The 2021 ATP Tour season gets under way on Thursday. Andy Schooler is back to run the rule over the action in Antalya and Delray Beach.
Tennis betting tips: Antalya Open & Delray Beach Open
- Location: Antalya, Turkey
- Surface: Outdoor, hard
The first ball of the new ATP Tour season should have been hit in Sydney. Instead, thanks to Covid-19, the opening action of 2021 will take place thousands of miles away in the Turkish resort of Antalya.
It’s probably not what punters want to hear, but this hastily-arranged event certainly has a factor of unpredictability about it.
For a start, this will be the first time the Limak Arcadia Sport Resort has been visited by the tour so there’s no ‘course form’. It’s basically a hotel complex and plenty of tourists will have played on these hardcourts. Rebound Ace is the specific surface.
The players contesting the tournament are arriving after a two-month break during which new tactics will have been introduced and fitness programmes toughed out in a bid to improve performance over the coming campaign.
It’s also a real mish-mash of a field. There are three top-20 players in attendance, led by world number 10 Matteo Berrettini, but the withdrawal of several stars, including Jannik Sinner and Borna Coric, has seen a number of spots in the 32-man field filled by players ranked outside the top 200.
With the vast majority of those ranked 100-200 heading instead to Australian Open qualifying, which starts on Sunday in Doha, the likes of world number 268 Andrea Arnaboldi have made the cut. And that’s before we start thinking about who comes through qualifying.
What that means in terms of a bet is that we can probably put a line through about a third of the field straight away.
Having quickly narrowed things down a bit, I’m now looking for a player who has proven ability for starting a season well.
While not totally irrelevant, how a player finished 2020 doesn’t matter greatly now and it’s also hard to know exactly who has really been firing on the practice court in recent weeks.
The early-season form yardstick is therefore an important one for me ahead of this week’s action and so first up I’m going to side with seventh seed MIOMIR KECMANOVIC.
He made the semi-finals in Doha in the opening week of 2020, while the previous season – his major breakthrough year – the Serb started by qualifying for both the Brisbane International and the Australian Open.
Going back to his really early days at senior level, Kecmanovic opened 2017 by winning an ITF Futures event.
That’s a decent track record for starting the year well.
Kecmanovic won his first ATP title (in Kitzbuhel) shortly after last season’s lockdown ended, while it’s interesting to note that his other tour final came here in Antalya in 2019.
I use the word ‘interesting’ rather than ‘significant’ as that event was played on grass at a different venue in temperatures above 30C. Here they play on a different surface with the mercury unlikely to top 20C. Some rain is also forecast for the coming days.
That said, I suspect the happy memories Kecmanovic has of the city will at least add something to the mental side of his game this week.
He’s been drawn in the same quarter as second seed David Goffin but the Belgian has been a fading force in recent times and isn’t a player known for a fast start.
He could easily be vulnerable against Pierre-Hugues Herbert in round one – the Frenchman has made the last eight in Doha in the last two years, beating Dominic Thiem two seasons ago.
Alex de Minaur is the man regarded as most likely to come through this half of the draw – his quarter looks by far the weakest – but I’ve no real interest in backing anyone at 4/1 in a week like this when so many things are up in the air.
I’ll happily turn to Kecmanovic, who is offered at 14/1 by Coral and Ladbrokes, particularly given he beat De Minaur on a hardcourt in Acapulco last season.
In the top half, Berrettini is the 3/1 tournament favourite. He’s in a quarter containing both Egor Gerasimov and Alexander Bublik, both of whom I backed in the closing weeks of 2020.
However, I prefer both men in indoor conditions.
I’d rather head to the second quarter in a bid to take on the top seed where it looks worth taking a chance on JAN-LENNARD STRUFF.
The German is a big hitter who will be able to hit through the courts if conditions are indeed slow due to the relatively cool weather.
He’ll open against a qualifier and while that extra matchplay is always a potential worry, the low-ranked nature of all those in the qualifying draw make that less of a worry than usual.
World number 250 Hugo Grenier or another qualifier would follow before a scheduled meeting with third seed Fabio Fognini.
This looks exactly the sort of week which could cause problems for the combustible Italian and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he had already been eliminated, perhaps by Jeremy Chardy, who has enjoyed plenty of decent runs in the opening weeks of the season during his career.
For those looking to chance a real long shot, the Frenchman may offer some value at 50/1, although he did very little towards the end of last term.
It will need a big reset by Chardy so I’ll stick with Struff, a player who also has plenty of ticks in the early-weeks column.
Twelve months ago he toppled Felix Auger-Aliassime at the ATP Cup, while another top-25 player, Pablo Carreno Busta, was beaten en route to the Auckland semis in 2019.
Tomas Berdych, ranked 19th at the time, was defeated in Struff’s opening match of 2018, while the year before that saw the German reach the final of a Challenger prior to the Australian Open.
