February 29, 2008

Zagreb Semi-finals

Ivan Ljubicic (CRO)
Mario Ancic (CRO)
Previous meetings: Ljubicic leads 3-1.

An all Croatian affair in this second semi-final today and whoever emerges the victor will be a big favourite to take the title tomorrow after the mass exodus of seeds in the bottom half. The odds have come out and Ancic has been set as a medium fave at 1.6 with Ljubicic around the 2.5-2.6 mark. I must admit I was surprised by these odds, I thought they would be set much closer. Seems to me people may be over-reacting slightly with the whole Ancic comeback thing... Yeah we all know he’s potentially a fantastic player, but he's not fully fit yet and you can’t expect him to be back to his best already. He hasn't been tested by a player with the experience of someone like Ivan yet, both Mahut and Haase failed to capitalise on their chances and Gremelmayr was very poor.

Ljubicic has actually impressed me this week, he always plays well in Zagreb and is seeking to reach his 3rd consecutive final in a row here. He’s averaging 70% 1st serves in and 80% service points won overall and breaking him looks like mission impossible. Gaba had to pull off two stunning passing shots just to get to 15-40 on a Ljubo service game (the only two BPs he's faced all week) and even then the mission was far from accomplished as the big man promptly saved both with 2 service winners. Even his ground game is looking better than it has in a long time with his backhand showing flashes of its brilliant form of old, and with his own serve completely dominant
I would rate him as being more likely to get the crucial break (Ancic has been broken twice already this week).

And if, as is very probable, it goes to tiebreaks, Ljubo actually has a superior tiebreak record to Ancic and has a knack for coming through on the most important points, thanks to his experience. In any case if it does go to a TB, a point or two here and there will decide it, so Ljubo at 2.6 is great value to me anyway. Good luck.

Ljubicic to beat Ancic @ 2.60 (4 units to win 6.4 units) WIN

Result: Ljubicic def. Ancic 7-6(2) 6-4.

February 27, 2008

Acapulco Second Round


Agustin Calleri (ARG)
Juan Ignacio Chela (ARG)
Previous meetings: Calleri leads 9-4.

Battle of two former winners of the Mexican Open in Acapulco (in fact Chela is the defending champion), both who have impressive records here: 14-4 for Calleri in 5 visits and Chela is 16-5. All Argentine encounters are usually tight and nervy affairs as the players know each other inside out, but Calleri has had the upper hand in most of the recent meetings with Chela. He has won 4 of their last 5 matches on clay, and the one loss actually came here in Acapulco last year when he was leading 6-4 5-5 before pulling his hamstring and having to retire... Chela took full advantage of that bit of luck and went on to win the title. I expect that incident will still be on Calleri's mind and he will be determined to put things right and finish the job he should have a year ago.

Matchup-wise this match is very much dependent on Calleri, he will be the one calling the shots here. Chela has been dreadful so far in 2008 and may be desperate to regain some confidence at an event he clearly likes, but if Calleri is firing he has enough firepower to hit right through consistent baseliners who just hit the ball back to him as indicated by his recent wins over the likes of Robredo, Hewitt, Monaco or Ferrer. The temperatures have been high in Acapulco which will make the clay faster to play on and that has to favour the more aggressive Calleri who will look to finish points off early when he can. As the slight underdog he is at a great price although those odds have already come in since I took them, but anything around evens is worth a shot as I believe Calleri should be the favourite in this one. Good luck.

Calleri to beat Chela @ 2.10 (5 units to win 5.5 units) WIN

Result: Calleri def. Chela 7-6(4) 2-6 6-1.

Zagreb Second Round


Zagreb plays on a super-fast low bouncing indoor synthetic surface which normally favours the big servers.

Teimuraz Gabashvili (RUS)
Rik de Voest (RSA)
Previous meetings: Never played.

Gabashvili is a very hot and cold player, sure he has shown good form in the last 10 days with a good run in Rotterdam and a straight sets win yesterday, albeit against Florian Mayer who is having a torrid time anyway. But consistency remains a missing factor for him. He is a brutish power hitter who packs a punch but doesn’t do a lot of thinking on court and it goes without saying these are exactly the type of players who will struggle with consistency, on a good day they can blow most players off the court but on a bad one they will be an unforced error machine who pretty much beat themselves. Perhaps he has the potential to one day become a regular in the top 80 but right now he still has a lot of developing to do in terms of his game and especially his on-court tactics.

Rik De Voest is ranked 10 places behind Gaba and mainly plays in challengers, but he is a pretty useful player with top 100 aspirations and after an impressive straight sets win over an in-form Seppi yesterday should see this as a big chance to make his first ATP quarter-final. He possesses a decent serve and boasts an excellent 18-5 tiebreak record over the last 12 months, so, should one of the sets reach the almost inevitable lottery of the tiebreak, that confidence he has built up could give him the slight edge. At odds of 3.00 he represents good value against a player who isn’t the most reliable; Gaba has failed to back up big wins and good form many times, and this kind of match where he has the pressure of being expected to win has seen him falter in the past. I’m hoping today will be another of those occasions. Good luck.

