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There was agony for Andy Schooler last week when he had 20/1 and 45/1 each-way shots beaten in the semi-finals but our tennis expert is back with tips for the three ATP Tour events which start on Monday.
Dubai Duty Free Championships
Dubai, UAE (outdoor hard)
Roger Federer’s return after a month off will fill many headlines this week as he chases his 100th career title.
The Swiss has won here seven times with Dubai literally being his second home – he owns a house and often practises nearby in the off-season.
The question for punters is whether he’s a good bet at 2/1 or not.
Of course, it could turn out to be a great price but this is a strong field and there have been plenty of suggestions in the last six months or so that Federer is finally beginning to slip.
It’s certainly true in ranking terms – he’s down to seventh and subsequently is only the second seed this year.
And while I wouldn’t in isolation be too concerned by his defeat to Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Australian Open – it was a very tight contest which was really decided by a handful of points – the fact is Federer has gone more than a year without winning an outdoor hardcourt tournament, a run which takes in another of his stronghold venues, Cincinnati.
Throw in the fact that an in-form Federer crashed to a defeat no-one saw coming on his last visit in 2017 (to Evgeny Donskoy) and I’m able to turn down the 2/1 quote on this occasion.
So who are the alternatives?
Milos Raonic is one. The Canadian started the season well by reaching the last eight in Melbourne, defeating Alex Zverev in comprehensive fashion along the way.
The 16/1 shot is in Federer’s quarter of the draw but has proven in the past he can trouble and beat the Swiss with his massive serve which should work well in what are pretty fast conditions.
Things tend to slow a bit in the night sessions – when Raonic would face Federer – but the Canadian’s power means he is one of those able to hit through a slower court when necessary.
Any such meeting would certainly be awkward for Federer and there could be a spot of value in Raonic’s price.
Similar things can be said about Nikoloz Basilashvili, another big hitter, who is chalked up at a tasty 66/1.
Unfortunately he’s also in the bottom half of the draw so some will only want him or Raonic on their coupon but I can’t resist a small bet.
Basilashvili has been a strong performer on outdoor hard in recent times. In Doha last month made the quarter-finals and took a set off Novak Djokovic in a high-quality encounter.
He also claimed a set against Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Australian Open, while going back to the tailend of last season the Georgian won the title in Beijing and tested Rafael Nadal in a four-set battle at the US Open.
Basilashvili opens against the out-of-sorts Karen Khachanov, a winnable match, and while he could then have to face defending champion Roberto Bautista Agut, the Spaniard has been nursing an injury.
The top half boasts plenty of big names but no obvious bet.
I’d be happy to take on Kei Nishikori (tournament debut, prefers a slower court), Marin Cilic (troubled by a knee injury all season) and Tsitsipas (looking to win back-to-back finals for the first time and coming off an indoor success).
Gael Monfils (who plays Cilic first, leads H2H 3-0) and Daniil Medvedev are worth considering as alternatives to the leading seeds but both look short enough at 11/1 and 8/1 respectively.
My preference would be Monfils, our winner from Rotterdam, but the fact he was 16/1 there and is now 11s in an arguably stronger field says much.
I’ll leave the top half on this occasion and keep stakes for better things ahead.
Milos Raonic each-way 16/1
Nikoloz Basilashvili each-way 66/1
Abierto Mexicano Telcel
Acapulco, Mexico (outdoor hard)
While Federer returns in Dubai, old rival Rafael Nadal chooses Acapulco to play his first match since the Australian Open.
He’s 9/4 to win the tournament – again a price which could look big next weekend. After all, since his US Open title run of 2017, Nadal has only lost an outdoor hardcourt match he’s completed to Novak Djokovic or Federer. Neither plays here.
Yet there are concerns for potential backers at that price.
Nadal doesn’t often play hardcourt events when he doesn’t have to and so there’s a sense here that this is being used as something of a tune-up for the bigger tests to come in Indian Wells and Miami.
