The main draw of this week’s two ATP 250 events in San Diego, USA and Sofia, Bulgaria kicks off on Monday and there are six main level matches on the card to assess on day one of week 39 on the ATP Tour.
The San Diego Open is new to the tour this year, but the Sofia Open has five years of history to look back on, although it has been shunted around the calendar for the last two years.
It started in 2016 in February and was played in a post-Davis Cup week for four years until being moved to November last season when some very weary players showed up and now it’s been moved to the end of September.
Whenever it’s been staged it’s been a poor one for underdog backers, which is a little surprising given that there were some tired Davis Cup players on show here for four years and in its five years on tour only 27% of the betting underdogs have won on average.
Even when it was held in November last year only five of 27 underdogs won, but it usually features a fair few tie breaks (43% on average) and 80% service holds on a reasonably paced surface at an altitude of around 550m.
It’s a low-key start to the week in Sofia, with only three main draw matches on the schedule along with the remaining qualifying matches.
One of the main draw matches features Benoit Paire, so I think I’ll give that one a swerve after he failed to win either of the sets he led by a break in against Egor Gerasimov in Nur-Sultan.
For the record, Paire takes on Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who lost a very tight one to Nikoloz Basilashvili in Metz last week in what was a really entertaining clash.
On that form you’d expect ADF to get the better of the up and down Paire, but the Spaniard hasn’t been winning much lately and 1.44 or so looks a little bit short for my liking.
Adrian Andreev gets a wild card in Sofia most years and he’s yet to win a match in three attempts, with a best effort of winning a set against Matt Ebden in 2019, but he did play pretty well at this level in Singapore earlier this season.
That week he beat Lloyd Harris and took a set off eventual champion Alexei Popyrin, so he’s not totally out of it against Miomir Kecmanovic.
Andreev is at a career-high of 319 in the rankings at the moment and while it’s hard to see him winning, he might grab a set against an opponent who’s lost six of his last seven matches and so the 2-1 to Kecmanovic at around 4.50 holds some appeal.
The other match features my Sofia outright, Adrian Mannarino, who’s held serve 85% of the time in his last 10 main level matches on indoor hard and broken 19% of the time, giving him a handy combined total of 104.
His opponent Gianluca Mager is rather inexperienced, both on indoor hard in general (he’s only played three matches indoors at this level) and against lefties on hard courts.
Mager’s highest-ranked left-handed opponent faced on hard courts so far in his career was outside the top-300 and he hasn’t faced one at all on hard since 2018.
Given how much Mager relies on his forehand for power I’d hope that this will be a successful start for lefty Mannarino.
Moving on to San Diego and we’re expecting a pleasant, sunny afternoon there of around 22C in the shade and with some wind around (10mph) for the three singles matches they have on their schedule.
I’m hoping for no slip ups from Taylor Fritz, who takes on the struggling Salvatore Caruso at around 19:30 local time in a first career meeting.
Caruso’s nightmare season has seen him slip from 76 in the rankings to number 128 after just four main level wins in 2021 (4-17 win/loss) and only a win over number 388 Lucas Catarina in Monte-Carlo since the Australian Open.
His last top-100 win (and only one in his last 15) came before the Australian Open against Tennys Sandgren and he showed no form at the Cary Challenger or Columbus Challenger in the last few weeks either (retired at the latter event and lost to Aleksandar Vukic in the former).
So, all the right ingredients for an upset, then.
Aslan Karatsev’s surprising burst towards the top of the rankings after a career spent largely in mediocrity has stalled somewhat of late, with the Russian having won back-to-back matches only once since Rome (and he had to save match points to do that).
His service hold/break numbers in his seven matches this summer on hard courts show him to have only held serve 75% of the time and broken 25% of the time for a 100 total.
His 16 hard court matches from the start of the season to the end of Miami saw him hold serve 82% of the time and break 32% of the time for a 114 total, so he’s dropped off badly since what was surely his peak.
He’ll still probably beat Federico Delbonis, whose movement and long backswings make him easy to rush on quick surfaces and Delbonis has broken serve only 6% of the time in his last 10 main level matches on outdoor hard.
Karatsev has very little to show in his main level record against left-handers (just three matches) but his lack of form is a concern and it might well be possible for Delbonis to force a tie break here.
Fabio Fognini is tempting as underdog against Brandon Nakashima, with the Italian having won three of his last four matches when priced up between 2.40 and 2.80 on outdoor hard at main level.
Nakashima is a talent, but we saw at the US Open that he’s better at the moment at dealing with pace coming at him than when having to make his own pace and grind out rallies.
He was all at sea against Alex Molcan and his apparent lack of a backhand down the line made him too predictable against the lefty.
He’s dealt well with the likes of Isner, Raonic and Querrey, but lost to Molcan, Norrie (another lefty), McDonald and Kudla, who don’t have that firepower and Fognini – if he’s in the mood – might be able to outsmart the young American here.
It looks a tricky day for value seekers and Fognini looks about the best of them at a price of around the 2.50 mark.
1 point win Fognini to beat Nakashima at 2.50 (generally)