Oppose Federer; back Cilic
Our Andy Schooler previews the opening event of the ATP season, the Brisbane International, and says Roger Federer must be opposed.
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The new ATP World Tour season opens in Brisbane this weekend where Roger Federer simply has to be taken on.
Backing him at no bigger than even money looks risky business to me, based on his 2013 form.
The bookies' theory is clearly that he's the class of the field - world number 17 Kei Nishikori is the second seed - and there's some truth in that.
But Federer showed throughout last season that he's vulnerable even in the weaker events these days. Remember he won just the one title (that on grass in Halle) in 2013.
Tommy Robredo and Julien Benneteau both beat Federer on hardcourts in 2013 and if they can do that mid-season, then the Swiss is definitely vulnerable in his first tournament of the year.
So if not Federer, then who?
Well, I'm looking for a player with a proven record of hitting the ground running and racking up wins at this time of year.
Jarkko Nieminen is one who immediately springs to mind but sadly the Finn is likely to meet Federer in round two and he has a shocking record against the 17-time Grand Slam champion having won just a single set in 13 meetings.
Marin Cilic is better drawn and looks worth a go at 14/1.
The Croatian, who missed a large chunk last season due to a drugs ban which was subsequently reduced, is in the opposite half of the draw to Federer so even if the Swiss maestro is on song, he's still a viable each-way prospect.
Cilic is a man who has performed well from the word go - two of his nine ATP titles have come in week one of the season (in Chennai in 2009 and 2010).
This time he starts in Australia but there have been plenty of positive noises coming from his camp.
Coach Goran Ivanisevic said this week: "The surface suits his game. He can do well here (in Australia)."
That's backed up by history as Cilic is a former Australian Open semi-finalist, an event in which he has made the last 16 on three other occasions.
Unsurprisingly the PlexiCushion of Melbourne Park is also on show in Brisbane so there are no surface concerns.
Cilic could meet Grigor Dimitrov in round two but the Bulgarian is notoriously up and down so I'm happy to oppose him - particularly given Cilic is almost double the price of last year's runner-up. Nishikori, also a shorter price, could follow in the last eight but again he was inconsistent in 2013.
Some may be a tad concerned by the fact that Cilic has played so little at this level in the last six months.
However, what he did show on his return in Paris at the back end of last season is that he's still a force to be reckoned with, winning his comeback match and then pushing the in-form Juan Martin Del Potro all the way in the next round.
It should also be remembered everyone is off something of a standing start at this time of year, with few of those involved having played an ATP-level match since October.
To me, Cilic is worth a small poke at 14/1. Go with Ladbrokes, who offer half the odds for a place in the final, as opposed to BetVictor's third.
There are other tournaments taking place in Chennai and Doha - the latter is the main event of the week, featuring Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. I'll aim to add my thoughts on those on Sunday afternoon so check back then.