The clay swing of the 2021 ATP Tour gets underway this week, with two ATP 250 tournaments in Cagliari, Italy and Marbella, Spain for Sean Calvert to assess for potential betting value.
Monday’s play on the ATP Tour features eight main draw matches (and a bunch of qualifying matches) at the Andalucia Open and the Sardegna Open – two one-year licence tournaments that replace the usual clay curtain-raisers in Houston and Marrakech.
From a betting point of view it’s a bit of a shame that there’s no Houston or Marrakech this year, as both of those tournaments are usually good ones for underdog backers at between 37% and 41% underdog winners on average over the last seven years (Houston) and four years (Marrakech).
What that shows, or at least what I take from it, is that the opening matches of the clay season often expose favourites that either haven’t practiced much on clay beforehand or that the clay dogs have been hard at work on the dirt and have an advantage as a result.
This year some of the players are coming straight from hard courts in Miami or Dubai or Acapulco, while those that chose not to make the trip to those events should, you’d think, be better off this week.
One player who has had a lot of time away from main level tournaments lately is Lucas Pouille and while his opponent on Monday, Ricardas Berankis, isn’t usually at his best on clay I’m a little surprised that he’s as big as 2.50.
Reasons to oppose Pouille are that he hasn’t played a single competitive match on clay since the 2019 French Open and that he withdrew from the Lille Challenger last time out (March 22-29) citing a back injury.
Pouille is in the early stages of his comeback anyway after elbow surgery and he’s since become a dad and he’s yet to win back-to-back matches at all levels in this 2021 comeback attempt.
Rarely does Berankis try his hand on the clay, but the last time he did he beat Hugo Dellien in straight sets as a 2.94 underdog at the French Open in October in slow conditions before losing to Novak Djokovic the next round.
The only previous occasion this pair met was at one of Berankis’ favourite events, St. Petersburg, back in 2015 and Pouille won a really tight one 7-6 in the third.
Talking of players that don’t like to get their shoes too dirty on the red clay that leads me to Soonwoo Kwon, who has never won a main level match on clay.
He’s actually never beaten a top-600 ranked opponent on clay, so it’s hard to fancy his chances much against up-and-coming Dane Holger Rune, but it should be noted that Rune lost as a 1.20 chance here in Marbella last week in the Challenger event.
Rune was struggling physically in that defeat to Carlos Sanchez Jover, so maybe if Kwon can stay close he might get something, but it’s not the most appealing of betting contests.
I’m not of a mind to back Federico Delbonis at odds-on, but he does have a 3-0 record against Roberto Carballes Baena, dropping only one set in seven against RCB, and the stats don’t make good reading for RCB.
That’s actually putting it kindly: RCB has held serve only 64% of the time in those three meetings (all on clay at main level) while Delbonis has held 91% of the time against RCB.
RCB has managed to in only 37% of his second serve points against Delbonis (Delbonis 50% of his), but it’s notable that RCB has been awful on his break point chances against the Argentine, taking only 14% of his opportunities.
In RCB’s favour here is the fact that Delbonis is coming off a trip to Miami on the hard courts and it’s a quick turnaround for him to the clay, which makes it a little risky taking the bet I like, which Delbonis -2.5 games here at around 2.20.
RCB’s recent form has been quite poor, losing last week as top seed here in the Challenger to Henri Laaksonen and before that losing to number 662 Gonzalo Lama in Santiago (Challenger) after needing a final set tie break to beat number 303 Thomaz Bellucci the round before.
Delbonis on the handicap looks the obvious bet given the problems that RCB has had in this match-up and his weak form lately, but that fast turnaround and the fact that Delbonis split with his coach only a week ago is worrying.
The last of Marbella’s matches is my long shot outright Juan Ignacio Londero up against Norbert Gombos and the way that 2021 has gone for me so far (Basilashvili aside) it’s quite likely that Londero will be the only odds-on loser of the day.
I’m hopeful that Londero has put his injury and illness problems behind him and if so he should be too good for Gombos on this surface, on which Gombos is 4-8 at main level.
Gombos only has one win in 2021 so far – and that was against number 336 Jelle Sels – and he’s gone 1-7 win/loss since making the last-16 of the Paris Masters in November.
Moving on to the Sardegna Open now and their four matches start at 10am UK time with one that looks tricky in Guido Pella vs Egor Gerasimov.
In ‘normal’ circumstances you’d expect a fit Pella to win this one pretty comfortably on clay, but Pella hasn’t been fit, healthy and in form for a very long time now and we’re guessing as to his level these days.
Gerasimov has only played two main level matches on clay in his career (plus seven in Davis Cup) and he’d want it a lot quicker than this to apply his game, but he’s capable of beating Pella if the latter is really rusty.
Next up, I’d expect Laslo Djere to be too strong for wild card Federico Gaio, whose last clay win on the main tour came at altitude in Quito back in 2017 and Gaio is coming back from Miami, so he won’t have the advantage of having been playing on clay lately either.
Tommy Paul can play on the clay and both he and opponent Yannick Hanfmann are both coming straight from Miami, so neither has had much time to prepare on the red dirt before this match.
Hanfmann plays more of this tennis on the clay than Paul usually, but if we compare the stats of the pair in their last 10 matches (nine in Paul’s case as that’s all he’s played) we find that Hanfmann comes out on top.
The German has a very handy hold/break total of 110 (80% holds/30% breaks) and a 7-3 win/loss mark (losing only to Garin, Musetti and Kecmanovic), but half of his 10 matches were played at altitude in Kitzbuhel, and Hanfmann often goes well in those conditions.
Paul’s stats are respectable at 100 hold/break total and the prices look about right in this one.
Finally, Aljaz Bedene has a pretty solid record when priced up as a sub-1.40 favourite on the clay, winning 16 of his 20 at main level and he faces wild card Giulio Zeppieri today.
Bedene has only lost one (to Taro Daniel in Istanbul) when priced sub-1.40 on clay at main level since losing to Nikola Cacic in Umag in 2016, so he’s usually one to rely on if you don’t mind short prices.
I want to have a look at conditions in Cagliari before doing anything there, so on a tricky looking day I’ll risk Delbonis on the handicap in Marbella.
1 point win Delbonis -2.5 games to beat Carballes Baena at 2.20 (generally)