In Bercy last week we did as well as we could from a value point of view, with our 66-1 shot Ugo Humbert making the quarter finals as the biggest priced player in that unusually stacked (for Bercy) last eight.
The number one, three, four, six, nine, 10 and 12 seeds made up seven of the eight spots in the quarter finals and so outright betting value was thin on the ground.
Even so, we very nearly made yet another ‘for the money’ match, with Humbert, who, like so many of our outrights in the last couple of seasons, failed from a winning position – this time from 5-1 up and 1.07 in-play in a final set tie break against Milos Raonic.
Conditions and trends
We’re back at the Arena Armeec Sofia for the last week of main tour action for 2020 and this is usually one of the quicker indoor events around, played on a Proflex indoor hard court.
There’s around 550m of altitude in Sofia, which helps in terms of its speed, but they are using Head XT balls, which should help with controlling the ball at this slight altitude – something the players have complained about in the past here.
The last couple of years it’s had 82% holds of serve on average and it ranks highly on tie breaks played, too.
There’s no HawkEye in Sofia, so expect some dodgy calls, but there is a crowd, so there’ll be an atmosphere at least this week and that’ll make a difference to some players.
Until this year it was played in February, but they moved it (before the virus struck it was planned for September) so some of the results here can perhaps be overlooked when it comes to thinking about this year’s event.
That’s because it used to be played right after Davis Cup week when players were returned from national duty in various states of fitness and enthusiasm and two years ago Sofia was won by qualifier Mirza Basic at a huge price.
There’s none of that this year, but the enthusiasm of the players is still likely to be pretty low, as it’ll be the last time for many that they’ll wield a racquet this season.
Several players have commented on how they’re being adversely affected mentally by the restrictions and lack of crowds, so we’re looking for someone motivated this week, which may not be that easy to find.
Sofia Open draw – top half
I’m rather surprised to see the name of Denis Shapovalov still in this Sofia draw, given his quite clear injury problems that first manifested themselves in St. Petersburg.
Shapo could barely serve both there and afterwards in Cologne and he was still out of sorts Vienna, before he pulled out of Paris, so I’m not sure what he has to gain from appearing in the last week of the season in Sofia (other than money, of course).
Maybe he’s made a quick recovery, but he’s one to be wary of this week for me at a short price and the obvious alternative in Q1 for me is Egor Gerasimov, who’ll appreciate the (hopefully) quickish conditions here.
If it is quick that’s another negative for Shapo, who prefers to have a little but of time on the ball and it should favour the big-serving, aggressive game of Gerasimov, who’s been there or thereabouts lately, but failed to kick on at the vital time.
Against both Felix Auger-Aliassime (Cologne) and Frances Tiafoe (Nur-Sultan) he’s blinked from winning positions and the painfully slow conditions at both of those venues hopefully won’t be replicated in Sofia.
I’m not sure about this price of 25-1 though – that’s too short for me.
Adrian Mannarino is another obvious possibility in this quarter, but he’s less than certain to show this week, saying after losing another tight one to Alexander Zverev in Paris:
“I've had an ongoing injury, which is still not healed. I do a lot of treatment every day. I suddenly feel like I'm having trouble stringing matches together in such a tough draw. I don't know exactly what's missing, but is it worth going to Sofia rather than recovering and preparing well for next season, to be competitive in Australia? I really don't know."
Conditions should suit Manna here, but he’s played a lot lately and I think his price reflects that a bit.
The second quarter looks to be between Alex De Minaur and the winner of the round one clash involving Marton Fucsovics and Jannik Sinner and again with one of the market leaders you’ve got to wonder how fit Sinner is?
He retired after only three games in Vienna against Andrey Rublev citing a right foot injury and maybe this is another chance for the very talented but incredibly frustrating Fucsovics to shine?
The Hungarian made the final here a year ago as a 33-1 shot before losing to Daniil Medvedev and with conditions to his liking if he can get past Sinner there’s little else other than De Minaur to worry about in this quarter.
Fucsovics knows how to play in the altitude here and maybe that’s something that Sinner is yet to learn, having barely played at altitude at this level (one appearance in Kitzbuhel that ended in a round two defeat to Laslo Djere a couple of months ago).
Sinner probably hasn’t trained much due to this foot injury and while it’s clearly a risky play to back Fucsovics with this draw I don’t mind taking a chance at 20-1.
De Minaur could be another tricky hurdle to overcome and Fucsovics will need to be at his best, but if he is he’s more than capable of beating the Aussie, who still doesn’t look comfortable with the ‘new normal’ of the tour in its current guise.
Sofia Open draw – bottom half
In Q3 my feeling is to side with Vasek Pospisil, who should be nice and rested after unfortunately missing out on the lucky loser draw in Paris last week (lost to Fucsovics in qualies) and he’s been playing well enough lately to warrant giving a chance to here.
Again, the conditions should suit and he’s one I mentioned as a potential underdog against Felix Auger-Aliassime in Vienna in a match that Pospisil duly won, which shows his current level is there.
The only apparent opposition of note in this quarter would appear to be Jan-Lennard Struff and John Millman.
Millman’s probably got too much tennis in his legs after a real battle of week in slow conditions in Nur-Sultan followed immediately by a quick trip to Paris, while Struff always seems to find a way to lose on the occasions he goes deep at this level.
In Q4, again, it looks to be a straight choice between two or three players, with Auger-Aliassime and Marin Cilic, who met a few days back in Paris, the ones most likely to progress from this section of the draw.
Richard Gasquet could have a say, too, but the Gasman doesn’t appear to be fit enough to win tournaments these days and this does look a fair opportunity for Auger-Aliassime to break his title duck at main level.
FAA was beaten by Cilic in that Bercy match and it wasn’t that close, with the inconsistent and erratic Cilic handing out a bagel to the young Canadian in that one before having an inevitable dip and then closing it out in three.
On the form of that match it’s possible to side with Cilic this week, but he’s so in and out with his form from moment to moment that I don’t see any value in him going the distance at a price like 10-1.
FAA seems the one more likely to string the results together, but he could easily lose to Cilic again, so I prefer the idea of backing Pospisil in Q3 to anyone in Q4 before the qualifying has been completed and the successful ones added to the draw.
Gilles Simon is in qualies and he may well have a part to play this week, but it’s hard to see anyone else from the qualie draw doing much, unless Martin Klizan rolls back the years unexpectedly.
I’ll reassess this once the qualies have completed and mention it in my preview of round one, but for now just two players appeal in Sofia.
I’ll take a punt on the frustratingly inconsistent Fucsovics to make it through the top half, with the price of 25-1 about Gerasimov too short for me (I’d want around 50-1 plus really) and side with Pospisil to finally get some luck go his way in the bottom half.