Dodig something to Cro about
Our Andy Schooler previews this week's action on the ATP World Tour and has 7/2, 14/1 and 33/1 shots for you.
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As a three-time winner of the PBZ Zagreb Indoors, it's no surprise to see Marin Cilic chalked up as the favourite for this year's event which gets under way on Monday.
He won here 12 months ago and also in 2009 and 2010. The court speed is traditionally one of the fastest on the ATP World Tour which plays into his hands, not to mention those of many of his fellow Croatians over the years.
Since its inception in 2006, five of the eight tournaments have been won by home players and three of the runner-up spots have also gone their way.
- 1pt e.w. Ivan Dodig in the PBZ Zagreb Indoors at 14/1 (Sky Bet) - former winner has decent form; worth a shot at a decent price
- 0.5pt e.w. Sergiy Stakhovsky in the PBZ Zagreb Indoors at 33/1 (Betfred, Ladbrokes) - has started 2014 well, a former winner here & in weakest half
- 2pts win Fabio Fognini in the Royal Guard Open at 7/2 (Betfred, BetVictor, Ladbrokes) - should be clear favourite from injury-troubled Almagro
Croatian tennis players have tended to follow the Goran Ivanisevic blueprint - tall, big servers - and that mould is well suited to a fast indoor court.
While Cilic is bound to have his backers at 7/2, I'm prepared to take a chance on one of his compatriots, namely Ivan Dodig.
He's another former champion in Zagreb, winning the title in 2011.
His record at the tournament is won 12, lost four, one which has taken him to three other quarter-final appearances.
As the fourth seed this year, he has a first-round bye and will only need to win four matches to claim the crown, although sadly he's landed in a tough part of the draw with fellow Croatians Ivo Karlovic and Cilic likely opponents before the semis.
However, Dodig has been in good form over the past six months and currently sits just shy of his career-high in the rankings at 34th.
He notched decent wins over Fernando Verdasco and Nikolay Davydenko at last year's US Open and followed that up with a run to the semis in Tokyo and the last eight in Basel.
He was last seen cramping badly in the 40C heat of Melbourne but after more than a fortnight off, he should be raring to go back in his homeland at a tournament in which he usually performs well.
While the draw is a tough one, it has served to ensure we get a decent price about a form player - he's out at 14/1 - and a look at his head-to-head against the dangermen in his path suggests he's more than capable of progressing from the section.
Karlovic is also a threat in the fast conditions given he possesses the biggest serve on tour but Dodig beat him in straight sets at the Australian Open just a few weeks ago and saw him off in this event last season.
As for potential last-eight foe Cilic, the pair have split their four meetings to date and I was personally a little disappointed with Cilic Down Under where, with the courts playing fast, I expected him to do better than he did.
Yes, Cilic should be rejuvenated by his return here but at four times the price, I'm happy to side with Dodig.
With the Dodig half of the draw clearly the stronger, I'm also going to take a chance on a long shot in the top half.
That man is Sergiy Stakhovsky, who can be backed at 33/1.
The Ukrainian, probably most famous for knocking Roger Federer out of Wimbledon last year, won this title in 2008.
He's also in form having made the semi-finals in Sydney last month with a fine run as a qualifier, while over the weekend he was the star of the show for his country, winning two singles rubbers as Ukraine beat Romania in the Davis Cup.
With that tie having been played on indoor hard, he be fairly well adjusted the the conditions and jet lag won't be a factor as it will for some of those who have been playing Davis Cup.
At 33/1 I'll have an each-way poke.
There are two other ATP tournaments taking place this weekend.
In Montpellier, the home nation's strong record again has their players at the head of the betting.
Richard Gasquet and Gael Monfils are vying for favouritism; both are former winners of the event which has only been staged in this city three times.
In that time there have been those two French winners and two runners-up from the host nation.
I'm not keen on either at short prices though, especially given both arrive having been playing on the clay in Davis Cup.
Certainly anyone backing Monfils should remember he's only ever won four ATP titles, although as already touched upon one of those did come here and another in Metz.
If you are looking for an outsider, Dmitry Tursunov at 22/1 might be an idea.
The Russian made the semis in Sydney last month and seems to be playing pretty well in the twilight of his career. However, I'm put off getting involved by a 0-2 head-to-head record against potential quarter-final opponent Monfils, who has won both their matches in straight sets.
In Chile, the South American claycourt swing begins in Vina Del Mar.
Here Fabio Fognini and Nicolas Almagro look the class of the field.
Sadly the pair are in the same half of the draw but I'm a little surprised to see both chalked up at 7/2 given Almagro has been out nursing an injury of late.
Fognini, meanwhile, has been playing well. He made the last 16 of the Australian Open and is already bedded in on the clay having played for Italy in Argentina in the Davis Cup over the weekend.
He really came to the fore on this surface last season, winning in Hamburg and Stuttgart and also finishing runner-up in Umag as he surged up the rankings.
In what isn't a particularly strong field, the top seed looks a fair price and is worth backing.