Sean Calvert’s Paris Masters Thursday Preview

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The 2021 ATP Tour season heads towards its closing stages in week 44, with Masters 1000 action at the Accor Arena in Bercy at the Rolex Paris Masters.

Despite its reputation as a tournament where shocks, surprises and outright end-of-season tanks seem to be commonplace, it’s tended to be statistically one of the worst tournaments of the year, as far as backing underdogs is concerned.

In the previous eight editions of the Paris Masters an average of just 30% of the betting underdogs (opening show) have won (28% in the last three years), which ranks it a lowly 39th in that regard.

In terms of profit and loss if you’d backed all of the underdogs in the last eight editions you’d be £320 down (£10 stake) and only four ATP tournaments (plus all four majors) are worse than Paris in the profit and loss stakes.

This year, however, three lucky losers were able to use the element of relative surprise to their advantage and grab underdog wins (Koepfer, Musetti and Popyrin) as nine of 24 underdogs won (38%) in round one – the most since 2013.

Round two continued in the same vein, with seven of 15 underdog winners, making it the best total of underdog winners up to this stage in the last eight years and most probably longer.

Round three hasn’t been a great one for underdog backers in recent times, with an average of only 22% of them winning in the last eight editions (17% in the last three years), and a loss of £123 (£10 stake) if you’d backed all of the R3 dogs in the last five editions of the Paris Masters.

On to Thursday’s play and our main outright interest of the week made his way through to round three, despite almost blowing a 5-0 lead in the opening set against Tommy Paul on Wednesday.

Hubert Hurkacz sneaked through in two tight sets against Tommy Paul and now faces lucky loser Dominik Koepfer, whose luck has really changed this past few days.

Heading into Paris, Koepfer had lost six of his eight matches since the US Open and he hadn’t won three main level matches in a row since March, but having lost (and been bageled) in qualies by Miomir Kecmanovic, he took down Andy Murray and Felix Auger-Aliassime back-to-back.

Now he’s on for his first three-match win sequence since Acapulco and while he played pretty well against Murray and FAA he was a little fortunate that Murray couldn’t buy a serve all night (and blew match points) while FAA was struggling with an arm injury.

Hurkacz is generally pretty good against left-handers, winning 18 of his last 21 at all levels (and 12 of 15 at main level) so I’m hopeful he’ll have too much firepower for Koepfer here.

Koepfer does tend to go well against big servers though, so I don’t see this as an easy one for Hurkacz by any means, but the path to the semi final looks a lot less tricky for the Pole than it did 24 hours ago, with Stefanos Tsitsipas and Felix Auger-Aliassime both out of the tournament.

Our other outright interest this week is Cam Norrie, who takes on Taylor Fritz on Thursday.

Fritz hasn’t been able to stop winning since we backed him at 33-1 in San Diego, with a 10-2 record since he lost in San Diego in round two and so it would be sadly ironic if were to take down Norrie here.

The slow conditions in Paris this week will help both men, with Fritz saying in St. Petersburg last week: ‘Maybe it doesn’t bounce as high as I like, I prefer higher bouncing. However, the ball and the court feels a bit slower, and I feel like I have time to attack.”

And this has been a well-contested career series so far, with Norrie leading it 4-3 overall (won three of the last four) and he should be the fresher man after Fritz made the final in St. Petersburg last week and then came straight here.

All of their seven clashes have come on hard courts (six outdoors/one indoors) and there’s very little in it in terms of numbers, with Fritz about 4% better on first serve and Norrie 5% better on second serve.

Norrie’s held serve 1% more often and crucially has taken 43% of his break point chances, while Fritz has created more break chances (40 chances to Norrie’s 30) but only taken 30% of them.

Norrie has to be slight favourite here with what should be fresher legs and that target of the Tour Finals still a possibility, but unless Fritz’s recent hectic schedule catches up with him I’d expect a tough match for the Brit.

And 1.60 feels a bit short on Norrie, so if you trust Fritz’s fitness he might be a hint of value at these prices.

Grigor Dimitrov has been playing well lately after struggling with injuries for lengthy spells lately and the Bulgarian has the quality on his day to test Alexander Zverev in what will be their first meeting since 2016 on the clay of Rome.

Dimitrov’s currently running at a hold/break total of 110 in his last 10 main level matches and he had his chances against Stefanos Tsitsipas last week in Vienna when he missed a bad one that cost him the opening set from 6-3 up in the tie break.

Prior to that he beat world number Daniil Medvedev at Indian Wells and in all he’s recorded 15 wins (15-38 win/loss) over top-five ranked (at the time of the match) opponents, so when he’s playing well and feeling fit and confident he’s a handful for even the best players on tour.

