Clay to bring duo redemption
Our tennis man Andy Schooler is backing Victor Hanescu and Juan Monaco to shine on their return to the clay this week.
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The ATP World Tour rolls back into action this week with tournaments in Casablanca and Houston.
Both are at the lowest '250' level and, frankly, the fields are hardly the most enticing.
However, from a betting point of view there is often more value to be found in such events so I'll attempt to unearth some.
First up, I'll look at the Grand Prix Hassan II, the tour's only tournament of the year in Africa.
It's essentially a forerunner to the new European claycourt season and conditions won't be vastly different to those on offer across the Mediterranean in Monte Carlo next week.
The fact that Spanish and French players have often done well here helps prove my point.
The draw looks a little lop-sided with some decent players in the bottom section.
The mercurial Gael Monfils is among them but I've said before how wary I am backing him at a short price and he's the 7/2 jolly this week.
Benoit Paire, who climbed up the rankings last season with some fine results on clay is also in the bottom half, as are Spaniards Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Albert Montanes, both of whom have won plenty of matches at this venue in the past.
I'm instead going to head to what appears to be a weaker top half where I'm a little surprised to see Victor Hanescu on offer at 50/1.
The tall Romanian plays his best tennis on this surface and has a pretty good record at these lower-level events.
He made the semis in Gstaad and Stuttgart last season on the clay and he's performed well in Casablanca before.
He was runner-up here in 2010 and made the semis the year after.
There's no doubt he's not been in great form this season but he's played all his tennis on hardcourts and a return to his favoured surface could be just what the doctor ordered.
He faces a local wild card in the first round which should give him a chance to get used to the surface and he's a potentially tricky foe for top seed Kevin Anderson in round two.
Although he made the final here 12 months ago, Anderson isn't at his most dangerous on the clay, his big serve being blunted somewhat, so I'm prepared to take a risk on Hanescu at what is a decent price.
I'm also ready to give Juan Monaco a chance at the US Clay Court Championship in Houston.
The Argentine is another player who has struggled to notch wins this season but again the return to a venue at which he's impressed in the past could help turn his fortunes around.
A closer look at Monaco's record shows that the vast majority of his 2014 defeats have come in tight, three-set matches which in one way suggest a closing-out problem but in another suggests he's not far away from rediscovering his winning form.
What really makes me want to back him is that the conditions in Houston are notoriously different to what you would call normal claycourts.
They play much faster and that has proved the undoing of several of the better-known dirt-ballers in the past.
The fact that the likes of John Isner, Ivo Karlovic and Lleyton Hewitt are on the roll of honour in Texas shows this is no ordinary clay tournament.
Monaco has not been one of those to have been flummoxed though. He won here in 2012 and last year made the semi-finals.
He's landed in a decent part of the draw this time around with Fernando Verdasco - another player out of sorts so far this term - his scheduled quarter-final opponent. Monaco leads their head-to-head 5-2 on clay.
Tommy Robredo is a potential awkward foe in the semis. He's shown some good form in 2014 but it's notable that he has never played here before so getting used to the unusual conditions could be his undoing. Monaco also leads 3-2 in their series.
At 10/1, Monaco is available at twice the price of Robredo and therefore becomes a viable each-way option and that's the route I'm going to take.
Defending champion Isner is the favourite and top seed. He's seeded to face Nicolas Almagro in the semis in what would be a repeat of last season's final.
However, former champs Hewitt and Karlovic also lurk in the section so I'm again happy to focus on one side of the draw in the hope of reaping a profit.