Profit from Russian decline
The main ante-post season market is always the year-end world number one but time and again it fails to offer much value.
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That's particularly been the case in the men's game in recent years with the 'big four' dominating proceedings.
Current number one Novak Djokovic starts this season as the odds-on favourite, which looks about right, although doubtless Andy Murray will have his backers at 3/1 following his maiden Grand Slam success at the US Open.
- 7pts Russian players to win fewer than 2.5 ATP titles at 4/5 (BetVictor) - there's a real dearth of talent in Russia right now.
- 5pts Martin Klizan to finish ranked higher than Jerzy Janowicz at evens (Stan James) - Klizan a much move proven performer; Janowicz could easily slip back.
- 4pts Kei Nishikori to finish in the top 20 at 4/6 (sportingbet) - Made top 20 in 2012 despite spell out injured; should go higher.
- 1pt Marin Cilic to finish in the top eight at 6/1 (Sky Bet) - Solid 2012, has real weapons and worth a punt at the price.
- 1pt Richard Gasquet to finish as the top-ranked Frenchman at 9/2 (sportingbet) - A big price given fav Tsonga went backwards in 2012.
The theory 'if he wins one, he'll win more' has plenty of merit given the standard Murray played at during much of 2012. However, the quality of opposition remains high, so Murray still has plenty to prove in order to become world number one. Greater consistency at Masters 1000 events will certainly be needed.
Roger Federer, number one until the final week of last season after something of a renaissance, looks a little big at 14/1 given the level he produced in 2012, but then he has reduced his schedule - he's only due to play seven of the nine Masters events, immediately meaning he's playing for 2,000 fewer points than his rivals, and has also cut Doha from his calendar. That handicap can be overcome but it will take plenty of doing.
However, right now Federer looks a better bet than Rafael Nadal, who is a shorter price (8/1) despite having not played for six months.
Nadal, who has already written off his title chances at the Australian Open, really struggled to compete with the best after his last significant spell out with knee trouble (three months in 2009) and I wouldn't expect him to be back to his best until the claycourt season - if indeed he does manage to rediscover his top form. Opposing Nadal in the early months looks the way to go, not backing him for number-one honours.
Essentially, betting in this market doesn't look a great idea. Instead I suggest you invest in some of the many specials knocking around as they would appear to offer much better value.
Having trawled through the markets, here are my best bets for the 2013 ATP season:
Titles by country
I'm going to focus on Russia in this market for one of the former superpowers of world tennis is very much in decline - as you'll see from the fact that they have been drawn against Great Britain in this year's Davis Cup. A look at the current rankings shows just two Russians in the top 75 and this duo, Mikhail Youzhny and Nikolay Davydenko, look the only players likely to be collecting trophies for the national tally in 2013. Both are now into their 30s and past their best. Youzhny won one title (Russia's only one) in 2012 and has only ever collected more than one in a single season once in his career. Davydenko has just one title to his name since January 2010. There's no rising Russian star set to surge up the rankings this season so going under 2.5 in the market looks a sound play.
Season-long ranking match bets
I like Martin Klizan up against Jerzy Janowicz here. Klizan is the outsider but he's the player with more experience and, crucially, has proved he is capable of winning matches over the course of months, not weeks. Janowicz sprang to attention with his shock run to the final of the Paris Masters in November. That week alone was responsible for him finishing above Klizan in the season-ending rankings (26 v 30) but he's really yet to show anything else on the main tour. What you also need to remember is that his serve is his big weapon so outdoors will bring many more challenges than in Paris, while impressive as his run in the French capital was, ask yourself how hard were Andy Murray and Janko Tipsarevic trying that week? Had Murray taken his match point in the second set, Janowicz would have finished outside the top 50 and we wouldn't even be talking about this bet. Maybe the Briton has done us a financial favour, because from what I've seen of Klizan he can play and he's already troubled some good players, reaching the fourth round of the US Open, winning his maiden title in St Petersburg and reaching the Kitzbuhel semis. Those are results indoors and out, on hard and on clay. In short, I expect Klizan to improve his ranking in 2013 whereas Janowicz, a player who has played almost his entire career on the Challenger and Future tours, will do very well to maintain his.
To finish in the top eight
The prices in this market suggest the top eight of 2012 will remain in their positions in 2013. Milos Raonic is rated the most likely to break into that elite group but all the talk about the Canadian in recent years means the bookies are wary and a top price of 2/1 looks skinny to me. Instead try a punt on Marin Cilic at 6s. To reach the top eight, you usually have to possess some real weapons. Cilic has those with a tasty serve and a club of forehand. A Grand Slam semi-finalist, he has career titles on all surfaces - grass, clay and indoor and outdoor hard - and, you may be surprised to know, he's still only 24 so you can argue strongly that his best is yet to come. Last season he finished 15th despite missing the early action Down Under - a spell on the sidelines meant he did not win his first match until late March. Cilic has had his fair share of injury problems in the past but from March on he was fine and he enjoyed some impressive results. If he can start beating the big guns now and again he's more than capable of pushing higher up the rankings, as he showed in 2010 when he cracked the top 10. Sky Bet's 6/1 quote looks a tad big (sportingbet go 4s) so we'll take a punt on that.
To finish in the top 20
Kei Nishikori has long been labelled a star of the future but he showed in 2012 that he's ready to fulfil such predictions. Having burst onto the scene as a teenager, his progress was hampered by elbow surgery and the subsequent months on the sidelines. But last season he cracked the top 20 and looks set to stay there, if not go even higher. Helped by a strong all-round game, honed at Nick Bollettieri's famous Bradenton academy in Florida, Nishikori finished the season ranked 19th and that was achieved despite missing the fist two months of the year due to injury. Providing he stays fully fit, I'd expect Nishikori to improve his ranking in 2013 which makes sportingbet's 4/6 about him ending the year inside the top 20 look a decent bet. Sky Bet seem to agree, having the Japanese's over/under ranking line set at 15.5. It's 5/6 each of two. That's tempting but I'll take the shorter price with the safety net of five extra ranking places.
The bookies are in firm agreement that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is highly likely to finish the year ranked as the leading Frenchman. However, 2012 showed Tsonga had definitely regressed and quotes as short as 2/5 look skinny indeed. He looked geniunely out of his depth at the ATP World Tour Finals in London - an event he had reached the final of 12 months earlier. And that wasn't just a bad week for the 27-year-old. A look through his record shows he went 1-15 against top-10 foes - essentially he held his place by consistently beating the lower-ranked players. It won't take must to hit a bad patch if those wins dry up. In the year-end rankings, he finished just two places ahead of compatriot Richard Gasquet. It's somewhat strange therefore to see Gasquet at 9/2 in this market. In short, it looks too big. The layers clearly feel that Tsonga hiring coach Roger Rasheed will help get him back on track but any new partnership takes time to produce results, while there's also the chance that things don't go as planned with the tweaks to the player's game failing to work out or the player-coach relationship simply not blossoming. If Tosnga does slide a little, Gasquet looks well placed to capitalise. In contrast to Tsonga, he improved in 2012, returning to the top 10 for the first time in four years thanks to some consistent form on a variety surface. He won one title and made two other finals, including his first Masters Series one in six years. OK, there's a chance he may not be able build on that, but at 9/2 he's worth taking on against Tsonga, with Gilles Simon looking the only real rival to the pair.
- The new ATP World Tour season begins on December 30 at 0130 GMT.