In what looks a pretty cushy part of the draw, I’ll back Struff at 10/1 to claim his maiden ATP title.
Delray Beach Open
- Location: Delray Beach, Florida, USA
- Surface: Outdoor, hard
The opening week of the season also brings the long-standing Delray Beach Open, which has been brought forward from its usual February slot.
It seems a strange decision to stage such a high-profile event in Florida given the Sunshine state’s problems during the pandemic but, probably to few people’s surprise, even fans will be in attendance here. It is America after all.
Those in the crowd will only get to see four of the world’s top 50 though, several others having withdrawn – the concern about catching coronavirus doubtless playing its part given a positive test would almost certainly rule a player out of next month’s Australian Open.
So there will be no Andy Murray, nor Milos Raonic. Reilly Opelka and Vasek Pospisil are other notables no longer in the field.
Claycourt specialist Cristian Garin has therefore been elevated to top seed but the title looks more likely to go to one of several American players still in the field – four of the eight seeds are from the host nation, something which will doubtless please the organisers.
John Isner will lead the home charge, at least according to the layers – he’s the 9/2 joint favourite.
But the 35-year-old is yet to reach the final in seven previous visits to Delray Beach so this is not a happy hunting ground for a player whose best results have always come in North America.
Tommy Paul and the 2018 champion Frances Tiafoe are both single-figure prices but the final American seed is available at an eye-catching 33/1.
SAM QUERREY won this title five years ago and I’m not convinced he’s the right price this time around.
Many of the winners here have had the big serve weapon which Querrey possesses and while his 2020 was a pretty miserable one – to be fair, whose wasn’t? – he did notch a notable win over Borna Coric at the Australian Open and was a whisker away from toppling Andrey Rublev at Roland Garros.
That proved to be Querrey’s final match of the year – his now famous trip to Russia ending with him fleeing the country in a private jet under the threat of being forced to quarantine in a St Petersburg hospital.
That story has reared its head again in recent days with the American being handed a suspended fine for his behaviour but it could also act as a motivating factor.
Admittedly Querrey doesn’t have a great track record in the opening week(s) of a season but then again it usually begins a long way from home. Many of the Americans love their home comforts and with that in mind, Querrey is still worthy of support at a tasty price.
He’s in Garin’s quarter and with the Chilean having done little so far on hardcourts, he looks very skinny at 8/1.
If Querrey can overcome compatriot Mackenzie McDonald in the first round, his path through the draw looks a decent one.
Maybe he’ll face the other market leader, Hubert Hurkacz, in the semis.
The Pole has plenty of ability and it’s hard to argue with his position in the market, particularly given he’s another with a decent record at this time of year.
Yet, as I’ve already explained, I don’t really want 9/2 shots on the coupon this week.
Veteran IVO KARLOVIC is a player who could throw a spanner in the works in Hurkacz’s section of the draw.
The Croat, who turns 42 next month, won here in 2015 and also made the final 11 years ago.
He’s looked a fading force of late but clearly feels he still has plenty to offer – why else would he have put himself through another pre-season? - and if there is to be one last hurrah for the former world number 14, this looks a pretty good venue for him.
Karlovic is a Florida resident – he lives just down the coast in Miami – so he’ll be tuned into the conditions. It’s also noteworthy that he’s opted to play here rather than contest Australian Open qualifying which offers potential riches.
His massive serve still keeps him in matches and can account for virtually any player on a good day.
It is only two years ago that he started his season by reaching the final in Pune, while Karlovic has has also often performed well at the season-opener in Doha, most memorably beating Novak Djokovic en route to the last four in 2015.
He’ll open 2021 against seventh seed Pablo Andujar, a clay specialist, and after that would be either a qualifier or wild card Noah Rubin. Then, you’d expect, would come Hurkacz.
Overall, 40/1 looks worth a small punt.
I’ll finish my staking plan with a pick from the bottom half where I’m happy to oppose Isner, who has often taken a while to get his season up and running properly.
Third seed ADRIAN MANNARINO is the preferred option at 14/1.
The Frenchman often goes well in these weaker ‘250’ events – last season he finished runner-up in Nur-Sultan, the latest in a string of final appearances at this level.
That effort formed part of a strong run to finish the year which also included a semi-final appearance in Sofia and a third-round showing at the US Open where he took a set off eventual finalist Alex Zverev.
OK, that was all now two months or more ago now, but Mannarino also has some decent early-season form from years gone by – he made the quarter-finals in Sydney on his 2018 bow, reached the Auckland final in January 2015 and in between won a Challenger title in his first appearance of both the 2016 and 2017 campaigns.
Mannarino has been to the semis here in the past and with a first-round bye he’ll only need to win three matches this year to deliver his each-way backers a profit.
That’s good enough for me.
Posted at 0830 GMT on 6/1/2021
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