Tennis is back and the opening week of the 2021 ATP Tour kicks off in Delray Beach and Antalya – the only two tour level events scheduled for the opening weeks of the new season.
Delray Beach usually plays in February, but it’s been moved forward a month or so for 2021, while Antalya lost its slot on the tour a year ago when its short lived grass court event was cancelled, and it now returns as an outdoor hard event on a one-year licence.
Delray Beach is usually played on a slow-medium, high bouncing Plexipave outdoor hard court, with Penn balls, and big hitters have often gone well here, but so too have nimbler players.
Radu Albot, Dan Evans and Yoshihito Nishioka have all been finalists here in the last couple of years, while Reilly Opelka, Sam Querrey, Jack Sock and Milos Raonic have also made the title match in recent times, so there’s something in it for differing play styles.
Opelka won it last year as a 12-1 chance, but in the last five years there’ve been winners or finalists here at prices such as 110-1, 66-1, 50-1 (three times) and 40-1, so it’s been a happy hunting ground for each-way value seekers lately.
This time it’s been hit by a fair few withdrawals (Andy Murray, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori notable ones) due in some part to players not wanting to risk potentially missing out on Melbourne if they were to catch coronavirus while in the USA.
And consequently it’s an unusual-looking draw for a US hard court event, with a whole host of out and out clay courters in it that can surely be overlooked.
Indeed, our top seed this week in Delray Beach in Cristian Garin, who, while reasonably capable away from clay doesn’t seem likely to win in these conditions (he’s yet to better the quarter finals at main level on hard).
Hubert Hurkacz is the obvious choice in the top half, but his form tailed off badly in 2020, as the Pole failed to win three straight matches at any main level tournament after January.
That said, he started 2020 very well, but on all recent form Hurkacz is much too short for my liking this week and the winner of the round one clash between Sam Querrey and Mackenzie McDonald could well go deep this week.
I’ve taken some 40-1 about Querrey, as that looked too big on home soil and at a tournament that Querrey won back in 2016.
He says he’s been working hard in the gym the last six or seven weeks doing a normal preparation and I doubt a paltry suspended fine from the ATP for his Russian disappearing act will bother him at all.
McDonald made the semis here in 2019 and was a set away from the final before running out of gas totally, so he’s more than capable of contending if he’s over the many injury issues that have bothered him lately.
Ivo Karlovic is interesting at 50-1, but he hasn’t won a single match here since he won it in 2015, losing his last four in a row and at almost 42-years-old he’s surely a hopeful pick at best – he’s not even favourite to beat Pablo Andujar in round one.
Noah Rubin doesn’t look up to it at this level, while Ryan Harrison last played a match last February and who knows what his level is these days.
In the bottom half, former champ Frances Tiafoe showed some improvement towards the latter half of last season, but around 8-1 is too short for me about the hit and miss American.
Adrian Mannarino is another who played well at the end of 2020, but his record in finals is so bad that I wouldn’t want to back him at around 12-1, and he’s a player that I usually feel needs matches under his belt to play at his best.
So, perhaps Cam Norrie in that third quarter of the draw may offer some value at around 33-1, with the Brit one that has shown form early on in the season in the past – notably when we backed him at a similar price to this to win Auckland in 2019.
It’s not fast here in Delray Beach and the slow-medium, high-bouncing surface here may suit Norrie, who’s an enigma at the best of times, but I don’t mind adding him to my shortlist at this sort of price.
He had a bit of competitive action in December’s Battle of the Brits event and he has chances this week if he finds his best form.
The fourth and final quarter sees John Isner paired with Sebastian Korda, Soonwoo Kwon and Tommy Paul and I think the value here may lie with Kwon, who barely played after the resumption of the tour in autumn last year.
Now with a new coach (Daniel Yoo) Kwon has been training in Florida this winter, so he should be attuned to the conditions and he showed he can handle big servers when he beat Milos Raonic in New York last February.
Kwon is yet to face John Isner, but Isner has been a very slow starter in recent seasons – often taking until March to get going – and he’s yet to make a Delray Beach final in eight attempts.
So, I’m happy to take him on this week, and I’ll pass on Tommy Paul as well, purely because Paul’s price of around 9-1 holds little appeal.
Sebastian Korda is interesting on the form he showed last autumn, but I’m not sure he’s quite ready to be winning tournaments at this level just yet and I’d want a bigger price about the 20-year-old.
In Turkey at the Antalya Open they’re playing on a Rebound Ace outdoor hard court, but the weather has been and is expected to continue to be rainy there for the next week, so it’s set to be a frustrating week if that forecast is correct.
I can’t imagine conditions will be quick either, given the lack of sunshine, but the draw is interesting, with no one player standing out as the man to beat.
Top seed Matteo Berrettini hasn’t played much at ball in the last year and when he did play he wasn’t at the level we saw from him in 2019, so he looks far from a certainty to make the final from the top half of the draw.
His draw looks pretty good, but it’s definitely possible that either Egor Gerasimov or Alexander Bublik could take down Berrettini, but I can’t see the conditions being quick enough for that pair.
Perhaps the one with the best chance in the top half is Jan-Lennard Struff, whose draw looks kind against Fabio Fognini and the winner of Jeremy Chardy and Radu Albot and not a lot else.
Fognini may be fitter this year after ankle surgery, but he doesn’t sound too optimistic about his chances: “I will struggle at the beginning of the season,” he said. “The goal is to return to my best shape for the clay season and remain in the top 32 to be seeded at Grand Slam tournaments.”
The obvious drawback with Struff is his poor record at the business end of tournaments, which shows a 0-7 win/loss mark in semi finals (one set won in total) at main level in his career.
So, 9-1 or so doesn’t tempt me about Struff and moving on to the bottom half of the draw we find that our favourite to reach the final there is David Goffin, who didn’t win a single match after the US Open last season, largely due to contracting coronavirus.
He’s with a new coach (Germain Gigounon) but he tends to start seasons slowly, with his last semi final in January coming back in 2015 and he’ll probably need matches to find his best form.
He’s yet to win a tournament before July in any season of his main level career and in Pierre-Hugues Herbert he has a tricky one first up.
Jiri Vesely has shown early season form in the past and if he finds his best form he’s a possibility at a big price, but in that fourth quarter I like the chances of Miomir Kecmanovic at around 12-1.
The Serb broke his main level duck on clay of all surfaces last autumn with a win in Kitzbuhel, but it’s quick there at altitude and numerous players that like faster surfaces have gone well over the years.
Kecmanovic tailed off a bit after that title run, but after a break and a training block in Dubai he should be fresh and ready to go again in a half of the draw that doesn’t have a great deal of depth to it.
Alex De Minaur probably has the best draw of anyone, with only Nikoloz Basilashvili having the pedigree to beat the Aussie in Q3, but we haven’t seen a scrap of form from Basil for a long time now after off-court problems seemed to halt him in his tracks.
Basil –if he’s somehow able to shake off his off-court issues – could be value at 50-1 plus, but it’s a tall order based on his form of the last 12 months or so, and De Minaur should be winning Q3.
Kecmanovic did beat ADM on a hard court the last time they met (in Acapulco last February) and at the prices I prefer the Serb to the Aussie, who looks short at 4-1 or so.
Antalya doesn’t look the best of tournaments to start the season with and only Kecmanovic really appeals there, but the big prices about Kwon and Norrie look the value of the week if you can get it.
0.5 points each-way Kwon to win Delray Beach at 50-1 (Bet Victor)
0.5 points each-way Norrie to win Delray Beach at 33-1 (Paddy Power/Betfair)
1 point win Kecmanovic to win Antalya at 12-1 (generally)