There are three tournaments on the ATP Tour this week, including the start of the US Open Series in Atlanta. Andy Schooler brings you his best bets.
2pts win John Isner in the Atlanta Open at 6/1 (General)
1pt e.w. Ilya Ivashka in the Atlanta Open at 25/1 (Sky Bet, BetVictor)
1pt e.w. Alex Molcan in the Croatia Open at 18/1 (General)
0.5pt e.w. Pedro Cachin in the Croatia Open at 125/1 (Unibet)
0.5pt e.w. Nicolas Jarry in the Generali Open at 25/1 (Betfred)
0.5pt e.w. Yannick Hanfmann in the Generali Open at 25/1 (Betfred)
· Atlanta, Georgia, USA (outdoor hard)
It may not have the biggest names but, for me, the most important tournament of this week takes place in Atlanta where the US Open Series begins.
This is the start of the road to the final Grand Slam event of the season, the players hitting the hardcourt surface for the first time this summer.
It’s usually hot in Atlanta at this time of year and indeed we have temperatures above 30C forecast this week. That will make conditions fairly fast.
Those conditions have certainly favoured the big servers over the years.
There have now been nine stagings of this event at its current Atlantic Station home and six of those have been won by JOHN ISNER.
Nick Kyrgios and Andy Roddick are other huge servers to have won here, while the other champion, Alex de Minaur, didn’t face a break point when he lifted the trophy in 2019.
Essentially, a big serve can carry you far here and that is very much part of the betting approach this week.
And it’s that man Isner who again makes the coupon.
His record at this tournament is hard to ignore and he clearly loves playing at a venue where his serve can be a killer shot. However, it’s also not too quick, the ball kicking up enough to enable him to line up the other big weapon in his game, the forehand (usually as the third shot of a rally).
In total, Isner has a 36-5 record in Atlanta. As well as the six titles, he’s finished runner-up three times. His only pre-final losses came in the 2012 semi-finals against Andy Roddick and his 2019 opener against Reilly Opelka (a final-set tie-break loss).
The draw is also key to my thinking.
The bottom half looks considerably weaker and while it would be wrong to say there aren’t players capable of beating Isner, when I look through the most likely contenders there’s not a great deal to like.
Fourth seed Frances Tiafoe has a miserable 1-4 record in Atlanta, while sixth seed Jenson Brooksby is making his debut here.
The latter is heading into a good period of the season for his game but it’s been a disappointing year so far for the youngster and it may take him a couple of weeks to get back up to speed. Certainly I can’t back him here at 15/2.
Sebastian Korda is returning to action after more than a month out through injury (and is another making his tournament debut), while Denis Kudla and Mackenzie McDonald don’t cut it as potential value picks given their poor form.
I consider Brandon Nakashima the biggest threat to Isner and was tempted to back the American at 11/1.
I wrote about his ability to handle the big servers during Wimbledon when he pushed Nick Kyrgios to five sets.
He also showed that here last season when beating Milos Raonic en route to the final (his only previous appearance in Atlanta).
However, once there it was Isner he fell to, losing 7-6 7-5.
Maybe I’ll regret it but I’m going to side with Isner ahead of Nakashima given his love of this venue, plus the fact he latter has an extra round to play with Isner among the seeds handed a first-round bye.
As already suggested, the top half looks more competitive.
This is where favourite Nick Kyrgios resides – the Australian will be making his first appearance since reaching the Wimbledon final.
With most players, you’d consider an excellent grasscourt season to be a strong platform for the summer hardcourt swing but with Kyrgios you simply don’t know how he’s going to react.
It was only a fortnight ago that he spoke about being exceptionally tired so you have to wonder whether he’s really happy to back after just a two-week break.
If the seedings play out, he’s also facing a tough route to the final with Alex de Minaur awaiting in the quarter-finals and top seed Reilly Opelka in the last four.
De Minaur has shone here in the past, winning the event in 2019, although you wouldn’t really associate his retrieve-based game with success here.
That’s not the case with Opelka, who clearly has a game well suited to these conditions. The 6ft 11in star has twice made the semis on the back of his giant serve.
That said, Opelka has hardly been in sparkling form in recent months, while I wonder if the nature of De Minaur’s Wimbledon exit – he lost to Cristian Garin from two sets up – will have left any scars.
While I’m happy to take on Kyrgios at his price of 9/2, I don’t want to side with De Minaur or Opelka at 8/1 or shorter.
Jack Sock and Tommy Paul arrive here after good grasscourt campaigns and could go well, although the fact they face each other in round one is rather off-putting.
I do, however, like the chances of ILYA IVASHKA at 25/1.
He’s another with the game style which should suit the conditions. The serve-forehand combination should win him plenty of points while he’s not afraid to come forward and be aggressive when the situation allows.
In 2021, Ivashka’s best spell of the season came during the summer hardcourt swing – he beat four top-50 opponents and won the title in Winston-Salem.
As a Belarusian, Ivashka was one of the players banned from Wimbledon but prior to that he’d played well enough on the grass with some tough draws seeing him beaten by world number one Daniil Medvedev (twice) and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
His lack of action in the past month could be seen as a negative but he should also be straining to be let off the lease, probably with a sense of injustice about being denied his Wimbledon shot.
In short, there are several things to like about Ivashka’s chances this week, including the price of 22/1.
· Umag, Croatia (outdoor clay)
Back in Europe, the final claycourt events of the season take place this week.
This one in Croatia is held in high regard by the players, many of whom enjoy its party vibe – matches are played in the evenings with DJs on site to help create a vibrant atmosphere.
I’d suggest that helps explain why Fabio Fognini has gone well here over the years, while it may also appeal to the young guns.
One of those, Carlos Alcaraz, won the tournament 12 months ago and he’s back for more this year.
