The ATP World Tour moves on to Sydney and Auckland in week two, with these two ATP 250 events representing a last opportunity for competitive match practice ahead of next week’s Australian Open.
The Heineken Open in New Zealand has been blighted by withdrawals from top seeds and former champions David Ferrer and John Isner and it’s safe to say that the Kiwis are not happy about the situation judging by this article in the local press.
Those left in the draw in Auckland will encounter a quickish Plexipave outdoor hard court, which is the same surface as that in Melbourne, and that is also the case at the Apia International in Sydney.
Rain was a problem on Saturday in Sydney and it could be an issue over the next few days too, with it forecast to be wet until Thursday, which would play havoc with the scheduling.
Last year’s Apia International saw nine of 12 favourites win in the first round, while in Auckland only seven of 12 round one jollies were successful.
Play gets underway at around 01:00 UK time at both venues and after managing to land all seven of my ‘sure things’ last week I’m looking for something similar again in week two.
Adrian Mannarino vs Federico Delbonis
It’s not the best of prices at around 1.27, but Mannarino will surely progress to round two at the expense of clay court specialist Delbonis.
I seem to recall Mannarino moaning about it being ‘like playing baseball’ when he lost to Jack Sock here a year ago – a reference to the fast conditions and serving prowess of Sock, but he should have a happier time in 2015’s opening round.
The Frenchman tuned up for this by making the semi finals of the Noumea Challenger last week, while today’s opponent hasn’t played competitively since October.
Delbonis has never been much of a force on hard courts, with a 2-10 record at main level on outdoor hard and his record against fellow left handers isn’t great either, with 11 losses in his last 13 against left-handers.
Mannarino is far the more comfortable and experienced on hard and should take this one with few major problems.
Nicolas Almagro vs Pablo Cuevas
I won’t be parting with any of my money on Almagro at odds-on, given that he hasn’t played a competitive match since last year’s French Open and withdrew from his planned comeback tournament in Doha last week.
The Spaniard reportedly pulled out of Doha after feeling something amiss following a win over Feli Lopez in the exhibition event in Abu Dhabi just after the New Year.
Lopez went on to lose to Aljaz Bedene in straight sets in Chennai and I’m far from convinced that Almagro should be a 1.7 favourite here after seven months away from the match court.
His opponent Cuevas can play on hard and was in fine form last season after he too overcame serious long-term injury to surge back up the rankings, landing back-to-back titles on clay.
Odds-against on Cuevas looks worth taking against an Almagro who says he isn’t sure he’ll even play the Australian Open.
As for long shots on Monday, well, the biggest priced single after Delbonis is Joao Sousa, who’s a 3.15 shot against Steve Johnson.
The rest of today’s six first round matches are tightly priced, with the layers expecting some tight matches in Sydney and Auckland.
One of those tight encounters, according to the odds, should be Benjamin Becker vs Leonardo Mayer and in pacy conditions in Sydney – should the rain ever stop – it’s worth taking Becker to prevail at 2.17.
The German may be getting on in years, but his serve and forehand are still as effective as ever, as he showed last season by reaching a career-high ranking at the age of 33.
Mayer, by contrast, can be rushed on quick hard courts, due to his long backswings and he hasn’t found Australian conditions to his liking, losing seven of his last eight in Oz.
The one win was against Albert Montanes and he has it all to prove in this part of the world, with confidence not likely to be high after losing first up to Andreas Seppi in Doha last week.
Becker also lost to an Italian in Doha last week, with Simone Bolelli besting the German, and this doesn’t look the worst opening round draw for the veteran to make amends.
For a bumper payout I like the idea of doubling Becker with a 2-1 win for Johnson over Sousa, with the Portuguese battler never likely to go down without a fight.
Sousa took a set in similar conditions against Johnson in Winston-Salem ahead of the US Open last year and I see no reason why he can’t grab a set from Johnson – who has a 1-3 record in Australia – at a price of 3.80.
Sure thing: Back Mannarino to beat Delbonis at 1.27
Value bet: Back Cuevas to beat Almagro at 2.08
Long shot: Back Becker and Johnson 2-1 in a double at 8.25