1pt win Laslo Djere in the Sardegna Open at 10/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes)
0.5pt e.w. Jiri Vesely in the Sardegna Open at 33/1 (BoyleSports)
0.5pt e.w. Sumit Nagal in the Sardegna Open at 80/1 (Betfair, Paddy Power)
1pt win Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the AnyTech365 Andalucia Open at 11/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes)
0.5pt e.w. Gianluca Mager in the AnyTech365 Andalucia Open at 25/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes, BoyleSports)
The ATP Tour heads back to Sardinia this week, albeit to a different venue than last year.
Still, that’s not going to put me off backing defending champion LASLO DJERE at 10/1.
The Serb is in the top quarter of the draw where top seed Dan Evans looks eminently opposable, as does his fellow seed John Millman – both are much better on faster surfaces than the Cagliari clay.
Importantly, Djere has already set foot on the red dirt this year, reaching quarter-finals in both Buenos Aires and Santiago during the South American swing.
This is his terrain, as further evidenced by semi-final appearances in Kitzbhuel and Cordoba last season. And as well as his win here, he also enjoyed title success in Rio in 2019.
This section actually includes the title favourite, home hope Lorenzo Musetti.
The Italian burst onto the scene towards the end of last year, beating both Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori at the Rome Masters. He went on to make the semis here, losing to Djere after struggling with injury.
The 19-year-old is certainly a talent but I feel too much weight has been placed on his semi-final run in Acapulco recently where he defeated both Diego Schwartzman and Frances Tiafoe and 5/1 is short enough.
The second quarter features Nikoloz Basilashvili, the recent winner in Doha, and if the Georgian performs as he did that week, odds of 33/1 will look chunky.
Basilashvili is certainly worth considering. He has won two ATP titles on clay and reached another final, while his draw here looks kind with all four qualifiers having been placed in this section. He’ll start against one and he could meet another in the last eight.
However, while tempted by the 33s, the 80/1 about qualifier SUMIT NAGAL looks even more eyecatching given his recent clay form.
The Indian crushed Joao Sousa for the loss of just two games in Buenos Aires and then took out second seed Cristian Garin, the man who won in Santiago the following week.
Albert Ramos-Vinolas eventually halted his shock run in the quarter-finals but not before being pushed to 7-5 in the deciding set.
As he did in Buenos Aires, Nagal has come through qualifying this week, winning both of his matches in straight sets.
The state of the draw means he’ll need to beat another qualifier, Jozef Kovalik, and then Basilashvili, whose form outside of Doha has been poor for some time. Jan-Lennard Struff could follow in the last eight – hardly the most daunting of tasks.
In such a weak part of the draw, the price is simply too big.
Another Italian, Lorenzo Sonego, is the man the bookies expect to come through the bottom half of the draw but again 11/2 looks pretty skinny to me.
Yes, he’s got results on his CV – last 16 at Roland Garros in 2020, quarter-finals in Monte Carlo in 2019 – but he’s just 4-6 so far in 2021 so anyone backing Sonego is relying a lot on his propensity for clay kicking in straight away.
The third seed hasn’t played on this surface since doing so down the road in Pula in October and on that occasion he lost in round two to one of my other picks this week, JIRI VESELY.
I’m prepared to take a punt on the Czech in a bottom quarter which doesn’t look particularly strong.
Second seed Taylor Fritz has done little on clay, while Guido Pella has had plenty of problems over the past year and hasn’t played since the Australian Open.
Vesely made the last eight in Sardinia last year, losing only to eventual champion Djere, and he’s beaten plenty of strong opponents on clay over the years, including Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo in 2016.
His big first serve troubled the world number one that day and his delivery is an aspect of his game which has caught the eye of late – he’s served 100 aces in his last five matches.
Of course, the clay will take the edge off that a bit but I’d still expect his serve to prove troublesome for opponents here, starting with Andrej Martin in round one. Fritz would follow.
A small-stakes play at 33/1 is the suggestion.
We’ve got more opposable favourites in Marbella, which stages an ATP Tour event for the first time.
Casper Ruud heads the market at 9/2 and he’s a player I was certainly expecting to win this sort of event at the start of the season.
But his 2021 has been a bumpy road so far – he’s played just three events, losing in the opening round of the first and retiring from the two subsequent ones.
This is the Norwegian’s surface but there’s no way I’m getting with him at a short price at this stage.
In the opposite half is top seed Pablo Carreno Busta, another returning after injury – this will be his first match since quitting a match at the Australian Open in February.
It will also be his first on clay since the autumn and while the Spaniard can play on the dirt, arguably he’s played his better tennis on hardcourts in recent years. Again, I can swerve the 5/1 easily enough.
I’ll take on PCB with ARV – ALBERT RAMOS-VINOLAS – in the top half.
The fourth seed already has his clay shoes firmly on having played during the Golden Swing in South America where he made the final in Cordoba and the semis in Buenos Aires.
Admittedly his best results have come at a bit of altitude, something he won’t be getting here, but he showed in Buenos Aires he’s more than capable at sea level, while he also knows this venue well having won both of his Davis Cup rubbers here when Spain hosted Great Britain in 2018.
Ramos-Vinolas has a first-round bye and will likely face Lucas Pouille first, a player who is yet to win back-to-back matches at tour level since his February return from elbow surgery. He also holds a 4-1 record in that head-to-head match-up, including all three matches on clay.
Federico Delbonis would likely prove a tougher opponent at the quarter-final stage, although the Argentine will first need to get past local boy Roberto Carballes Baena.
In short, Ramos-Vinolas is an established clay performer who won’t take long to settle into these conditions. I’ll back him at 11/1.
The bottom half looks stronger and even if you are prepared to push aside leading seeds Ruud and Fabio Fognini (as I am) there are still plenty of contenders to make the final.
They include wonderkid Carlos Alcaraz, the talented but recently injured Pedro Martinez and Jaume Munar, the runner-up at last week’s Challenger Tour event staged at the same Puente Romano Tennis Club.
However, I’m going to take a punt on the man who won Sunday’s final, namely GIANLUCA MAGER.
This is a player who made the Rio final last season, beating Dominic Thiem in the process.
Provided he beats Mikhail Kukushkin, Mager will be Ruud’s first opponent and facing an in-form player bedded in on the surface and at the venue will be a tough one for the Norwegian.
Victory there would put Mager into a quarter-final, possibly against Alcaraz.
Of course, fatigue could become an issue after last week’s exertions but I feel that’s built into the price of 25/1.
Published at 1930 BST on 04/04/21
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