Following his final run in Hamburg, he looks a worthy favourite, especially after a decent draw which has left Holger Rune as the next highest seed in his half.
That said, Alcaraz wasn’t at his best last week. He came very close to losing his opening match to wild card Nicola Kuhn, while he was then upset by Lorenzo Musetti when a hot favourite in the final.
With the conditions here likely to be somewhat slower than those in Hamburg, maybe he could be vulnerable in his opener against either Jiri Vesely or Federico Delbonis. The pair have different games but both are capable of causing damage on clay.
While not overly keen on opposing the Spaniard, I can’t resist trying a long shot with PEDRO CACHIN.
He’s a player I’ve been waiting to hit the main tour for some time now, the Argentine having torn things up on the Challenger Tour on the clay so far this year. At all levels, he’s an impressive 39-14 this season.
The Argentine has made no fewer than six such clay Challenger finals, winning three, and this week he gets his chance to take his game to a better class of player.
Admittedly experience against the best is limited but his 4-2 record versus top-100 players in 2022 is encouraging.
He’s in a quarter which contains the enigmatic Fognini, plus an out-of-form Holger Rune, so I believe this represents a chance to show off his undoubted talents at a tasty three-figure price.
I’m more bullish about an upset in the bottom half where the man seeded to the make the final, Jannik Sinner, looks worth opposing.
With the US Open looming into view, it seems a rather strange decision for the Italian to make Umag his first port of call post-Wimbledon.
With just one tournament on clay before the hardcourt swing, you have to question whether motivation levels are high – and I’d suggest there’s a possibility that the 20-year-old is here more for the experience than the title.
The other seeds in this section look more than capable of troubling the Italian if he’s not going full pelt.
The aforementioned Musetti will be the pick of many after his title charge in Hamburg last week but that was the first tour-level final of his career and it would be no surprise to see that effort take a mental and physical toll this week.
Sebastian Baez and ALEX MOLCAN are the other bottom-half seeds and they look more likely challengers.
Baez made this column a profit in Bastad a couple of weeks ago when he made the final – his third on the ATP Tour this season. He had previously won in Estoril and finished runner-up in Santiago.
Considering his efforts in Sweden, his loss a couple of days later to Filip Krajinovic in Hamburg can be forgiven, particularly given it only came via a final-set tie-break.
In truth, the rest has probably done him good and he will likely be raring to go again here where conditions are usually pretty slow – as is the case in Estoril.
All the matches are played in the evening and that produces slower conditions which should favour the South American.
Molcan is the other one I feel could go well in this section.
We backed him in Hamburg last week at 50/1 only for him to lose to top seed Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-final ‘money match’.
Still, the left-hander justified our faith, taking out Pablo Carreno Busta en route to the last four.
That continued a decent run of form on the clay, something highlighted by the fact he’s the fifth seed this week.
He’s got a decent chance again here. Local wild card Duje Ajdukovic is first up, followed by either Roberto Carballes Baena (who arrives from altitude in Gstaad) or Henri Laaksonen and I’d expect him to progress to the last eight where he could face Sinner.
At odds of 18/1, he gets the nod ahead of 9/1 Baez, although I wouldn’t put anyone off backing the latter man.
· Kitzbuhel, Austria (outdoor clay)
Many of last week’s Swiss Open field move across the border to Austria for this event, thus staying at Alpine altitude.
That pack of players had been due to include both finalists in Gstaad, champion Casper Ruud and runner-up Matteo Berrettini, but both pulled out after Sunday’s match to leave organisers (not to mention this writer) somewhat frustrated.
A full rewrite of this preview was required with the conundrum of whether to change tack now the draw has been rejigged.
I originally only had one pick and that was NICOLAS JARRY, a quarter-finalist in Gstaad where his serve was in fine working order.
He lost serve only once in three matches (three times in five if you include qualifiers) with seven of the eight sets he played going to a tie-break.
The Chilean is happy playing well above sea level where the balls move through the air that bit quicker. That’s no surprise given he was born in Santiago, in the foothills of the Andes.
Two of his three tour-level finals have come at a significant altitude – in Sao Paulo in 2018 and Geneva the following year.
He’s also won Challenger Tour titles up in Medellin, Quito and Santiago in the past, while his only previous visit to Kitzbuhel saw him reach the semis in 2018.
OK, the draw here isn’t easy – seed Pedro Martinez is first up with Federico Coria or Cristian Garin to follow – but Jarry looks better equipped for the altitude conditions than those guys. A meeting with Albert Ramos-Vinolas – the man moved into Ruud’s slot at the top of the draw - could follow in the quarter-finals.
I’m glad I’ve got in my usual mention of Ramos-Vinolas for these altitude events – consider his name ticked off on the checklist.
He was another losing semi-finalist for this column in Gstaad last week and now he moves on to Kitzbuhel where he made the final in 2019.
The humbling nature of his loss to Ruud on Saturday (he won just two games) has to be a worry for anyone considering him this week though.
The move across the draw will undoubtedly have improved his chances but I’m not going to side with him this week, instead opting for a small-stakes punt on Jarry at a big price.
Berrettini’s absence from the bottom half leaves things wide open and perhaps YANNICK HANFMANN can take advantage.
He’s another proven altitude performer, finishing runner-up here as a qualifier two years ago, adding to a similar run in Gstaad in 2017. The German has also claimed Challenger titles at significant altitude in Shymkent and Ismaning.
Back in Gstaad last week he won three matches (including qualifying) before losing 7-6 7-6 to Jarry in a match during which he didn’t face a break point.
That’s decent-enough form heading into a weak half of the draw in similar conditions and a price of 25/1 looks worth a nibble.
Odds correct at 2000 BST on 25/07/22
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