The 2021 ATP Tour resumes in week 23, while the French Open heads into its second week, as the players not involved in Paris head to Stuttgart for the first of this year’s grass tournaments, the Mercedes Cup, and Sean Calvert returns with his outright betting preview.
The grass is back for the first time since Newport in 2019 and while the one-week delay to the French Open meant that Rosmalen had to be cancelled for the second year in succession, we do at least have one tournament to enjoy this week.
But before I get into that, a look back at the French Open (so far).
We kicked off the French Open with a couple of nice winners from my four value picks in round one and we made a good return on our investments there, plus anyone that took Berankis, Andujar, and Duckworth from the underdogs list would also have been pretty happy.
On the outright front our plan to take on Stefanos Tsitsipas didn’t work out, with the Greek able to come through Q4 as far as the quarter finals, where a resurgent Daniil Medvedev will be the opponent.
The weather is set to be hot and sunny for the rest of Roland Garros and the dry conditions and Wilson balls have made it play more like a hard court tournament as far as Medvedev is concerned, so I wouldn’t count him out of it against the Greek in that one.
As far as my pre-draw video analysis is concerned (apart from suggesting that I was better on clay than Medvedev, which I still reckon I would be with Dunlop balls and some rain) my two picks there are still live, with Alexander Zverev and Matteo Berrettini into the quarters.
But let’s leave it there and head away from clay and onto the grass.
Conditions and trends
The surface should be in superb condition for the start of the grass swing, with the lawns having had more than ample time to repair themselves from previous play and in Stuttgart it’s usually pretty quick.
Stuttgart ranks equal first in terms of average service holds (85%) and third in tie break match frequency (52%) of all the tournaments currently on the tour.
In its five editions so far on the ATP Tour only Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have won it as number one seeds and in its last outing (in 2019) Matteo Berrettini won it as a 66-1 shot.
No player from the qualifying draw has made it past the quarter finals so far in Stuttgart, but with a very open-looking draw this year and the fact that the event is being played during Roland Garros, that may change.
Mercedes Cup – top half
Our top seed, Denis Shapovalov, looks well worth taking on this week given that he pulled out of the French Open with a shoulder injury and that he’s lost nine of his last 11 matches on grass.
It seems awfully quick to be coming back having skipped a major and the alternatives to Shapo in the top half for me are: Feli Lopez, Alexei Popyrin, Marin Cilic, Alex De Minaur and maybe Jordan Thompson as a real long shot.
Lopez and Popyrin are drawn together in a round one clash, which is unfortunate, while Cilic isn’t the player he was when he made the Wimbledon final in 2017 and won Queen’s in 2018.
His last outing on grass was a straight sets loss to Joao Sousa at Wimbledon in 2019 and while he probably retains the ability to win this he lacks consistency these days and as such he’s too short for me.
De Minaur has shown some ability on grass, but his counterpunching style is surely limited in what it can achieve on slick, early season grass unless he has a superb week.
He lost to Thompson on grass at Rosmalen in 2019 and Steve Johnson got the better of him at Wimbledon in 2019 and I’m not seeing any great value in De Minaur this week at around 8-1.
Thompson has had some decent results on the green stuff, but again I’d like a more offensive player than him on my side this week on a slick surface.
So, the winner of Popyrin and Lopez looks to have a fine chance this week and while it’s always risky backing a player outright who has a tricky match first up I don’t mind chancing Popyrin at 22-1.
Popyrin has shown a good level on grass in the past, losing only in a final set breaker to Milos Raonic here in 2019 and winning four matches at Wimbledon that same season before losing to Medvedev in four sets.
He’s shown good form this season, too, winning in Singapore and playing well in Miami, where he beat Lopez and lost a tight one to Medvedev before playing well on quicker clay in Madrid, where he lost to Nadal, having beaten Sinner and Struff.
