Following a lengthy 5 month hiatus from the ATP tour, professional tennis returns with a masters 1000 event at the Western and Southern Open. The event, most commonly known as the Cincinnati Masters, will mark the beginning of a unique twist in how tennis is run; with events being hosted with little or no ball-boys/girls, fewer line judges and limited spectators.
This event will be no exception to the change in protocol, with a severely weakened entry list and a new venue (New York – Flushing Meadows) due to the COVID-19 reform. This event is bound to be one of a kind, and is sure to bring about many underdog winners. Below are some of our top picks from the opening round:
Alex De Minaur (Aus) to beat Jan-Lennard Struff (Ger) at 8/13
De Minaur hosts an impressive 67-36 Win-to-Loss ratio on hard courts across his career compared to the more experienced (but less successful) 76-82 record of his opponent Struff.
This match puts Struff, a large server with powerful flat ground-strokes and good volleys, up against a very determined hard working counter-puncher. Typically a match like this will favour the player able to minimise his error count, and also in the case of the aggressor it hinges on their ability to reach the net to finish the point early rather than ‘grinding’ from the back of the court.
De Minaur had, prior to a number of weeks off the tour due to injury and now the COVID-19 break, been able to effectively force long rallies against top 50 opposition and use his speed and quick feet to hit passing shots when the opportunity arose. If he is able to maintain a good depth from the start (and avoid going down an early break), he should be able to force errors from his opponent and will likely be victorious.
John Millman (Aus) to beat Adrian Mannarino (Fra) at 10/11
Both Millman and Mannarino are veterans of the game, and both hold respectable but uninspiring sub 50% win to loss ratios on hard courts (45% for Mannarino and 47% for Millman).
This match is a classic example of two defensive players facing off against one another. These scenarios will largely favour the more successful server and the slight aggressor; which in this scenario is Millman. Across their careers, Millman edges the first serve points won at 72% compared to Mannarino’s 68%. The Australian also holds the ability to create more acute angles with his heavy topspin off both forehand and backhand, which will allow him to open up the court to punish Mannarino who hits much flatter ground-strokes.
Providing Millman can keep his first serve percentages high, and minimise his error count from the first ball (which is a challenge following the huge gap in competitive tennis) he is favourite to win this match.
Benoit Paire (Fra) to beat Borna Coric (Cro) at 1/1
The Frenchman Benoit Paire is one of the most exciting players on tour with his ability to hit winners from anywhere on court and his immense touch and creativity both from the back of the court and at the net. His opponent by contrast is usually a very solid player who relies on physicality and minimising unforced errors.
Paire, despite being well known for ‘tanking’, also has a huge potential to cause upsets against any of the top players in the world. When faced with a player such as Paire, it pays little relevance to look into stats. It is much more important to focus on the occasion; which in this scenario is a masters 1000 event and the first match back on tour in 5 months – if ever there was a time Paire will show up in full force this is likely to be it.
Paire, providing he can keep his head straight, is likely to frustrate a player such as Coric and prevent him from finding a rhythm; something the Croatian will desperately need following his terrible outings at the European Exhibitions where he failed to win any matches and lost to 2 players outside of the top 100.
Accumulator of Millman, De Minaur, Paire, Khachanov, Auger-Aliassime and Querrey at 23/1
In addition to the above matches, Karen Khachanov to beat Alexander Bublik at 4/9, Felix Auger Aliassime to beat Nikolos Basilashvili at 2/7 and Sam Querrey to beat Milos Raonic at 11/10 can also all be viewed as value.
Briefly summarising the above; Khachanov fields a much more solid gamestyle than Bublik but also possesses a serve big enough to buy him free points and hold serve frequently. The more solid player from the back of the court in this match between two large servers should be victorious, and that player is Khachanov.
Aliassime and Basilashvili both hold similar gamestyles; both bullying opposition from the baseline and looking to strike as many winners as possible. Aliassime however hosts better movement and a more versatile serve providing him the edge.
Querrey and Raonic are both big servers with large forehands, and this match is likely to see a tiebreak or 2. Despite this, the edge can be given to Querrey who has at least remained active on the court in the COVID-19 interlude, participating in the US Team Tennis event. This should provide him the quick start he will need to succeed in this match.