The challenge before Dimitrov is a big one though, with Zverev having won 18 of his last 20 matches in the last three months and compiled a hold/break total of 119 (89% holds/30% breaks).

But Dimitrov won’t have been impressed with Zverev’s start on Wednesday when the German struggled against Dusan Lajovic and a neck problem that required an MTO and that’s perhaps not surprising given how much Zverev has played lately.

He certainly wasn’t convincing against Lajovic and a Dimitrov in confident mood can at least make this close, with either the +1.5 sets on Dimitrov at 2.10 (Paddy/Betfair) or the straight win on Dimitrov decent options here.

James Duckworth has shown a great improvement this season on anything he’s done before and he’s done it at the age of 29 and after a ton of injuries, which is some effort.

In his career up to the start of this season Duckworth was 25-54 win/loss at main level on all surfaces, with a hold/break total of 91.9.

In 2021, Duckworth is 21-18 win/loss and with a hold/break total of 100.6 and he credits much of that to the work of coach and fellow Aussie Wayne Arthurs.

Now he faces an all-Australian battle with Alexei Popyrin, whose somewhat fortunate run here this week continued on Wednesday when Stefanos Tsitsipas was forced to retire with an arm injury after six games of their round two match.

Having lost to Tommy Paul in qualies, Popyrin then got in quite late into the main draw when Lloyd Harris withdrew and so his round one opponent Alex De Minaur didn’t have much time to prepare for new opponent.

Popyrin duly won in straight sets and then got the retirement from Tsitsipas, so he’ll walk away with at least €36,000 if he loses to Duckworth, which isn’t a bad few days’ work.

Duckworth and Popyrin haven’t met since 2018 and 2019 and their career series is tied at 1-1, but it is Duckworth with slightly the better hold/break total (all surfaces at main level), although it’s very close (100.6 against 99.3).

The key difference is that Popyrin has only broken serve 15.8% of the time this season and only 14.9% in his last 50 main level matches, so he’s still got work to do on his return game.

But Popyrin is playing well and feeling good and he’ll have less miles in his legs than Duckworth, having played only six games yesterday compared with Duckworth’s full three sets, but 1.60 is too short for me about Popyrin and I’m tempted to take Duckworth at these prices.

I wasn’t keen on the chances of Gael Monfils causing the upset against Novak Djokovic at the start of the week and I’m even less enthusiastic now that he’s claiming injury (again).

He may just be trying to take the pressure off, as he’s been known to be a little economical with the truth before in his quotes, but, for the record, he’s saying:

“I’m going to have an x-ray, so we’ll see how my body will react. When I’m 100 percent fit, I have not ever defeated Djokovic so far, so now that I’m not 100 percent fit, my chances are very low. I will see what decision I will make. We’ll see.”

Marcos Giron shouldn’t really be in the main draw of the Paris Masters having come back from a seemingly impossible position (5-0 down in set three and then *5-2, 40-0 down) against Gilles Simon in qualies (saved six match points).

But like others this week that have had a second chance, he’s grabbed it, and having taken down Frances Tiafoe and Diego Schwartzman in rounds one and two he’s playing the role of underdog again versus Casper Ruud.

Giron’s been playing well lately and his main level stats from the last three months show him holding serve 85% of the time and breaking 21% of the time for a very handy 106 total.

Ruud is running at 109 himself after winning 14 of his last 19 main level matches and the conditions here should suit the Norwegian, but he’ll have to work hard and I expect Giron to give a good account of himself.

Hugo Gaston must be running a little bit on empty right now after four straight three setters in qualies and now the main draw and it’s hard to see him outlasting Carlos Alcaraz.

We’ve backed Seb Korda a few times this season and this week he was against us when he beat our 100-1 shot Aslan Karatsev in what was a good quality match that went the distance.

Then he beat a fatigued Marin Cilic, so he’ll be feeling good about his chances against Daniil Medvedev.

Medvedev started well but then dropped off against Ilya Ivashka on Wednesday and on his day Korda has the quality to make this a really good test for Medvedev, with the 2-1 to the Russian appealing at 4.33 (Bet 365).

Korda is running at 106 hold/break total this season and the talented young American can play his part in this match and may have a shot at winning it if Medvedev isn’t at the top of his game, but I’d expect the Russian to edge it in the end.

Best Bets

1 point win Dimitrov +1.5 sets to beat Zverev at 2.10 (Paddy/Betfair)

0.5 points win Medvedev to beat Korda 2-1 at 4.33 (Bet365)