Thursday was another excellent day at the Open de Nice Cote d’Azur, with both of my best bets winning. Gilles Simon put Thomaz Bellucci away in straight sets as forecast, while Brian Baker and Mikhail Kukushkin played out the long match that I predicted – that one going all the way to a final set tie breaker.
Friday is semi-finals day in the south of France, with Simon v Almagro at 13.30 and the story of the tournament, Brian Baker, versus Nikolay Davydenko.
I’ve been with Simon since the tournament started and have my outright wager on the Frenchman, who will be odds-on favourite should he get past Almagro today. The Nice-born star has enjoyed huge crowd support all week and will surely receive the same level of encouragement today, which will help in his quest to beat the Spaniard for the third time in a row.
You have to go all the way back to 2006 for Almagro’s only win over Simon and that came on clay in Valencia. The French are strong at home, though, and I fancy Gilles to continue that trend at a nice price of around 2.20.
Almagro will no doubt be giving his all in order to defend the title that he won here 12 months ago, but Simon has a cooler head on his shoulders and has been in the better form over the last few months. The Frenchman has a 14-3 record since the start of his clay swing in Monte-Carlo and has only been beaten by top-10 players Rafa Nadal, Janko Tipsarevic and David Ferrer during that time.
Almagro has looked out of sorts for much of the clay season and has suffered straight sets losses to Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic. He hasn’t progressed past the third round in any competition.
The head-to-head record suggests a tight affair is in store, with Simon winning their last meeting on clay in Hamburg in the deciding set and the previous one – on indoor hard – in two tie breaks.
Simon’s solid, high percentage game should be the winning one here, unless Almagro hits the lines for the whole match. I would personally have Simon as slight favourite, so I’m happy to take the 2.20 today.
The second semi-final is much harder to call, with plenty of variables to take into account. Baker must surely be getting tired by now after six matches in Nice, including that two-and-a-quarter hour marathon against Kukushkin last night. But on the other hand, he’s got a genuine shot at this title now – imagine how much this means to him after all those years of injury torment.
Davydenko stated this week that tennis isn’t that important to him anymore after recently starting a family. This lack of focus could play into the more motivated Baker’s hands.
These are two really pure ball strikers and we should see a real match for the purists this afternoon, with Davydenko the 1.50 favourite.
I definitely wouldn’t be backing the 2012 version of Davydenko at that sort of price though – he hasn’t reached a final since Munich last year and this is his first semi-final appearance since February.
He’s not the force of old and with Baker riding the crest of a wave at the moment I’ll take the American to grab a set from the Russian today. Baker with a one and a half set start on the handicap at 1.62 will be my bet in this one.
Back Simon to beat Almagro at 2.2
Back Baker +1.5 sets at 1.62