Premier League Matchday 35: Tricky Away Trip For Manchester United
A decent field, including man of the moment Stefanos Tsitsapas, has gathered in Sofia for this event but, as ever, I’m looking for potential value and I’m not seeing much at the top of the market.
Tsitsipas is, understandably following his semi-final run at the Australian Open, the favourite at 4/1 but overall he’s got a pretty poor record on indoor hardcourts, although admittedly he did break his duck by capturing the Stockholm title towards the end of last year.
The Proflex surface here should be slower than in Melbourne, while I just wonder if the Greek’s heavy defeat at the hands of Rafael Nadal in the last four there may just have left a few scars and cast some doubts in his mind.
Both top seed Karen Khachanov and Daniil Medvedev struggled during last week’s Davis Cup tie as Russia made much harder work of beating Switzerland than most expected. I’m happy to leave them at 5/1 .
Of the leading quartet in the market, my preference would be for Roberto Bautista Agut. The solid Spaniard is a proven performer on a surface such as this. Indeed he won here in 2016 and was also a semi-finalist the following year.
His fighting qualities were on show in Melbourne where he was beaten in the last eight by Tsitsipas, although it should also be remembered he needed three five-set wins to reach that stage and might well have lost to Andy Murray in the very first round had the Briton been that little bit sharper.
At a tournament which was last year won by a big-priced outsider in Mirza Basic, I’ll instead have a couple of small-stakes each-way plays, one in each half of the draw.
First of all, 40/1 about last year’s runner-up Marius Copil looks tempting.
He simply loves playing indoors. As well as making the final here, Copil also finished runner-up in Basel later in the year, beating the likes of Alex Zverev and Marin Cilic along the way.
Prior to that, he had reached a host of Challenger finals indoors to prove his propensity for the conditions.
The Romanian possesses a strong first serve and it was that delivery which helped him to his finals last season – in Sofia he held serve 93 per cent of the time; in Basel it was up at 95 per cent.
Stan Wawrinka is an awkward first-round foe but notably he struggled with Milos Raonic’s big serve in Melbourne, losing three tie-breaks, while he’s also not got the best of records on indoor hard – just one of his career titles has come indoors.
The unreliable Fernando Verdasco could follow in round two, while Khachanov is Copil’s seeded quarter-final opponent.
Someone who has played so well indoors should not fear that run and he looks worth a small play.
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The same can be said about Mikhail Kukushkin in the bottom half, a player who is enjoying something of a renaissance.
He’s back up to 55th in the world rankings and closing in on his career-high of 46 which he achieved back in 2015.
A decent chunk of his points came from an impressive run to the semi-finals in Vienna at the end of 2018 where he beat Grigor Dimitrov, Andrey Rublev and Marton Fucsovics back to back in conditions which should be similar to the ones found in Sofia.
Having headed back indoors for last week’s Davis Cup tie, ‘Kuku’ duly lost just seven games in two straight-sets wins as he helped Kazakhstan qualify for the Finals.
He’ll arrive here in confident mood and 35/1 looks tasty.
Kukushkin should see off Laslo Djere in round one (he did win their only previous meeting) before a potential clash with Gael Monfils, although the man who appears to be made out of balsa wood has already seen his season disrupted by a hamstring injury so who know what you’ll get with him?
Tsitsipas could follow in the quarter-finals but a proven indoor veteran might just be the man capable of testing the youngster in these conditions.
I’m prepared to pay – a small amount at least – to find out.
Marius Copil each way – 40/1
Mikhail Kukushkin each way – 35/1
This looks a bit of a strange market with three 5/1 co-favourites – Lucas Pouille, David Goffin and Tomas Berdych.
However, only one of Goffin and Berdych can reach the semis as they are in the same loaded quarter. Of the two, I’d prefer 2012 champion Berdych, who has started the season well, but it is still early days in his comeback from a long injury lay-off and this will be his first indoor match in almost a year.
5/1 looks pretty short, particularly when you consider that he might have to face the mercurial Benoit Paire in the round two. Frenchmen have a strong record in this event, winning six of the eight stagings, while Paire himself was a finalist in 2013 and also made the last four two years ago.
Filip Krajinovic is another in the fourth quarter and he is arguably the best value.
He played in similar quick conditions in the Davis Cup at the back end of last week, winning two singles rubbers to guide Serbia past Uzbekistan and into the Finals.
The 2017 Paris Masters finalist opens against a qualifier and if he wins he’ll face second seed Goffin, who is still trying to recapture his best form following some injury troubles last season.
Berdych or Paire could follow that so there’s no doubt this is a tough section of the draw, but unlike Berdych’s price, that view is reflected in the 35/1 on offer about the Serb.
Others in the bottom half considered were Ivo Karlovic and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, but while their serves will ensure they are competitive on this Greenset court, their poor return games will likely result in them being edged out at some point.
The French will likely provide another finalist in the top half with Pouille, Gilles Simon, Jeremy Chardy and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga set to battle it out.
The market has them all covered though so an each-way play on Krajinovic is what I’ll settle for.
Filip Krajinovic each way – 35/1
The ‘Golden Swing’ of four claycourt tournaments in South America begins this week with a new event in the Argentine city of Cordoba. It replaces the tournament which has been staged in Quito, Ecuador, in recent in years.
Unlike its forerunner, this event is not staged at altitude with conditions likely to be considerably slower and much more like a traditional South American tournament.
Temperatures will be in the late 20s to early 30s, with thunderstorms forecast for later in the week.
The two market leaders, Fabio Fognini and Diego Schwartzman have both won on the Golden Swing in the past but Fognini is never one to trust at a short price, while my view of Schwartzman is he’s come down a level from the form he showed in 2017.
I’m prepared to take him on and the name who leaps off the page in his section of the draw is Guido Pella.
Unlike Schwartzman, he notably improved in 2018, ending it with a Challenger title on the clay of Montevideo.
That followed a final appearance on the main tour in Umag, as well as a last-eight showing in Buenos Aires where it took top-10 star and eventual champion Dominic Thiem to stop him.
Pella has been a finalist in this part of the season in the past, too, finishing runner-up in Rio in 2016.
Finally, the fact that Pella leads Schwartzman 4-1 on their head-to-head record at all levels is of significance given they could meet in the last eight.
At 20/1 , Pella is more than four times the price of his compatriot which doesn’t seem right and wort backing.
As for the bottom half of the draw, there’s potential value to be had here too given the fact second seed Marco Cecchinato has never won a match in his 10 main-draw appearances at the current Golden Swing tournaments.
The Italian has had a big breakthrough since last season’s Swing but that record is still seriously off-putting.
Either Briton Cameron Norrie or Spain’s Jaume Munar could profit.
Norrie, a semi-finalist on clay in Lyon last season and already a finalist in Auckland in 2019, is proving he can truly compete in 250 fields like this, while I picked out Munar as a ‘one to watch’ in one of my pre-season columns. Fresh out of the Rafael Nadal Academy in Mallorca, the youngster has the tools to trouble good players on clay.
However, both men look priced correctly at 14/1 and 22/1 so I’ll resist the temptation to add to my betting slip on this occasion.
Guido Pella each way – 20/1