Semi final Saturday in week six of the 2016 ATP World Tour sees the likes of Rafael Nadal, Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic in action looking for final spots in Buenos Aires, Memphis and Rotterdam.
Our ‘long shot’ in Rotterdam, Martin Klizan, kicked off proceedings on Friday and he rewarded those who weren’t quite as optimistic as I was by beating Roberto Bautista Agut.
The heavy-hitting Slovak won in three sets over a tiring RBA, rather than the two that I suggested, but I’m sure plenty would have been a little more circumspect than I and gone for the outright win on Klizan, who did it the hard way by saving numerous match points.
Then there was a narrow win for the ‘value bet’ when Benjamin Becker’s 2.5 game start was enough for the veteran German to beat Taylor Fritz in a match that the young American won in a final set tie break.
Becker should have won the match, as he was twice a break ahead in set three and served for the match at *6-5, so we were glad of the +2.5 games in the end.
But a dismal showing from Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (of the type I expected from him in the first round) saw a loss for the ‘sure thing’ when the Frenchman lost in two sets to a Nicolas Almagro, who said that he “felt like Djokovic.”
“I couldn't make errors with my serve and felt like I could do anything I wanted with my forehand,” the Spaniard said, but that’s not too hard to do when your opponent isn’t bothered.
Rain put paid to the remaining quarter final in Buenos Aires, so we only have one semi final to consider in Argentina on Saturday.
Gael Monfils vs Philipp Kohlschreiber
At around 18:30 UK time the second Rotterdam semi final will be in-play between Monfils and Kohlschreiber and I have to like the chances of Lamonf in a match-up that he’s dominated over the years.
The Frenchman leads their 13-match series 11-2 and although the vast majority have been competitive it always seems to be the case that Monfils proves the stronger at the end, which is the story of Kohlschreiber’s career, really.
On indoor hard it’s 5-0 to Monfils and he was a 1.39 chance the last time this pair met in these conditions, which was in Davis Cup in Germany (where Kohlischreiber usually excels) and the Frenchman won in straight sets.
Indeed, Monfils even won on his least favourite surface of grass in Germany against Kohli in their penultimate clash in Stuttgart last summer when the German was a slight favourite.
Generally Monfils is able to draw the errors out of the Kohlschreiber game and on this slow surface in Rotterdam I can’t see the underdog being able to hit enough winners to get the better of Lamonf.
Gael says he’s “very content with the way I’m playing at the moment,” and that’s not the kind of statement we usually get from him – most times he’s moaning about some injury, illness or off-court issue in his post-match comments.
Kohlschreiber played well in coming back from a set down against Marin Cilic on Friday, but that’s a rarity for the German, who had lost 15 of his previous 17 matches after losing the opening set.
Set one overs backers will note that the last seven meetings between Monfils and Kohlschreiber have gone over 9.5 games in the opener, while overs backers will be interested to discover that seven of their 10 best-of-three clashes have gone to a decider.
I think that the 1.63 on Monfils is good value in this match-up and those after a bigger price could look to the 2-1 win for the Frenchman at 3.95.
The opening match in Rotterdam between Nicolas Mahut and Martin Klizan is one that I’m hoping Klizan wins, having had a small interest outright in him at 40-1 after round one.
But it really does look a 50/50 clash, with Mahut in fine form against Viktor Troicki yesterday from the back of the court, and we may see him adopt different tactics today, with the option to rush Klizan with net approaches probably a better idea for the Frenchman.
Kei Nishikori vs Sam Querrey
The players have been commenting about how much slower conditions are in Memphis this year and much of that, according to them, is due to the Robin Soderling-designed ball that’s being used this year.
Nishikori has an 11-1 record on indoor hard against the big servers in my database and he’s won eight of his last nine in all conditions, with wins over Tsonga, Cilic, Tomas Berdych, John Isner, Jerzy Janowicz, Querrey and Sam Groth in that run.
In the past in Memphis the Japanese star has struggled against Querrey, but in these conditions he should find it a little easier, with Big Sam’s weapons of the serve and forehand somewhat nullified on slow surfaces.
Querrey has performed well on slow indoor hard in the past though, most notably being the only man to beat Novak Djokovic on indoor hard between November 2012 and November 2015.
The American says he’s feeling 100 percent for the first time this week since knee surgery back in November and he served really well against another Japanese player in Yoshihito Nishioka on Friday.
Despite winning all of those matches against big servers Nishikori dropped sets in six of his last 10 against the ones on my database and the 2-1 win to the Japanese at 3.75 looks a lively long shot for Saturday, with Querrey likely to serve his way to a set.
Over in Buenos Aires, despite Rafa Nadal suffering with stomach problems due to the humidity, I don’t really fancy Dominic Thiem in this match-up.
The Austrian has lost six of his last nine against lefties and Rafa’s attack of the backhand side of Thiem is likely to prove key here if the Spaniard is up to it physically after having pills during his win over Paulo Lorenzi.
That said, if Nadal leaves balls short, as he has done a lot in the last year or so, he could be in trouble, but this isn’t a match I fancy a bet in.
Value bet: Back Monfils to beat Kohlschreiber at 1.63
Long shot: Back Nishikori to beat Querrey 2-1 at 3.75