WE got off to a good start on Wednesday in Montpellier when the expected tight affair between Kenny De Schepper and Pierre-Hugues Herbert ended up going to a decider and two tie-breaks.
The over 10.5 games in set one at 2.43 therefore came in but we didn’t get any joy with the +1.5 sets on Daniil Medvedev who was comfortably beaten by Richard Gasquet.
Open Sud de France
We have six matches on the card in Montpellier on Thursday and our top two seeds, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Lucas Pouille, are both set to play their opening matches of the week.
We’re guessing as to either man’s fitness though, as both withdrew from Davis Cup due to injury – Tsonga with a knee injury and Pouille with a neck problem.
Interestingly, Tsonga has lost the opening set against Thursday’s opponent Nicolas Mahut in three of their four career meetings, but after seeing Mahut against Brown on Wednesday it’s hard to recommend Mahut as a bet.
“I'm going to try to be ready tomorrow but my energy level is pretty low,” Mahut said. “I'm not 25 anymore! It's really hard to keep going after a week in the Davis Cup.”
Pouille’s opponent Carlos Taberner beat Norbert Gombos in two tie breaks in an untelevised match in round one, so I’ve yet to see a great deal of the 20-year-old Spaniard, who’s in his first main draw at this level.
Richard Gasquet looked in fine form against Medvedev and should take care of Pierre-Hugues Herbert without too many problems and the one I was thinking about backing in Montpellier, worryingly enough, was Benoit Paire.
Paire’s opponent John Millman was pretty awful in a dire match against Yuichi Sugita on Wednesday and a fit Paire should be winning that one, but fitness is a concern with Paire at the moment.
“It's hard to explain my back problems,” Paire said after beating Mischa Zverev. “The muscles contract, so I have to relax and manage it every day. Despite an infiltration at the end of last season, there is not much we can do.”
I’ll give that one a miss then and of the other two matches in Montpellier I was hoping for a bigger price about Ruben Bemelmans against Damir Dzumhur, whose fine indoor hard court stats are pretty much exclusively from tournaments played in much slower conditions than this.
We did well with Ricardas Berankis the other day, but I expect him to be overpowered by Karen Khachanov unless the Russian has one of his days where he can’t find the court.
I think it’s a little bit quick in Montpellier for Berankis against someone with the power of Khachanov, but the latter isn’t really any great value at 1.52.
Andreas Seppi vs Gilles Muller
This opening match of the day on Centre Court in Sofia is a likely candidate for tie breaks, with all four of their most recent four meetings played on indoor hard, outdoor hard and grass (not clay) featuring at least one breaker.
Muller has come out on top in their last three meetings, but his elbow problem seems to be an ongoing thing and he’s lacking matches, with only six played since last September.
The Luxembourger usually wins against Seppi by pretty much exactly the number of points more he earns in aces per match, which is often about 10 points and in the four sets they contested last season there was just one break of serve in four sets (three of them breakers).
With Miller lacking rhythm from the back of the court due to a lack of matches it’d be a surprise if he won this one with much to spare unless Seppi is tired after Davis Cup and one match here in Sofia.
The Italian seemed fine in a fairly comfortable win over Mikhail Youzhny in which he didn’t drop serve and he’s been in good form so far this season, so I’m expecting another tight contest between these two, with tie break played at 1.70 the bet.
Elsewhere in Sofia I was hoping for Maximilian Marterer to be underdog against his doubles partner this week Joao Sousa, but as odds-on favourite I’ll pass on the German.
The other tempting one is Martin Klizan to beat Stan Wawrinka, but the price is no good again, with Klizan a 14-1 shot when he almost beat Stan at the Australian Open last season and now due to Stan’s injury problems Klizan is a 6-4 chance.
That’s too short for me with Stan’s condition unknown, so my second bet of the day is in Quito.
Casper Ruud vs Gael Monfils
This is Monfils’ first venture onto the South American clay swing and he’ll be hoping it goes better than it did for compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who came back from his jaunt on the Golden Swing with one match win to his name.
It has the feel of a schedule put together by a player getting on a bit and fancying something different, as Monfils usually stays home and plays Montpellier and Marseille this time of year.
The Frenchman hasn’t played much on clay over the last couple of seasons and he hasn’t been successful when he has put his clay shoes on, losing six of his last nine.
He also has no sort of record or real experience of playing on clay at altitude, with a mediocre record in Madrid and Munich and one trip to Gstaad 11 years ago.
If we look at Gael’s performances as a 1.30 to 1.40 favourite on clay we find that he’s lost three of his last six (including the two most recent) and played a tie break in five of those last six.
Indeed, his most recent loss was at altitude in Madrid to Pablo Cuevas as a 1.38 chance, and last season at the Caja Magica he was bagelled by Gilles Simon in his opening match.
So, there are certainly question marks over Monfils on clay and at altitude and his opponent on Thursday is the impressive young Norwegian Casper Ruud, who played well on the Golden Swing last year and in round one here in Quito this week.
Ruud made the semi finals in Rio last year before losing in a deciding set to Pablo Carreno Busta and a return to South American conditions has suited him so far, with a comfortable win over Carlos Berlocq this week.
Clearly clay is Ruud favoured surface and in these quick conditions at altitude it’ll be interesting to see if Monfils can handle the young Norwegian’s forehand in his first match in these unique conditions.
Over 21.5 games and Ruud +1.5 sets appeal here.