Djokovic to keep Murray at arms length
The final event of the regular ATP season takes place in Paris this week and is certain to provide plenty of intrigue as the race for the number 1 ranking takes centre stage and the final qualification places for the ATP World Tour Finals are decided.
Race for Number 1
Novak Djokovic’s seemingly unassailable position as the world’s number 1 player is under serious threat following a relatively poor 5 months since achieving the career grand slam at Roland Garros.
After 3 consecutive tournament victories Andy Murray is only 415 points behind Djokovic. Whilst it now seems inevitable that Djokovic will lose his grip on the number 1 ranking at some stage it would be incredible for that to happen this week given the onerous scheduling of the Scot.
Murray went on a similar stretch of form this summer winning Wimbledon and the Olympics but found himself lacking in energy come the very important moments – against Marin Cilic in the Cincinnati final and against Kei Nishikori in the US Open quarter final.
Djokovic has won the previous 3 editions of this event and has recently been resting in Marbella. The Serbian has been speaking more like the champion player we all know having this week expressed his determination not to give up his top ranking without a fight.
The indoor conditions are thought to favour those more comfortable on slower terrain as David Ferrer best showed in 2012 and 2013.
If we are to witness match 35 of the Djokovic v Murray series in this year’s championship decider, you would have to favour the better rested man who has won 24 of their previous meetings.
World Tour Finals
The final 2 qualifying berths at the World Tour Finals, starting in London on the 13th November, will be decided in Paris.
It seems highly likely that Dominic Thiem will qualify with his 3205 points giving him a comfortable 325 point margin ahead of the 9th placed Tomas Berdych.
The Czech has shown horrid form since winning Shenzhen 5 weeks ago and had medical treatment in defeat to Basilashvili in Basel, but he does have a good record at this event. Berdych must reach the semi final to have a chance of reaching London, and I think he has given himself too much to do. There is a glimmer of light in that he has been drawn in Murray’s quarter, who may be tired, but his recent record against the Scot isn’t the best.
Marin Cilic is in pole position to visit London having taken the title in Basel at the weekend. Cilic has never been past the R32 in Paris, but has a 210 point advantage over Berdych and has probably done enough.
There are a few outsiders still in contention but they need to produce exceptional results. David Goffin has travelled the world since the US Open in a valiant effort to qualify but will fall short unless he reaches the final, and realistically he needs to win Paris despite not winning an ATP tour title all season.
Previous champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga must win this week just to be in contention, as must Roberto Bautista Agut and Lucas Pouille.
- Since 2011, an average of 3.8 qualifiers win in the first round. In all years except 2014, when there were 3 first round qualifier victories, 4 of the 6 have won their first match.
- In recent years, wild cards have fared less well. 0 of the 3 wild cards won in 2015, whilst 1 of 3 won in 2014 and 2013. All 3 wild cards won in 2012 and 2011 when the court was a great deal faster and favoured players such as Llodra.
- The 16 seeded players, who have the luxury of first round byes, tend to play well in Paris. Only 2 of the 16 seeds lost in R32 last year, and only 3 lost in 2014, 2013 and 2011. In the unusual 2012 event when Jerzy Janowicz made the final 4 seeds lost in R32 and a further 3 lost in R16.
- Despite being the final event of the season there is not a high prevalence of retirements or walkovers. 1 player failed to complete their match in 2015 and 2013, 2 in 2014 and 3 in both 2012 and 2011.
4 time champion Novak Djokovic leads the field and will have to be really out of sorts to not come out of his quarter.
He first faces the winner of Nicolas Almagro and Gilles Muller before taking on the the victor between Marcos Baghdatis and Grigor Dimitrov.
The bottom half of the quarter features Cilic and Goffin in the seeded positions but neither will pass by Djokovic.
Standing in the way of the last 8 for the two players chasing London spots are Dusan Lajovic, Ivo Karlovic, Nicolas Mahut and Martin Klizan but it doesn’t seem likely any player from this selection will topple Djokovic.
Verdict – Fresh Djokovic to reach semi final.
A rather uninspiring quarter.
The favourite players all have plenty of red marks against them. Stan Wawrinka made the semis here last year but tends to peak when he feels like it and historically hasn’t given a damn about the Paris Masters.
Dominic Thiem hasn’t played well for months. David Ferrer was not healthy enough to take to court in the Vienna semi final, and Richard Gasquet gave up in his first match last week.
