Round one completes and round two begins in Nur-Sultan and Metz in this week’s two ATP 250 tournaments on indoor hard.
There were precisely zero underdog winners in round two of last year’s Astana Open, so hopefully that won’t be the case this time around, but it’s not been a great start to week 38 of the ATP Tour for underdog backers.
Only two of eight have gone in at the Astana Open, but we did manage to find one in Metz on Tuesday, with Mikael Ymer doing the business for us as a 2.30 chance against Jan-Lennard Struff.
Benoit Paire should have made it two, having led the opening set 5-3 and the second set 3-1, but contrived to lose them both to Egor Gerasimov, while fellow Frenchman Ugo Humbert lost his way against Andy Murray in Metz.
Humbert, who was the subject of our small outright long shot double this week, lost from 1.17 in-play against Murray, losing seven games in a row from a set up and 3-3 in the second.
Benjamin Bonzi is on a run at the moment that he probably won’t enjoy again in his career, with three Challenger titles in consecutive weeks and six such trophies this season, which ties the all-time record.
In the last three months he’s compiled a record of 22-2 win/loss and with a combined service hold/break mark of 112. The question is, can he now produce at main level?
Previously, he hasn’t, with his last 10 matches at main level showing a 3-7 win/loss mark and a combined hold/break total of 95, with a best win in a completed match at this level being a victory over then-79th ranked Lucas Pouille in Montpellier earlier this year.
Fatigue is certainly a possibility for Bonzi, too, having played 15 matches since the US Open, but he has beaten Emil Ruusuvuori before – at the French Open of 2020 – and he’ll be brimming with confidence.
That French Open match was played in windy, rainy conditions on clay and obviously that won’t be the case today and I just feel that Bonzi has a little bit to prove here and his price maybe a touch too short for me to get involved.
I wonder, though, if Mikhail Kukushkin can summon up an effort playing at ‘home’ against the determined, but essentially quite limited, James Duckworth?
Duckworth has a clear advantage based on stats from the past 12 months at main level (96 hold/break total, compared to just 88 for Kukushkin) and Duckworth is coming off a Challenger title in Istanbul, so he’s the obvious and strongish favourite at around 1.44.
But Kuku usually finds something extra playing in Kazakhstan, where he’s 17-4 win/loss at main level (mainly from Davis Cup) and with a wild card to justify this year we may see a more determined effort than he’s been producing lately.
Kuku retired with an achilles problem at the Cassis Challenger two weeks ago, but that’s not overly concerning given that this week was always likely to be his target, and last year he made the quarter finals while not playing particularly well.
The slow conditions here won’t be favourable to either man, but Kuku has been given as late a start as possible by the tournament organisers and I’ll chance him putting in an effort here and winning it at around 2.80.
Talking of Davis Cup, Soonwoo Kwon is coming here from DC duty on grass, where he helped Korea to a win over New Zealand in Newport, USA, so Kwon’s opponent today, Evgeny Donskoy may well have an advantage over Kwon in that sense.
Four days ago, Kwon was playing on grass in America, while Donskoy has qualified here in Nur-Sultan, so clearly Donskoy should be the better prepared of the two for this match and this pair have had some good battles so far.
Kwon leads the career series 2-1 and all three of those matches have featured a tie break, but Kwon dominates the stats, holding serve 93% of the time against Donskoy, winning 83% on first serve and 66% on second serve.
Donskoy has won only 70% on first serve and 55% on his second ball, so other than the change of surface and fast turnaround/possible jetlag for Kwon I’m not seeing great value in Donskoy here.
The Russian was a 3.09 chance when this pair clashed in February on indoor hard in the semi finals of the Biella 2 Challenger, which Kwon won 6-1 in the third, so backing him now at 2.30 doesn’t seem fabulous value.
Carlos Taberner should have beaten Botic van der Zandschulp on a good paced hard court in New York, so I see no reason, all things being equal, why he couldn’t potentially get the better of Ricardas Berankis in slower conditions in Nur-Sultan.
The worries with Taberner though are that he withdrew from the doubles at the Szczecin Challenger a week ago with a lower back problem and that he’s been playing on clay since the US Open and he has only two main level matches under his belt at this level on indoor hard.
Last year’s champ, John Millman, looked some way off his best in a struggle of a win against Dmitry Popko on Tuesday and that explains why he’s as big as 1.84 to beat Jaume Munar, who’s 2-6 win/loss indoors at main level.
I’ve included Next Gen Finals results in there because if we take those out Munar has only played three matches on indoor hard on the main tour and at these prices I’m almost tempted to back Millman – Munar doesn’t appeal at this price.
Laslo Djere was also far from impressive in his opening round match and Lorenzo Musetti (who was also far from fluent in his own round one match) looks the right favourite in that one.
There was potentially some good news for our outright in the top half of the draw in Metz on Tuesday when Peter Gojowczyk’s round one opponent turned out to be the man he beat in qualies, Antoine Hoang, after Richard Gasquet withdrew.
How many times, though, do we see the person that lost in qualies get back in as a lucky loser and go on to beat the player they lost to only days ago? Quite often and I’m not counting my chickens in that one for sure.
That said, anyone that got the 80-1 that Bet 365 put up for Gojowczyk has got a nice price and hopefully Gojowczyk can repeat his qualie win over Hoang and go on to take on Karen Khachanov in round two.
Things are a bit different for Lucas Pouille these days compared to his glory days when he was beating Rafael Nadal in majors and he was a top-10 player.
Since an elbow injury struck in September 2019 and surgery and a long layoff followed, Pouille has won only four main level matches (4-13 win/loss) and he’s been building his fitness and form back up on the Challenger circuit mainly.
Two weeks ago he made the final in Cassis (lost to Bonzi) and last week Arthur Rinderknech beat him in Rennes, so he’s gone 9-3 win/loss at all levels since the start of August, and maybe he’s slowly getting back towards where he wants to be.
It’s a long haul though and I couldn’t back him against the wildly inconsistent Brayden Schnur, who’s been known to make main level finals indoors in his time, but is usually found on the Challenger circuit.
Schnur’s big serve could worry a player in Pouille who’s 3-9 win/loss against the big servers in my database, but the Canadian is hardly a huge server and Pouille would be disappointed to lose this one.
At the time of writing there are no prices yet for Murray vs Pospisil, while our hero of Tuesday, Mikael Ymer looks up against it facing Pablo Carreno Busta.
Ymer was a little fortunate that Struff was some way off his best and didn’t make enough first serves and it’s tough to see Ymer coming out on top in a baseline battle with Carreno Busta – assuming that PCB is focused.
Carreno Busta is usually pretty reliable in beating the players he should beat and he’s won 15 of his last 17 when priced up between 1.31 and 1.49.
So, just the one bet for me on Wednesday and it’s a risky one with Kukushkin in Nur-Sultan.
0.5 points win Kukushkin to beat Duckworth at 2.80 (Bet Victor)