Three titles are to be decided on Sunday in week six of the 2016 ATP World Tour, with trophies handed out in Memphis, Rotterdam and Buenos Aires later today.
Gael Monfils will attempt to improve his woeful record in finals in Rotterdam after landing our ‘value bet’ with the minimum of fuss over Philipp Kohlschreiber on Saturday, while Kei Nishikori looks for title number four in Memphis.
Nishikori rewarded ‘long shot’ backers on Saturday when he defeated Sam Querrey by two sets to one to land the 3.75 gamble there and he takes on young US star Taylor Fritz in Sunday’s final.
Over in Buenos Aires there was joy for Dominic Thiem, as he fought off match points to beat a below par Rafa Nadal in a final set tie break to make the final on the clay, where he’ll face Nico Almagro.
Gael Monfils vs Martin Klizan
If ever a final had ‘minimum stakes’ written all over it it’s this 14:30 UK time clash between two of the game’s more eccentric characters in Rotterdam.
Klizan has been the story of the tournament after saving five match points against Roberto Bautista-Agut in the semi finals he went on to foil 1.01 backers on Saturday when he took out Nicolas Mahut in bizarre circumstances.
Mahut served for a 2-0 win at *5-4, but Klizan had moved into a weird mood by then and started to get inspired and coming out with odd celebrations and exuberant and frustrated ball-whacking.
And it was one of those that led to Klizan hitting Mahut with the ball, which upset the Frenchman rather too much and ended with him calling the supervisor after Klizan saved match points to win the set two breaker.
It was a strange one and I expect nothing less today in the second career meet between Monfils and Klizan and it’ll be the first one since way back in 2007 in Washington DC.
I certainly couldn’t back Monfils at 1.27 given his dismal 5-17 record in tour level finals and the Frenchman has lost six of his last seven of those and hasn’t won one away from France since 2011.
That was against a leftie in Jarkko Nieminen in Stockholm and on only one more occasion has Monfils won a tournament outside of France and that was his very first one in Sopot back in 2005.
Klizan, on the other hand, has never lost a final at tour level, with three wins from three and he’ll go out and enjoy this one, leaving all the pressure to fall on the unreliable shoulders of Monfils.
Everything worked out nicely for Monfils on Saturday, but this one really could be anything with these two on opposite sides of the net and the over 2.5 sets at 2.55 appeals here.
Monfils has won one final in straight sets in 22 attempts so far and I’m sure he’ll find a way to make this one difficult for himself too, with the 2-1 win for Monfils at 3.80 surely a better value option than that 1.27.
Dominic Thiem vs Nicolas Almagro
At 19:00 UK time it’s a final few would have expected in Buenos Aires, with Nadal’s conqueror Thiem facing the man who beat David Ferrer, Almagro.
Almagro has made a welcome, if unexpected (by me at least), return to form on the clay of Buenos Aires this week and he capped it by defeating Ferrer for the first time in 16 meetings on Saturday.
Nico got a little lucky in that Ferrer was playing his second match of the day by the time he faced Almagro, due to the rain delay the previous evening, but nevertheless he played very well again and deserved that elusive maiden win over nemesis Ferrer.
Sunday’s final will be a repeat of the recent Australian Open clash between the pair that was surprisingly dominated by Thiem, who was a very comfortable winner over the Spaniard in straight sets.
I would expect a different outcome here though, with Thiem surely jaded and likely to be below par physically and emotionally after that thrilling win over Nadal.
That was his third three-setter of the week and took 10 minutes shy of three hours, while all bar one of Almagro’s wins have come in straight sets, and he should be the fresher of the two.
Almagro has a 12-9 record in finals, but has lost his last four in straight sets, while Thiem is 3-1 in finals, winning his last three.
Both have fearsome weapons off both wings and much will depend on serve here, with Almagro unbroken against Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, which is a pointer to his current form and confidence.
I do think it’s worth siding with Almagro here at 2.23 given his form and easier route to this final and it looks like too much emphasis has been placed on that Australian Open win and the success over Nadal for Thiem.
Almagro is very much a confidence player and on a run like this he’ll be much tougher to stop than he was in Melbourne.
Kei Nishikori vs Taylor Fritz
Nishikori did the business for us yesterday by winning yet another three-setter, this time from a set behind against Querrey and he won’t know too much about today’s opponent Fritz.
It’s been a fabulous run for Fritz, who has shown some great composure and maturity on the big points all week, and he won another tight one last night against Ricardas Berankis in three sets.
Both Fritz and Nishikori had to come back from a set behind in Memphis last night and I would expect some early nerves again from the 18-year-old in the biggest match of his life so far.
Nishikori hasn’t been beaten in a completed match by an under-21-year-old since Juan Martin Del Potro defeated him in San Jose when Kei was a teen himself.
Despite the likely early nerves I’d fancy Fritz to make a match of this and he’s surely likely to have a spell in this match of form good enough to take it over the 18.5 games mark for ‘sure thing’ backers.
Of Kei’s 15 main level finals only two have finished in 18 games or fewer and the serving ability of Fritz should see that run continue.
Sure thing: Back over 18.5 games in Nishikori/Fritz at 1.34
Value bet: Back Almagro to beat Thiem at 2.23
Long shot: Back Monfils to beat Klizan 2-1 at 3.80