Round three of the second Masters 1000 tournament of the 2016 season gets underway on Sunday, with eight matches on the card at Crandon Park today.
It was almost a case of last man standing in Key Biscayne on Saturday, with four retirements, including Rafael Nadal, and it turned out to be a good day for my bets, thanks to a 5.10 winner for the ‘long shot’.
Grigor Dimitrov and Federico Delbonis played the tie break required in set one of their match before Adrian Mannarino defeated Sam Querrey and easily covered the +2.5 game handicap in that one.
It wasn’t a great day for favourite backers, with the ‘sure thing’ losing when a hobbled John Isner failed against Tim Smyczek, despite having match point, while Marcos Baghdatis collapsed in the heat against Nick Kyrgios.
Baghdatis was a break up early, but yet again he could not land a first serve (ending with only 40 percent of them in) and he lost 10 straight games in a weird display – serve/volleying on many of the points and looking lethargic.
It’ll be another hot and humid day on Sunday and looking back to last year round three of the 2015 Miami Open saw 10 of 16 favourites win, but also successes for 4.46 and 5.57 underdogs when Mannarino beat Stan Wawrinka and Fernando Verdasco took down Nadal.
Of the 16 round three matches 11 went under the usual 22.5 total games mark, with only three of 16 matches being decided in a final set.
David Ferrer vs Lucas Pouille
Starting with the ‘sure thing’ for Sunday then and after having a bit of a break since Acapulco for a month Ferrer looks fit and fresh and the Spaniard should be too much for Pouille here.
Ferrer will have been quietly delighted that nemesis Roger Federer withdrew from the tournament, having been seeded to play a 17th career match against the Swiss in the quarter finals.
Having lost all 16 priors with Federer the veteran Spaniard could be forgiven for not looking forward to the prospect of another defeat and his path to the semi finals now looks decent.
Ferrer probably made the right decision in skipping Indian Wells, given that he’s lost six of his last eight matches there and won 30 of his 43 matches here at Crandon Park.
The heat and humidity don’t bother the super fit Ferrer much and having run the legs off Taylor Fritz in round two he could well do something similar to Pouille in this first career clash between the pair.
Ferrer had to dig deep in the opening set of his win over Fritz, saving a couple of set points and winning it on a tie break, but it would be a surprise if he lost to Pouille on Sunday.
The young Frenchman is a talent and he played well in beating Teimuraz Gabashvili and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in straight sets in rounds one and two so far this week.
After the GGL win Pouille said: “I am very happy with my game. The humid conditions didn't bother me. It doesn't tire me out.”
We’ll see about that after Ferrer has run the Frenchman from side to side for hours on Sunday.
Ferrer can be doubled with Dominic Thiem, who should be too powerful for Yoshihito Nishioka, who’s had a very good tournament, but looks lacking against the better players.
Feli Lopez’s limp performance in round two allowed Nishioka to win in two, but a more motivated opponent in Thiem should outmuscle him, and the double pays 1.32 if successful.
Tomas Berdych could also be added to the mix or taken as an alternative ‘sure thing’, with the Czech well used to conditions here in Miami, having trained here regularly, and he should be too much for Steve Johnson to handle.
Marin Cilic vs Gilles Simon
These two have played out some awful, long, low-quality encounters against each other over the years and the match-up rarely makes for pretty tennis, but it’s been a decent one for Simon.
Cilic won their last meeting, which was a dreadful five setter at the 2014 US Open, and the Croat went on to improve rapidly after that match going on to land the most unlikely Grand Slam title in recent memory.
Indeed, Cilic didn’t drop another set in the tournament after that Simon match and I’m sure he’ll be hoping for a similar sort of catalyst today, but this one looks like it could go either way.
Cilic is still sporting a sizable bandage on his knee and in these slow Miami conditions he may face a tough time hitting through Simon often enough to record anything other than a hard fought win if he wins at all.
The winner of the opening set in four of their five prior meetings has gone on to lose the match and all five matches have been settled in a final set, with Simon taking four of them.
Gillou hasn’t been in the best of form this season and his brittle confidence has suffered as a result, which is why he’s underdog today, but a win over Juan Monaco in the last round will improve matters and this could well be another battle.
Simon has made the quarter finals in two of his last four starts at the Miami Open and I like the look of the 2-1 to the Frenchman here as Sunday’s ‘long shot’ at a tempting price of 4.90.
The over 2.5 sets also looks decent at 2.28, but the trends between Simon and Cilic and the slow conditions would have to give the ‘long shot’ a chance.
Richard Gasquet vs Benoit Paire
It’s not too often that I fancy getting involved in a Paire match, but he looks a tad overpriced at 3.90 against the often-disappointing Gasquet in this all-French affair.
Paire has been at his childish worst for much of the 2016 season so far after a very good summer and autumn last year that saw him land the title in Bastad and make the Tokyo final.
But this year we’ve seen mainly the other side of Paire, with feeble efforts in Melbourne, Montpellier, Rotterdam, Sao Paulo and Indian Wells to name but a few tournaments.
That would go a long way to explaining his price for Sunday’s third career meeting with Gasquet, but the key to Paire is trying to note when his attitude changes and he seems to be up for it this week if his match with Mikhail Youzhny is any indicator.
Paire won 80 percent of his second serve points against the Russian and said afterwards: “I have a big motivation and a great desire.”
We’ll see how true that is on Sunday, as he certainly has the ability to trouble Gasquet, who I always worry about backing in very hot, humid conditions, as I don’t trust his fitness.
Paire is surely a better player now than he was in 2013 when both of his prior meetings with Gasquet took place and he took a set in the most recent one of those, so around evens that he does so again here looks decent to me.
Sure thing: Back Ferrer and Thiem at 1.32
Value bet: Back Paire +1.5 sets at 1.98
Long shot: Back Simon to beat Cilic 2-1 at 4.90