There are 13 matches on the schedule at the Apia International and ASB Classic in Sydney and Auckland on Tuesday, with round two spots up for grabs.
It was a mixed start to week two of the 2016 ATP World Tour on Monday when those who had backed Alexander Sarkissian enjoying a very comfortable winner, as the underdog beat Simone Bolelli in straight sets.
But there was pain for ‘sure thing’ backers when Steve Johnson couldn’t find his range from the service line and went down in three sets to world number 297 Matthew Barton.
The Aussie described his deserved win as “an unreal experience,” and added “I got lucky really,” but in truth it wasn’t great from Johnson and he became yet another short-priced loser in the opening week and a bit of the season.
Sam Groth vs Federico Delbonis
It looks another decidedly dodgy early-season day for the short-priced favourites on Tuesday, with the best option for ‘sure thing’ backers appearing to be to side with Groth in his home tournament.
The powerful Groth, who hails from New South Wales, says he “wants to come out and have a really good result,” in the tournament this week and he’s been handed a very winnable round one against an opponent who is yet to win a match in Australia or New Zealand in six attempts.
By and large Delbonis finds it too quick for his long backswings and questionable movement on fast surfaces and although he may well push Groth hard he won’t have the motivation here that the Aussie will.
Delbonis did play well in Melbourne in defeat to Nick Kyrgios in round one of the Open last year and there is likely to be over 9.5 games in set one at 1.52 here, but he has a 1-9 record against the big servers on my database, which hardly breeds confidence.
The one victory was, rather predictably, on clay (against John Isner) but in conditions like the ones he’ll encounter in Sydney it seems a fair statement that Groth is likely to get his season up and running in this 09:00 UK time clash on Tuesday.
Groth has been struggling with injury of late and is lacking in matches, so don’t be surprised if he has to go three here, but he should get the job done in the end.
Of the other short ones, I was amazed to discover that Benoit Paire has an 11-0 record at all levels as a 1.10 to 1.20 favourite, but he still can’t be backed with any real confidence at 1.11 against local hope Michael Venus, who does play well in Auckland.
I’m not of a mind to select Philipp Kohlschreiber at 1.25 either, with the German facing a fellow countryman in Benjamin Becker and it being the first match of the year for the often slow-starting Kohlschreiber.
Alexander Dolgopolov has won only 18 of his 35 matches when priced as a 1.40 to 1.50 favourite, while Leo Mayer also looks plenty short enough at 1.45 against the dangerous Teimuraz Gabashvili.
Roberto Bautista-Agut vs Jiri Vesely
RBA is another sub-1.50 shot who may not have things all his own way on Tuesday, with the Spaniard taking on defending Auckland champion Vesely in this 05:30 UK time clash.
It’s a first meeting between the pair and given the fast conditions and the desire of the Czech to defend his ranking points from last year I’d expect a bit of a battle here.
Vesely can bang down the serves and RBA has a poor record against big servers, so it’ll be interesting to see how he gets on against the big leftie delivery of Vesely, who has played Hopman Cup already this season.
He played pretty well in Perth, beating Lleyton Hewitt and losing close ones to Jack Sock and Dolgopolov, so he should be well prepared to at least make this close against Bautista-Agut.
RBA has lost 10 of his last 12 against the big servers on my list and six of his last nine against left handers, so I wouldn’t be keen on the 1.43 on RBA here, but rather the 1.98 on over 22.5 games.
In 23 matches away from clay against the big servers on my database RBA has only won in 22 games or fewer twice – and both of those were in slow conditions in Miami and Indian Wells.
The Vesely serve should keep him in it for long enough for the overs to land in conditions that clearly suit his game.
Fabio Fognini vs Joao Sousa
It’s always very difficult, if not nigh-on impossible, to predict the moods of Fognini, but with his record Down Under being so poor I think it’s worth taking him on with Portuguese battler Sousa in this 01:00 UK time clash in Auckland.
Fognini, who tweeted that he was sick last week, has a 6-15 record in Australia and New Zealand, and his two showings this time a year ago were really poor – losing to an injured Juan Martin Del Potro and to Alejandro Gonzalez at the Open.
It’s difficult to get away from the feeling that he only tends to put the effort in when he’s up for a match or tournament and quick conditions on outdoor hard ahead of a major seem unlikely to have Fogna inspired.
Sousa is a man who leaves it all out there on court and having ended last season well he’ll be looking for another decent showing in Melbourne, having made the third round in 2015.
He also has a much better (8-9) record than Fognini in Australia and New Zealand and I like the idea of siding with Sousa to win this one 2-1, with both of these players guilty too often of dropping sets unnecessarily.
Sure thing: Back Groth to beat Delbonis at 1.31
Value bet: Back over 22.5 games in Bautista-Agut/Vesely at 1.98
Long shot: Back Sousa to beat Fognini 2-1 at 5.0