The ATP World Tour continues its Asian swing in week 40, with two ATP 500 events in Japan and China.
Just a three-hour flight from Shenzhen will find you in Beijing, which is where the big money is on offer this week, with a near $4 million prize pot at the China Open.
Novak Djokovic is once again the big attraction at this tournament at the National Tennis Centre and he’s given the organisers here full value for money over the years, with a perfect 24-0 record at the China Open.
There’s a $1.4 million prize fund at the Rakuten Japan Open in Tokyo, where Kei Nishikori will have all eyes on him as he goes for a third title at his home tournament.
Conditions in Beijing have been described as ‘pretty quick’ by Milos Raonic this weekend and they are definitely on the fast side in Tokyo.
Last year’s opening round in Beijing yielded just two underdog winners from their 16 matches, with Pablo Andujar at 3.24 over Julien Benneteau and Peter Gojowczyk against Ivo Karlovic at 2.55 the men concerned.
In Tokyo’s round one 12 months ago there were six underdog winners, with prices such as 8.33, 8.43, and 6.16, as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer and Stan Wawrinka all fell at the first hurdle.
Looking back at the weekend and we finally got some tennis in Shenzhen and my ‘sure thing’ double and ‘value bet’ both came in when Tomas Berdych defeated Tommy Robredo comfortably in the semi finals.
Unfortunately, the ‘long shot’ of David Ferrer to beat Feli Lopez 2-1 in the Kuala Lumpur final was thwarted by Ferrer winning it 2-0.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs Andreas Haider-Maurer
If you happen to be up and about at 05:30 UK time on Monday you could do worse than have an investment on the over 9.5 games in set one of this clash between two big servers.
Tsonga was downright awful at times in Metz, despite somehow landing the title there two weeks ago, and he seems very short at 1.07 against Haider-Maurer, who may well prove tough for Tsonga to break.
AHM can send down serves at a fair pace, finishing in the top-10 of serve speeds at the US Open this summer, with a best of 137mph, which is only one mph behind the fastest that Tsonga managed that tournament.
So, if the Austrian serves somewhere near his best, I like the over 9.5 games in set one at 1.89 here in this first meeting between the pair.
Tsonga does have a decent record in Beijing, but he hasn’t played here since 2012 and instead he’s been doing badly in Tokyo, where he lost early to Ivan Dodig and Michal Przysiezny, and it remains to be seen how motivated he’ll be this time on the Asian swing.
Three of his four matches in Metz went to tie breaks in set one against Mischa Zverev, Nicolas Mahut and Gilles Simon, and there’s every chance that we’ll see something similar again here.
Other possible options for the value bet include Alexandr Dolgopolov -1.5 games against Sam Querrey, who has made two quarter finals in Asia in 12 career tournaments in this part of the world.
Lukas Rosol also has a poor record in Asia, with a 9-16 mark and just one quarter final in his 18 tournaments in the region and a whopping 10 round one losses.
In China Rosol has a 2-5 record and Aljaz Bedene is certainly good enough to allow Rosol to become impatient and spray the ball around if he doesn’t fancy it – which is likely given his record here.
Every time that Rosol has lost in China it’s been in straight sets and his performances suggest that this part of the tour isn’t exactly a priority and it’s likely to be less so after he became a father in January.
Fabio Fognini vs Martin Klizan
Another spot of value on Monday could prove to be Klizan, who takes on Fognini in Beijing at around 07:30 UK time.
Klizan made the semi finals here as a qualifier a year ago, beating Leo Mayer, Ernests Gulbis and Rafa Nadal before losing to Tomas Berdych in the last four.
He comes here in good form after two wins in Davis Cup and a run to the semi finals in Metz, where he ended up losing a match he could have won against Gilles Simon.
After splitting with his coach a few months back Klizan looked a little lost, but he’s back to form now, and as ever it’s a toss-up as to whether Fognini can be bothered this week.
In Asia Fognini has a similarly poor record to that of Rosol, with a 7-17 record in the region, and two of his defeats in Asia last season were to Yuki Bhambri and Chuhan Wang (in China 12 months ago).
Given that record it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to assume that Klizan has more to play for this week and the relative lack of heat in Beijing (it’s usually around 25C at the highest here) helps the Slovak too.
A double on Klizan and Bedene pays around 3.76 and the straight sets double is a 10.37 chance.
Milos Raonic vs Viktor Troicki
Raonic enjoyed a return to form and fitness in winning the St Petersburg title two weeks ago and he should be too much for Troicki, who is in truly dire form at the moment.
Troicki’s form from a fine grass season disappeared completely when he switched from green courts to blue and he’s won only two matches since a heartbreaking five set loss to Vasek Pospisil at Wimbledon.
Last week he was beaten in straight sets by Radu Albot and although one set could go long I’d be surprised if Troicki were to return to form against this opponent in these conditions.
Raonic has had few issues defeating Troicki in the past and the Canadian can be doubled with Jiri Vesely to beat Yasutaka Uchiyama in Tokyo to make a 1.31 ‘sure thing’.
Uchiyama has never been close to beating a top-100 opponent in his seven attempts so far in his career and he wasn’t close again in defeat to Vasek Pospisil in Kuala Lumpur last week.
Vesely made the last eight in Shenzhen last week and should have much too much for the Japanese wild card.
Sure thing: Back Raonic and Vesely at 1.31
Value bet: Back over 9.5 games in set one of Tsonga/Haider-Maurer at 1.89
Long shot: Back Klizan and Bedene at 3.76