There does however, rarely tend to be a major surprise in Paris with seeded players tending to play to their ranking.
If Gasquet was taking a rest last week then he is capable of doing well in his native country and I see some reason in him advancing to the quarter final. His draw is not too daunting with Steve Johnson, Phillipp Kohlschreiber and Jack Sock standing in the way of a potential R16 encounter with Dominic Thiem. The Antwerp champion has played above his ranking on 2 of his last 3 Paris visits.
David Ferrer also has a strong record here but the injury question mark combined with recent form struggles suggest he may be one to oppose this week. He won’t be too worried about playing John Isner in his first match as he holds a fearless record against the big American, whilst Mischa Zverev has played way too much tennis lately.
As for Wawrinka, who really knows. He lost to the older Zverev brother last week in Basel and made heavy work of both Donald Young and Marco Chiudinelli. His 2015 semi final was a rarity, and it is hard to place too much faith in him.
Verdict – Gasquet to delight Parisians with a semi
Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic hold the top seedings in this quarter.
Nishikori did well for me last week reaching the Basel final – https://gavinnightmair.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/basel-atp-500-preview/. Basel was the first tournament that Kei played since retiring in the R16 in Tokyo, and Mr Bump has registered 2 retirements in his last 5 visits to Paris.
Raonic is playing nothing like the man that made the Wimbledon final. The 2014 finalist missed last year’s event, and has revealed that he is suffering from a ligament tear in his ankle. Whilst surely keen to build some form it is difficult to build a convincing case for somebody with his condition.
There is an opportunity perhaps for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to roll back the years. The Frenchman won me some money last week in Vienna – https://gavinnightmair.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/vienna-atp-500-preview/ – and shouldn’t be too fatigued given his injury hampered 2016.
A Tsonga-Nishikori showdown would be on the cards in R16. Nishikori leads the H2H 5/2 and has 2 wins in Paris albeit by the tightest of margins. Nishikori would again be favourite to win but Tsonga should not be completely discounted.
Viktor Troicki may be keen to put a spanner in the works and is the most dangerous non seed in the Nishikori and Tsonga segment.
Raonic will be tested early by an in-form Pablo Carreno-Busta but the Canadian will likely come through that one especially as PCB was victim to one of Raonic’s rare recent victories.
Pablo Cuevas is the other seed in Raonic’s section but his form is woeful and it feels like his year is all but over.
There is a mystery as to who will face Raonic in R16 as Paolo Lorenzi and the mercurial Benoit Paire are positioned next to Cuevas and only the brave would take a strong position in that one.
Verdict – Open quarter for Nishikori if fitness holds up
Tomas Berdych has the most consistent Paris form of any player in this quarter. It is just a shame about his week to week form.
There is a cloud over the Czech this week but if his fitness is good then he probably makes another quarter final.
Joao Sousa is always a dangerous first round opponent indoors, and will be a good test of Berdych’s level. The scheduled R16 opponent for Berdych is Roberto Bautista Agut who appears to be winding down having had a great 2016.
RBA may be a vulnerable seed, having lost tamely to Jurgen Melzer in Vienna last week and facing the prospect of a R32 encounter against the not entirely dissimilar Julien Benneteau or a player like the Spaniard in Gilles Simon who finds joy in endless rallying.
At the bottom of the quarter is Andy Murray who has won 16 of his last 17 matches and will likely cruise to the quarter final. The other seed in Murray’s section is Lucas Pouille who will be sick at the sight of Murray who has easily got the better of their match up.
Pouille may indeed face a tricky R32 match against Feliciano Lopez who defeated him last week, or qualifier Pierre Hugues-Herbert who has some impressive indoor results at challenger level.
Fernando Verdasco will play Murray in the R32 and will likely be reading holiday brochures in between service games.
Verdict – Murray to conserve energy in friendly quarter.
I believe we will see a different Novak Djokovic than has been typical recently and foresee a comfortable route before him.
Djokovic is 2.82 on the Betfair Exchange to win his 4th consecutive Paris Masters and he has certainly held lower price tags in outright markets this year.
Whilst I think we are set for another Murray-Djokovic showdown I see logic in taking a small nibble on Kei Nishikori at the high price of 18.5, who defeated Murray the last time he went on a lung bursting run of form.