The remaining spots in the last-16 of the 2017 BNP Paribas Open will be filled at the close of play at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Tuesday, with the bottom half of the draw in action today.
This half of the draw always looked like it would be the tougher section by far and 14 of the 16 players in action on day six have service hold/break marks of at least 100 on outdoor hard at main level in the past year.
Malek Jaziri (99.3) and Donald Young (96.7) are the two exceptions and it looks a great day for ticket holders, with blazing sunshine and the world’s top players in action.
We didn’t have much fortune on Monday, as Dominic Thiem chose that day to put in arguably his best performance of the season, while my other wager was void when Pablo Carreno Busta was granted a walkover.
Favourite backers would have been left seething elsewhere, as Tomas Berdych and Vasek Pospisil produced horrendous chokes (Berdych from 6-1, 5-2 up)
Gilles Muller vs Kei Nishikori
Nishikori was fortunate to escape defeat at the hands of Muller on slowish indoor hard in Basel last October when the leftie had two match points for a straight sets win.
Having failed to take them Muller was beaten in three sets, but this looks a good opportunity for the Luxembourger to really challenge the Japanese again – as he has done in each of their last two career meetings.
I’ve never felt that Nishikori is the ideal stature or style of player to be successful at Indian Wells, with his lack of height and flat hits not the ideal combination for winning this tournament.
Indeed, Nishikori was beaten here by a similar type of opponent as Muller in 2015 when Feliciano Lopez defeated him in straight sets and if I were backing Kei at very cramped odds today I wouldn’t be too happy about his comments following the Dan Evans match.
“I don’t like it [the court] here, but I’m trying to make myself believe that I do,” said Nishikori and that statement comes as no real surprise, as every win he’s had here versus a top-50 ranked opponent has been a real struggle.
He’s 3-4 versus the top-50 at Indian Wells, with a 7-6, 7-6 win over Steve Johnson his only straight sets victory and if I recall correctly Johnson led the first set tie break 6-2 that day (after losing a 5-2 lead in the set) and choked.
His career service hold/break stats in the main draw at Indian Wells are below what you’d expect from a player of Kei’s quality, with 76.9% holds and 20.7% breaks (97.6 total), compared with 80.8% and 26.3% lifetime at main level (107.1 total).
It’s probably too slow to be ideal for Muller as well here, but his serve will get up to a very awkward height for Nishikori and this one looks a potential upset if the leftie serves somewhere near his best.
The time of the match at 11:00 local time (18:00 UK) promises 30C temperatures in the shade and very little wind, so it should be perfect for Muller to get the most from his serve.
You feel that a fast start and winning the opening set is vital for Muller’s chances and set one to him at 3.20 looks a decent wager.
Taylor Fritz vs Malek Jaziri
I’m happy to take a chance on the underdog in this third career between the American and the Tunisian, with Fritz appearing to me to be a tad short in price for what looks a 50/50 match.
Fritz has ridden his luck a little so far at Indian Wells, with an injury to Benoit Paire in round one and a pretty dismal performance from Marin Cilic in round two, which we benefitted from, and he can be taken on today.
I was happy to back him as a big underdog against the out of form Cilic, who once again performed poorly at Indian Wells and looks well short on confidence, but Jaziri is playing well and I’d expect him to be better suited to the very hot conditions.
This one will be played at lunchtime when the heat is at its peak and Fritz may not be fully fit either, having had the physio out for some treatment on his leg during that Cilic clash.
Jaziri also had some fortune in round one versus a Frenchman when Nicolas Mahut suffered nosebleeds, but in any case Jaziri has been playing well lately and is yet to drop a set so far in the tournament.
On the service hold/break stats there’s little in it, with Fritz slightly ahead on 101.5 compared to the 99.7 of Jaziri, but that’s not enough to make Fritz a 1.62 chance for my money.
Fritz has lost three of his last five as favourite at main level and three of his six matches as a 1.60 to 1.80 favourite, including the last two, so he’s hardly one to rely on at this sort of price.
The two previous career meetings between the pair have been shared, with Jaziri winning the most recent one at the Le Gosier Challenger last April, and surely later in the day for this match would suit Fritz better, as the crowd would be bigger and noisier and the heat more tolerable.
All told Jaziri looks a hint of value in this one.
Elsewhere, Fernando Verdasco may have a set in him against Rafa Nadal if he’s on a good day, and I quite like the 2.60 about ‘tie break played’ here, with breakers featuring in four of their last six outdoor hard court meetings.
Jack Sock could well cause big problems for Grigor Dimitrov, but he’ll need to play better than he did in the opening round, while Nick Kyrgios seems likely to be too hot for Alexander Zverev to handle, but that one could well be close.
Roger Federer should have much too much for Stevie Johnson and the 2-1 win to Novak Djokovic against Juan Martin Del Potro is perhaps worthy of consideration at 3.80.
1 point win Muller to win set one at 3.20
1 point win Jaziri to beat Fritz at 2.28