We’re in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA in week 34 of the 2021 ATP Tour, with the players in attendance taking this final opportunity for some hard court match time ahead of next week’s US Open.
The Winston-Salem Open was cancelled last year, so the tour stops off at the Wake Forest University for the first time since 2019, but before that a look back at what happened last week in Cincy.
Once again, the layers got away with an error in pricing when 150-1 shot (33s up to 70s with the other layers) Ugo Humbert lost as favourite in round one of Cincy to Frances Tiafoe, who’s now done me two weeks in a row, after flopping when I backed him the week prior at his home event in Washington DC.
Then, two more 50/50 matches went the wrong way – as they have done pretty much all season this year – when Nikoloz Basilashvili lost as favourite to Fabio Fognini and Aslan Karatsev was beaten as favourite by Marin Cilic.
So, it was left to 40-1 shot Hubert Hurkacz to see what he could do in the top half of the draw and he should have taken the opening set of his last-16 clash against Pablo Carreno Busta, holding set point at *6-5 on his own serve in the tie break, but he failed and that was key.
In that heat the set one loser had a tough comeback to make and although he battled to a second tie break Hurkacz couldn’t get it done.
It may have been moot anyway because top seed Daniil Medvedev was next and the Russian was in fine form, while the other market leaders made the semis as well, so there wasn’t fabulous value to be had in Cincy.
I was right about Medvedev failing to win back-to-back Masters events, with the heat (and a collision with a cameraman) getting to him in the end, but it was 16-1 shot Andrey Rublev who took advantage and made the final.
Conditions and trends
It’s like pulling teeth trying to get any relevant information from either the ATP or the tournaments themselves about court details sometimes and that’s the case this week, too.
Staged at the Wake Forest University tennis complex, this event was played on a DecoTurf II surface and the tournament extended its partnership with a three-year deal to use DecoTurf in 2018.
In theory, that deal should have run out after the 2020 event and as the ATP’s draw sheet for this week has the surface listed (complete with typo) as ‘Laycold’ I assume that it’s now being played on the same Laykold surface that they used in Toronto and Cincy and will use next week in New York.
What we do know is that Winston-Salem has often been a good tournament to find big-priced winners or finalists in, with 200-1 Pierre Hugues-Herbert and 100-1 Damir Dzumhur both making the title match here, while Daniil Medvedev was a 33-1 champion in 2018.
Pablo Carreno Busta won it as a 50-1 shot in 2016 and number one seeds don’t have the best of records here – only making the final twice in the tournament’s nine completed editions so far.
Herbert made the final as a qualifier in 2015, but other than that qualifiers haven’t done that well in Winston-Salem and Kyle Edmund’s run to the semis as a qualifier is the best effort lately.
The advance weather forecast says to expect a hot week in Winston-Salem, with temperatures up to 35C in the shade predicted until about Thursday when it will dip very slightly to 32C, but a hot week in prospect.
Winston-Salem Open 2021 draw – top half
Pablo Carreno Busta is top seed and market leader this week, but given his excellent record at the US Open lately it’s a reasonable assumption that PCB probably won’t be going all out for the title this week and instead saving himself for New York.
There are many alternatives to PCB in the top half and it’s one of those draws where you could make a case for plenty of them.
Soonwoo Kwon, Dominik Koepfer and Tennys Sandgren could all go close on their best form and all three are in PCB’s immediate section of the draw.
PCB beat Koepfer pretty comfortably in Cincy last week, but I’m not sure that the Spaniard will have the same level of motivation, while Sandgren talked about retirement recently, so he doesn’t sound that motivated either.
Other options in Q1 include Jan-Lennard Struff, Ilya Ivashka and Marin Cilic and all three have a fair chance on their best form, but again, I wonder how much effort Cilic, who’s never played here, will be putting in this week?
Struff is a former semi finalist here (he’s made nine main level semis and won only one) but he looks low on confidence at the moment, having lost seven of his last eight matches.
To reach the one main level final he has made so far, Struff defeated Ivashka quite comfortably, and I haven’t seen enough from Ivashka on hard to make me want to back him at 35-1, although I certainly wouldn’t count him out.
Of all of the Q1 prices, the 100-1 about Kwon looks the best, with the inconsistent South Korean very capable on hard courts at this level on his better form.
He’s struggled lately, but perhaps that was after a tiring time making the semis as a lucky loser in Eastbourne and then losing a tough five-setter against Koepfer at Wimbledon, followed by a trip back east to the Olympics and now to the States.
I had a small bet at 100-1, but the value has gone now with a best-priced 70-1 all that’s left (Bet Victor) at the time of writing. If you can get 100-1 when the rest of the prices come in, fair enough.
In Q2 I’ve taken a chance on Emil Ruusuvuori at a reasonable price of 30-1 (Bet Victor), with the Finn having shown some decent form on this summer hard court swing so far and this looks a pretty open quarter of the draw.
High seed Dan Evans hasn’t looked fully fit and certainly not in decent form since testing positive for Covid a month or so ago and he’s too short in price for me at the moment, but he’s certainly one that could win this week if fit.
