Last week in Vienna saw one of the most charmed ATP 500 runs witnessed in recent times when Andrey Rublev faced not one, but four, injured opponents and then a lucky loser en route to winning the Erste Bank Open.
Both Norbert Gombos and Dominic Thiem suffered from foot blistering, while Jannik Sinner and Kevin Anderson both retired and when that was then combined with world number one Novak Djokovic tanking once he’d secured the world number one end-of-season ranking, it added up to a surprisingly easy week for Rublev.
Still, the 12-1 or so on Rublev was too short for me, given that his much more likely path to the final was (qualifier), Sinner, Thiem, Medvedev, Djokovic, and on that basis I’d have wanted double the price that was on offer about the Russian.
As for 250-1 finalist, Lorenzo Sonego, well, he lost to Aljaz Bedene in qualies and then edged past Hubert Hurkacz before meeting a tanking Djokovic and an injured Dan Evans in a most unlikely run to the title match.
Old Nostradamus himself would have struggled to pick Sonego in Vienna and so I’m content to have swerved the whole thing, but Nur-Sultan was disappointing, largely because of the speed of the surface there.
I’d have expected it to be on the faster side given that Kazakhstan’s best two players (Kukushkin and Bublik) are both at their most effective in quick conditions, but it was pretty slow at the Astana Open.
There were only 76% holds of serve in the main draw and just 33% of the matches featured tie breaks, which puts it just a shade quicker than Cologne last week, but very much on the slow side.
Adrian Mannarino was one of those on my shortlist from the top half of the draw (I’d rated 10-1 too short about him) while John Millman got to the title match thanks largely to an epic choke from Tommy Paul, who lost seven points in a row from 5-0 up in their deciding set tie break.
My man Egor Gerasimov also blinked somewhat, losing from 1.11 in-play in the final set against Frances Tiafoe, while Kukushkin also made the last eight, but at a struggle in the slow conditions.
Conditions and trends
We head to Bercy this week for one of my favourite tournaments of the year, both from an outright and match betting perspective.
It almost always produces ‘surprise’ results and one of my fondest memories in this job was tipping Jack Sock to win the title here at 80-1 a few years ago.
Last year, it was Denis Shapovalov who provided a nice return for punters with a run to the final at 100-1 and in 2018 Karen Khachanov was a 40-1 winner, while Filip Krajinovic was a huge-priced finalist in 2017.
This year there’s no Djokovic or Federer, so Rafael Nadal will, I presume, be putting in more of an effort than he usually does in Bercy, with what on paper looks a good opportunity for him to win this for the first time in his career.
He can also tie Novak Djokovic’s record of 36 M1000 crowns, so he’s likely to be more motivated than he normally is in Bercy this time around.
Number one seeds don’t often go well here though, with Djokovic the only top seed to have won Bercy (three times) since Andre Agassi won it in 1999.
Krajinovic and Jerzy Janowicz have both made the final as qualifiers in the last decade, which is rare indeed for a M1000 event, but anything’s possible at this stage of the season.
Conditions in Bercy change every year, seemingly on the whim of tournament director Guy Forget, and we’ll have to wait and see what he comes up with this year, but one thing we do know is that it will be played behind closed doors.
Court 1 looked like it was a decent pace from what I saw of the qualifying matches on that court, so I hope it won’t be another horribly slow GreenSet surface on the centre court.
So, Rafael Nadal is back in Bercy, and for once he might be trying to win it, which in all honesty is something he hasn’t usually bust a gut to do in recent years, with two withdrawals and a retirement from his last six visits here.
This will be the first time he’s shown up here in back-to-back years since 2009 and we’ll see how deep the desire to tie Djokovic’s record of M1000 titles is.
His draw doesn’t look easy at all, with former finalist Filip Krajinovic a likely first opponent and the in-form Borna Coric probably waiting for him in round three.
Both Krajinovic and Coric are possible big-priced punts here this week, with the latter having beaten Nadal twice on hard courts in the past and I’m not totally convinced that Rafa will get past Krajinovic either.
The Spaniard hasn’t played on indoor hard since last year’s Davis Cup final and if Krajinovic can hold himself together (which he tends not to do against the elite of the men’s game) he could cause an upset if it’s a decent paced surface.
I’m not usually keen on Coric on indoor hard, but he’s played much better on it lately, with a run to the final in St. Petersburg and a decent showing in Vienna, where he lost to a motivated Djokovic.
Coric went toe-to-toe with Djokovic and held four set points in their opener in a match-up that doesn’t suit Coric well at all, so there are signs that he’s ready to go deep at a Masters level tournament again and 50-1 is a fair enough price.
The Croat looks the most likely to take advantage of any slip up from Nadal, with David Goffin looking miles away from a decent level in Antwerp having recovered from coronavirus and Pablo Carreno Busta putting in a tank in Vienna that was only marginally more respectable in terms of effort than that of Djokovic.
PCB felt his leg a few times in that Vienna tank against Kevin Anderson and while that may have been for show I wouldn’t be too keen on PCB anyway in terms of his chances of ever beating Nadal.
There are four qualifiers in this quarter of the draw though, so it’s quite possible that one of those could be another option, considering how well qualifiers have gone here in the past at massive prices.
The most likely one looks to be Marton Fucsovics, who’s been drawn against my fancy Coric in round one, and hopefully the hard to predict Hungarian won’t upset Coric in that one.
The other qualifiers look unlikely to do anything this week and so I’ll just take Coric in Q1.
