WEEK 29 of the ATP World Tour features one final tournament on the grass and two clay events in this in-between part of the season that connects the grass and hard court swings.
They play on the grass at the renamed Dell Technologies Hall of Fame Open in Newport and on outdoor clay at the Croatia Open and Swedish Open and this week often throws up a big-priced winner or two.
In Newport they play on slick, low-bouncing old-fashioned grass courts, unlike the peculiar grass arrangement at Wimbledon that plays more like a hybrid of grass, clay and hard courts depending on various factors.
The low bounce suits the shorter players on tour with Dudi Sela, Oliver Rochus, Fabrice Santoro and Lleyton Hewitt all having enjoyed it here, while the likes of Ivo Karlovic and John Isner have won it too, so there’s something in it for most.
There are thunderstorms and rain forecast for the week in Newport so interruptions are expected.
In Umag it’s usually very hot at this time of the year and the matches start later in the day. Often here the courts are in questionable condition and need running repairs as the week goes on but the heat and humidity are definitely a big factor to bear in mind.
At the Swedish Open in Bastad the wind is usually an issue due to the location of the venue, which is very close to the beach, so it can get breezy here. I had success here with 11-1 chance Albert Ramos last year so a repeat winner would be most welcome.
Starting with Newport then and let’s be frank their field is pretty much Challenger level, with several withdrawals and it looks a straight fight between Karlovic, Isner and Adrian Mannarino but the value could lie elsewhere.
If we’re judging the quality of the field on the number of players who have surface hold/break stats of 100 or more then Newport has only four, with Isner not managing it over his last 10 matches on grass.
Only Denis Kudla (stats from a while ago though and not representative of his current lack of form), Ilya Marchenko, Karlovic and Mannarino are on 100 or more and it looks set up for Karlovic to retain his title.
We do know that Rajeev Ram loves it here and it’s perfectly possible that a return to Newport will see him back to his best while Reilly Opelka could do damage here with his serve.
The latter is yet to take to grass though and neither has Taylor Fritz but Marchenko can play on grass and he was unlucky at Wimbledon when a slip and subsequent injury cost him his match versus Jiri Vesely.
He was also unfortunate with the draw at Newport when he played here last in 2015, losing in a decider to Karlovic, but the Ukrainian has the grass ability to take advantage of a weak draw.
The obvious obstacle is Isner but he’s rarely played his best tennis on grass (certainly of late) and had another poor grass swing this summer. He’s also lost three of his last five matches in Newport after winning it in 2011 and 2012.
Isner’s certainly a contender but he looks a shaky favourite at 3.75 and the 34.0 on Marchenko and 5.0 on Karlovic seem better bets.
Bastad is also a little tricky to judge, with the rain delays meaning that qualies are still playing at the time of writing and the likes of Federico Delbonis and Leo Mayer could slot in there and make life awkward in round one for the likes of Diego Schwartzman, Ernests Gulbis, Alexandr Dolgopolov, or David Ferrer, all of whom face a qualifier in round one.
In contrast to Newport, the Bastad field is very good for a 250, with at the moment 11 players having over 100 clay hold/break totals at main level over the past 12 months.
Three Spaniards lead the way with marks of between 108 and 108.9 and they are last year’s finalists Albert Ramos and Fernando Verdasco, while Pablo Carreno Busta completes the trio.
PCB has been injured since quitting the French Open with an abdominal injury so we’re guessing a bit as to his fitness this week as we also are with Pablo Cuevas.
The Uruguayan missed the grass swing citing personal reasons and then a knee injury so it’s hard to see him as a viable winner as short as around 6.5 but his record here has to be respected.
Instead, what about the man who crushed Cuevas in the French Open, last year’s finalist Verdasco who’s available at twice the price of Cuevas and looks to have a decent draw.
Verdasco may have to face Ramos again but he’s beaten the latter four times from their last five meetings and in any case Ramos may have a tough round two against either Dusan Lajovic, who won the Bastad Challenger last week, or big-hitting lefty Thiago Monteiro who’s a similar type to Verdasco.
There’s little else in that bottom half of the draw with David Ferrer priced up miles too short given his decline.
Verdasco has a good record here, a good draw and a big mental advantage over Cuevas if it comes to it so he looks the value in that half of the draw.
In Umag long-shot punters may seek to avail themselves of the 66-1 and upwards on Umag-loving Andrej Martin who made the final here a year ago and despite his mediocre form in other tournaments his record here is worthy of inspection.
On recent form he has no chance but what recent form did Ram have coming into Newport when he won it as a 150-1 chance or Victor Estrella Burgos every year in Quito?
On the clay hold/break stats at main level over the past 12 months David Goffin is the obvious pick in Umag but his fitness must be questioned after that nasty injury he incurred at the French Open.
The Belgian hasn’t played since and he’s hardly a prolific winner of titles, with only two to his name – both back in 2014. His draw looks decent though.
Defending champ Fabio Fognini and crowd favourite Borna Coric are both in with chances but you take your chances with Fabio always and Coric is not in the best of form and is yet to prove he can handle the expectation on him playing at home.
On his best form he’s a decent pick but Carlos Berlocq won’t be easy in round one and for me there are enough doubts about the favourites in that half to take a small chance on Martin.
Gael Monfils is another who’s hard to win with and especially on clay, where his only title came 12 years ago in Sopot, while Paulo Lorenzi has a 1-5 record in Umag.
Benoit Paire has form at this time of year having won Bastad two years ago but he’s another who you take a big chance with when you back the unstable Frenchman.
Jiri Vesely is 1-4 here and Aljaz Bedene also has a losing record in Umag and neither may be well suited by the heat here, so the bottom half looks tough to call.