The ATP World Tour moves on to Sydney and Auckland in week two of the 2016 season, with 11 matches to start the week with on Monday.
Most of the world’s top stars are taking the week off to prepare for the Australian Open next week, but the likes of David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and John Isner are in action at the Apia International and ASB Classic.
Playing conditions are set to be quick in both Sydney and Auckland on outdoor Plexicushion hard courts and weather conditions are set to be around 25C in Auckland and between 30C and 36C in Sydney for the first few days.
In the 12 round one matches in both Sydney and Auckland a year ago we saw half of the matches won by the underdog.
Alexander Sarkissian vs Simone Bolelli
This 01:00 UK time match in Sydney may not be as comfortable as it perhaps appears for Bolelli, who hasn’t been anywhere near his best form for some time now.
The Italian has won only four of his last 13 matches at main level and tailed off badly last week in Doha, having been a set up on Teimuraz Gabashvili.
He faces an opponent who qualified for the main draw in Sydney by beating Ernests Gulbis and Lukasz Kubot in straight sets and was only broken twice in the process.
Clearly the 25-year-old American is serving well and that’s backed up in his service stats from those two matches in which he also broke the big serving pair of Kubot and Gulbis seven times in total.
This will be Sarkissian’s second main level appearance after Bogota last season when he defeated John Millman (more on him later) and then lost a three setter to Malek Jaziri and he could be a live underdog today.
The 1.80 about Sarkissian with a +1.5 set start on the handicap might be the way to go in this one.
The obvious bet for overs would be Vasek Pospisil vs Ivo Karlovic, but with the total games set at 25.5 and the pair never having gone past 10 games in any of the five sets contested against each other in the past it doesn’t look good value at all at 1.74.
I was toying with the idea of backing Millman, who always seems to find a good time to play Tommy Robredo and with the Spaniard holding a poor record ahead of majors and at this time of the year he may have found another good time to play Tommy. But at odds-on I’m not sure there’s any value in the Aussie this time.
Steve Johnson vs Matthew Barton
It wasn’t a great week for favourite backers last week in Brisbane, Chennai and Doha, with no fewer than 10 sub-1.50 shots losing in total.
Today’s ‘sure thing’ will pay around 1.34 and it consists of Johnson to defeat qualifier Barton and Jack Sock to take down Victor Estrella Burgos – both matches taking place in Auckland.
Johnson was beaten in round one last week in Brisbane by Viktor Troicki, but world number 297 Barton will surely present an easier opening match of the tournament this time around for the American.
Barton qualified for Auckland by thrashing Denis Kudla for only the second top-100 win of his career and now makes his main draw debut at tour level in this 01:00 UK time clash with Johnson.
The only time that Johnson has lost to an opponent outside the top-200 on the tour was to Sock way back in 2012 when Sock was ranked 326 in the world and it seems unlikely that he’ll make that mistake again.
Sock, meanwhile, faces Victor Estrella Burgos, who will surely be overpowered on the quick Auckland surface by Sock, who had no problem at all with the veteran Dominican at the US Open last autumn.
The American has been on Hopman Cup duty, so he has been playing gently so far this campaign, and a clash with Estrella on a fast surface seems the perfect opportunity for Sock to get his season going.
Robin Haase vs Pablo Andujar
I’m not too sure where a price of 1.47 on Haase has been dreamed up from in this 23:15 UK time start in Auckland, given that the Dutchman has lost his last nine matches in a row in Australia and New Zealand.
He also lost his one career clash on a hard court against Andujar at Indian Wells and the assumption of the layers here is that it’ll be too quick for Andujar, but that’s not giving the Spaniard credit for some decent showings on the faster surfaces last season.
Andujar may well lose this match, but the price on him to win it at 2.70 seems generous and we can add over 22.5 total games in the clash between Pablo Cuevas and Maximilian Marterer to the mix as well to make a tempting 4.95 double for Monday.
Cuevas hasn’t played since mid-November and has a pretty lean record in this part of the world, with a 2-6 record in Australia, and young German leftie Marterer can take the Uruguayan past the overs mark in their 05:00 UK time Sydney clash.
Marterer did well to defeat world number 82 Damir Dzumhur in qualies and at the end of last season he beat Nico Almagro to qualify for Stockholm when he then took a set from Leo Mayer in round one.
So, the 20-year-old can trouble a rusty Cuevas and make the more experienced player work hard to get the win in this one.
Sure thing: Back Johnson and Sock at 1.34
Value bet: Back Sarkissian +1.5 sets to beat Bolelli at 1.80
Long shot: Back Andujar to beat Haase and over 22.5 in Cuevas/Marterer at 4.95