Following on from success in Shanghai, Andy Schooler is back to preview this week’s three tournaments on the ATP World Tour.
ATP European Open Antwerp, Belgium (indoor hard)
Kyle Edmund starts favourite here but 9/2 is plenty short enough about a player who is yet to win an ATP title and has only ever made one final.
Edmund has picked up his form during the Asian swing – the reason for his position at the head of the market – but he’s now heading indoors onto a slower surface. That switch in itself could prove problematic, never mind the opponents in his path.
Big-serving Milos Raonic and return king Diego Schwartzman – a finalist in each of the two stagings of this tournament so far – will both have their backers but neither has great form right now so of those towards the top of the betting Richard Gasquet looks the best bet.
With his serve in good working order, he recently made the semis in Tokyo where they also play on an indoor Greenset surface, and earlier in the season reached the final in Montpellier.
Gasquet was the winner of the inaugural title here in 2016 and won’t be fazed by the fairly sluggish conditions. In many ways, they may well play into his hands as they should aid his fine return game – Gasquet is seventh in return games won on the tour in 2018.
Seeded fourth, Gasquet gets a first-round bye, so only needs to win four matches here to claim the title – they could include a last-four meeting with top seed Edmund.
As for those at longer odds, sadly my biggest fancy, Jan-Lennard Struff, has landed in Gasquet’s quarter so I can’t really back him at 20/1. The German has the power to hit through these courts and made the quarter-finals here in 2016.
Recently he has shown some improved form, losing only narrowly to Dominic Thiem indoors in St Petersburg before beating Marin Cilic en route to the quarter-finals in Tokyo.
Gasquet has won their only previous meeting though and I’d expect him to prevail if they do meet in the last eight.
ATP Intrum Stockholm Open Stockholm, Sweden (indoor hard)
Stockholm switched to Greenset courts last year which seemed to speed things up a little but these still won’t be the fastest indoor courts around.
The event has traditionally favoured someone with a big serve – Juan Martin Del Potro won both last year and in 2016 (on PlayIt), while Tomas Berdych won it three times in four years between 2012 and 2015.
However, despite the changes 12 months ago, Fabio Fognini showed what can be done by a smaller, more-typical baseline player when he made the semi-finals.
I’m tempted to put Fognini up again here given he’s got a good-looking draw in what is clearly the weaker bottom half. However, the Italian had to quit Beijing with an ankle injury prior to his semi-final and then withdrew from last week’s event in Shanghai.
If he proves his fitness with a second-round win (he’s got a bye in round one), then he’s a potential bet, although by then I’d expect him to be shorter than 8/1.
For now, Fernando Verdasco could be the answer at 14/1.
He beat Kevin Anderson en route to the semis here 12 months ago and at that stage he was only beaten in a final-set tie-break by eventual champion Del Potro.
He has won a title on indoor hard before. That was some time ago now but crucially the Spaniard has the upper hand in terms of experience in these conditions over many of his rivals in this section.
Talented youngsters Alex De Minaur and Taylor Fritz will be backed by some but they have done little indoors to suggest they will be contending come the weekend.
Verdasco’s form is half-decent. He made the last four in Shenzhen before another final-set tie-break loss to an eventual champ (this time Yoshihito Nishioka), while defeat in a tight match with in-form Nikoloz Basilashvili in Beijing was no disgrace. Again, his opponent went on to lift the title.
A small-stakes, each-way play is advised.
For those, looking for a bigger price, big-server Marius Copil is a possibility. He made the final indoors in Sofia earlier this year.
The Romanian is 45/1, although a better bet is probably to back him to oust top seed John Isner if they meet in round two. Any such match could easily be decided by a handful of points and with Isner rusty having had several weeks off (bar the Laver Cup) following the birth of his first child, Copil would have every chance.
VTB Kremlin Cup Moscow, Russia (indoor hard)
Martin Klizan reached the final in St Petersburg recently and can go well in Russia again this week.
The Slovak’s powerful game enabled him to hit through the slow court on that occasion and a similar tale could unfold here with the TP Surface Competition courts likely to play in much the same way.
That was certainly the case last year when Damir Dzumhur completed the St Petersburg-Moscow double.
Klizan beat some good players in Fabio Fognini, Denis Shapovalov and Stan Wawrinka in St Petersburg and is very much at home indoors with titles won in St Petersburg (2012) and Rotterdam (2016).
Somewhat surprisingly this will be his first outing in Moscow but he should like what he finds.
He does have an awkward-looking opener against Andreas Seppi, a winner of this tournament six years ago, but Klizan has the better form – he backed up that St Petersburg run with three indoor wins in Tokyo where losing to Daniil Medvedev can be accepted.
Those seeded higher in his half are Marco Cecchinato, a player who has no real indoor form to speak of, Filip Krajinovic, who would like conditions faster, and defending champ Dzumhur, who simply isn’t in the same form he was 12 months ago.
At 16/1, Klizan looks worthy of an each-way bet.
In the opposite half, it could be worth risking some loose change on Mirza Basic at 66/1.
He won in Sofia earlier this season when conditions were similar to these and if he’s going to turn around some admittedly poor form, this could well be the venue.
Having rebuilt some confidence on the Challenger Tour of late, Basic has a decent draw here with the rarely-focused Nick Kyrgios the seed in his section. That draw could give the Bosnian a chance to build some momentum and if that happens this price will look big.