Ahead of this year’s US Open, the ATP Tour stops off at Wake Forest University in North Carolina for the 2021 Winston-Salem Open in week 34 on what’s expected to be a boiling hot week for this ATP 250 event on outdoor hard.
Previous editions of this event have produced some interesting results and if the weather forecast is correct we can expect to see the odd half-hearted performance, as players save their energy for next week’s major.
That theory is perhaps borne out in the sheer number of underdog winners in the latter stages of the Winston-Salem Open, with 50% of them winning in the quarters, 64% in the semis and 57% in the final on average in the last seven editions.
Indeed, you’d be £123 in profit if you’d backed every underdog in the quarters and semis in Winston-Salem in the last seven years, based on just a £10 stake per bet.
Rounds one to three have been pretty average by comparison, as far as underdog winners are concerned, with 37%, 35% and 31% respectively winning on average in the last seven editions.
The previous DecoTurf II surface here wasn’t the quickest over the years, according to the stats, with only 77% holds of serve (last four editions) and 37% tie break matches.
It appears to be a Laykold surface this year, but I’m still not sure I’d be backing tie breaks the week before a major when some less-than-committed efforts are commonplace.
Sunday’s play saw round one get underway and eight opening round matches were completed, with three good-priced underdog winners (Simon, Monteiro and Cecchinato) and to the surprise of few, Nick Kyrgios withdrew from the tournament due to injury.
Monday’s play has the remaining eight one matches, plus a couple from round two and it’s set to be another hot day (32C in the shade) in Winston-Salem today.
Lorenzo Musetti has been struggling lately, with five straight defeats since he led Novak Djokovic by two sets to love at the French Open, but he might be a little fortunate to face fellow clay courter Federico Coria in round one.
We saw what Musetti can do on hard courts when he made the semis of Acapulco as a qualifier in March when he beat Diego Schwartzman, Grigor Dimitrov and Frances Tiafoe before losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Coria can’t get close to that sort of form on hard courts, with just the one main level win on hard in a completed match and that was against 85th ranked Radu Albot in Melbourne in February.
On paper, you’d expect Musetti to win, but he’s failed to win a set against either Kevin Anderson or John Millman this summer on hard courts (and he was withdrawn from Toronto qualies for going outside the Covid-secure zone).
This match-up against an opponent that lacks power should allow him to get through, even on quickish courts, but I certainly wouldn’t be backing Musetti at 1.40 to do so on current form and on hard courts.
Neither would I be backing Ilya Ivashka at 1.36 against the wily veteran Andreas Seppi, who’s made a habit of starting matches quickly, but fading away in recent times, which is odd, as he was a regular slow-starter in years gone by.
Indeed, five of Seppi’s last seven matches have been won by the player who lost the first set and on Monday he faces a player whose own hard court form isn’t much to get excited about.
Looking at the stats of the last 10 main level outdoor hard court matches of each player there isn’t much between them, with Seppi holding serve 76% of the time (Ivashka 77%) and breaking 18% of the time (Ivashka 20%).
There’s one percent in it in terms of service points won and return points won and there’s very little in it in terms of break points won per game (0.18 compared to 0.20). The only stat where Ivashka is better by more than a smidgen is in tie breaks, where Seppi’s 1-3 win/loss and Ivashka is 4-4.
And all of that is from 10 matches where Seppi has won only two of 10 and Ivashka five of 10, so those breakers have been key and Seppi hasn’t been able to maintain his good starts.
Seppi bageled Alex Bolt and beat Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-2 and Dominik Koepfer 6-2 in opening sets in recent weeks, so given how close the hard court stats are I don’t mind chancing either Seppi in set one or to win the match here.
Jordan Thompson withdrew from Toronto and Cincinnati after a heavy schedule that saw him play every tournament from Stuttgart to Washington DC, so I’d assume fatigue was the reason he decided not to play for the past fortnight.
He was beaten by a grinder in Elias Ymer in Washington DC from a set up and now that Guido Pella has supposedly got his mojo back after changing coaches I wonder if the Aussie could fall again to a grinding type of opponent.
Thompson himself plays that sort of style and I’d imagine he’ll find this meeting with a rejuvenated Pella trickier than when the pair clashed on grass a couple of months ago when Thompson won three and four.
This one should be a bit of a bruising battle, with plenty of long rallies and Pella trying to break down the weaker backhand side of Thompson, which lefties have had success with in the past against the Aussie.
We’ll see just how real this ‘comeback’ by Pella is today and I don’t mind risking him to beat Thompson at 2.38 (Bet Victor).
Tung-Lin Wu breezed through qualies, handing out a deadly double-bagel to the hapless Donald Young before beating former Winston-Salem finalist Pierre-Hugues Herbert, so on form he’s not without a chance against Gianluca Mager.
Mager has only played one match on hard since February (and he lost that to Ricardas Berankis last week in Cincy qualies) so I don’t think it would be much of a shock if Wu were to win this, but 2.30 is a touch short for me on a player on debut at this level.
Lucas Pouille and Feli Lopez have had some battles in the past, with Pouille usually coming out on top in close ones, but they’ve not met ‘properly’ now since 2019 and both are at very different levels now compared with two years ago.
I chanced Lopez to make Lloyd Harris work last week, but the veteran gave himself no chance by getting only 42% of first serves in play and I can’t trust either of these two today to play to a particular level.
Pouille has looked miles away from the player we knew a few years ago since a long injury break and while tie breaks look pretty likely here it’s not a match that appeals to me from abetting perspective.
Marco Cecchinato served nicely on Sunday to defeat the fading Tennys Sandgren, winning 91% of his first serve points in his first match on hard since March (he was playing the San Marino Challenger on clay nine days ago).
He beat today’s opponent Dominik Koepfer on clay in Monte-Carlo in April as a slight underdog and I wouldn’t be stunned if he did it again, but it would take a bit of a lame effort from Koepfer (not out of the question by any means) for it to happen.
Cecchinato is 1-10 win/loss at all levels against lefties on hard courts and at main level he’s 0-3 with not one break of serve achieved by the Italian in any of those three matches, presumably because the lefties can pummel the Cecchinato backhand and rush him on hard courts.
On the outright front, anyone that took a big price on Soonwoo Kwon will have been pleased to see him overcome the first hurdle on Sunday and next is the big test against Pablo Carreno Busta.
Once again, we’ve been given a 50/50 match by the draw after qualifying completed on Sunday and our 33-1 shot (later prices were bigger: 50-1 and 66-1 were briefly available) Steve Johnson faces Alexei Popyrin.
Not the best draw that Johnson could have been handed, but Johnson did beat Popyrin in straight sets in Atlanta a few weeks ago, so the American has every chance in that one.
And so does Emil Ruusuvuori, who now faces Denis Kudla, after the withdrawal of Corentin Moutet and hopefully it’ll be another straight sets win for the Finn, who bageled Kudla in their only previous meeting (in Canberra in January 2020).
So, I’ll just take a couple of bets today in a week that historically either goes very well or very badly and I’ll be back with a preview of Wednesday’s play, too.
1 point win Seppi to win set one at 3.20 (Paddy Power)
0.5 points win Pella to beat Thompson at 2.38 (Bet Victor)