World Tour Finals, London
It has only been a couple of weeks since Pablo Carreno Busta and Fabio Fognini were competing against one another in the Final of the ATP Moscow event. On that occasion it was Carreno Busta who came from a set down to beat the Italian and take the title home while he also made it two wins from two matches on the pro Tour against Fognini.
That was the one week that both Carreno Busta and Fognini have really put some results together since the US Open with a lot of inconsistent performances prior to that. It was no surprise that neither was really able to back up the success with a strong week at their events last week, but fatigue shouldn’t be an issue in the opening match at the Paris Masters.
The losses suffered by Carreno Busta since the US Open have also mainly come against a higher level of quality than the defeats Fognini has suffered so I do think the Spaniard has an edge on the form. He hadn’t previously enjoyed playing on the hard courts as much as he has seemingly had in recent weeks, which is a concern, but Carreno Busta might be getting to grips with the surface a little more.
This is also not a match up where Fognini will blast him off the court and Carreno Busta will feel he can rally with Fognini and get the better of him. The Paris courts in this indoor tournament have played fast in the past, which should aid Carreno Busta with the slightly stronger serve and I think the Spaniard moves through to the Second Round with a 46, 64, 64 win.
This has as much to do with wanting to oppose Fernando Verdasco as well as backing Robin Haase, although I would be lying if I am not putting more stock in the recent form shown by the veteran Spaniard. At this point of the season, I am not sure where Verdasco is going to find the motivation to end 2016 with a positive run at the Paris Masters with little chance of being Seeded at the first Grand Slam of the 2017 season in Australia.
Verdasco was beaten in the First Round at the US Open following a run to the Quarter Final in Winston Salem and that means he has lost eight of his last nine matches including the last four in a row. Defeats to Mikael Ymer and Pablo Carreno Busta, who had just won the Moscow title days before, in straight sets are not a good look for Verdasco and he has lost his last eight sets he has played.
Robin Haase has come through the Qualifiers for a second tournament in a row and has the tools to be successful on the indoor hard courts from a physical point of view at least. I do think Haase struggles with the mental aspect and having lost two of his last three matches against Verdasco it can be difficult to trust the Dutchman in this one.
Confidence might have come from Challenger wins on clay courts, but the Qualifier win over Nikoloz Basilashvili can’t be underestimated since the latter beat Tomas Berdych last week. If Haase serves well he can definitely put the pressure on Verdasco who has been struggling behind his own serve and I think Haase is in the better form of late.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Haase drops a set, although I do think he can come through with a 36, 63, 64 win and a place in the Second Round where he will face Andy Murray.
Albert Ramos-Vinolas is very likely to be Seeded when the Australian Open rolls around in January but the hard courts remain one of his weaker surfaces as he has to battle for every point he wins. There have been some positive runs like reaching the Final in Chengdu, but Ramos-Vinolas still has a losing record on the surface.
2016 will be seen as a positive one for the Spaniard who is going to end with a career best World Ranking and there have been some really positive performances from Ramos-Vinolas. He has to take that confidence into next season, because I think he might have some issues against Stephane Robert who has been given a Wild Card into this Paris Masters.
I think one of the home favourites means Robert will be given plenty of support in the last match of the day and he has shown he can be very competitive in recent matches. The concern is that Robert hasn’t finished well when he has had players under the cosh and that has prevented him winning matches that he perhaps should have done.
That was the case again last week as Robert should have beaten Philipp Kohlschreiber but was beaten in a final set tie-breaker. With a strong run in Moscow behind him and seeing some of the losses that Ramos-Vinolas has had of late makes Robert look a player I want to back even with the limited games he is being given with a potential upset a real possibility in this First Round match.
Prices correct at time of writing.
I have no interest in trying to pick a winner from the first match in Singapore on Friday as it is a dead rubber in which I can’t see a reason for either Svetlana Kuznetsova or Garbine Muguruza to really want to push for the win. That looks like it could be a case of who can ‘tank’ the most effectively, but the second match has plenty on the line.
Both Agnieszka Radwanska and Karolina Pliskova have a chance to be the last Singles player to make it through to the Semi Final in the WTA Finals and that means plenty of motivation for both. Radwanska is the defending Champion here and has a very strong 6-0 record against Pliskova and is yet to drop a set against this opponent, and it has to be said that these head to head records have proved quite decisive in a couple of the matches.
That isn’t a sole reason you can pick anyone to win a match, but I do think there has to be some concern about Pliskova’s ability to produce her best serves. That is imperative for her whole game but Pliskova struggled against Svetlana Kuznetsova to get the pop we are used to and being dragged into long rallies with Radwanska is only going to lead to one winner.
Pliskova has admitted to having some issue with the shoulder which would also have been a little more sore having played in the Doubles Quarter Final. It would take something special for the issue to have cleared up in time for this Group match and I think Radwanska can take advantage, while she is also capable of extending rallies to wear down her opponent who has already had a lot of tennis in the legs this week.
The conditions are ones that Radwanska should enjoy having won the title here last season and I think she will be able to battle through a couple of tight service games for big holds at big moments. Pliskova will be dangerous if she decides she has no choice but to hit out, but I still think Radwanska can earn her way to a 64, 63 win and a place in the Semi Final.
The head to head might read 4-0 in favour of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, but that doesn’t tell you how competitive matches between the Frenchman and Albert Ramos-Vinolas have been the last two times they have played on the Tour. Both of those matches have gone the distance before Tsonga has gotten the better of Ramos-Vinolas, but I am backing Tsonga to have a slightly more routine day in Vienna on Friday.
