It’s another midweek start on the ATP Tour this week and Andy Schooler has picked out his best bets for the action in Astana and Beijing.
1pt win Tallon Griekspoor in the Astana Open at 8/1 (General)
1pt e.w. Adrian Mannarino in the Astana Open at 16/1 (BetVictor)
0.5pt e.w. Marton Fucsovics in the Astana Open at 20/1 (BetVictor, Unibet, BetUK)
0.5pt e.w. Karen Khachanov in the China Open at 50/1 (General)
0.5pt e.w. Holger Rune in the China Open at 50/1 (General)
0.5pt e.w. Alex de Minaur in the China Open at 28/1 (General)
The strongest ‘500’ level field of this season’s ATP Tour has gathered in Beijing this week where eight of the world’s top 10 will be in action.
Only Novak Djokovic and Taylor Fritz of that elite group will be absent when play begins on Thursday and while that makes it fairly likely that the winner will come from the seeds, it’s far from guaranteed.
Long-term followers will know I like to pick holes in the leading contenders and while arguably I can be a bit too hasty to put a line through certain players, I’m more than happy to take on top seed and hot favourite Carlos Alcaraz this week.
Even going back to his junior days, the Spaniard has never played in the Far East before, never mind China, and so how he adapts to the conditions is very much open to question.
While still only 20, his post-US Open record so far leaves much to be desired with no ATP final reached in this period of the season.
Last year he went 6-4 after the US Open, suffering a surprise loss to David Goffin in Astana – the closest he’s ever got to playing in this part of the world.
In 2021, he was a slightly better 5-3 after the US Open but that is still pretty underwhelming.
Throw in the fact that he hasn’t played since his surprise loss to Daniil Medvedev in New York and there are many reasons not to get involved at 7/5 this week.
Another is the sheer strength of the field and Alcaraz could well find choppy waters in his opening match.
KAREN KHACHANOV looked refreshed after a long injury absence when he played in Zhuhai and duly won the title.
I wasn’t expecting that from the Russian but the fact he’s already bedded into the Chinese hardcourts should serve him well this week.
He’ll first have to get past Lorenzo Musetti if he’s to meet Alcaraz but Khachanov’s big-hitting game has the potential to unsettle the world number two, particularly if he’s a bit off following that time away from the court.
Admittedly, Alcaraz holds a 3-0 record against Khachanov but all three of those matches took place on a claycourt. I’d give Khachanov – a semi-finalist in Beijing the last time the tournament was staged in 2019 – a better chance on the DecoTurf hardcourts which were first installed for the 2008 Olympics.
If Alcaraz does fall early, the top half of the draw could really open up.
HOLGER RUNE is the third seed but the fact he’s available at 50/1 says much.
The Dane failed to win a match in the North American hardcourt season, during which he was hampered by a trapped nerve in his back. He recently admitted he was struggling to serve at full speed and wasn’t getting “the free points I want”.
Rune withdrew from Laver Cup duty, although that could be interpreted as a good sign with the 20-year-old looking to focus on this part of the season, knowing he has plenty of ranking points to defend in the next couple of months.
Frankly, 50/1 about a player in the world’s top four is getting to the point where it might be worth some small change – he’s now had a full month to recover and train.
He’s been back on the practice court during a break in Monaco and says he is “feeling healthy again” after a “good recovery”.
Rune is now back solely with coach Lars Christensen having split from Patrick Mouratoglou so we could well see a change in approach, one he hopes will bring back the sparking results of last autumn when he reached four ATP finals, winning two.
Yes, it’s quite a leap for him to go from a losing run to winning at this level but we know he has the talent and it’s surely only a matter of time before Rune is back challenging for these sorts of prizes.
At the price, he’s worth a small punt.
For those unconvinced – and I couldn’t blame you if you were – Grigor Dimitrov almost got the nod in this section.
He’s been to the final here in the past (2016) and played well enough in Chengdu last week before losing to eventual champion Alex Zverev in the semis.
Dimitrov is tempting at 33s, as is Dan Evans at 100s.
The Briton shone in Davis Cup recently and it’s usually a bit quicker than average here which should suit his attacking game.
I think he’ll have a chance of taking down seed Jannik Sinner in the first round but what put me off was that he has long-standing problems when facing Yoshihito Nishioka, his likely second-round opponent.
Nishioka holds a 6-0 advantage over Evans, who has openly admitted his dislike of playing the Japanese, who is in good form having made the Zhuhai final last week.
In the bottom half, Medvedev is the man the layers expect to make the final which is fair enough given his run to the US Open final.
