Take an outside chance
With the Australian Open looming, Andy Schooler says this a good week in which to back some outsiders on the ATP World Tour.
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There are two hot favourites for this week's ATP World Tour tournaments - the last before the Australian Open gets under way.
Regular readers will know I'm always a tad wary of getting heavily involved the week before a Grand Slam, knowing a slight niggle can lead to an immediate 'just to be safe' withdrawal.
- 1pt e.w. Philipp Kohlschreiber to win the Heineken Open at 14/1 (Ladbrokes) - strong record at the event and in weaker part of the draw
- 0.75pt e.w. Julien Benneteau to win the Apia Sydney International at 33/1 (Coral, 1/2 1,2) - looks a big price for someone who has often performed well at this venue
- 0.5pt e.w. Jarkko Nieminen to win the Apia Sydney International at 40/1 (Paddy Power, 1/2 1,2) - former champion; again looks overpriced
Certainly I won't be backing either David Ferrer or Juan Martin Del Potro this week.
Of the two, Ferrer holds the best claims - he's won the Heineken Open in Auckland in each of the past three years and also claimed the title back in 2007.
Unlike some players, he's one who's always taken this week in the calendar very seriously, as his results show, and with a first-round bye his schedule isn't too taxing.
He'll also want more matches under his belt after a surprise second-round loss in Doha last week.
Of course, Ferrer is a worthy favourite - that record warrants serious respect while no other top-10 player is in the field. I can certainly see why people will pile into him at 11/10.
However, as previously discussed, this isn't a week for short prices.
I'll instead head to the opposite half of the draw where I'm surprised to see Philipp Kohlschreiber priced up at 14/1.
He's another player who has always performed well in Auckland, winning here in 2008 and reaching the final 12 months ago - one of three ATP final appearances in 2013. He's also made the last eight (or better) on six other occasions.
The German ran into surprise package Peter Gojowzcyk at the wrong time in Doha last week but defeat in two tie-breaks was hardly a disgrace.
It also means he's got good reason to win matches this week and an early loss in the Middle East will also have hastened his arrival in New Zealand so jet lag, likely to affect some here, will be less of a factor.
Kohlschreiber has the added bonus of having landed in a decent part of the draw. He should have few problems reaching the last eight where he is seeded to face John Isner.
However, the big American was nursing an ankle injury just a few days ago, one which forced him out of the Hopman Cup so I'm happy to take Kohlschreiber, who has won their last two meetings, at twice the price.
Ladbrokes would appear to be taking a risk offering 14s, especially as they offer half the odds in their each-way terms.
Across the Tasman Sea in Sydney, Del Potro, yet to play this season, is plenty short enough for me at 11/10.
He may well have ended 2013 in good form, but his section of the draw looks exactly the sort you wouldn't want first up - it's full of big hitters who on their day could easily cause an upset.
Chennai semi-finalist Vasek Pospisil, Sam Querrey and Sam Groth are possible quarter-final foes, while Marin Cilic could await in the last four.
Again, the best policy looks to side with a each-way hopeful in the opposite half, which certainly looks the weaker of the two.
Jerzy Janowicz is the man seeded to make the final but he's another coming in cold having had recent trouble with a foot injury.
The hot-headed Pole had some disappointing results in the second half of last season (never going beyond the quarter-finals after his Wimbledon run) and could meet Chennai runner-up Edouard Roger-Vasselin in his first match of the new campaign.
Instead I like two players with proven track records of performing well in this second week of the season, both at big prices.
First up is Julien Benneteau.
The Frenchman has made the Sydney semis in three of the last four seasons, reaching the final in 2012.
Last year Benneteau counted Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka among his victims as he made two finals on the tour.
In a weak-looking quarter, I reckon 33/1 is worth a small interest in the sixth seed.
A case can also be made for 40/1 shot Jarkko Nieminen, winner here in 2012 and runner-up in 2009.
It's also significant that the Finnish left-hander won in Auckland in this week in 2006.
I mentioned Nieminen's good early-season record in last week's preview but steered clear of him as he had Roger Federer in his part of the draw. He duly lost that encounter in Brisbane but while Federer isn't the player he once was, it's a loss than can certainly be excused.
It doesn't put me off backing him this week at a venue he's performed so well at in the past so again I'll support him to minimum stakes.
- The tournament in Sydney is being televised live in the UK on British Eurosport from Thursday.