It’s quarter finals day in Brisbane and Chennai and semi finals day in Doha on day five of week one of the 2016 ATP World Tour on Friday.
Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka are all in action on Friday, while plenty of other big names also step up their bids for an early-season title today.
Federer put the rumours about his physical condition to bed on Thursday – at least for a while – by dismissing Tobias Kamke and revealing that all the fuss was simply about a mild dose of flu.
It wasn’t enough of a dose to stop the Swiss though and my big-priced long shot fell, but there was success for the value bet when Aljaz Bedene came back from a set down to cover the handicap against Luca Vanni in Chennai.
But in a dismal performance Gilles Muller highlighted the perils of backing some of the short-priced ones in this opening week of the season when he was beaten by Thomas Fabbiano.
Marin Cilic vs Dominic Thiem
There are plenty of big-priced options to consider on Friday, but I think that the most likely one to grab the upset win is Thiem, who has started the season in impressive style.
The Austrian ended up grabbing three titles last season and he looks to have kicked on again at the start of 2016, with two good performances so far in Brisbane against James Duckworth and Denis Kudla.
Of course, Thiem would be expected to win those matches, but his return of serve is one area of his game that looks to have improved compared to last season and if he shows the same form against Cilic he could pose big problems for the Croat.
The pair have never previously met on tour and this 06:30 UK time clash might be worth an early start for, with the 3.0 on Thiem appearing to hold some value, and especially if Cilic’s often-suspect forehand is on one its poor days.
Elsewhere, I’m slightly tempted by the price on Grigor Dimitrov against Federer given the latter’s bout of flu, but it doesn’t appear to be a good match-up for Dimitrov, who always looks better when he takes charge of matches – something he’s not been close to achieving so far against Fed.
Lucas Pouille vs Milos Raonic
Pouille has a decent record against big servers, with wins over Jerzy Janowicz, Ivo Karlovic, Sam Groth and Stevie Johnson to his name in a 4-2 winning mark against the big servers in my database, so he may be worthy of some interest versus Raonic.
The Frenchman played well in the early season last year too when he made the Auckland semis as a qualifier and he should have beaten Gael Monfils at the Australian Open too from two sets ahead, so he has early season form.
He took down David Goffin in three sets as a big-priced underdog on Thursday, so confidence will be high and Pouille may present more of a challenge to Raonic than his price suggests.
Pouille won 16 of his 24 tie breaks last season (67 percent), which is excellent and the tie break played at 2.08 is one option against the big-serving Raonic in this 01:00 UK time clash.
Over 9.5 games in set one is another likely winner at 1.63, while the +3.5 games on the Frenchman at 2.25 is also worthy of consideration.
Bernard Tomic vs Kei Nishikori
There are a slew of short-priced favourites around on Friday, with three of the four in Chennai starting at 1.20, while Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal are equally unbackable in Doha.
Of the lot of them I actually think that the 03:00 UK time clash between Nishikori and Tomic looks better value than of those in Chennai or Doha at a price of 1.35 versus the Aussie.
It looks a good match-up for Nishikori, who does most things better than Tomic and whose mental strength is far superior to that of today’s opponent.
The Japanese star gave Tomic a thorough beating at this tournament a year ago and while Tomic says he’s “more confident, more belief, and I've grown physically, mentally,” when asked about that match I’m not sure I believe him.
Tomic said at the tail end of last year that he was playing top-five tennis after he made the last eight in Shanghai and then went on to lose to Marcos Baghdatis and Pablo Cuevas in his next two tournaments.
Bernie has a poor record as an underdog, with a mark of 6-45 when priced at 3.0 or higher, as he is again on Friday, while Nishikori has won 15 of his last 18 as a 1.30 to 1.40 favourite. Kei also has a 23-2 record as a favourite in Australia.
Nishikori’s groundstrokes have much better depth, penetration and power on them than the often defensive Tomic and Kei will take the match to the Aussie and grab it by the scruff of the neck.
Tomic certainly had to fight to get past 37-year-old Radek Stepanek in the last round and I prefer Nishikori at 1.35 to the likes of Benoit Paire, Bedene, Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Raonic at around 1.20 or thereabouts.
I couldn’t back Paire at 1.20 against many players – even Fabbiano – while Wawrinka has often been troubled by Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Bedene is simply too short after a tough three setter.
Nadal should get past Ilya Marchenko, who has a back problem, but also is very short, so if you’re taking on an odds-on shot today Nishikori looks the best value.
Sure thing: Back Nishikori to beat Tomic at 1.35
Value bet: Back over 0.5 tie breaks in Raonic/Pouille at 2.08
Long shot: Back Thiem to beat Cilic at 3.0