors (it’s very odd scheduling wise but he had no indoor hard court matches in 2019 and went 0–3 in 2018). At 8/1, despite what appears to be a good draw, it just isn’t worth it. Gasquet has, literally, dominated this event. His health has just not been good enough over the last 18 months to consider him here. At 25/1 though, you can bet it was tempting.
Like Pune, another new entry on the ATP calendar. Last year was Cordoba’s maiden showing and it produced one of the biggest upset winners of the season at 80/1. Is there another surprise waiting in 2020?
This event is played at pretty extreme altitude. It’s not Quito from years past or even Kitzbuhel, but it is significantly different from most normal ATP stops. At 500 meters or 1700 feet, it’s up there. That means it plays well to guys who have good serves on clay, guys who have previous experience doing well at altitude, and guys who are comfortable playing in South America on the Golden Swing in general.
Being that this is the Golden Swing, the events attract players who are naturally predisposed to clay, so everyone is “good” on the surface (Sonego and Moutet are the only two players in the draw where clay is not their most successful surface and that is almost certainly just sample size variance). So, we have to dig deep into the hold/break numbers.
If it’s at altitude we want someone who can hammer down serves — there are 11 players in the field who consistently hold serve more than 75% of the time on clay. We’re also looking for guys who can break serve over 25% of the time on a regular basis, because, well, because it’s clay — there is only ONE guy who meets that criteria (Schwartzman), so maybe we need to lower the threshold to 20%? That opens it up to seven players.
Does anyone meet both criteria? Holding consistently over 75% on clay and breaking over 20% on clay? Guido Pella, Ramos-Vinolas, Pablo Cuevas, Frederico Delbonis, and Carballes Baena.
How do these five do at altitude? Well, there are six events played on clay that could be considered to be played at higher than average altitude. Pella is 7–5 at those events and has a title in Sao Paulo (extinct) and a final here in Cordoba. ARV his 32–25 and has a title in Gstaad and finals in Kitzbuhel, Sao Paulo (extinct) and Quito (extinct). Cuevas is 12–8 at altitude and has three titles, all in Sao Paulo (extinct). Delbonis doesn’t have a great record but has won titles in Marrakech and Sao Pualo (extinct) as well as making a final in Hamburg (not huge elevation but also not sea level). And lastly, RCB won the last Quito title. So, they are all pretty experienced in the short air and should perform well this week.
Let’s look at the draw. ARV landed in Schwartzman’s top quarter. That sucks, especially at only 9/1.RCB landed in a loaded second quarter with Djere, Cecchinato and Londero, all of whom have Golden Swing titles recently to their name. Cuevas and Delbonis face off in the very first round. That leaves Pella, all alone in the fourth quarter. He gets French 20-year Moutet or Montiero in the second round and an ageing Verdasco in the quarters. That’s not super easy — Moutet went to the finals in Doha earlier this year and played well in Quito in the past, while Monteiro is a South American Challenger staple, and Verdasco is a crafty vet with a winners game on any given day. But, it’s certainly easier by comparison to the other four guys mentioned.
Two guys who are worth looking at are Garin and Londero. They don’t have enough 2018 data to make a good argument but they serve really well, are both South American and both have clay titles in 2019. Garin has a terrible price at only 8/1 considering he has to go through Sonego, Cuevas/Delbonis and then presumably Pella. Londero has to play Cecchinato in his first match which is a terrible draw.
Kwon +1200, x0.5 Pune
Shapovalov +450, x1 Montpellier
Pella +600, x1 Cordoba