A host of top-20 stars are in action at the Citi Open in Washington DC on Thursday as this ATP 500 event reaches its last-16 stage.
Kei Nishikori, Grigor Dimitrov and Marin Cilic are all on the schedule for today in America’s capital as the hard court season picks up the pace.
There’s no Andy Murray or Kevin Anderson though, as both were beaten as heavy favourites on what was a tough day for short-priced backers.
A really disappointing clay campaign for me concluded on Wednesday, perhaps fittingly, with a tame defeat for Martin Klizan, who, despite the usual choke from Paul-Henri Mathieu, was still unable to take that Kitzbuhel clash into a decider.
It wasn’t finished there unfortunately, as still to come was a very questionable performance from Diego Schwartzman, who folded incredibly tamely against the might of Albert Montanes in straight sets.
The ‘long shot’ was rather unlucky, as Blaz Rola took Leo Mayer to a decider and was edged out 6-4 in the third at a big price.
It’ll be another late one in Washington DC tonight, with their rather daft late starts leading to 2am local time finishes, for reasons that escape me – other than to avoid the worst of the heat.
It’s set to be cooler and rainy today, so there may be some delays throughout the night.
Last year’s round of 16 in Washington DC yielded three underdog winners in the eight matches, with Vasek Pospisil’s 4.85 success over Tomas Berdych the pick of the prices.
Marin Cilic vs Sam Querrey
These two big servers have had their battles down the years, with the Croatian usually emerging the successful one, with four wins from their five matches at all levels and all three as professionals.
Querrey’s only win came in US Open Juniors back in 2004 and their last clash was a memorable one at Wimbledon three years ago when Cilic took the honours 17-15 in the fifth.
Cilic began his US Open Series campaign with a decent test in the form of Hyeon Chung, who made life difficult for the current US Open champion, and Cilic had to produce some of his best tennis at the right time in the end to get the win in straight sets.
The Croat brings an impeccable 15-0 record on outdoor hard against players from the host nation of tournaments into this clash, so he’s never been beaten by an American in the USA on a hard court at main level.
The last player to beat Cilic at home on a hard court was Marcel Granollers in Valencia on indoor hard back in 2011 and although not hugely relevant it is an interesting stat and it shows that crowd support means next to nothing against Cilic.
Querrey was his usual match point spurning self against Go Soeda, although he did recover in time on this occasion to win in a decider, but his form doesn’t look good enough to win this one.
His poor record against top-10 opponents, and particularly of late, is another negative, with only two wins from his last 19 matches against such opposition going back to the 2012 season.
The Californian has lost his last 12 on the bounce in the last 18 months as a 2.60 underdog or bigger and his record in Washington DC is hardly inspiring either.
It all points to a Cilic win and perhaps the most important aspect of all is the substantial gap in mental strength and temperament at key moments, which heavily favours the Croatian.
There are five favourites at around the 1.40 to 1.50 mark on Thursday but Cilic looks the most likely for a ‘sure thing’ with the 1.15 on Kei Nishikori a little short for my liking.
Steve Johnson vs Grigor Dimitrov
This 22:30 UK time clash seems the likeliest place in which to find a potential upset, with the struggling Dimitrov once again priced up too short, this time against an opponent who plays well at home and at this tournament.
Dimitrov was far from impressive again last night against Argentinean clay courter Guido Pella, letting big leads slip in both sets before recovering just in time, saving set points in the opener.
Concentration and focus has been somewhat lacking in the Bulgarian’s game for a while now and losing Roger Rasheed as well as the off-court disruption of splitting with Maria Sharapova can’t be helping in that regard.
He’s lost his last four against host nation players and although he did beat Johnson on grass at Wimbledon recently two of the three sets were tie breaks and overs looks likely here.
Johnson is at his best here and recorded another good DC win over Bernard Tomic last night and of all the 1.40 shots today Dimitrov looks the least secure.
Sam Groth vs Feliciano Lopez
Groth put paid to one of my outright bets in the Citi Open last night when he took down Viktor Troicki in straight sets and having already beaten a leftie this week in Thomaz Bellucci he can do it again here.
The sturdy Aussie served very well indeed against Troicki and took his chances when they came, converting on two of his four break opportunities to consign the Serb to a straight sets loss.
Lopez had to adjust quickly from playing at altitude on clay to defeat a tiring Lleyton Hewitt, who was a set and a break up at one stage of their round two clash last night.
I’ve seen very little from Lopez this season to consider him a genuine top-15 or so player and to be outplayed by the 2015 Hewitt for much of a match in these conditions is not a good sign for Feli.
Groth beat Lopez on the Spaniards favoured grass in Stuttgart a couple of months ago and it could be tight again, but the price on the Aussie looks good value to me in this 21:00 UK time start.
Elsewhere, Richard Gasquet should be too classy for Jack Sock, with the Frenchman decent against big servers and with an infinitely better backhand, and hopefully for my outright Alex Dolgopolov will progress against Alexander Zverev.
John Isner and Vasek Pospisil may well go the distance, with Isner 2-1 at 3.65 not a bad alternative long shot, as I always feel that Pospisil’s fitness is questionable and any cooler weather should help the Canadian.
Gabashvili may prove decent value as slight underdog against Ricardas Berankis, but he did have treatment on a calf injury against Murray and his fitness has to be a bit of guesswork.
Sure thing: Back Cilic to beat Querrey at 1.46
Value bet: Back Groth to beat Lopez at 2.40
Long shot: Back Johnson to beat Dimitrov at 2.85