De Voest to beat Gabashvili @ 3.00 (3 units to win 6 units) LOSS

Result: Gabashvili def. De Voest 7-5 6-1. Looks like Gabashvili had his head screwed on today, never mind it was worth a shot. You won't go bankrupt fading Gaba all season that's for sure.

February 25, 2008

Memphis First Round


Memphis plays on a fast, low-bouncing indoor plexiplave hardcourt which favours big servers with offensive games; Tommy Haas won it last year without even facing a single break point and previous winners also include Joachim Johansson, Taylor Dent, Philippoussis and Roddick.

Jurgen Melzer (AUT)
Previous meetings: never played.

Former number 1 US college tennis player John Isner is becoming a regular in these smaller American hardcourt events and his run in San Jose last week has placed him in the top 100 for the first time in his career. So it was no suprise that he received a wildcard into the main draw here this week. His game is always dangerous if predictable, you know what you are going to get with him and what you aren’t; what you aren’t going to get is many chances to break or opportunities on his first serve.

Later tonight he will be first up in the afternoon session against Jurgen Melzer. Now on first glance with the crowd behind him and that gigantic serve you’d think this is a very winnable round for him against the #61 player in the world who hasn’t had any impressive results at ATP tour level in a long time… And in fact the bookmakers seem to agree with that, as Isner is just favourite by the slightest of margins.

However I think this match-up is very much balanced the other way. The bookmakers are ignoring how good Melzer is at frustrating huge servers, as illustrated by his 5-0 record over Dr Ivo (11-0 in sets) and other positive H2Hs he holds over the likes of Guccione, Ljubicic and Berdych. Against Ivo in particular he keeps the returns low and right back at the server’s feet, and in general is crafty enough to exploit the poor mobility of the taller players with slices, dropshots etc. Also being a lefty becomes a factor as it is much easier for a left-hander to serve to the backhand which is a big weakness for Isner, and I suspect Melzer will also target that side whenever he can in any baseline exchange.

Of course Melzer is not exactly the most mentally stable of players and with this being such a fast court the lottery of tiebreaks is almost certain to decide at least one of the sets so only medium stakes on this one for me, but everything points to the Austrian being the more likely player to get the crucial break or mini-break if in a TB, and as a slight underdog the value is surely with him. Good luck.

Melzer to beat Isner @ 2.10 (5 units to win 5.5 units) WIN

Result: Melzer def. Isner 6-7(8) 6-3 7-6(4)

February 22, 2008

Buenos Aires Quarter-finals



Nicolas Almagro (ESP)
Juan Ignacio Chela (ARG)

Previous meetings: tied 1-1.

Nicolas Almagro’s confidence will be sky high heading into this match on the back of 9 consecutive wins, and as I said last week, his claycourt form has really lit up the South American season this month. Of course there is the risk that his tired legs may start to feel the effects of his recent efforts, including two 2-hour matches so far in Bs As. But to me the fact that he backed up his Brasil Open title last week with a couple more hard-fought wins in the heat of the Argentine summer suggests he isn’t just here to make up the numbers and has matured since the days he would play well one week and tank the next.

Nico did have a day off yesterday and this match being scheduled for the evening session may be an advantage, but in any case he is better than Chela in every department right now and I expect him to be able to hit right through that skinny Argentine pusher from the baseline. Adrenaline alone should pull him through at this stage. Chela has had lacklustre results since his decent run at the USO, losing to the likes of Mayer, Fognini and perhaps most interestingly to GGL at the AO, a player who has a similar style of play to Almagro. The one thing on Iggy’s side will be the boisterous home crowd, but he has never played particularly well at his home event and actually lost to Almagro here last year at the exact same stage of the tournament… Time for history to repeat itself tonight and I’m pounding these odds at maximum stake. Good luck.

Almagro to beat Chela @ 1.74 (10 units to win 7.4 units) VOID

Result: Chela def. Almagro 6-3 2-1 ret.

February 21, 2008

San Jose Second Round



Tommy Haas (GER)

Previous meetings: Isner leads 1-0.

