The ATP Tour enters the final stages of the 2021 season and the players head indoors for the remaining month, starting in week 42 in Moscow and Antwerp.
Both are ATP 250 events and given their position in the 2021 calendar right after the rescheduled Indian Wells, the fields that have assembled in Russia and Belgium are a little lacking in star quality and Antwerp had been allowed an emergency substitution (although it wasn’t taken) after two of the top-four seeds and the defending champion pulled out.
Moscow lost its big draw, Daniil Medvedev, a few days ago, but they still have Andrey Rublev and fellow Russians Karen Khachanov and Aslan Karatsev (at the time of writing), so a strong home challenge is expected at the Kremlin Cup.
Before that, though, the traditional look back on last week’s action on the outrights.
So… Taylor Fritz.
We backed Fritz last week in San Diego (his home town) at a healthy 33-1 to win a 250 and he loses in round two.
A week later he beats our man of the current week’s tournament, Jannik Sinner, who’d missed a round due to John Isner’s withdrawal, goes on to save match points to beat Alexander Zverev, and becomes tournament favourite at the semi final stage.
Thankfully, Fritz didn’t go on to win Indian Wells as an 80-1 shot, but there was more semi final misery for me on a personal note, as I’d taken Grigor Dimitrov at 280-1 (based on little more than a hunch and last week’s form in San Diego), and he duly lost in the semis as an even money chance.
So, taking on Daniil Medvedev in that top half of the draw was the right play and I was pretty convinced that Medvedev would struggle in the conditions, but our man Hubert Hurkacz lost in the quarters to Dimitrov.
That allowed 66-1 Cam Norrie to come through the wide-open second quarter to face another long shot in 125-1 Nikoloz Basilashvili in the title match.
Basil has been a very profitable player for me this year, but it was hard to fancy him to make a M1000 final at a tournament where he’d never previously won a main draw match (neither had Norrie).
Conditions and trends
As if the constant switching of venues and surfaces at the Kremlin Cup over the years wasn’t enough to confuse punters, this year the joint ATP/WTA event in Moscow is being staged at two different venues, the Irina Viner-Usmanova Gymnastics Palace and the Luzhniki Palace of Sports.
Both men’s and women’s matches will be played at each venue, so until the day before we won’t know who’s playing at which venue, but we do know that the men’s and women’s singles semi finals and finals are set to be played at the Irina Viner-Usmanova Gymnastics Palace.
In years gone by they’ve used a RuKort surface and then a TP Surface Competition Court and this year it’s listed by the ATP as ‘TP’, so presumably it’s the same surface they used in 2019 when there were 77% holds (78% in 2018), and which was quicker than the dreaded RuKort pudding of a court, but still not quick by any means.
John Millman said of this year’s conditions, comparing them to Indian Wells: “Here they’re pretty low-bouncing hard courts, there – higher bounce and a bit slower. These are the two big differences. I’d say these courts suit me a bit better…”
The three most recent editions of the ATP Kremlin Cup have seen finalists (losing) priced at 33-1 (twice, both Adrian Mannarino) and 66-1 (Ricardas Berankis) but big-priced title winners here are rare these days and it’s been won by one of the top-six seeds every year since 2010.
Qualifiers have a solid record here, with at least one man from the qualie draw making the last eight or better in 10 of the last 11 editions of the Kremlin Cup.
In Antwerp, they usually play on a medium paced GreenSet surface in Antwerp at the Lotto Arena and that seems to be the case again in 2021.
Ugo Humbert’s 20-1 success here a year ago makes him the biggest-priced title winner in Antwerp and only Diego Schwartzman in 2016 (Antwerp’s maiden year on the tour) has made the final at a bigger price than 20-1.
Qualifiers have made at least the quarter finals in all five editions of ATP Antwerp so far and with this year’s event being so close to Indian Wells I wouldn’t be surprised to see qualifiers go well again (and in Moscow).
VTB Kremlin Cup Moscow
Russians dominated the Kremlin Cup from 1997 to 2009, with 11 home winners in those 13 years and given the strength of Russian men’s tennis at the moment it looks pretty likely that we’ll have another winner from Russia in 2021.
The last two Kremlin Cups have gone to Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev respectively, but I wonder how they’ll fare this time around given that they’ve only just finished playing at Indian Wells (Rublev and Karatsev were in the doubles final on Saturday)?
Rublev is in the top half of the draw as number one seed (and defending champion from 2019) and his opening match in 2021’s Kremlin Cup might well be a repeat of the 2019 final against Adrian Mannarino.
Mannarino often goes well at this time of the year, but he’s struggling at the moment after an injury-affected season and he’s hard to fancy on current form, but he couldn’t be ruled out on his previous level indoors, and 66-1 is quite tempting.
Ilya Ivashka is perhaps a more likely threat to Rublev, but he withdrew from Sofia and Indian Wells with a back injury, so he’s perhaps short enough in price with that in mind.
Marin Cilic looks like his best years are behind him these days and he hasn’t played since Cincy after becoming a father again and he also split with his coach Vedran Martić a couple of weeks ago, so he’s not for me this week.
The one that stands out that possibly could take down Rublev and make the final is Filip Krajinovic, who beat Rublev as a 3.28 chance in their most recent indoor hard clash in Rotterdam last season.
He also beat Rublev here in Moscow as a 2.78 shot back in 2017 and his best form is capable of taking him a long way in these sorts of conditions.
The Serb looks a reasonable choice at around 12-1, but he’s proven impossible to win with so far (nine main level semi finals, but no titles, so far in his career).
Mikael Ymer and Tommy Paul have both shown good form lately, but Ymer is 6-12 win/loss on indoor hard at main level (never past round two) and Paul is 5-6, but the latter did make the quarters in Rotterdam and Nur-Sultan last year indoors.
