Auckland and Sydney host the final warm up events preceding the year’s first Grand Slam.
Auckland ATP – Ferrer’s last stand
Four players with past success feature in the New Zealand event.
Roberto Bautista-Agut became a two-time winner in Chennai last week, and after he won his first title in 2015 he went on to retire in his Auckland R16 match. With the Australian Open only a few days away it seems unlikely that RBA will be straining himself unnecessarily this week – especially as he benefits from a top 16 ranking that will bypass some of the trickier early round matchups, and could enable him to progress deep through a kind enough draw.
The first quarter looks open without an unfocussed Bautista-Agut and not one player leaps off the page as a wholly convincing proposition. Yes, Jiri Vesely won Auckland in 2015 but he has failed to reach the final of any other 250 level event on hard court since that time and his 1 year and 3 year hard court statistics don’t build confidence.
Adrian Mannarino defended the Noumea challenger title that he won last year. He barely broke sweat against very limited opposition and I am reluctant to term his Noumea win as ‘form’.
The second quarter is headed by 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2007 champion David Ferrer. Whilst the 34 year old looks to be in inevitable decline he still possesses a competitive game and will have the desire to prove that his expiration date isn’t quite yet.
Not one of Ferrer’s quarter opponents have a winning record in Auckland over the past five years and if the Spaniard can’t see himself through this field then it might be time to prepare the obituaries.
The third quarter could prove interesting with Feliciano Lopez and Jeremy Chardy capable of challenging 2016 runner up Jack Sock.
The American started strongly at the Hopman Cup and his Auckland performance exceeded his seeding in 2016 and 2014. In addition to this, Sock ranked 14th of all top 100 players for hard court wins last season.
John Isner left Auckland as the winner in both 2014 and 2010. The big American ended 2016 in fine form reaching the final in Paris. Isner has a strong record at 250 events winning three and making one other final since 2014.
The big server had an unsuccessful 2016 when compared to the two years beforehand but even then his record far exceeds his quarter competition.
Quarter 4 also features Steve Johnson, who did well here as a qualifier in 2014 but overall his record is so-so. Yen-Hsun Lu was a finalist in 2014 but is an inconsistent player and will be doing well if he can get past the likely to improve Karen Khachanov.
My portfolio this week has equal stakes on Ferrer (5.32), Sock (5.50) and Isner (7.03)
Sydney ATP – ‘Threepeat’ for Troicki can’t be dismissed
Troicki has won the past two events in Sydney and with an entry list this week he has a good chance again.
Rather unsurprisingly, the only Top 10 ranked player to take to court at either event this week is Dominic Them.
The Austrian is the favourite to win Sydney and if he performs to his potential then he will leave as the champion. Thiem adopts a heavy schedule with a long term approach in mind as his coach believes that coping with regular matchplay will prepare him best for the big moments that may be in his future.
Both hard court performance stats and results promote Thiem as the player to beat this week.
The improving Pablo Carreno Busta is the recipient of a bye in the second quarter. However, I think he is a weak favourite in his part of the draw.
There is not a great deal to choose between the players in this section, and I believe there is something positive to say about Andrey Kuznetsov who in 2016 was the 17th best player in the top 100 for hard court match wins coupled with performance statistics that rival Thiem.
Kuznetsov’s route to the QF features Martin Klizan, who last won a hard court match in 2015 followed by the winner of the contest between the probably jetlagged Benoit Paire and youngster Alex De Minaur. After that is either PCB or the victor of Mischa Zverev and Nicolas Almagro’s meeting.
Reigning 2015 and 2016 champion Viktor Troicki has a good run to the semi final.
Philipp Kohlschreiber and Fabio Fognini is a toss-up given the German’s declining performance and the Italian’s recent Moscow victory.
The winner of that will face the battle of two Aussie wildcards, who shared doubles success in Brisbane last week – Thanasi Kokkinakis and Jordan Thompson. The latter will be favoured to edge that one particularly coming off a singles QF in addition to his teammates’ long term injury issues.
Before any of that, Troicki will take on Florian Mayer or Paolo Lorenzi. The German bamboozled Troicki on grass last season but the quirky Mayer is a less imposing proposition on a more neutral surface.
The seeded player in the final quarter is Pablo Cuevas, but there isn’t a great deal of evidence to suggest that the Uruguayan lives up to his billing.
One player who could make an impact in Sydney, as he has done by reaching the semi finals in the last 2 years, is Gilles Muller. Court conditions are friendly to a big server and he can capitalise upon the soft seeding of Cuevas. One obvious concern is that Muller has never won a main tour title before despite now being in his veteran years.
Alexandr Dolgopolov is not long back from injury and he might not have the sharpness required to take out Muller. Kyle Edmund is a player who could prove difficult to bypass but has yet to show that he can go deep in tournaments of this level.
Small stakes take into account the volatility of events the week before a Grand Slam. Using ‘points’ to represent my market positions I have backed 3/10 on Thiem (3.70) 1.8/10 on Troicki (8.54), 1/10 on Muller (23.50) and 1/10 on Kuznetsov (25).