The 2021 ATP Tour enters its final month and the players are in France for the Paris Masters, the final Masters 1000 event of the season in Bercy.
There have been some interesting results here over the years and some big-priced winners and finalists as the season winds down and motivation in some players is somewhat lacking.
But first, a recap on what happened last week in Vienna and St. Petersburg.
Those that got on early in Vienna and St. Petersburg got some great value, with Karen Khachanov, Gael Monfils, Tommy Paul and Adrian Mannarino all offered at far shorter odds an hour or so after we took the big prices.
But, as has been the case for some time now, we didn’t get any fortune from what were some promising situations.
Khachanov, who we got at twice his starting price of around 12-1, lost from 1.05 in-play against Marin Cilic in St. Petersburg, while Paul lost a tight one to Taylor Fritz at the same event.
Monfils was in the quarter of the draw where top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas did fall early on, but the 40-1 Frenchman, who we got at over three times his average price of 12-1, lost to Diego Schwartzman.
I said in last week’s preview that it was more bets than I’d usually take on, but it was hard to overlook the clear value that was available in the opening shows from Paddy/Betfair and Betfred.
Improbably, it was Frances Tiafoe at 50-1 that made it from qualifying to reach the final from the top half of the main draw after coming back from a seemingly impossible position against Jannik Sinner in the semi finals.
In St. Petersburg, I talked myself out of backing Jan-Lennard Struff at 33-1 and that was probably a good thing, as Struff lost in the final set of the semi final, which would have been another painful one to add to the collection.
Conditions and trends
We’re back at the Palais Omnisports in Bercy (now the Accor Arena) for the last M1000 of the season and to say that conditions here are changeable is putting it mildly.
The court speed has been slowed down and increased a multitude of times in the last decade and it’s always a bit of guesswork as to what speed they’ll opt for in Bercy on what’s usually a GreenSet surface.
From the evidence of what I saw in qualies it would appear to be pretty slow, with only 75% holds of serve in the first 14 matches, nine of which went to a third set, and all 14 matches went over 20.5 total games.
That being the case, we need a player with a bit left in the tank if it’s going to be a grind in slow conditions and perhaps also someone with the target of the Tour Finals still to aim for this season.
Perhaps the most striking trend regarding the outright winner of the Paris Masters is that it’s proven very difficult for US Open champions to go on and win Bercy that same season.
The last man to do it was Novak Djokovic in 2015 and prior to that the only other player to do it this century was Marat Safin in 2000.
The position of the Paris Masters in the calendar so close to the Tour Finals usually leads to some of the big stars skipping it entirely or using it as match practice for the year-ending spectacle or putting in only a token effort.
Consequently, the only number one seed to win Paris this century is Novak Djokovic (2014/’15/’19) and we’ve seen some huge-priced winners and finalists in recent years: Khachanov at 40-1, Jack Sock at 80-1, Krajinovic as a qualifier and Shapovalov all made the title match in the last four years (Khachanov and Sock winning the title).
Memorably, we had Sock at 80-1 that year, so I’m after another huge-priced Bercy winner to repair what’s been a season full of appalling misfortune on the outrights.
Qualifiers have had their moments in Bercy, with a couple making it all the way to the final in the last decade (Krajinovic and Janowicz) but only one (Krajinovic) has made it past round three in the last eight years.
Paris Masters draw – top half
Novak Djokovic is our number one seed and market leader at around 2.50 this week, then, and he hasn’t played since looking fatigued in the US Open final six weeks ago, so he should be well-rested.
He’s also signed up for the doubles this week (with Krajinovic), so the assumption must be that he’s fit, ready to go and seeking court time ahead of the Tour Finals (and probably the Davis Cup).
The Serb has only lost two of his last 28 matches at the Paris Masters and when he’s played he’s only failed to make the final once since 2012 (in 2016 when he lost in the quarters to Cilic), so it’s hard to oppose him in Q1.
Marton Fucsovics could at least be a tricky first opponent for Djokovic on the Hungarian’s best form (and if he beats Fabio Fognini in round one) but it’s hard to see the likes of Gael Monfils or Andrey Rublev beating a fit and in-form Djokovic if that’s what he is this week.
Rublev has struggled indoors in the last few weeks and has actually never faced Djokovic yet, but it’s hard to see his second serve and backhand standing up to the test from the Serb, while Monfils has lost all 18 main level matches he’s played versus Djokovic.
Perhaps more likely to cause a major upset could be a peak form Nikoloz Basilashvili or a huge serving day from Reilly Opelka or perhaps in-form duo Cam Norrie and Taylor Fritz could do some damage if they play their best on the day.
Opelka hasn’t looked remotely into it in the last few tournaments though and it would take a major turnaround in his attitude to make something happen this week, while Fritz has just finished playing in St. Petersburg and has a tough turnaround.
Norrie is perhaps the one to think about, then, with the Brit in supremely confident mood right now and he shouldn’t have lost to Felix Auger-Aliassime last week, but squandered three straight match points.
He was always likely to need a match or two to find his form indoors and this week he has Federico Delbonis first up, so that looks ideal for Norrie for an opening match and get some rhythm indoors, and slow conditions should suit.