Benoit Paire and Alexander Bublik might fancy it or might not and you take your chances with that duo, but at least Benoit has started showing interest again now that the crowds are back.
Paire made the final in Winston-Salem as top seed the last time they played here in 2019, but before that he’d gone 1-5 win/loss here, so who knows if he’ll fancy it this week.
In this heat, after a good effort last week, I’d doubt it and in any case he’s back to being priced up ‘normally’ now after a long spell of being rated a 100-1-plus chance at any tournament he entered.
Bublik retired in round one on his only prior visit to Winston-Salem in 2019 and his form in pre-major weeks lately hasn’t been inspiring at all, so he’s not for me at the prices.
I’m not of a mind to side with Richard Gasquet in the heat either, but Ruusuvuori was a set away from making the final in Atlanta, where it’s very hot and humid, so he’s got good recent form in these sorts of conditions.
That week he beat Cam Norrie, Mackenzie McDonald (who went on to the Washington DC final the week after) and Paire (by retirement) so the form is solid in what looks a tricky quarter to call.
Arthur Rinderknech couldn’t be counted out, given his big game, although I’m yet to see him in very hot conditions, while Egor Gerasimov is a big-priced possibility on his best form and Corentin Moutet withdrew (possibly after looking at the weather forecast).
Winston-Salem Open 2021 draw – bottom half
In Q3, I was happy to take a punt on Nikoloz Basilashvili in Cincy after his fine form in Toronto, but he continues to struggle in America, where he hasn’t made a quarter final since making the Memphis final in 2017.
He was 150-1 last week, so that was fair enough, but I’m not risking him at 12-1 the week before a major, despite an immediate section of the draw that looks pretty kind.
It’s packed with clay courters and Basil should be making it through, but perhaps Marcos Giron could go a few rounds in this section. I was hoping for a bigger price than 40-1 though.
The lower part of Q3 could hold an opportunity for a Marton Fucsovics, Steve Johnson or Carlos Alcaraz and of these, Johnson does have a very good record at this tournament.
Johnson has won eight of his last 10 matches here, losing to Medvedev in the 2018 final and to Paire in a bizarre match of bagels and breadsticks in the 2019 semi finals.
Fucsovics worries me in what will be likely very hot conditions and if you consider that he was pretty average at best in Eastbourne, yet suddenly found his form and made the quarter finals at Wimbledon a week later.
He doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy that would put a big effort in the week prior to a major and Alcaraz is surely not ready just yet to win a decent hard court tournament on a quickish surface. At least, his price is too short for me to back him to do so.
Johnson has been playing pretty well lately and is worth a go at 33-1 (Ladbrokes), while Q4 looks like it could be a fair opportunity for John Millman, who’s gone well here a couple of times.
If memory serves, I think I backed him in 2018 after his good run in 2016 (made the semis that year) and of course he lost to Taro Daniel in round one and went on to make the quarter finals the year later (lost a tight one to Johnson).
Guido Pella says a change of coaching set-up (he’s gone back to his old coach Fabian Blengino, who we worked with over a decade ago) has given him a new lease of life and he could go well this week, but he seems a bit of an unlikely winner.
The winner of Pella and Jordan Thompson will face Millman and the winner of that match looks to have a fair chance of making the quarter finals, with Albert Ramos, Stefano Travaglia and Mikael Ymer making up the rest of the mini-section.
Ramos is usually much better just after majors than before them, so if Millman is on a go week he may have a say in proceedings come the weekend.
The Aussie made the quarters of a 500 (Washington DC) a few weeks ago as a 50-1 shot and now, in a 250 the week before a major, he’s as big as 40-1in a very mediocre mini-section of the draw, so I don’t mind this price (several layers).
Q4 is really interesting, with David Goffin, Andy Murray, Nick Kyrgios and Frances Tiafoe battling for one spot in the last eight.
Goffin looked miles away from a winning level last week, so I’m not tempted by the Belgian, while Kyrgios looks much too short in price based on what he’s shown in his brief return to the tour so far this summer.
I would highly doubt that NK has either the fitness or the desire to be able to justify odds of around 8-1, while Murray doesn’t look like he’s got the stamina to win a tournament these days and heat like this surely won’t help.
Murray played pretty well against Hurkacz last week, but he doesn’t look like he can sustain it for anywhere near long enough these days to be winning titles.
So, perhaps it’ll be my recent nemesis Frances Tiafoe that’ll come through that quarter, but I’m not backing the hit and miss Tiafoe as short as 14-1.
So, it’s going to be a very hot week in Winston-Salem this week and who’s got the desire to win a title the week before a major in such conditions?
Hard to say, but I’ll take chances on three: Ruusuvuori at 30-1 (Bet Victor), Johnson at 33-1 (Ladbrokes) and Millman at 40-1 (generally), while if you can get 100-1 about Kwon that’s a bet, too.
Given that it’s a week before the US Open I’ll just have win bets, as who knows if any of these guys will be on a go week ahead of New York.
1 point win Ruusuvuori at 30-1 (Bet Victor)
1 point win Johnson at 33-1 (Ladbrokes)
1 point win Millman at 40-1 (generally)
0.5 points win Kwon at 100-1 (only if that price becomes available again)