The WTA Tour heads back to Europe this week, with a Premier level event in Moscow and an International tournament in Luxembourg in week 42.
The Kremlin Cup in Moscow has suffered from a severely depleted draw this year, with plenty of big names pulling out.
Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Sara Errani, Caroline Wozniacki and Carla Suarez Navarro are just a few of the players not now here this week, which leaves Domi Cibulkova as the number one seed.
This joint WTA/ATP event is played on a slow RuKort indoor hard court surface and nine of 12 favourites won in the opening round here a year ago, with Cibulkova’s loss to Vesna Dolonc the standout loss.
Over in Luxembourg, the BNP Paribas Luxembourg Open has Andrea Petkovic, Sabine Lisicki and Alizé Cornet as it’s biggest stars and it’s played on a fairly pacy Greenset indoor hard court.
It’s not been without its problems too in terms of withdrawals, with Genie Bouchard, Vika Azarenka and Garbiñe Muguruza notable absentees.
We have nine round one matches in total across both venues on Monday and only one really looks like it holds some possible betting value.
Tereza Smitkova vs Roberta Vinci
The Italian seemed to return to some good form after a pretty awful season in Beijing a fortnight ago when she defeated some very good players on her way to the quarter finals.
Wins over Aga Radwanska and Kate Makarova were eye-opening after the Italian had previously struggled to string any results together and had only one top-20 win since Cincy last year.
But it doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s back to her best and she’s worth taking on to some degree against a powerful opponent in quickish conditions in the opening match of the day in Luxembourg.
Smitkova possesses a strong serve and can volley well, so she should be suited by today’s conditions and indeed she did play well here last year when she made the last-16 as a qualifier.
The often-teary Czech came to prominence at Wimbledon this summer when she also made the last-16 from qualifying and there’s a chance that her big game could overwhelm Vinci – at least for some part of this match.
It’s their first meeting, so Vinci may take a while to figure out her opponent today and the set one to Smitkova is a decent choice at 2.70.
The +4.5 games on Smitkova is also reasonable at 1.74, as is the +1.5 sets at 1.77, but on a tough-looking betting day I’ll take a chance on Smitkova coming out strong.
Elsewhere in Luxembourg Monica Niculescu is far too short, as is Mona Barthel, who has a 3-0 record over Mandy Minella, but the latter is playing in her home tournament.
That said, Minella has lost her last nine matches here and has never won one in the main draw, so maybe Barthel is a banker after all.
Barbora Zahlavova Strycova has a perfect 4-0 and 8-0 in sets record over Silvia Soler Espinosa, so favourite backers will probably be interested in that stat, but many of the matches were a fair old while ago now.
Karin Knapp could be vulnerable as a 1.33 shot due to the quick turnaround from the semis of Linz to here, but I’m not sure that Patricia Mayr-Achleitner is up to the task.
Jana Cepelova was awful when I sided with her last week in Linz and didn’t look fit or well, so the 1.5 about her beating Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor doesn’t really appeal either.
In Moscow they start at 10:00 UK time when Sveta Kuznetsova should get past the out of form Klara Koukalova, but I’m not so sure about Tsvetana Pironkova in these slow conditions.
Her suspect forehand was again a problem when she was beaten by Knapp last week in Linz, but she might get by today with errors from the erratic Danka Kovinic.
The last match in Moscow today looks an absolute coin toss, with Donna Vekic and Irina Camelia Begu both struggling physically in their matches last week.
Begu retired against Madison Brengle in Linz, while Vekic could barely move with a back problem at the end of her match with Ons Jabeur at the same venue.
Back Smitkova to win set one vs Vinci at 2.70