Juan Ignacio Londero was the latest outright to go from 25-1 or bigger to odds-on and lose this season when he failed with two set points in the opening set of his Bastad final against Nicolas Jarry and proceeded directly to a straight sets loss.
The irony of the defeat coming against Jarry, who blew match points a few months ago to win Geneva when we were on him at a big price outright wasn’t lost on me and we’re now 2-7 in finals in 2019.
I said that qualifiers have a fine record in Umag, but none of them really appealed, with Attila Balazs for me a very unlikely finalist and Alexander Bublik likewise to a degree in Newport.
Conditions and trends
We stay on the clay for two tournaments this week, while the North American hard court swing begins, and history tells us that we can expect a surprise or two in Germany for the newly named Hamburg European Open (formerly German Tennis Championship).
Qualifiers (one technically a lucky loser) have won this event for the last two years, while in the last six years as a whole there have been three finalists and one semi finalist from the qualifying draw.
It’s usually pretty slow on the clay at the Am Rothenbaum and even last year when it was very warm there were still only seven matches that featured a tie break all tournament.
Since the tournament became an ATP 500 in 2009 only one number one seed (Nadal) has won it, so it’s been a standout tournament as far as big priced outrights are concerned.
Our other clay event this week, the Swiss Open Gstaad is played at over 1,000m of altitude in the Swiss Alps and it’s been another poor one lately for number one seeds, with only Feli Lopez in 2016 winning the title as top seed here since Federer in 2004.
This was Matteo Berrettini’s breakout event last season when he won as a 33-1 shot and there have been qualifiers in the semis and final in the last two years.
The hard court action begins at the Atlanta Station for the BB&T Atlanta Open, which is played on a lively temporary Decoturf outdoor hard court in conditions that can be brutally hot and humid at times.
Matt Ebden was pretty frank about how he felt about playing a semi final in Atlanta last year: “I couldn't care less. I was in a state where I was pretty fatigued and had zero motivation to play. I didn't want to win, because I didn't want to have to play the next day, to be honest.”
Nothing like a bit of professionalism on the ATP Tour is there?
Winners here in recent years have included John Isner (five times), Nick Kyrgios and Andy Roddick, so there’s a definite pattern to the Atlanta champions in terms of playing style, and the top seed has made at least the quarter finals every year that Atlanta has been played (began in 2010).
Qualifiers haven’t fared so well in Atlanta, with none making the final yet.
Hamburg European Open
Four top 10 stars are in town for this one, but the top two seeds won’t be too pleased at their round one draws, with number 1 seed Dominic Thiem taking on Pablo Cuevas and two seed Alexander Zverev facing Nicolas Jarry.
Cuevas was awful last week in Bastad, but at least he’s played on clay both there and in Bundesliga since Wimbledon and he’ll present a tough test for the Austrian, who’s yet to make a semi final in Hamburg.
Indeed, Jarry beat Thiem here last year and regular readers will need no reminding of the last time Jarry clashed with Zverev, which came in Geneva when we had Jarry outright at a big price and he missed a routine volley on match point and ended up losing.
Zverev has had a rotten time of it this season and hasn’t won a match in Hamburg since making the semis as a 17-year-old back in 2014, but he might get lucky in the sense that Jarry may be fatigued after Bastad.
I’m happy to oppose both Thiem and Zverev here and in the top half Andrey Rublev is interesting at a decent price.
The Russian has struggled with injury this season, but looks to be coming back towards decent form just now and we know he goes well this time of the year after he won Umag a few years ago.
He’s got Cristian Garin first up, which is tough, but Garin hasn’t looked at his best lately and lost as favourite to Rublev on grass a few weeks ago at Wimbledon.
Garin was poor against Jeremy Chardy in Bastad and if Rublev can get the better of him again he may well face Robin Haase next round, who he beat convincingly in Umag last week.
Then he’d be into the last eight against either Thiem, Cuevas, Kohlschreiber or Fucsovics and it could be any of those four.
Kohli has played Hamburg nine times and never made the final and on form he looks unlikely to reverse that trend this year, but Cuevas is a former finalist here and if he beats Thiem he’d probably be the one that Rublev would face.
None of those four are in good form at the moment though and I don’t mind risking Rublev at around 50-1 each-way.
Leonardo Mayer has to come into the thinking, with his superb record here of 15-3 win/loss and when he won it in 2017 he did so as a lucky loser, having been beaten by the man he plays in round one this year, Rudolf Molleker.
The obvious problem for Mayer is that he’d probably face Fabio Fognini in round two, but Fog retired last week in Umag and Mayer has beaten the Italian the last twice that they’ve clashed on clay.
The others in that quarter don’t look up to it, with Pablo Carreno Busta appearing miles away from his best form after injury problems, and Jan-Lennard Struff holding a 2-10 win/loss record in Hamburg at all levels.
Mayer beat Struff in straight sets here in Hamburg (Struff beat Mayer her in 2013) and it’s hard to ignore Mayer at this tournament, but it’s possible that Struff’s good form this year will see him contend in Hamburg for once.
The last time I backed Struff in Germany on the clay (in Munich a few months back) he was crushed by Thiago Monteiro in round one and I suspect if Struff is to win a title (0-7 and one set won in total in main level semi finals) it will probably be somewhere away from the home pressure.
Quarter one of the bottom half looks interesting and with a trio of Frenchmen in it anything is possible.
Benoit Paire has won one of his last five matches in Hamburg, while Richard Gasquet won’t be winning anything unless his back improves, with his serve now looking tame and his mobility pretty poor.
Jeremy Chardy gave another example of why he’s unlikely to win a title on clay in Bastad last week when he was awful in the quarter finals (now 5-13 win/loss in clay quarter finals and 1-4 in semis) after starting the event very well.
