Tennis Preview: Djokovic And Co To Start Season5 min read
Qatar ExxonMobil Open
Doha, Qatar (outdoor hard)
It’s hard to look beyond world number one Novak Djokovic here.
The best player by some distance in the second half of 2018, Djokovic has won this event on his last two visits.
It’s no surprise to see him odds-on and while he’ll likely win, I’m not in the business of putting up 1/2 shots here.
Instead I’ll look for some each-way value in the bottom half of the draw (it’s still half the odds for a place in the final), where second seed Dominic Thiem looks ripe for taking on.
The Austrian lost all three matches he played in Abu Dhabi last week, hardly a positive start to the season despite the event’s exhibition status.
Tomas Berdych might be worth taking a chance on at 40/1. This has been a strong venue for him in the past, the Czech reaching the final in 2015 and the semis in the following two years.
The reason he’s such a big price is that he hasn’t played since June due to a back injury but there have been positive noises from his camp and just maybe he could ‘do a Federer’ and make a spectacular return after a long lay-off.
Thiem’s potential second-round foe, Peter Gojowczyk, is of interest at an even bigger price.
The German has enjoyed his two previous visits to Doha, making the semis in 2014 and the quarter-finals last season. On each occasion, it has taken the eventual champion to beat him.
He hit a career-high of 39th in the world back in June and while he’s since slipped to 59th, Gojowczyk remains a player capable of toppling those ranked higher.
Much of his success comes via an attacking game which often sees him come to the net, moves which are rarely seen these days.
A problem for him could be playing in the evening when the temperature drops considerably and the conditions subsequently slow.
However, at 66/1, he looks worth a dabble in what is a pretty weak half overall.
Peter Gojowczyk each-way –
Tata Open Maharashtra
Pune, India (outdoor hard)
Kevin Anderson looks a worthy favourite here, although whether you fancy him to do the business at 11/8 is another matter.
Conditions will be somewhat different to Abu Dhabi where he beat Rafael Nadal and pushed Novak Djokovic to a final set last week and it should be remembered that the South African lost the final to Gilles Simon in the inaugural staging of the tournament in Pune 12 months ago.
Simon is a possible semi-final opponent this time around with the top half looking the stronger of the two. It also includes three-time semi-finalist Benoit Paire, who is a tempting 16/1 – if you are prepared to deal with his meltdown potential.
The bottom half contains only two of the world’s top 70 with Hyeon Chung the bookies’ favourite to reach the final.
However, he looks pretty short at 9/2 and I’m tempted by the long odds of home hope Ramkumar Ramanathan, who has landed in particularly soft part of the draw in which the seeds are Malek Jaziri and Roberto Carballes Baena.
Admittedly his best results have come on grass – he beat Dominic Thiem on the surface in 2017 and last season made the final in Newport.
However, he did make the quarter-finals of this event when it was played in Chennai three years ago in a much stronger field than this, while last year in Pune he has a tad unlucky to run into Marin Cilic in round two.
Some small change at 80/1 is the call.
Ramkumar Ramanathan each-way –