It’s semi final Saturday on week 15 of the ATP World Tour in Houston and Marrakech and we still have our 33-1 outright wager in contention at the Grand Prix Hassan II.
We enjoyed better fortune in tie breaks on Friday when our big-priced outright in Marrakech Jiri Vesely sneaked past Paulo Lorenzi in a final set breaker and when Ernesto Esobedo benefitted from a John Isner double fault at set point in their tie break.
So, with Isner and Escobedo going past the 10.5 games mark in set one of their Houston quarter final and Escobedo winning it we wrapped both of our wagers up early on.
So, it’s a repeat of last year’s Grand Prix Hassan II semi final first up in Marrakech on Saturday and hopefully it will be a different result than the 6-7, 6-7 loss that Vesely came out on the wrong end of in 2016.
Vesely won five more points in the match that day, but lost it thanks to an untimely double fault in each tie break, which shows just how close it was.
It’s an easy one for those of us on the 33-1 each-way outright, with the obvious hedging wager being to have a few points on Borna Coric to secure a profit on the each-way portion of the bet.
I think Coric is a bit short at 1.61 and I wouldn’t be backing him other than to hedge the Vesely outright, but with Jeremy Chardy and Horacio Zeballos already out it seems wise to cover a bit in what looks a pretty even contest between Coric and Vesely, especially after the painful three tie break loss in last time's semis in Miami for Nick Kyrgios.
That leaves us with Benoit Paire in Marrakech today and the combustible Frenchman brings a pretty dismal record in semi finals at main level of 4-10 (lost his last six, five in straight sets) into this seventh career clash with Philipp Kohlschreiber.
He’s won three of his last four against the German though and Kohli has lost five of his last seven semi finals, so it looks another Paire match that’s best avoided.
The last time these met was on German soil in Hamburg on the clay in 2015 when Paire had just won the title in Bastad and he hit 41 winners to Kohlschreiber’s nine, yet still took three sets to win it.
Jack Sock vs Steve Johnson
It would take a bigger price than 2.20 to tempt into backing the loon Paire and instead it might pay to go against Sock in some way in this second semi final in Houston at (not before) 20:30 UK time.
I said yesterday that the Americans could struggle and three of the four did, with two losing and one edging through, yet the one who looked all set to have the toughest task sailed through in straight sets as a big underdog.
That man was Johnson, who took down a poor Fernando Verdasco, but poor or not it will have done a great deal for Johnson’s confidence on this surface to beat a player like Verdasco.
And now he faces a familiar opponent in his mate Sock, who he’s faced on eight previous occasions (5-3 to Sock) and his doubles partner in Davis Cup last week.
Sock has looked very average so far and may well be feeling it after that long jaunt to Australia and the most amount of points he’s ever beaten Johnson by in a best-of-three match is eight points (in their first main level clash in Atlanta in 2012).
In his two matches in Houston this week Sock was two points better than 39-year-old Tommy Haas and two points worse than Feli Lopez, so he’s ridden his luck a bit to get to this stage. He certainly hasn’t been convincing.
There’s little between Sock and Johnson based on the service hold/break stats on clay at main level over the past year, with Sock’s total being 100.6 and Johnson’s 98.8.
All eight of their opening sets on all surfaces have gone to a minimum of 10 games, while the two on clay both went past 10.5 games, so much points to a tighter match than the prices suggest.
Over 9.5 games in set one at 1.68 is decent, while 2.25 about a tie break is also a good shout, with six of their eight clashes (admittedly most were on hard courts) featuring at least one breaker.
Johnson has only been broken once all week and that was in the very first game of his tournament, so he’s been serving well enough to at least keep this close.
The plus 3.5 games on Johnson stands a good chance, but maybe a touch short at 1.79, and I prefer a breaker at 2.25 here.
The first semi final in Houston is a tricky one to call and I hope Thomaz Bellucci wins it, as Ernesto Escobedo was on my outright shortlist, but I plumped for Zeballos instead, so if the wrong outsider makes the final it will be annoying.
Bellucci has won only four of his last 13 main level semi finals and he’s almost as tough as Paire to predict pre-match, so I’ll leave that one well alone.
1 point win over 0.5 tie breaks in Sock/Johnson at 2.25
5 points win Coric to beat Vesely at 1.61 (if backed Vesely outright each-way at 33-1)