Such theory is strengthen by the fact that Nadal was brutally beaten in his last match, losing the Australian Open final to Djokovic.
He won’t have taken that lying down and will doubtless have been trying some new things back home in Mallorca during his time off. This could be a tournament as which he tries out something different which could pay off – or be something of a mistake.
It should also be remembered that Nadal was upset in the final in 2017, losing to Sam Querrey which was a result few saw coming.
In short, I’ll swerve Nadal and look for someone else.
Stan Wawrinka catches the eye after a strong week in Rotterdam which saw him beat Raonic, Denis Shapovalov and Nishikori.
He’ll have the power to hit through what are fairly sluggish courts, not too dissimilar to Rotterdam.
However, I was hoping for more than the 8/1 on offer, particularly given he’s in the same quarter as Nadal.
Instead I’ll try a punt in the bottom half in the form of Cameron Norrie.
The seeds in the Briton’s quarter are Frances Tiafoe and Diego Schwartzman but the former has lost in round one the last two weeks, while the latter left Rio last week with a groin injury.
Norrie has picked up some good results on the hardcourts over the past year. Earlier this season he made the final in Auckland, while last summer he was a semi-finalist in Atlanta and the other Mexican event, Los Cabos, where they use the same Solflex surface.
Norrie does have a tricky opening match against Yoshihito Nishioka, who has beaten him on two previous occasions, but otherwise this part of the draw looks a good one to be in and his price of 33/1 makes appeal.
Cameron Norrie each-way 33/1
Sao Paulo, Brazil (indoor clay)
The South American claycourt ‘Golden Swing’ draws to a conclusion this week with what is the weakest field of the four tournaments – the highest-ranked player is Joao Sousa, the world number 40.
That doesn’t make it a poor betting heat though and most of those playing will be spurred on by the fact this is their last shot at a claycourt title for six weeks.
It is important to note that this event is played indoors at the Ginasio do Ibirapuera, although it hasn’t always been that way.
They’ve played in Sao Paulo since 2012 but both the 2016 and 2017 editions were staged outdoors at a different venue, which is worth remembering when looking at historical performances.
The leader on that front is Pablo Cuevas, who is a three-time champion in Sao Paulo, albeit two of his titles came in those outdoor renewals.
An each-way pick of this column at 20/1 last week, the Uruguayan blew it by losing in the deciding set of his semi-final in Rio, although overall his form during this swing has been decent.
What certainly is a potential problem is he’s been drawn against his Rio conqueror Felix Auger-Aliassime in round one. He played some inspired stuff to reach the final, serving particularly well.
However, whether the 18-year-old will be able to back up a career-best week is open to question and the main reason why he’s available at 25/1.
He may not even show up, but if he does, that’s a tempting price, particularly given the indoor venue and 700m altitude should help his serve.
However, with that tricky match-up, as it stands, I can leave both men alone, as I can Guido Pella – the 9/2 favourite who could meet Cuevas or FAA in the semis. Given Pella’s choke in the recent Cordoba Open final, he’s not for me.
With Laslo Djere, a finalist in Rio at time of writing, also in a tough bottom half of the draw, I prefer to head to the weaker-looking top half where I’m going to take a chance on Christian Garin at 12/1.
The Chilean may not have had deep runs of late but in Buenos Aires he was beaten by the eventual champion Marco Cecchinato, a pattern which may end up being repeated as his Rio exit came at the hands of Auger-Aliassime.
Basically those results are far from disastrous and if you look back at the end of last season you see Garin was winning claycourt matches for fun, capturing three Challenger titles, including one convincingly in nearby Campinas which was a very similar altitude.
Yes, that was at Challenger level but this field isn’t exactly the strongest.
I was torn between Garin and Jaume Munar, a player who has beaten some strong opponents in the last three weeks but failed to go beyond the last eight.
However, Garin won their previous meeting, last year on clay, so I tentatively will have a punt on him.
Christian Garin each-way 12/1