It seems unlikely that Norrie will win back-to-back Masters 1000s, but he has to go on the shortlist at around 50-1, with qualification for the Tour Finals still a possibility for Norrie.
In Q2, Stefanos Tsitsipas continues to struggle to find his best form and he’ll have a tricky opening match against either Lloyd Harris or Alex De Minaur, so he can be taken on, I feel, in this quarter.
The ones worth thinking about in this quarter are Auger-Aliassime, Harris, Jenson Brooksby and Hubert Hurkacz, all of whom are available at between 41.0 and 100.0.
FAA and Hurkacz are both battling for a spot at the Tour Finals and should be motivated to go well, while Harris has been producing some good tennis and stats lately (106 hold/break in his last 10 matches at main level indoors) and could go well in Q2, as could Andy Murray.
It’s hard to see Murray’s fitness allowing him to make the semis or final at the moment, while Harris isn’t quite up to winning tournaments at this level yet, you feel, and conditions are probably too slow for him this week.
We were unlucky with 25-1 Brooksby the other week when he ran out of steam in Antwerp in the semis after qualifying and thinking about all the tape he sported that day and that he’s had to qualify again here (five-and-a-half hours on court) a deep run in slow conditions here is perhaps a big ask.
Roberto Bautista Agut’s best days look behind him right now, while De Minaur would be an unlikely finalist at this level on the form he’s shown this season.
So, at 40-1 (Ladbrokes) I like Hurkacz the most in Q2, with the Pole not likely to be fearful of Tsitsipas, having beaten the Greek at the Miami Masters earlier this season and only lost narrowly in two of their three prior meetings.
Auger-Aliassime hasn’t beaten Tsitsipas in their last five meetings and at the prices I prefer the 40s on Hurkacz as the one likely to possibly go on and make the final if Djokovic isn’t at his best this week.
Paris Masters draw – bottom half
Alexander Zverev’s draw in Q3 looks handy, with Casper Ruud the high seed in this quarter and you would expect Zverev to come through this section all things being equal.
He did have a long week in Vienna though and only Andy Murray (2016) since Andre Agassi in 1994 has won Vienna and Paris the same season, so it could be the case that Zverev might save his legs a bit for the Tour Finals and Davis Cup to follow.
That being the case, Ruud is the obvious alternative, with the Norwegian right in contention for a spot at the Tour Finals and he’ll enjoy the playing conditions if they turn out to be as slow as they look.
But in truth it’s tough to see anyone other than Zverev being a genuine contender for the title from Q3, with a fatigued Tiafoe, Grigor Dimitrov, and Diego Schwartzman all probably no more than hopeful possibilities.
Karen Khachanov doesn’t look like he’s anywhere near the sort of form that saw him storm to the Paris title back in 2018 and so I’ll pass in Q3, with Zverev the likely winner, but he’s too short in price for me at this stage of the season, with arguably bigger prizes still left to play for this year.
The final quarter looks really competitive, with several in-form players set to do battle here, including Daniil Medvedev, Jannik Sinner, Aslan Karatsev, Marin Cilic and Carlos Alcaraz.
Any of those four plus the likes of Pablo Carreno Busta or Seb Korda could win this quarter on their very best form and it could just be that it might be too slow to be ideal for Medvedev this week.
He is the defending champion, of course, and he’s the rightful favourite to win Q4, but he’s a bit short for my liking at 5.0 in a quarter as strong as this, and I prefer taking a chance on Karatsev at 100-1 (BoyleSports).
Karatsev played very well in Moscow, winning the title without dropping a set in slowish conditions (75% holds in the main draw) and he clearly needed a rest on his non-performance in St. Petersburg a few days later.
He actually has a 3-0 career series lead over Medvedev (two of which were back in 2014 and 2016 and the other on clay this season) so he won’t fear Medvedev and he can still qualify for the Tour Finals (unlikely, but possible).
Karatsev has a tough one first up against Seb Korda, but Korda hasn’t looked himself lately and hopefully Karatsev can get through that one. At 100-1 I don’t mind taking a chance.
Cilic will probably be too tired after back-to-back finals in the last two weeks (and Karatsev beat him comfortably in Moscow) and Sinner is the obvious alternative to Medvedev on his excellent recent form, but Medvedev might be a poor match-up for Sinner.
Both of their prior clashes came on (quicker) indoor hard in Marseille and Medvedev ended up winning pretty comfortably both times, so I suspect that if both men make the last eight Medvedev would be a good favourite.
Alcaraz should enjoy the slow conditions and has his chances in Q4 on current form, but he’d probably have to beat Pierre Hugues-Herbert, Sinner, Carreno Busta and Medvedev to make the semis.
That’s some ask the week after a strong run in Vienna and it might be too big a task for Alcaraz at this stage of his career.
I’ll take Hurkacz as may main bet in the top half at 40-1 with Ladbrokes and Karatsev at 100s (BoyleSports) in the bottom half, with a small saver on Norrie at 50s (Bet Victor/BoyleSports).
1 point each-way Hurkacz at 40-1 (Ladbrokes)
0.5 points each-way Karatsev at 100-1 (BoyleSports)
0.5 points win Norrie at 50-1 (Bet Victor/BoyleSports)