I'm still a little stunned by all the huge upsets in Rotterdam and yet again missing out on all of them (except Haase) so I think I'll just concentrate on the SAP Open from now on, and try to make some easy cash with some of the match-ups there. The first one that caught my eye is Tommy Haas placed as medium fave against that 6ft9 giant John Isner, who defeated him during his great Washington run last year. In fact Haas has struggled against such giant servers in the past, having lost his last 3 encounters with Dr Ivo Karlovic. The pace and angle they generate from such heights is notoriously difficult to read and once a volatile player like Haas gets frustrated and loses patience at never being able to get a sniff on his opponent's service games, it will usually lead to a loss if his opponent can keep his head.
Haas has jokingly admitted in the past that he thought "the ATP should ban all players over 6ft6", and when you consider the fact he has recently had shoulder surgery, looked rusty against Kendrick last night, suffered the embarassment of losing to Hartfield and was ripped a new one by Sampras all in the last 10 days, he is well worth a fade against an opponent he clearly doesn't enjoy playing and who has had decent showings in these small American tournaments since last summer. Let's go Big John Isner, let's make some sweet money cash today!!

Isner to beat Haas @ 2.30 (6 units to win 7.8) WIN

Result: Isner def. Haas 4-6 7-6(6) 6-3.

February 19, 2008

Rotterdam First Round

Rotterdam First Round:


Previous meetings: Nieminen leads 2-1.

Nieminen’s defeat to Söderling in Marseille last week is looking less and less embarrassing every day as the Sod has since gone on to back it up with wins over Gasquet and Baghdatis. Apart from that minor blip, the Flying Finn has had a fairly decent start to 2008 with a final in Adelaide and a quarter-final at the AO, and will look to get back on track this week. Verdasco is yet to win more than one match at the same event this year and made the very strange decision of playing in Viña del Mar only to come back to Europe two weeks later to play in this event…

I see this match-up strongly in Jarkko’s favour, not only does he have the much better record when facing a fellow lefty, but his consistent baseline game should eventually induce errors from the more flamboyant Verdasco whose UE count can reach huge numbers when not playing well. Despite possessing obvious talent and the ability to hit through even the best of baseliners, Verdasco only pulls off such matches once in a blue moon, his on-court mentality has a tendency to be shaky, particularly when he goes in the lead, and when you have a match-up between a consistent, tenacious fighter and a weak-minded headcase like Verdasco, the fighter takes it in the majority of cases. Anything above 1.60 would have been a reasonable price for the Shark but at 1.70 that is more than acceptable for me.

Nieminen to beat Verdasco @ 1.70 (8 units to win 5.6 units) LOSS

Result: Verdasco def. Nieminen 6-2 6-2, what a waste of time.

Previous meetings: Never played.

I think this one is fairly self-explanatory, powerful flat-hitters like Tursunov have exactly the right game to expose Nadal’s weaknesses on fast indoor courts like Rotterdam’s. If Tursunov turns up, in other words if the barrage of huge shots he will torpedo at Rafa land in more often than out, then Nadal will be forced to retrieve low-bouncing balls which he hates. He has a huge swing on his groundstrokes so needs to be way behind the baseline on low-bouncing courts anyway, and all this adds up to the simple truth that when a big hitter perforates through his defence, he is utterly outplayed and all he can do is hang on with nothing other than fighting spirit. We’ve seen time and time again that he has no answers against big hitters on hardcourts, so until he proves otherwise it goes without saying this one is worth a shot. Nadal only wins difficult matches on hard because he is such a damn good competitor, rather than through using any great tennis ability. Whether Tursunov's mental strength will stand the test is the key to this one...

Tursunov has already picked up a title this year but followed that up with a disappointing AO, a big match like this is exactly what he needs to win to advance to the next level and truly make a name for himself, and he has all the tools to do so. We’ll just need a bit of luck here and for the blogmeister to take his chances when they come.

Tursunov to beat Nadal @ 4.50 (4 units to win 14 units) LOSS

Result: Nadal def. Tursunov 6-4 6-4

Andy Murray (GBR)


Previous meetings: Never played.

I’m simply going for this one because the odds are way too good to turn down, and backing players whose price you think are over the odds is a good strategy in the long run. I’m an admirer of Murray’s game when he is not playing too defensively, he has a lot of variety, lot of tactical nous, pretty much every shot that's in the book and even some that aren't sometimes, and indeed he fares well against loose cannon types like Haase. The Scot is one of the best returners in the men’s game, taking the ball early to put the server on the back foot so Haase’s delivery will have to be at its best.

But going deep in back-to-back weeks is never easy at this level, and the fact Haase is playing at home is another big factor. His win in doubles today over the number 1 seeds Nestor/Zimonjic (partnering Wessels) can only be a good sign, and he should be motivated to put on as good a performance as he can and if the crowd can lift him he will make it competitive at least. I’m also hoping Murray’s renowned dislike of early morning matches will see him have a slow start and that Ruud van Nistelrooy's long-lost twin brother there will take advantage ;)

Haase to beat Murray @ 6.00 (2 units to win 10 units) WIN

Result: Haase def. Murray 7-5 6-3.