David Ferrer v Julien Benneteau
This is going to be the twelfth meeting between Julien Benneteau and David Ferrer on the Tour, but the first since they met in Cincinnati two years ago. On that occasion it was Ferrer who came through comfortably enough against the Frenchman, but both look to be on the slide in their careers at this moment.
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Ferrer has been a feature of the top 10 in the World Rankings in recent years but he no longer occupies one of those spots and a difficult 2016 season, by his own standards, has the Spaniard at Number 17 in the Singles Race. He also suffered a surprising defeat at the Olympic Games considering he went up a set and a break, and that is something that has to be a concern for Ferrer as he has been losing serve and leads more regularly.
In saying that, I do think Ferrer will get the better of fellow veteran Benneteau who has been trying to recapture his form after a long injury lay off. Benneteau did reach the Quarter Final in Los Cabos last week before running into Feliciano Lopez, but that has been a rare success for him as he looks a little slower around the court.
Benneteau’s last five losses in a best of three set matches have seen him fail to cover this number of games and while Ferrer has struggled, he does tend to cover this number when he does win on the hard courts. His last nine wins on this surface has seen Ferrer go up 9-0 if he was asked to cover 4.5 games and I think he has still got enough in the locker to win this match 6-4, 6-3 and move into the Second Round.
HANDICAP BETTING PICK: David Ferrer – 4.5 Games @ 2.05 with Unibet
Nicolas Almagro v Jared Donaldson
Nicolas Almagro might be back inside the top 50 in the World Rankings, but he is heading into a portion of the season that might be unfamiliar to him these days. The Spaniard has gone 5-8 on the hard courts since the 2014 season and even that record has been boosted by Almagro winning two matches in Los Cabos last week before losing a tight Quarter Final.
That is the second consecutive Quarter Final on the hard courts, the other being at the Challenger level, which might give Almagro a boost in confidence as he takes on a young American hope. Jared Donaldson came through the Qualifiers to reach the Second Round in Washington, Third Round in Toronto and First Round last week in Los Cabos, but he is still a little inconsistent and has yet to transfer his form onto the main Tour.
The two upset wins Donaldson had in Toronto will have given him confidence to take on Almagro who is not at the level of a few years ago. However the conditions in Cincinnati should make the Almagro serve more dangerous, but he is making his first appearance here in three years and I do think the Spaniard has lost some of his consistency which saw him enter the top 10 of the World Rankings.
Donaldson did upset Nicolas Mahut here last year, but I think he might just struggle to match the serve that Almagro should be able to produce on this court. It will likely need three sets, but I will look for Almagro to use all of his experience to help him past Donaldson and cover this number.
HANDICAP BETTING PICK: Nicolas Almagro – 1.5 Games @ 1.86 with Pinnacle
Reilly Opelka v Jeremy Chardy
He might still be Number 364 in the World Rankings, but Reilly Opelka can make a significant move by the end of the US Open where I would expect him to earn a Wild Card. A run to the Semi Final in Atlanta will have given Opelka plenty of confidence, and he is in the Masters main draw in Cincinnati this week.
A Second Round loss to Feliciano Lopez last week in Los Cabos was a closer match than the scoreboard indicated, and I think the courts in Cincinnati will suit Opelka’s game especially with that monster serve he possesses.
I also think Opelka has shown he could potentially be a stronger returner than the likes of John Isner which will give him every chance of big success in the future once the 18-year-old fills out the body. At this moment he is still the underdog against Jeremy Chardy, but the Frenchman has been in really poor form in 2016 and two early losses on the hard courts this summer have to be a concern.
In fact Chardy has had five consecutive First Round losses on the hard courts since reaching the Quarter Final in Delray Beach. Four of those losses have come as the favourite and one of those was against another young American with plenty of potential in Taylor Fritz, and Chardy is just 5-6 in Cincinnati when you take away one Quarter Final appearance here in 2012.
If Opelka is serving well, I think he will have chances to break in this one and I can really see the upset come off in the First Round. However I will take the games being given to the big serving American to at least keep things competitive in this one against an opponent who has shown in the past he is more than a capable player, but Chardy’s recent form can’t be ignored.
HANDICAP BETTING PICK: Reilly Opelka + 2.5 Games @ 2.08 with Pinnacle
Prices correct at time of writing.