Premier League Matchday 35: Tricky Away Trip For Manchester United
After striking with 20/1 each-way shot Guido Pella in Cordoba last week, Andy Schooler is back to preview this week’s events in Rotterdam, Buenos Aires and New York.
The big event of the week features a terrific field.
Kei Nishikori and Karen Khachanov are the top two seeds; two stars of the recent Australian Open, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Milos Raonic, will both be hopeful of making an impact; Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Daniil Medvedev – both champions last week – will bid for back-to-back titles; and Tomas Berdych and Stan Wawrinka both have wild cards.
So many of the first-round ties are difficult to confidently call. This has the potential to be a week where the big names dominate, but it looks more likely that there will be a surprise or two along the way.
In betting terms, that means I’ll tread carefully.
Raonic impressed in Melbourne where he made the last eight, destroying Alex Zverev along the way, and having rested up, this is his return. His big serve should work well in these indoor conditions which aren’t known to be particular quick or slow – they play on a Proflex surface.
However, he’s the 6/1 joint favourite and I’m not convinced that’s great value in a field of this quality, particularly given the Canadian hasn’t won a title since 2016, with his last indoors being a year earlier.
Instead I’ll plump for an each-way play on Gael Monfils.
I mentioned a few weeks back that he’s a player who often enjoys his best results towards the start of the season when his fragile body is in its best shape.
He justified that statement to some extent by reaching the semis in Sofia last week, beating Tsitsipas before losing to eventual champion Medvedev.
Monfils, who could meet Tsitsipas in the last eight again here, has won three of his seven career titles in the first couple of months of the season, while four of them have come on indoor hardcourts.
He’s also made eight other finals on indoor hard, including here in 2016.
Monfils starts against seed David Goffin but the Belgian didn’t impress as he lost early in Montpellier last week. Neither is indoor hard his forte.
Basically, there’s a lot to like about the talented Monfils and, if he stays fit (always a bit of a worry), then 16/1 could look big come the weekend.
Of those at a bigger price, 2016 champion Martin Klizan looks a value pick at 40/1.
He’s a proven indoor performer, who hits the ball hard, one capable of troubling the bigger names.
The Slovak is in a decent part of the draw with Nishikori a potential last-eight opponent. The Japanese was last seen quitting his Australian Open quarter-final. He should be well rested by now but I wouldn’t want to be on him at a short price at a tournament he’s never previously played.
Klizan made the quarter-finals in Sofia last week and will open here against that tournament’s runner-up Marton Fucsovics. However, how much will that effort have taken out of the Hungarian, who now faces a quick turnaround onto what will likely be a faster surface?
I’ll chance Klizan but will be keeping stakes small – this really looks to be a tournament where almost anything could happen.
Gael Monfils each-way 16/1
Martin Klizan each-way 40/1
As is often the case, the ‘250’ tournaments make more appeal from a betting perspective and I’d suggest putting more of the betting bank aside for this one.
The field is largely the same as the one which gathered in Cordoba last week – where he had some success with 20/1 each-way shot Guido Pella. At time of writing, he is due to contest the final.
The main difference is the presence of world number eight Dominic Thiem, who is the defending champion and taking up a large portion of the book as a 6/4 chance.
I can understand why – in each of the last three years, Thiem has begun his ‘Golden Swing’ claycourt campaign in South America by claiming a title – but I’m still not interested in that price in the slightest.
Yes, at his best Thiem should win. After all, he made the French Open final on clay last season.
But is he going to be at that level?
He withdrew from last week’s tournament in Cordoba (and Davis Cup the week before) with an illness which was affecting him at the Australian Open and so I’m more than happy to take him on.
The first man I’ll do that with is the player Thiem beat in last year’s final, Aljaz Bedene.
The one-time Briton caught the eye in Cordoba with a dominant win over second seed Fabio Fognini and he was going well against Pablo Cuevas in his quarter-final when rain interrupted and wasn’t the same the next day.
Bedene is in the second quarter of the draw here where his main rival looks to be third seed Diego Schwartzman. However, the Argentine remained some way from his best in Cordoba where a poor head-to-head record against Pella worsened.
Interestingly Bedene also has strong numbers against Schwartzman, having won all four of their previous meetings, with the three on clay having all been settled in straight sets.
Bedene is worth an interest at 28/1.
In the opposite half, it could also be worth siding with Jaume Munar at 33/1.
The young Spaniard, who trains at Rafael Nadal’s academy in Mallorca, is improving all the time and showed some of his talents en route to the quarter-finals in Cordoba where he beat second seed Marco Cecchinato.
He’s in a tricky section of the draw here but opening foe Federico Delbonis didn’t look right in his semi-final in Cordoba (he won only one game) and a second-round meeting against Fognini, who was also out of sorts last week, should not be feared. The pair played a close match at the Australian Open.
Pella is a potential quarter-final foe but his Cordoba efforts must have taken plenty out of him.
Aljaz Bedene each-way 28/1
Jaume Munar each-way 33/1
This will be just the second staging of this tournament on Long Island so there’s little ‘course form’ to go on.
Kevin Anderson was the inaugural champion but he withdrew from this renewal last week, injured.
Fellow big-server Sam Querrey, the 2018 runner-up, is back for more and will hope his big serve will take him far but the American has not had great results for some time and I can swerve at a single-figure price.
John Isner and Frances Tiafoe are 7/2 joint favourites and it’s not hard to make a case for the former whose serve has carried him a long way in his homeland in the past.
However, he suffered an early loss in the Australian Open to compatriot Reilly Opelka and was also beaten in his opening match at this event last year, losing to Radu Albot.
Both of those players should be considered here at a decent price.
First, the big-serving Opelka looks ready to make an impact at this level and this could be the week.
He finished 2018 by winning back-to-back Challenger titles on indoor hard and the relative fast conditions here will aid his booming delivery. Last week he made the semis of the Dallas Challenger too.
Yes, this is a step up and 18/1 won’t be for everyone, but it may be worth taking a small slice.
There definitely looks to be value in the 50/1 quote about Albot.
He’s not a big name in any sense of the word but the Moldovan did impress here with his victory over Isner last year before it took Nishikori three sets to beat him in the last eight.
Albot arrives this year on the back of a semi-final run in Montpellier in similarly-slick conditions. He beat Philipp Kohlschreiber, Ernests Gulbis and Marcos Baghdatis there.
That perhaps wasn’t the toughest route to the last four of an ATP event but the bottom half of this draw hardly looks the strongest.
The improving Tiafoe heads it but I’m not convinced he should be 7/2 here.
Albot opens against Ivo Karlovic with Querrey a potential second-round foe but if he can deal with their serves in the way he did with Isner’s 12 months ago, we’ll have a runner.
Radu Albot each-way 50/1
Reilly Opelka each-way 18/1