Sean Calvert’s ATP Indian Wells Thursday Preview

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The main draw of the BNP Paribas Open gets underway at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Thursday, with 16 matches on the card on day one.

And the last couple of editions of the Indian Wells Masters have produced an awful lot of underdog winners in the opening round, with 50 percent of the players priced up as underdog winning in both 2019 and 2018 and 47 percent winning in 2017.

Indeed, going further back, 45 percent of the betting underdogs (opening show) have won on average in the last five editions of Indian Wells in round one and you’d be £376 in profit if you’d simply backed all of the round one dogs in those five years to just a £10 stake per bet.

The last two editions of this tournament have seen 40 percent of the betting underdogs win overall and so it’s been a good place for value-seekers in recent times.

In terms of service holds, it’s averaged 77% in its last four editions, while matches featuring tie breaks average just 34% in the last 10 editions (although it looks like it’ll be warmer this week in October than it was in March 2019 when they last played here) and an average of 60% of the matches in round one in the last seven editions have ended in straight sets.

The weather looks decent on Thursday and according to the forecast we can expect temperatures of up to 31C on a cloudy day, with a max wind speed of 10mph in the evening.

Sam Querrey continues to disappoint on hard courts, with just two wins in his last 13 matches on hard, and only three last-16 or better (one quarter final his best finish) appearances at Indian Wells in 14 attempts.

It’s his 34th birthday today and I’m tempted to take him on with Daniel Altmaier, but I can’t see any real value in the German’s price of around 2.10 considering he’s never played a single match at main level on outdoor hard.

He hasn’t completed a match of any sort on hard since last October indoors in Cologne and he hasn’t won one since qualifiers in Acapulco in March 2020, so I’ll pass on Altmaier.

Talking of veterans who’ve struggled lately on hard courts, Feli Lopez has won three of his last 10 on hard and has a strange record at Indian Wells, where he lost 11 of his first 15 matches here, but has won 11 of his last 17.

Only once since 2013 has Lopez failed to win at least one match here (and that one round one defeat was in a final set tie break) and I wonder if he has enough left in his legs now to do something against Tommy Paul?

Lopez beat Paul easily on indoor hard in Antwerp 12 months ago as a 2.49 chance and now the veteran is a 3.50 shot, with Paul looking very short at 1.30 given his recent record of two main level wins in his last nine attempts.

We’re guessing (again) as to the fitness or otherwise of Kei Nishikori, who pulled out of San Diego last week with a back injury, so maybe Joao Sousa could be a little fortunate today, but Sousa’s level these days isn’t what it once was.

He’s won one of his last 16 main level matches and he’s not done much at Challenger level either, so it’s hard to see him beating a fit Nishikori.

It’s probably too slow here for Steve Johnson (5-8 win/loss at Indian Wells) and he lost to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on a slow indoor court in Cologne a year ago, plus he also lost to Federico Gaio last week in San Diego on a Laykold, so he’s hard to fancy against ADF today.

I don’t mind taking a chance on Miomir Kecmanovic as slight underdog against Alexei Popyrin though.

Kecmanovic is in one of his funks at the moment (hence the price) with seven losses in his last nine matches, but he’s not going to continue to struggle and it could well be the case that a return to Indian Wells heralds a return to form for the Serb.

He made the quarter finals here as a lucky loser in 2019 and he has a perfect 3-0 record against Popyrin, the stats of which show that Kecmanovic has won 58% of his second serve points (Popyrin 51%) and held serve 84% of the time against the Aussie, who’s held 78% of the time.

Kecmanovic was 1.37, 1.68 and 1.51 in his previous three matches against Popyrin and now at evens he’s worth risking, with Popyrin having not played since a painful US Open loss to Dan Evans.

The former junior world number one has suffered a few painful losses in recent months (five set to Roberto Bautista Agut at Wimbledon and also in five from two sets up to Arthur Rinderknech at the US Open) but you’d think that Popyrin would want it quicker than this and Kecmanovic knows he can beat this opponent, so it could turn out to be an ideal starter for the Serb.

Botic van de Zandschlup is showing great form lately and he looks the most likely of the qualifiers to pose a threat to one or two of the more established players in this draw, but he’s being priced accordingly now.

After his US Open run his abilities are well-known and even money against an in-form Marcos Giron perhaps isn’t the best value.

Similarly, Maxime Cressy, who beat Pablo Carreno Busta at the US Open perhaps needs to be a little bigger than evens to defeat Laslo Djere in slower conditions than those Cressy enjoyed in New York.

Djere is pretty much a clay-only player, but we’ve seen many times that clay courters can operate very effectively at Indian Wells and Djere should have enough time on the ball here to counter Cressy in what looks a 50/50 match and priced as such.

Both James Duckworth and Mackenzie McDonald have had great years and Duckworth’s confidence must be very high right now, so he’s an obvious possibility for an underdog win today.

I wonder though if all his activity lately (28 sets since the US Open) and a change of surface from indoors at slight altitude in Europe to this gritty outdoor hard in the desert in California means that you might get a better price than 2.25 in-play.

McDonald will certainly be the fresher, having not played since the US Open, but how fit is he after he pulled out of both Nur-Sultan and Sofia for undisclosed reasons?

Duckworth lost to Soonwoo Kwon in the final in Nur-Sultan and Kwon is another that may potentially struggle today, having withdrawn from San Diego last week citing a shoulder injury.

Kwon’s opponent today, Guido Pella, has beaten Kwon in both of their prior meetings, in which Pella was priced up at 1.99 and 1.89 (both in 2019 on indoor hard and outdoor hard).

Now Pella’s a 2.88 shot (SBK) and the Argentine could well be the fitter player here and that may be key on a slow surface in what’s likely to be a physical affair, as most of Pella’s matches are.

Pella has held serve 88% of the time against Kwon, who’s only held 67% of the time against Pella, so even allowing for the struggles that Pella’s had in recent times and Kwon’s maiden title a few weeks ago, I don’t mind this price today.

Pella has popped up with some good wins lately on hard courts: Fognini, Goffin and Krajinovic and in these conditions I’ll risk him.

Zachary Svajda is another possible underdog option, based on the big match, big occasion form he showed in New York when he took down Marco Cecchinato and then acquitted himself well against Jannik Sinner, losing that one in four tight sets.

The 18-year-old is certainly – on that form – capable of defeating the struggling Salvatore Caruso, who’s won only one of his last 16 main level matches – and that one victory was against number 388 Lucas Catarina in Monte-Carlo (in a final set).

So, all the pressure will be on Caruso here, and Svajda could well grab the win, but he was a 3.25 chance to beat Cecchinato and now he’s 2.20 at best, so perhaps not great value.

So, numerous underdog options on Thursday and the value ones for me, although they are risky, are Lopez, Pella and Kecmanovic.

Best Bets

1 point win Kecmanovic to beat Popyrin at 2.05 (Bet Victor)

0.5 points win Lopez to beat Paul at 3.75 (Sky Bet)

0.5 points win Pella to beat Kwon at 2.75 (generally)