I have to respect the fact that Ramos-Vinolas was willing to dig as deep as he did to beat home favourite Jurgen Melzer on Thursday. It also can’t be ignored that while the Spaniard might not be as keen on this time of the season on the Tour and has struggled for wins, he did reach the Final in Chengdu when he picks up some momentum, while the lefty serve is automatically going into the weaker Tsonga wing.
Those are all factors that are pointing to Ramos-Vinolas, but you have to appreciate how close he came to losing to Melzer on Thursday. Someone like Tsonga is unlikely to let him off the hook and I think the conditions will favour the heavier game Tsonga has which will allow him to push the Spaniard backwards.
If Tsonga is serving well he can also put some pressure on Ramos-Vinolas from a mental standpoint and I think it will be Tsonga who has the majority of break points in this one. Some of the Ramos-Vinolas losses since the US Open have come in comfortable fashion and I think Tsonga is capable of making life easier than usual against this opponent with a 75, 63 win.
The chase to become World Number 1 for the first time in his career means Andy Murray is perhaps playing more tennis at the moment than even he would like to be doing. 2016 has been a long season for Murray and overcoming Novak Djokovic’s lead to become World Number 1 is a distinct possibility in the next couple of weeks, but it will mean winning more tennis matches.
There have been a couple of signs that perhaps Murray is feeling all that tennis and this might be a rare occasion when he is happy to be facing someone like John Isner. The serve is a difficult shot to deal with, but Murray won’t be taxed too much from a physical standpoint as the rallies are unlikely to develop into the long ones he had to face against Gilles Simon.
I am of the belief that Isner has lost a little bit around his game, but the indoor hard court conditions should be just about perfect for his serve. He might be even more dangerous if Murray is serving as poorly as he did on Thursday, but I think Murray is one of the smarter players on the Tour who will take something off the first serve to make sure he keeps the pressure on Isner.
I do think there is potentially a chance that Murray is going to just have some troubles again in this one and a break of serve for Isner could be crucial with the number of games he is being given. Even without that break, Isner has the kind of serve that might be tough for a mentally tired Murray to break down twice and this could easily end 76, 64 in favour of the British player and I can’t help this is too many games at odds against for Isner to have.
Prices correct at time of writing.
Both of these players are going to know their exact situation in the Group heading out onto the court and that might play a part in how this match goes. I am not going to read too much into what I expect to happen in the first match of the day, but instead focus on how I think this match will go.
You can’t ignore the fact that Angelique Kerber has won all five previous matches against Madison Keys and I think this is the kind of opponent that the American has to learn to deal with to take the next step in her career. Like Simona Halep, Kerber has the tools to negate the big Keys serve and force the younger player to try and beat her with consistency off the ground.
While Kerber can accept that Keys will be able to penetrate the defences with the power she has, the World Number 1 will also know she can force mistakes from the Keys game by getting as many balls back in play as possible. Going into the Keys backhand from the Kerber forehand should also be a productive play to open up the court for Kerber and having to play as many balls as Keys is likely going to have to can be mentally draining.
These players have met twice in 2016 and Kerber has won all four sets and I think she will have enough of an edge in the longer rallies to wear down Keys in this one. If Madison Keys can get 75% of first serves in and just play with virtually no unforced errors she could win this match, but that is a big ask and I am looking for Kerber to put up her third win in Singapore in a 75, 63 win.
You cannot look past the fortune that Philipp Kohlschreiber got in this win over Stephane Robert on Wednesday and he will need a lot more of that to snap his nine match losing run to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. It will be interesting to see if Kohlschreiber has had the time to recover physically from what was a testing match against Robert and the Frenchman he faces on Thursday is a lot more powerful and consistent.
The recent run of results have shown Kohlschreiber might not be at his full confidence level and that has seen him struggle on the serve. On another day he would have been beaten easily by Robert and being as loose as that against Tsonga is only going to result in yet another defeat to this opponent.
Tsonga hasn’t played a lot of tennis since the retirement at the US Open but he has looked solid enough in the limited time he has been on court. He was an easy winner in the First Round in Vienna where he has won the title before and I think the indoor hard courts suit his game just fine as he is able to dictate points comfortably behind the heavy forehand.
If Tsonga is serving well it will only increase the pressure on Kohlschreiber to stay with him and I think that will ultimately prove too much for the German to do. I like Tsonga to build the pressure and crack Kohlschreiber in a 63, 64 win.
When these players met in Shanghai it was a poor day serving from Andy Murray that allowed Gilles Simon to remain competitive against him. The courts in Vienna may help Murray get a little more out of his first serve which had not been as productive as he liked in Shanghai and I think the match up is one that Murray will know exactly what to expect.
Simon is going to battle hard and he will extend rallies with his defensive movement and ability to put the ball in some awkward spots for Murray to try and do something with. The Frenchman is able to get to the net and stop Murray from just chipping the ball into play, but his weakness remains the serve which should see the World Number 2 be able to get into the rallies.
I have little doubt that Murray is going to be in a position to break serve a few times and the key will be to make sure he takes a solid percentage of those and not allow them to slip past. What is harder to guess is whether Murray is going to be able to serve well enough to prevent Simon from continuously battling back like he did when these players met in Shanghai and it does have to be said that plenty of their previous matches have been competitive affairs.
The form Murray has been in definitely gives him an edge though and I think he has taken the chances that have come his way when he does get into break point positions. He has at least been serving decently enough to help himself to a 64, 62 win in this one barring another late break when serving for the match as he had in Shanghai.
Prices correct at time of writing.