This quarter is partially about how Alexander Zverev is feeling after his exertions in Cologne in back-to-back weeks in which he was struggling with a hip problem and since then the various revelations from his current and former girlfriends.
With all of that going on it’s guesswork as to his performance levels this week and this could present another opportunity for Andrey Rublev after a hardly taxing week in Vienna, where he played only five completed sets to make the title match.
The only two matches that Rublev has lost since the US Open both came in weeks that I backed him (in Rome to Hurkacz and in Paris to Tsitsipas) and on both occasions he won titles the week after I tipped him outright in Rome and after I backed him to win his quarter at the French.
His claims are pretty obvious in Q2, but his record against Zverev is poor (4-0 and 8-0 in sets to Zverev) so once again the outright price is probably too short on the Russian this week.
The rest of this quarter of the draw looks rather weak after a slew of withdrawals affected the quality of the tournament and the only other seed in this section is Stan Wawrinka, who looks past his best now.
Stan may well be taken down by Dan Evans in round one and Evo has been playing well lately, but he had a shoulder problem in the semi final loss to Sonego in Vienna, so the Brit is overlooked, too.
The only qualifier in this quarter is Radu Albot, who didn’t look up to much when I took a chance on him at a big price last week, so the chances of him doing anything here are incredibly slim.
Another four qualifiers have been placed into Q3 of this Bercy draw and one of them may have a part to play here, as this quarter looks quite open.
It might be too quick for Diego Schwartzman, who was in truth rather lucky to reach the Cologne final in slow conditions after being a game away from a heavy defeat to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who failed to serve the match out three straight times.
And there could be a rematch of that highly entertaining encounter this week, as qualifier Davidovich Fokina would face Schwartzman in round three if they both made it that far.
ADF looks the best of a pretty mediocre bunch of qualifiers this year (along with Fucsovics) and he showed both in Cologne and at the US Open that he’s got the game for hard courts these days as well as just clay.
He could have hoped for a nicer draw than Karen Khachanov in round one, but Khachanov is hardly in good form and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Spaniard surprised a few this week.
Daniil Medvedev looks some way below the level we saw from him a year ago and fellow Russian Khachanov has failed to repeat his form from two years ago pretty much ever since he won this title in 2018.
Alex De Minaur is a possibility here, but despite making the Antwerp final the Aussie still looks a bit lost out there at the moment and a lack of crowds this week surely won’t help him.
Kevin Anderson might well produce another good performance and knock out Medvedev in the latter’s first match this week, but the big South African yet again struggled with injury in Vienna and probably isn’t fit enough to back to win the title here.
Of the other qualifiers in Q3, it’s hard to make much of a case for many of them even making round two, let alone the latter stages, but I don’t mind taking a punt on Davidovich Fokina at a price like 200-1.
I’m not exactly sure what the issue has been lately with Matteo Berrettini, but the Italian has withdrawn from all three tournaments he was entered into since losing a poor one in heavy conditions at the French Open back in early October.
If he’s fit and in fair form the Italian could have a decent chance in Q4, but we’d be guessing on his fitness, as we also are a bit with Milos Raonic and Stefanos Tsitsipas in this part of the draw.
Raonic still hasn’t really shown that his body can last a full week of competitive play and his last outing was yet another withdrawal, this time in Antwerp when he failed to show for his quarter final, citing an abdominal strain.
Tsitsipas is the obvious pick in Q4, but he’s had hip problems lately and didn’t look in the best of condition in his two tough matches against Jan-Lennard Struff and Grigor Dimitrov in Vienna.
“I feel much better now – I wasn't 100 percent ready in Vienna,” Tsitsipas said. “My movement was not good at all, probably because I wanted to protect my leg. I actually didn't have high expectations. This week is important for me, because I know I can earn some points.”
He’s got a tough one first up against most likely Ugo Humbert and could the Frenchman be a dark horse in this quarter at 66-1?
Humbert is yet another of those that have won a tournament the week after I backed them in recent times, with Humbert riding his luck a bit (he was 3-6 down in a final set tie break in the semi final) to win Antwerp (ironically against my man of that week De Minaur) after I backed him at 50-1 in St. Petersburg.
His price of 14-1 offered little value to me in Antwerp, but at 66-1 in a field that’s much weaker than usual for a Masters 1000 he’ll surely be keen to show what he can do to French audiences watching at home.
I’d have been keener on his chances if there was a crowd in, but he’s more than capable of stunning a less than fit Tsitsipas first up and there are no in-form elite players (or any elite players at all) in this half of the draw that should worry Humbert.
Pierre Hugues-Herbert has an awful record here, but may go better without the pressure of the raucous home crowd if the surface is a fair pace, while Felix Auger-Aliassime is a possibility if it’s on the quicker side.
FAA did pretty well in very slow conditions in Cologne, but he’s yet to win a main level title and it seems a long shot that his first one would be at M1000 level after a bunch of bad losses in title matches at 250 and 500 level.
Marin Cilic hasn’t shown anything like his best form for a very long time now and seems a hopeful pick here this week.
Given the very good record in recent times of qualifiers in Bercy I’m happy to take a punt that one of them, Davidovich Fokina, can cause an upset or two this week, while at the same time hoping that another, Marton Fucsovics, doesn’t take down Coric in round one.
Coric is my main hope in Q1, while nothing appeals in Q2, and I’ll take a chance on Humbert in Q4.