There’s more round two action at the start of the 2016 clay swing on the ATP World Tour on Thursday at our two tournaments in Houston and Marrakech.
Our first ‘sure thing’ of the week turned out to be a comfortable winner when Pablo Carreno Busta overcame being broken in the first game of the match to record a straight sets win over Evgeny Donskoy in Morocco.
There was no such luck with the ‘long shot’ though, with Benoit Paire delivering a dismal performance against Juan Monaco, consisting of a 35 percent first serve mark, with six double faults, and failing with 10 of 12 break point chances.
Monaco still tried his best to choke, but Paire was having none of it on a tough day for value seekers when all of the favourites won in Houston, including Hyeon Chung, who came from a set down to beat my man Tommy Paul.
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs Nicolas Almagro
This eighth career clash between the two Spanish veterans is a really interesting one and it’ll probably be the best match of the day in Marrakech on Thursday.
Almagro has won the last three after GGL won the first four in their career series, but as they haven’t met since back in 2013 the career head-to-head doesn't mean that much, with both different players than three years ago.
Nico has been blunted by injuries and only sporadically do we see the old Almagro these days – with the question being will he turn up today in this 15:00 approx. UK time clash with his compatriot?
On his day he might prove too powerful in slowish conditions for GGL, but will we see the Almagro who beat David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – both in straight sets – in Buenos Aires, or the one that lost to Thiago Monteiro and Inigo Cervantes in Sao Paulo and Indian Wells?
It’s anyone’s guess really and at 1.54 I don’t fancy taking the chance, with Garcia-Lopez likely to come to life any time soon after a slow opening to his season.
GGL won on clay in Bucharest last April; and at this tournament when it was held in Casablanca in 2014; and made the final in Bucharest and Rome (Challenger) in April 2013, so he likes this time of the year.
He’s won five of his last seven matches at tour level as a 2.50 to 3.0 underdog and given his tendency to start matches slowly (he’s lost the first set in nine of his 14 matches this season) I like this one to go to a decider.
Only two of their previous seven clashes were settled in two sets and I like the 5.30 about a 2-1 Garcia-Lopez win here as a viable ‘long shot’ and I also like the same price about Tim Smyczek beating Donald Young by the same score in Houston.
Some matches seem to happen far too often and this is one of them, with Young and Smyczek having met 13 times already, and I can’t have Young as a favourite on clay against many players.
Smyczek has won their last three and he tends to have a calmer mentality and is the more consistent of the two, which may well prove key in the end of what could be a three set toil.
Feliciano Lopez vs Lukas Lacko
Surely Lacko won’t damage us twice in the space of a few days after surprisingly beating Dmitry Tursunov in round one in Houston?
On Thursday he faces Lopez, who has a pretty decent record as a sub-1.30 favourite in recent times, with the Spaniard having won 19 of his last 21 matches at main level in that price range.
Lacko has a 2-33 record against top-25 ranked opposition, with his most recent success coming against Kevin Anderson in Tokyo in 2013 as a lucky loser.
He made the quarter finals of the Tokyo event that week, but only twice has he made it that far since at main level, so statistically the Slovak’s chances are pretty slim.
Lopez is always capable of a disappointing performance, but he should have too much about him to lose to journeyman Lacko in this second career clash with the world number 114.
The Spaniard has won nine of his last 11 on clay when playing his opening match at a tournament and also nine of his last 10 second rounds versus opponents outside ranked the top-100 on the ATP World Tour.
Jack Sock vs Matthew Barton
Defending Houston champion Sock makes his 2016 tournament debut at the River Oaks Country Club on Thursday and he may not have it all his own way early on against Aussie qualifier Barton.
The world number 270 is a big outsider for this match and Sock should win it, but initially in his first match here for a year and first on clay since a 0-2 loss to Federico Delbonis in Rio he may find it hard to break Barton.
Barton’s serve has been excellent this week in Houston, with 29 holds from his 30 service games so far and he’ll be far more dialled in to the conditions than Sock, who’s had a disappointing campaign so far in 2016.
Six of the American’s last eight opening sets have gone past 10 games and with Barton serving so well it’s a good bet that it’ll take Sock a while to take the opening set of this one.
He’s down at number 48 in the ‘return games won’ category this season – one place ahead of Sam Querrey and two behind Milos Raonic – and since making a bright start to the season in Auckland Sock has only won two completed matches and none against the world’s top-100.
I also like the same bet in the Marrakech clash between Thiemo De Bakker and Federico Delbonis, with the latter seeming very short in price at 1.21 for that one.
Sure thing: Back Lopez to beat Lacko at 1.24
Value bet: Back over 9.5 games in set one of Sock/Barton at 1.79
Long shot: Back Garcia-Lopez to beat Almagro 2-1 at 5.30