He should also have taken a set off Nadal at Roland Garros and his tie break record lately is impressive at 23-10 win/loss in the last 12 months, which might be key in these conditions.
All told, there’s enough in Popyrin at make him an attractive proposition at 22-1.
Mercedes Cup – bottom half
This half is packed with players who are in with live chances and any one of Ugo Humbert, Jeremy Chardy, Lloyd Harris, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Adrian Mannarino, Sam Querrey and maybe Hubert Hurkacz could well walk away with this title.
And that’s without mentioning the qualifiers, with the qualie draw looking reasonably strong as well.
Starting from the top of Q3 then and Humbert should relish the return to a quicker surface after his usual struggles on the clay saw him lose six of his seven matches.
If he gets the better of Marton Fucsovics in round one – which he probably should, based on the Hungarian’s mediocre record on grass (lost six of his last nine) – that could be enough to start the ball rolling for Humbert, whose confidence must be rather low right now.
But is there any value in Humbert at 18-1 (best price) compared to 33-1 Chardy, with the latter Frenchman having started the grass swing in explosive fashion in the past (winning Surbiton and making the final of Rosmalen in 2018)?
The pair look like they’ll meet in round two and looking at their past clashes (both narrowly won by Chardy) tie breaks look likely to decide it: five of their eight contested sets have gone the distance.
But it’s a really competitive quarter, Q3, with Auger-Aliassime having made the final in Stuttgart when it was last played in 2019 and Harris has to come into the thinking as well.
At the prices I’ll overlook FAA, whose form on the clay – even with the much-publicised help of Toni Nadal – was poor and Harris looks far better value than the Canadian.
Harris currently has a dismal 1-7 record on grass, but he’s a very different player now to the one that last set foot on a grass court in 2019 and it’s a fair bet that he’ll show considerably more on the green stuff now given his playing style.
An opener against the ageing Gilles Simon should be ideal preparation for taking on FAA in round two and that match may well tip the balance in Harris’s favour against Auger-Aliassime.
33-1 (Paddy/Betfair) about Harris is a nice price and looks the value in this half.
But it’s a really tough quarter and Q4 looks interesting, with Adrian Mannarino and Sam Querrey the two with plenty of grass court results to their names, but both are in awful form right now – and that’s putting it kindly.
Mannarino has lost 11 of his last 12 matches, while Querrey has lost 11 of his last 13, so unless setting foot on a grass court has a massively beneficial effect (which is quite possible) it looks a tall order for either to turn that form around and win a title this week.
Querrey has looked particularly disinterested and even managed to lose in straight sets to Yen Hsun Lu, who barely even plays these days, at the Miami Masters.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the likes of Mannarino and Querrey were simply going through the motions (certainly on the clay) and turned up here with a hugely different mindset, but it’s not that easy to throw off such bad losing runs and Querrey at 14-1 is no value.
Dominic Stephan Stricker derailed our bet on Fucsovics in Geneva, but surely the young Swiss won’t be much of a factor here given his only two grass court matches were at Wimbledon Juniors in 2019.
And Hurkacz doesn’t look a natural on grass either, with the big Pole preferring a higher bounce and a slower court ideally.
Hurkacz hasn’t won a match since he landed the Miami title and he’s struggled with fitness, while his record on grass is 6-6 win/loss.
He has a chance in this section of the draw for sure, but I don’t see him as someone that would count grass as their best surface and the early season grass is likely to be slick and too low-bouncing for him ultimately.
Qualifying still hasn’t finished at the time of writing, so I’ll revisit the draw once that’s done, but for now I’ll take what value there is.
So, Popyrin at 22-1 in the top half and Harris and Chardy at 33s in the bottom half look the pick of the prices at the moment.
1 point win Popyrin at 22-1 (Bet 365)
0.5 points win Chardy at 33-1 (Bet 365, Paddy Power/Betfair)
0.5 points each-way Harris at 33-1 (Paddy Power/Betfair)