However, he was thumped by Djokovic in that match and this will be his first outing since.
Tommy Paul is no gimme in the first round – the American played well on outdoor hard during the US Open Series and beat Alcaraz in Toronto.
ALEX DE MINAUR also looks a potential problem in round two with the Aussie another to have shown good form in recent months.
He was runner-up at that Masters 1000 event in Toronto and went on to make the last 16 of the US Open.
It was Medvedev who ended his run at Flushing Meadows, although de Minaur has won two of their last three meetings.
Overall, de Minaur has won 15 of his last 20 matches, while on hardcourts this season he’s 28-12 with wins over Medvedev, Fritz, Cam Norrie, Rune, Andrey Rublev and Rafael Nadal.
Essentially, he’s getting better against the elite – something which has held him back in the past – and his run-all-day approach may just be able to bring him a fourth ATP hardcourt final of the season.
Back him to small stakes at 28/1.
The Astana Open, which gets under way on Wednesday, has a strange history.
Hastily created in 2020 as a solution to the COVID problem, it stuck around in 2021 as a 250-level event before being elevated to a ‘500’ last season when it attracted an excellent field and was won by Novak Djokovic.
It’s back at 250 level this year and subsequently has failed to attract a single top-20 player.
As a result, world number 24 TALLON GRIEKSPOOR heads the field and I do like his chances.
The Dutchman played well in the Davis Cup group stage recently, beating both Emil Ruusuvuori and Frances Tiafoe indoors in Split.
His one loss that week, to Borna Gojo, came after the Netherlands had already won their group.
It continued a good few months for Griekspoor, who was champion on the grass of Den Bosch in June and was then a semi-finalist on the hardcourts of Washington where Taylor Fritz was among his victims.
Good serving has been key to recent success with Griekspoor unbroken in six of his 22 matches since the start of the grasscourt season. Five other matches have seen him lose serve only once.
My biggest concern is it may be a little slow for Griekspoor this week.
They are still on Greenset courts in Astana, as they have been since inception, and last year Carlos Alcaraz was among those who criticised their slow pace.
Still, Griekspoor did make the semis in Rotterdam this year, where it’s usually pretty sluggish, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise were the courts to play a bit quicker than in 2022 following the negative responses of 12 months ago.
Griekspoor is in the same quarter of the draw as Sebastian Korda, while Jiri Lehecka and Laslo Djere are the other seeds in the top half which looks the stronger of the two sections.
There could be some value to be had in the bottom half, which is led by Sebastian Baez, hardly known for his indoor hardcort prowess.
Indeed, he was last in action just over a week ago on the clay of Buenos Aires and I’m happy to pass over him here.
Alexander Bublik will look to perform in front of his home fans but the unreliable Kazakh has won just two matches since Wimbledon and those were against players ranked 180 and 567.
His big serve is a key weapon but one likely to be blunted somewhat by the slow conditions so, again, I’m happy to look elsewhere.
In Bublik’s quarter, MARTON FUCSOVICS could go well at a nice price.
The Hungarian’s powerful flat-hitting has the ability to cut through slow conditions and he’s enjoyed himself in such surroundings before.
He was runner-up in Rotterdam in 2021 and also in Sofia in 2019, meaning two of his three ATP finals have come on slow indoor hardcourts.
This season, Fucsovics has beaten Fritz and Alex de Minaur, while he’s also tested Daniil Medvedev at Wimbledon (losing in four) and Jannik Sinner at the Australian Open (lost in five).
Most recently, he beat Korda in a five-set marathon at the US Open, an effort which rather explains his miserable loss in the following round.
After a few weeks off, I’m not going to let that put me off here with Fucsovics looking capable of beating Sebastian Ofner first up – the Austrian had to quit due to injury in St Tropez last week – and then Bublik.
Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem are others in this secton but at 20/1, Fucsovics looks worth a bet.
Finally, let’s also back ADRIAN MANNARINO, who has long enjoyed playing on the indoor hardcourts.
In particular, he has a strong record in Astana, making the inaugural final in 2020 and then the quarter-finals in last year’s much stronger field.
He went 2-0 in Davis Cup for the French recently, backing up a run to the third round of the US Open.
Essentially, that’s some decent form and while he does have an awkward-looking opener against Arthur Rinderknech, it’s worth noting he won their only previous meeting convincingly, destroying his compatriot’s second serve, winning 75% of points played on it.
His own deal held up much, much better and if that match is safely negotiated, Mannarino has what looks a decent path to the last four.
Posted at 1230 BST on 26/09/23
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