The ATP World Tour returns this week with Masters 1000 action for the rest of March starting in the California desert with the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.
Here at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden near Palm Springs they play on slow Plexipave outdoor hard courts which does little for the shot maker and rather than zipping through the court high, steepling bounces are the norm here.
Coming so soon on the back of Davis Cup weekend we need to be on our guard against any tanking or questionable efforts from those that did compete for their country a few days ago.
In round one a year ago there were few real upsets, with Alejandro Gonzalez’s win over Adrian Mannarino at 3.0 being the biggest price success in the opening round.
In all there were just six underdog winners from 32 matches, so it wasn’t a round one for the long shots at Indian Wells a year ago.
Ivan Dodig vs Joao Sousa
I would give the Portuguese battler Sousa at least a 50/50 shot of beating Dodig in these slow conditions in this 20:00 UK time start, which makes the odds-against about Sousa a decent bit of value.
Dodig has done nothing of any note this season so far, with four of his five wins in 2015 coming against players ranked outside the top-100 and the other was against number 72 Teimuraz Gabashvili.
The Croat has lost four of his last five matches on tour and here at Indian Wells where although the ball travels quickly through the air, the painfully slow surface and high bounce negates much of the advantage of the bigger hitters.
Dodig was beaten by Alejandro Gonzalez here a year ago and has only two wins to his name at this venue and he was also beaten comfortably by Sousa in their only prior career meeting.
That came indoors in Metz last season in a match I watched and although I don’t put much relevance on that one as Dodig looked to be struggling physically it does suggest that he won’t be able to hit through the dogged Sousa in slow conditions.
Although Sousa played Davis Cup he had a very simple win in singles and fatigue shouldn’t be an issue with a player as fit as Sousa.
‘Sure things’ look tough to come by today, with the back-to-form Ryan Harrison over the returning Mardy Fish one option that should come in, but at twice the price I like another wager in that category.
Dominic Thiem vs James Duckworth
These conditions should really suit Thiem, who plays well on clay and has a long backswing and enjoys time on the ball.
The young Austrian did well here a year ago when coming through qualies and getting to the last-32, beating Gilles Simon on the way to a tight loss to Julien Benneteau.
Duckworth edged a tight one against Rajeev Ram in qualies yesterday after winning a final set breaker in Q1 against Jared Donaldson and this midnight UK time clash with Thiem will be his first main draw match at Masters 1000 level.
It might take Thiem a short while to get used to conditions again, but once he does he should prove too classy for the game but limited Duckworth.
Borna Coric vs Andreas Haider-Maurer
Coric is another who was rather fortunate to come through qualies here, having to save three match points against Bjorn Fratangelo yesterday and there are big concerns over his fitness.
The young Croat had the trainer out for what seemed to be a right ankle issue and he looks rather short today against an opponent who has gained a lot of confidence from a very good spell on the Golden Swing.
Haider-Maurer beat Tommy Robredo, Albert Ramos and Joao Souza in Rio before switching to hard and taking down Robin Haase in Acapulco and winning two rubbers in straight sets in Davis Cup.
Currently at a career high in the rankings AHM is buzzing right now and looks a decent underdog against Coric, who had a five set battle in Davis Cup and may well be struggling physically as a result of that effort and the trip here.
Other underdogs with chances today include Mischa Zverev against Adrian Mannarino, who’s yet to win a match at Indian Wells, and Dennis Novikov could well have his moments against the fading Jurgen Melzer.
Sure thing: Back Thiem to beat Duckworth at 1.44
Value bet: Back Sousa to beat Dodig at 2.12
Long shot: Back Haider-Maurer to beat Coric at 2.52