It’s quarter finals day on Friday at the 2021 Rolex Paris Masters and we’re in that position once more where we’re hoping for the best for another big-priced outright.
These haven’t exactly gone well in recent times, but this week it’s Hubert Hurkacz who’s carrying our hopes of a decent (and well overdue) payout as he tries to make the semi finals as favourite against James Duckworth.
As with Dominik Koepfer yesterday I’m taking nothing for granted with Hurkacz against Duckworth and indeed the Pole had to raise his level to get past Koepfer from a set and a break down.
I’m not sure it was the pressure of the situation, with two lower-ranked players ahead of him before the semi finals or perhaps the qualification scenario for the Tour Finals that was impeding our man, but Hurkacz will need to start better against Duckworth.
On paper there isn’t that much to worry Hurkacz outright backers, with Duckworth’s record versus players in the current top-25 in the world rankings reading 3-13 win/loss in his career.
In those 16 matches Duckworth has only broken 8.6% of the time and held serve just 69.7% of the time, but in the past 12 months he has a much better record of 2-4 win/loss, with 71.8% holds and 13.4% breaks.
It still shouldn’t be good enough in a Masters 1000 quarter final – Duckworth’s first time at this stage of a M1000 – but Hurkacz will need better than his starting level against Koepfer.
I said yesterday that I was tempted to take Duckworth against Popyrin at the prices and with that win Duckworth cracked the top-50 for the first time and will go as high as 41 if he beats Hurkacz.
Hurkacz has won nine of his last 10 main level matches against opponents ranked from 47 to 101 in the world rankings (the one exception was when we backed him at the US Open and he lost to Seppi) and in the price range of 1.3 to 1.40 Hurkacz is 8-2 win/loss so far in his main level career.
It’ll be disappointing if Hurkacz loses this one.
To the surprise of very few, Gael Monfils, after saying he wasn’t fit (is he ever?) opted to withdraw from the tournament, handing Novak Djokovic a walkover that he probably didn’t want.
When you’re looking for matches (and so much so that you enter the doubles as well) what better opponent than one you’ve beaten 18 times in a row to practice on in your second match of the week?
So, that means that Djokovic faces Taylor Fritz with only one not very convincing singles match under his belt since the US Open and Norrie probably won’t get a better opportunity to beat the world number one than this.
That said, only twice in his career has Djokovic lost a M1000 quarter final to a player ranked outside the top-15 in the world – to John Isner in Cincy in 2013 and to Carlos Moya in Hamburg in 2007.
And it’s fair to assume that Fritz must win the opening set if he’s to stand much of a chance, with Djokovic holding a 57-2 win/loss record when he’s won the first set in M1000 quarter finals (the two to beat him from a set down were Tsitsipas in Shanghai 2019 and Berdych in Rome in 2013).
Fritz will clearly recall the last hard court clash he had with Djokovic, as it was a controversial affair.
On that occasion, Djokovic injured himself early in set three and appeared to be struggling badly, before a break in play as the stands were cleared due to Covid restrictions helped the Serb to recover and win it in five.
At the time, Fritz said of the delay: “I mean, to be honest, like, completely honest, it’s absolutely ridiculous that at a Grand Slam match we’re asked to leave the court for 10 minutes in the middle of the match, like, in the middle of the fourth set.”
They’ve met on three other occasions, but all of them were on clay, with Djokovic winning all three, but there are reasons for Fritz to be bullish about his chances today.
Firstly, he’s much the match-sharper of the two, having played 3434 matches in the last month, while Djokovic has played only one and secondly he won 60% of his second serve points and held serve 84% of the time against Djokovic in Melbourne.
Granted, Djokovic may have been impeded physically for parts of that match, but Fritz won the same number of points on serve and on return as Djokovic did that day, plus Fritz won more points on second serve when they met on clay
Fritz won 51.6% of his second serve points in Rome (Djokovic just 43.8%) so it suggests that the American has the baseline game to live with Djokovic even on a slow surface and without relying on his serve.
Djokovic has been slow to start often since Wimbledon, losing the first set in five of his last six matches, and if Fritz keeps his current level up, the 3.80 (SBK) about him winning set one is worth risking.
We enjoyed an odds-against success (just about) with Grigor Dimitrov +1.5 sets against Alexander Zverev on Thursday and perhaps fatigue on the part of Zverev will give Casper Ruud some hope in their second career clash on Friday.
Zverev dismantled Ruud in quicker conditions in Cincy around 10 weeks ago and given the advantage that Zverev has against Ruud on serve it’s hard to see how (unless Zverev is struggling physically) Ruud can turn this match-up around.
The slower conditions here should help Ruud, but given that Ruud has also qualified now for the Tour Finals I’m not sure he’ll lose too much sleep if he doesn’t beat Zverev today.
The extra firepower that Zverev has on serve combined with his quality at the baseline gives him a distinct advantage on a hard court against Ruud and I’m not overly tempted with the Norwegian as far as betting is concerned today.
And finally, there’s a really intriguing clash of styles in prospect when Hugo Gaston faces Daniil Medvedev.
The Frenchman brings all sorts of variety to the court and I expect this will either end up being a real classic or a simple win for Medvedev.
Gaston plays most of his matches on the clay and when he’s got a bit of time on the ball he can produce some highly entertaining and creative tennis, but I can’t see him being able to deal with the flat hitting of Medvedev on a hard court.
Medvedev knows he’ll have the Paris crowd firmly against him and so I’d expect him to try and start quickly, get ahead and take the crowd out of the equation a bit.
If he becomes embroiled in a battle with Gaston it could get interesting, but Gaston must be exhausted by now and he’ll be very glad that Carlos Alcaraz lost the plot from 5-0 up in set two last night to save Gaston from yet another three-setter.
I’m hoping this one becomes close and we’ll see how Medvedev deals with it, but I expect the Russian to win this in two.
1 point win Fritz to win set one at 3.80 (SBK)