He hasn’t won a match in Hamburg since 2012 and lacks the consistency to put four or five good matches together in a row.
Paire’s perhaps the likeliest option in that quarter, but he said he needed “a rest” after Wimbledon and we’ll see if a week was enough. I’d want a better price on him as well.
Defending champion Nikoloz Basilashvili has really struggled to back up his fine season last year and is 15-16 win/loss in 2019 (one semi final his best week) after ending 2018 winning 19 of his last 27 matches.
That doesn’t mean he won’t go deep again this year, but at around 16-1 I’m not seeing much value on the struggling Georgian.
So, that means last week’s form players Salvatore Caruso and Juan Ignacio Londero might have a chance in that quarter, but what have they got left in the tank after big weeks for both?
Caruso seems highly unlikely after his leg was heavily strapped up in the semi final in Umag and he retired, so Londero might face a lucky loser instead in round one.
The last quarter looks tricky as well, with Laslo Djere and Filip Krajinovic both losing out to Balazs and Djere struggled all week, while Krajinovic yet again has injury doubts after withdrawing from doubles in Umag citing foot pain.
Martin Klizan won Hamburg in 2016 and can’t be discounted, but his current form is poor, as is Marco Cecchinato’s, while Federico Delbonis has played a lot of tennis this past fortnight.
Swiss Open Gstaad
Top seed here Roberto Bautista Agut has done well in his last two visits, making the semis and the final, but he’s yet to win it.
This year may be the time for RBA though, with the opposition in his top half looking rather unlikely to defeat the Wimbledon semi finalist, although he has just been on a stag weekend away, so maybe he’ll be a tad jaded!
Lorenzo Sonego looks the one with the kind of power that may cause RBA similar problems to Matteo Berrettini in last year’s Gstaad final, but if we’re backing against RBA here it’s more out of hope that he’s not fully committed this week than anything else.
High seed in the bottom half, Fernando Verdasco, looks a more viable one to oppose, with the 35-year-old struggling for fitness last week in Bastad and I wonder how motivated he is for these sorts of events now at this stage of his career as a new dad.
Perhaps fellow Spaniards Pablo Andujar and Roberto Carballes Baena could be the answer in this half of the draw, each having won at altitude before on the clay – Andujar here in 2014 and RCB in Quito in 2018.
It looks a very open half, with plenty in with chances on their best form, but Henri Laaksonen is 3-6 here at his home event and Denis Istomin looks like he’s carrying some sort of injury lately, so poor has his movement become.
Albert Ramos doesn’t seem in the sort of physical shape or confidence to mount a title challenge based on his recent form and Dusan Lajovic has had a long week in Umag
Taro Daniel has really struggled this season, but Stefano Travaglia has potential to do something in this quarter, however he did seem fatigued in losing late on to Balazs in Umag and had treatment for what seemed to be a shoulder problem.
No one player really stands out for as an alternative to Bautista Agut in Gstaad.
The obvious bet for me here is to chance Reilly Opelka at a price of around 16-1 in conditions that clearly favour the big servers and with John Isner looking some way below his best at the moment he could easily lose to Opelka first up.
Isner beat Opelka here from a set down in 2016, but Opelka has won their last two – both this season – at the Australian Open on quickish outdoor hard and indoors in New York.
Opelka may have got lucky with the draw, facing the other Newport finalist Alexander Bublik in round one and both Bublik and Isner will be coming from low bouncing grass and a final played in brutally hot conditions.
The rest of the top half of the draw look beatable, with Frances Tiafoe a doubtful stayer in extreme heat and 1-3 win/loss so far in Atlanta, while Marius Copil is another one that tends to struggle in this sort of heat and humidity.
We already know what Matt Ebden thought about the annoyance of having to play a semi final in these conditions, while Bernard Tomic doesn’t even need it to be particularly hot to tank a match.
Dan Evans and Radu Albot seem underpowered in these conditions and the same could be said about Alex De Minaur, who still has something to prove against big servers and isn’t back to his best just yet after injury.
Tennys Sandgren is another possible option in this half, but if he faces Bublik again he may have another mental meltdown at the junk coming at him from across the net, as he did in Newport.
He’s never played Atlanta though, but Ryan Harrison, who’s in the qualie draw, has made two finals and two semi finals here, so if he gets through it’s well worth seeing where he gets placed.
In the bottom half I’m tempted to take a chance on outsider Alexei Popyrin, who’s been playing some good ball lately and coming from Australia he shouldn’t be fazed by the heat here.
His serve and forehand may well prosper in Atlanta and a price of 50-1 is interesting on an each-way basis.
Taylor Fritz, the high seed in this half, has been known to struggle in extreme heat and it’ll be interesting to see how wild cards Grigor Dimitrov and Jack Sock (remember him?) fare this week.
Sock last played in Melbourne (thumb injury) and will surely struggle, while Dimitrov has been troubled by a shoulder problem this year and managed to lose from serving for a 3-0 win against Corentin Moutet at Wimbledon.
Ugo Humbert and Miomir Kecmanovic may go well, but I’m happy with Popyrin for a punt in this half of the draw ahead of the qualies being placed.
So, I’ll take a few big-priced ones this week, with Rublev at 50s and Mayer at 25s the ones for value in Hamburg, while Opelka at 20-1 and Popyrin at 50-1 will go for me in Atlanta.
1 point win Mayer to win Hamburg at 26.0
0.5 points each-way Rublev to win Hamburg at 51.0
1 point win Opelka to win Atlanta at 21.0
0.5 points each-way Popyrin to win Atlanta at 51.0