He should have gone further in Nur-Sultan, but somehow lost a 5-0 lead in the final set tie break against eventual champion John Millman, so I wouldn’t be quick to rule out Paul’s chances here after his return to form at Indian Wells.
Of course, he beat Rublev at Indian Wells, so there’s enough to like about Paul’s form to make him worthy of at least some consideration this week at 25-1 and he looks the pick of the bigger prices.
In the bottom half of the Moscow draw three big hitting Russians (one of whom represents Kazakhstan) look strong contenders, with Alexander Bublik, Karen Khachanov and Aslan Karatsev all very capable of winning this title.
It’s hard to see Laslo Djere, Gilles Simon and probably Yoshihito Nishioka figuring in the shake-up at the end of the week, but James Duckworth and Benjamin Bonzi are both at the peak of their form right now and Mackenzie McDonald has gone well in recent months, too.
Miomir Kecmanovic found Alexei Popyrin in super form at Indian Wells, but Kecmanovic is another possibility on his best form, while John Millman couldn’t be ruled out either.
Egor Gerasimov, on his form of earlier in the season (when he was a set away from the final in Montpellier) also couldn’t be counted out of the reckoning here and neither could Ilya Marchenko on his very best form, so it’s a really tough-looking bottom half of this Moscow draw.
No single player stands out at the prices I have at the moment in the bottom half of the Moscow draw, so I’ll just take Paul at 25s in the Kremlin Cup for now.
European Open Antwerp
Over in Antwerp, it looks a pretty open draw, with the bottom half in particular appearing as if it could hold some interesting betting opportunities if you’re taking on the high seeds, but the qualifiers could have a big say in proceedings here.
In the bottom half of the draw, it’s hard to fancy number three seed Cristian Garin in these conditions (he’s 4-4 win/loss at main level indoors, with a good run to the Paris quarter finals the highlight) and based on the lack of form he’s exhibited in recent months.
He’s earned some good wins indoors in his short career on this surface, but winning a title seems a little unlikely and you could say the same about Diego Schwartzman, who was woeful only days ago in a dismal quarter final showing at Indian Wells against Cam Norrie.
Schwartzman is twice a finalist here, but I’m happy to oppose him on current form, and in a part of the draw that would likely mean a route of Tiafoe/Murray, De Minaur/Paire, Opelka/Popyrin just to make the final.
Indeed, Schwartzman’s quarter looks tough and I wonder if the form shown by Alexei Popyrin at times in Indian Wells could herald another strong indoor performance by the Aussie, who won Singapore in similar conditions earlier this year?
He’s got a potentially tricky one against US Open quarter finalist Botic van de Zandschlup though and with the qualifying draw looking really strong in Antwerp this week it might be wise to wait until that’s complete, as the likes of Nakashima, Brooksby, Rune, Hugues-Herbert and Hanfmann are all in qualies.
Opelka lost in straight sets to Taylor Fritz pretty badly here a year ago and he was in truculent mood last week in Indian Wells, saying he “hated” the tournament, so a (not so) quick trip to Europe may sour his mood even further.
The big serving American has obvious claims on his best form, but he doesn’t look like he’s up for it at the moment and I’ll pass on the big man this week.
In the top half of the draw, Jannik Sinner, Roberto Bautista Agut and Lloyd Harris look the three most likely, with Sinner a recent champion indoors in Sofia and he holds a 4-0 career series lead over the seemingly fading Bautista Agut.
Sinner was disappointing for us last week in Indian Wells after starting really well against John Millman, but perhaps the lack of a round three opponent after John Isner withdrew didn’t help him in his next match against Taylor Fritz.
He’ll probably go on and win this week, with his chances of qualifying for the Tour Finals in Turin still very possible, but at 100-30 or so Sinner’s too short for an outright single bet on him in Antwerp.
Sinner’s main opposition in Q1 of the draw could come from Arthur Rinderknech, who has the game for indoor hard, and if Sinner does slip up early on, the Frenchman could be one to take advantage.
Rinderknech, in his last three months on the main tour (6-5 win/loss) has held serve 89% of the time (and many of those 11 matches were on clay) and broken 16% of the time, for a healthy 105 total, so he’s in there with a shot on the stats.
His game should be nicely suited to indoor hard and with no qualifiers to be added to his quarter, at 35-1 (Bet Victor) Rinderknech was worth backing, but that price has gone now.
Q2 looks tough to call, with Bautista Agut, Harris, Marton Fucsovics, and Jan-Lennard Struff all potential finalists, while young Belgian prospect Zizou Bergs will be highly motivated and keen to show what he can do at this level.
Bergs beat Albert Ramos and only lost in a final set to Karen Khachanov here in Antwerp a year ago and he’s unlikely to be an easy round one opponent for Harris.
Bergs has won three Challenger titles already this season in a 20-8 win/loss mark and although this quarter of the draw looks tough he couldn’t be dismissed as being without a chance in Q2.
But overall, with such a strong set of players in the qualifying draw in Antwerp I’ll wait until qualies have finished before having a bet in the bottom half of the European Open draw.
A very tricky-looking week, then, in Moscow and Antwerp, with plenty holding opportunities, but Sinner looks highly likely to go very well at the European Open if you don’t mind short prices, however I’ll wait until qualies are complete in Belgium.
I’ve had Rinderknech at 35-1 there, but anything shorter than that doesn’t seem like much value and probably not worth backing.
In Moscow I’m not as convinced about the number one seed and market leader in Andrey Rublev as I am about Sinner, so I’ll take him on a little bit with the man who beat him in Indian Wells, Tommy Paul.
I’ll have another look after qualies have finished and add any more picks to my daily preview article for Tuesday.
1 point win Paul to win Moscow at 25-1 (Bet Victor)