Friday is semi finals day in Sydney and Auckland and it’s not quite the line-up that these two ATP 250 tournaments had in mind at the start of week two of the ATP World Tour.
It’s not exactly surprising though, as the week before a major is fraught with problems for tournament directors and of the two events this week we have just one player in the world’s top-20 left in contention.
That man is Kevin Anderson after a Thursday that saw the first loss for my ‘sure thing’ wagers on a day where in truth there were barely any sure things to find.
Bernard Tomic, as I said yesterday, was no cert against Gilles Muller and so it proved, while my pick of Juan Martin Del Potro went down in two tie breaks to Mikhail Kukushkin in Sydney.
Viktor Troicki did land my value bet on Thursday when the Serb just about edged a tight one against Simone Bolelli, but Alejandro Falla wilted in the 43C heat and offered little resistance against Adrian Mannarino.
As the week goes on and the options become fewer the risk levels go up the availability of ‘sure things’ can become somewhat sparse and I’m not sure I would really class Mannarino as such against Pouille on Friday.
That 04:30 UK time Auckland encounter looks trappy, with nerves a likely factor for both players as they each try to make their maiden ATP World Tour final.
So, I prefer a different wager today for that particular bet and it comes in the second semi final in Auckland.
Kevin Anderson vs Jiri Vesely
Anderson served for a straight sets win over Steve Johnson in the quarter finals, but was a little chokey and having not faced a break point up until that service game the South African was broken back and almost paid the price.
Johnson was outraged at a tight, but hugely important line call that went against him in the ensuing tie breaker, and that allowed Anderson to edge over the line, but it wasn’t overly convincing from the tournament favourite.
Earlier this week I was toying with backing Vesely against Ernests Gulbis, but decided against it, as I wasn’t sure about the Czech in these conditions, but he’s played some fine tennis this week and has a decent shot of making the final here.
Vesely was a couple of sets to the good against Anderson in Melbourne last year in their only career meeting thus far, but eventually lost in five and he can make it tough for Big Kev again.
My concern with Vesely this time is fatigue, with the 20-year-old having played five matches here already and with the Australian Open just days away now.
So, I’m siding here with over 9.5 games in set one, with Vesely’s pacy serve likely to be tough for Anderson to break.
Anderson’s last seven matches in a row have gone over 9.5 games in set one and if Vesely serves anything like he can that figure should increase.
The two semi finals in Sydney look very tough ones to call and all four players should be motivated even with Melbourne so close now.
Gilles Muller vs Viktor Troicki
Troicki has delivered a couple of times for me this week, but it may be time to desert him as fatigue sets in after half a dozen matches in Sydney this week and another long one against Bolelli.
The Serb had to break to stay in it against the Italian at 4-5* down, but he came through in the end, however I’m not convinced by him at all against big servers and Muller is as awkward as they come and playing very well.
The lefty from Luxembourg was excellent against Tomic and any repeat of that sort of display should see him through to his first tour level final since 2012.
Muller is still without a tour level title and he’ll be very much up for this one with the advantage of having played three matches fewer than Troicki so far this week and a winnable-looking final in prospect should he prevail on Friday.
My long shot today is to side with Muller to win this one minus 1.5 sets at 3.0.
Mikhail Kukushkin vs Leonardo Mayer
This one looks the toughest of all to call today, but for me the value is to either back a tie break or the three sets here.
Mayer will be playing his first ATP World Tour semi final on a hard court since the now defunct LA event in 2009 when he was beaten by Carsten Ball (remember him?).
All bar one of Mayer’s career semi finals have featured a tie break in the match and all three of his matches here in Sydney this week have also had one tie break in them.
Kukushkin is no stranger to a breaker either, having played two against Del Potro on Thursday and one each against Denis Istomin and John-Patrick Smith this week.
This is a first career meeting between the pair and it really does look 50/50, but at 1.95 I’d rather back the tie break than either of them in the match odds market.
Sure thing: Back over 9.5 games in set one of Anderson/Vesely at 1.53
Value bet: Back over 0.5 tie breaks in Kukushkin/Mayer at 1.95
Long shot: Back Muller -1.5 sets to beat Troicki at 3.0