The week before a Slam is traditionally a good one for the outsiders and our Andy Schooler has 20/1, 40/1 and 66/1 tips.
Recommended bets: ATP World Tour
Long-term readers will know my views when it comes to the weeks prior to the Grand Slams on the ATP World Tour.
Basically it’s a good chance for the outsiders.
The biggest of guns don’t often play – there’s no Murray, Nadal or Djokovic on show this week – and those who do show up have one eye very much on the fortnight ahead.
A slight niggle which would be played through on any other week can lead to a quick withdrawal (there are many in such weeks), while there’s also the argument about how much such players really want in their legs given they hope to be playing another full fortnight of tennis straight afterwards.
With such theories very much in the forefront of my mind, here are my thoughts on this week’s ATP tournaments – a brand new one in Lyon and the third staging of the Geneva Open.
Banque Eric Strurzda Geneva Open
Stan Wawrinka disproved my theory here last year by winning his home event – he’s also played and won often in Chennai in the week prior to the Australian Open – but I’m still happy to take him on.
The Swiss has shown little in recent weeks to suggest he’s ready for another crack at the French Open title, although he has traditionally saved his best tennis for the biggest stages.
While Geneva is his home tournament – he lives just an hour up the road - this is not one of those and I’m not at all convinced he’ll be able to overcome a tricky draw.
Rogerio Dutra Silva and Joao Silva are both potential opening foes with neither no mug on clay – the former at time of writing is about to play in a final on the Challenger Tour so is clearly going to bring confidence to Switzerland.
Monte Carlo runner-up Albert Ramos-Vinolas is also in Wawrinka’s half but the man I think could go well at a decent price is Sam Querrey.
Americans are hardly renowned for their prowess on European clay, but Querrey caught the eye in Rome last week, defeating Lucas Pouille and Jan-Lennard Struff before missing three match points in defeat to Dominic Thiem, who the following day beat Rafael Nadal.
Querrey’s serve is a key part of his game and that looked in good order in the Italian capital as he produced 31 aces and lost serve just twice in his three matches.
If he can stay in that groove in Geneva, he should be a force to be reckoned with. Stats show that in percentage terms only Houston (green clay), Marrakech and Madrid (at significant altitude) produce a greater number of aces when it comes to the ATP’s clay events.
It’s hard to imagine Querrey will be saving himself for Roland Garros – where he’s never been beyond the third round in 10 visits - so at 20/1, the American is worth a small interest.
I’m also going to get with a more established claycourter in the bottom half of the draw in the shape of Horacio Zeballos.
The Argentine only scraped into the main draw due to some late withdrawals but that could spell trouble for those around him.
He’s in good nick after all.
Zeballos made the semis in Barcelona where the aforementioned Sousa and Benoit Paire were among his victims before he finally ran into Nadal, against whom he still won seven games.
He followed that up with a run to the last eight in Munich where Andreas Seppi and Philipp Kohlschreiber, both decent enough on the red dirt, were defeated before an agonising final-set tie-break loss to Davis Cup team-mate Guido Pella.
That’s not bad form in my book and when you consider who the seeds are in this half, then 40/1 looks too big.
The forever-injured Kei Nishikori is the man seeded to make the final but his European claycourt season has hardly gone to plan thus far. He withdrew in Barcelona with a wrist problem, the same one which saw him quit Madrid mid-tournament. He then lost early in Rome last week to Juan Martin Del Potro.
What that does mean is he needs some matches this week so should be motivated - but will his body hold up? He certainly isn’t 100 per cent fit and it would be no surprise whatsoever to see him pull out again with the French Open looming.
The same can be said about John Isner, a semi-finalist in Rome last week. Does he therefore need a full week here? I doubt it and he’s certainly one with form for withdrawing in weeks like this, doing so ahead of Auckland in January 2015 and Winston-Salem the previous summer. He’s now 32. I rest my case.
Steve Johnson and Paolo Lorenzi are the other seeds but the former is playing his first event of the European clay season so must come in undercooked, while Lorenzi has beaten just one top-50 player on clay this year despite his supposed preference for the surface.
In addition, Ryan Harrison, the next highest-ranked player, has been shunted out of this half to replace injured seed Viktor Troicki in the top section.
The bottom half may not take much winning and Zeballos has the form to take advantage.
Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Lyon
The ATP is back in Lyon after an absence of several years but this time the tournament takes place outdoors on clay in the spring, as opposed to indoors in the autumn.
The venue, at least for the main court, is the city’s velodrome and organisers have done well to attract a strong field.
Four of the world’s top-20 are here, including Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych, both of whom are in the top half. So is Juan Martin Del Potro and this looks a considerably stronger section of the two.
The bottom half is led by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, whose claycourt campaign so far could not have gone a great deal worse.
The undoubtedly-talented Nick Kyrgios and Benoit Paire can both be risky to back from a mental point of view and while Kyrgios has improved this year without doubt, I’m not wanting to back him when he’s going off as short as 5/1.
The other seed is Borna Coric, who I’m sure will have his backers at 14/1. However, the man who beat Andy Murray in Madrid recently has been feast-or-famine in recent weeks. He won in Marrakech and made the quarter-finals in Madrid but at his other events he’s flopped in the very first round.
In short, this looks a section where backing a long shot may pay off and the man I’m recommending is Argentina’s Carlos Berlocq.
Charly was a near-miss for us on clay in Buenos Aires earlier this eason when as a 66/1 each-way shot he lost his semi-final from a break up in the final set.
Since arriving in Europe he’s yet to replicate such a run, although he’s also been a tad unfortunate to run into some good players, losing to Berdych in Rome, Richard Gasquet in Estoril and eventual runner-up Ramos in Monte Carlo.
He’s up against Steve Darcis in his opener and while the Belgian made a Challenger Tour final last week, he holds a miserable record against Berlocq having lost all three meetings, including two hammerings on clay.
A clash with Tsonga could follow, the Frenchman having struggled with a shoulder problem of late, one which forced him out of Madrid mid-event and then prompted his withdrawal from Rome.
He lost in his first match in Monte Carlo so has won just once on clay in Europe this season – and that was a hard-fought 7-5 final-set success over Andrey Kuznetsov.
Tsonga did win his only previous meeting with Berlocq, although that was also an almighty struggle – over five sets in a Davis Cup tie in 2013.
With his recent problems, Tsonga looks ripe for the picking and if Berlocq does come through that opening part of the draw, things could easily open up for him.
Both of his ATP titles have come on European clay and a small bite of the 66/1 looks the call.
Posted at 1415 BST on 21/05/17.