Murray to turn up the heat on Djokovic
Back to back victories during the Asian hard court swing have pushed Andy Murray to the brink of the world number 1 ranking.
The Scot has performed well since lifting a second Wimbledon title, whilst in the same period his adversary Novak Djokovic has looked a shadow of the player that commentators predicted would struggle to ever lose a match again following a dominant few years and an equally impressive start to 2016.
If his 17 matches in the past 8 weeks and consecutive Chinese victories haven’t taken their toll then Murray will fare well in Vienna, a tournament he lifted in 2014.
Predictably the form of Murray has led to him being established as an odds on favourite to lift the title this week. But can someone stand in his way?
Murray has only played indoor tennis during Davis Cup this season, and he finds competition in the form of Rotterdam winner Martin Klizan and Metz titlist Lucas Pouille.
Klizan is first up for Murray and whilst the Slovakian can absolutely destroy opponents when he is in the mood, his form is abysmal as injury issues have deprived Klizan of the impressive statistical level he compiled indoors in February.
Gilles Simon likely awaits the winner as he will take on Guillermo Garcia-Lopez an opponent that the Frenchman has dominated over the years. Murray will then take care of Simon as he has done in 15 of their 17 career matches.
Lucas Pouille has won only 7 games across 2 meetings with Murray this season and should he come through dangerous opposition in the form of John Isner and Feliciano Lopez, I struggle to see how he betters Murray.
Verdict – Murray’s London detour won’t stop OBE’s march to the semis.
Dominic Thiem has not been seen for a couple of weeks having endured a couple of poor events recently, likely the cause of a gruelling 2016 that has seen him, successfully, playing around the world on an almost weekly basis.
The Austrian will be hoping that his batteries are recharged sufficiently as he tries to go further than his best effort to date in his nation’s capital – a 2013 quarter final – and he may well do so, with a win over Murray in the final of the exhibition tiebreak event ‘Tie Break 10s’ an indicator that he is playing well.
Thiem will face the winner of a tight matchup on paper between Kevin Anderson and Viktor Troicki, both of whom are no gimme at the best of times, but Thiem should still fancy his chances.
The opposite end of the quarter features defending champion and 2014 runner up David Ferrer in the seeded position. However, Ferrer looks a tired player whose best days are an ever increasing rarity. First up for the Spaniard is Kyle Edmund who defeated Ferrer in the inaugural Antwerp event last week.
Ferrer will seek revenge in that one, but the manner of last week’s defeat was particularly worrying as he blew a strong winning position and it’s hard to place great confidence in him having another successful trip to Vienna.
Given his form there is no certainty that he will even make the quarter final. Ferrer will be favourite to do so as after Edmund will be the winner of Joao Sousa and Pablo Cuevas. However, Sousa, the marginal favourite to defeat Cuevas, does hold an indoor victory over Ferrer from 2013 so he can’t be counted out.
Either way it is hard to look past the improving and rested Thiem to have his best Vienna showing to date.
Verdict – Thiem to emerge from his quarter.
With only 2 events to go this season Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will probably not lift a title this year, for the first time since 2010.
It’s fair to say that a series of minor injuries have put a dampener on his season but he remains a player at the upper reaches of the game with his current ranking of 15, as well as good quarter final showings in both of his recent events. Tsonga has a winner’s trophy in Vienna from 2011 and if his condition is good then he could well feature again in the latter stages this year.
His draw looks favourable for the most part. His round of 32 match with Benjamin Becker won’t cause him many problems. Following that, Tsonga will have to play the winner of the match between compatriot Stephane Robert and 3 time Vienna semi finalist Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Robert is perhaps not without a chance there as his recent indoor performances look good at first glance, whilst Kohlschreiber still looks short of his best level despite a semi final in Moscow.
Roberto Bautista Agut will cause the most significant challenge to Tsonga having recently defeated the Frenchman in Shanghai and winning all 3 of their 2016 matches. However, like Thiem, the Spaniard is another tennis junkie whose heavy scheduling appeared to take its toll last week in Moscow. This is his first appearance to Vienna and should he meet Tsonga in the quarter finals I feel that Jo Wilfried will emerge victorious.
Bautista Agut looks probable to reach the quarter final as although he plays 2010 and 2009 winner Jurgen Melzer in the first bracket, he will find a very different Melzer than the 2 time champ.
RBA will then likely face Fabio Fognini who has been drawn to play Albert Ramos-Vinolas for the third consecutive event. Ramos-Vinolas hates the match up winning only 4 games last week to secure a 9th defeat against Fognini in 9 career matches. Fognini has form but he blew up in the Moscow final at the weekend becoming distracted by the injury antics of Pablo Carreno-Busta and I don’t have confidence in him steadying his ship for two consecutive weeks.
Verdict – Tsonga to defeat Bautista-Agut and make the semi.
Tomas Berdych is already out following defeat last night at the hands of Georgian qualifier Nikoloz Basilashvili. This has opened up the draw substantially with Ivo Karlovic the only surviving seed.
Karlovic ousted 2015 finalist Steve Johnson in the first round and has played to his ranking in previous Vienna appearances. The giant server will likely defeat Damir Dzumhur to make the quarter final.
This open looking quarter provides an opportunity for somebody to have a big week and perhaps it is the wild carded Karin Khachanov who is best positioned to take advantage. The winner in Chengdu looked to have rediscovered form against Andreas Seppi, but will need to overcome a 2/0 H2H in favour of Basilashvili to make the quarter final.
Verdict – Khachanov to continue improvement and reach QF
The sub 1.65 price on the Betfair Exchange highlights Murray’s form and probability of victory, but offers no interest as a betting price given the amount of tennis he has played and the possibility of pressure becoming an impact as Murray closes the gap on Djokovic.
Tsonga at a best price of 11 at Skybet, Stan James, Coral and Betfair Sportsbook offers better value.