Sean Calvert’s Winston-Salem 2021 QFs Preview

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The quarter finals of the 2021 Winston-Salem Open are set for Thursday, with an ATP 250 title looming large for the eight men who’ve made it to the last eight in this pre-slam week in North Carolina, USA.

I said on Monday that this week in Winston-Salem usually either goes very well or pretty badly and with a 30-1 outright still in with a chance it could turn out to be decent.

It didn’t start brilliantly, with outright John Millman pulling out after failing to recover from a foot problem (but at least that one is stakes returned) and then another nice-priced outright fell in one of those 50/50 matches that we’ve lost the vast majority of this season.

That was Steve Johnson, whose right knee was causing him problems against Alexei Popyrin, and Soonwoo Kwon had his chances against top seed, Pablo Carreno Busta but fell just short in the final set.

Kwon was a no-bet for 99% of people I should think, as the 100-1 that I got in the opening show didn’t appear again anywhere that I saw.

We didn’t get any joy with our underdogs Andreas Seppi and Guido Pella in the match betting either, with Pella close, but not close enough against Jordan Thompson, who went on to lose in straight sets against lucky loser Max Purcell.

It’s set to be another tough day weather-wise for the players on Thursday, with 31C heat in the shade and with 56% humidity combining for a likely ‘real feel’ temperature of 37C at 3pm local time and doubtless it’ll be hotter than that on court.

The quarter finals of the Winston-Salem Open has in the past consistently provided more than its fair share of underdog winners, with exactly half of them on average winning in the last seven editions.

If you’d backed every underdog in the Winston-Salem Open quarter finals in the last five years for £10 per bet, you’d have been in profit by £80 and never (yet) in the nine-year history of this tournament has there been a year where none of the underdogs won in the quarter finals.

The first of the underdogs in action on Thursday is tournament favourite and number one seed, Pablo Carreno Busta, who after a struggle against Kwon was able to have things much more his own way against Dominik Koepfer on Wednesday.

Koepfer lacks the firepower to be able to do much damage against PCB, but Ilya Ivashka’s more aggressive game can certainly punch holes in the Carreno Busta defences and especially so if PCB is had enough this week now.

It might be the case that the Spaniard will want to go on and win this title now, but it’s equally possible that he’ll want to save some energy for New York and on the form he showed on Wednesday against Jan-Lennard Struff you have to give Ivashka a shot here.

He’s yet to win a set from PCB in two career meetings, but they were back in 2016 and 2019 and not really relevant to today’s meeting, which comes down to the level of desire that PCB has this week.

We can only guess at that and I’m happy to side with Ivashka here at a price of 2.80 (Bet Victor) because a repeat of the level he showed in the Struff match would be enough to beat a less-than-committed Carreno Busta.

If this was a ‘normal’ week (i.e. not a week before a major) I wouldn’t be taking PCB on here because he’s 17-6 win/loss on outdoor hard at main level when priced up between 1.40 and 1.60 and he’s won his last seven on all surfaces in that price range.

But this week is different and I don’t mind Ivashka in these circumstances.

After that it’s our 30-1 outright, Emil Ruusuvuori in action and he’ll be slight favourite against the veteran Frenchman Richard Gasquet.

It’s a first career meeting and in conditions as hot as they are I’m hopeful of our chances today against a Gasquet who looked to be wilting on Wednesday against Dan Evans.

Gasquet must have been a mightily relieved man to win that second set tie break against Evans and not have to go to a third and I’m pleased to see, looking at the Gasman’s record, that he hasn’t been past the quarter finals in a pre-slam week for some time.

The last time he did it was in Eastbourne in 2017 and before that it was Eastbourne 2014, so he’s one of those that haven’t often felt the need to use up precious energy the week before a major.

Ruusuvuori was a little fortunate that Benoit Paire was having another one of his awful days on serve on Wednesday, with 15 double faults coming off the Frenchman’s racquet, but Ruusuvuori was the better player off the ground, winning 48% on second serve compared to the 33% of Paire.

I’d expect the Finn, who’s playing only his third main level quarter final today (won two from two so far) to have too much energy and desire for the 35-year-old Frenchman in these tough conditions.

I’m pleased that Ruusuvuori has got a day match and the night session sees Mikael Ymer take on Frances Tiafoe first up at 7pm local time in what will be the third career clash between this pair.

They first met in the Next Gen Finals indoors in Milan in 2019 when Tiafoe won comfortably, but Ymer, as a 2.60 chance, took down the American when they next clashed in Auckland at the start of the 2020 season a couple of months later.

Tiafoe hit 57 unforced errors that day in Auckland and in truth this is a horrible match to bet on, with neither player the most reliable, and I wouldn’t be backing Tiafoe at a likely price of around 1.45 here.

Tiafoe’s been a bit of a thorn in my side lately, with a failure in his home event in DC when I backed him followed by him beating my man in Toronto (as a lucky loser) and then my 150-1 shot Ugo Humbert in Cincy the week after.

So far in Winston-Salem he’s played okay against a struggling Andy Murray and a gallant but ultimately outmatched Thiago Monteiro, but Ymer’s game is a bit more aggressive these days and it would be no surprise to me if he won this.

The Swede has been decent this week and more inclined to be the aggressor and that will need to continue today against a powerful, but inconsistent opponent in Tiafoe.

Tiafoe has a patchy record at main level when priced up between 1.40 and 1.60, with a 19-13 win/loss mark in his career, but he’s won his last four in this price range (and seven of his last 12) so he’s not been a particularly profitable player to back at this sort of price.

If I were betting here I’d either take Ymer to win at around 2.80 or for the match to go three sets, with an up and down affair where each have their spells of dominance likely.

Finally, I said in my outright preview that Marcos Giron could well go a few rounds this week and here he is in the quarter finals as only slight underdog to make the semis.

I mentioned on Twitter that one layer was going 100-1 on Giron outright and I had a bit of that (another rated him as a 14-1 chance) so I’m hopeful that he can beat Carlos Alcaraz tonight.

Alcaraz is fast-improving on hard courts and I wasn’t surprised to see him beat Marton Fucsovics yesterday, with the Hungarian one that I always feel saves himself for majors rather than 250s the week prior.

He had to battle though, saving 11 of 14 break chances against him and winning only 57% of the points on first serve and what he said afterwards was interesting (considering he won 58% of his second serve points):

“In this match I didn’t feel comfortable playing the long rallies, I started to make the points short, try to hit as hard as I can, trying to make the points shorter.”

Alcaraz’s stats so far from his 10 outdoor hard court matches at main level show that he’s won only 67.5% on his first serve, but a healthier 54% on second serve and with Giron lacking real firepower on his serve this one is likely to be a baseline battle.

Giron has won 49.7% of his second serve points on outdoor hard in his last 10 matches at main level and on the numbers this match looks priced up about right.

So, this is a day when traditionally underdogs have gone well and I’ll take Ivashka as my one on Thursday.

Best Bet

1 point win Ivashka to beat Carreno Busta at 2.80 (Bet Victor)