It’s the fourth and final week of a disparate three-pronged tour before everyone re-unites under one banner in Indian Wells the first week of March. For the fourth week in a row there is almost zero cross over between the three separate iterations of the tour — there are two or three players who moved from Rio to Acapulco but other than them there continues to be zero cross-pollintaion , so this will be a little more brief than usual. Form should be established and we’ll see some repeats of matches and sections of brackets that have already happened this month.
Dubai actually got underway Monday morning with four matches that saw one big name get kicked to the curb earlier. Milos Raonic, third favorite and 8/1 on the outright was bounced in round one by Jan Leonard Struff.
Dubai is surpassed by only Beijing as the richest 500 level event on tour and hence it draws some of the biggest names. That means, regardless of conditions it is the heavy favorites that usually prevail. We’re talking Federer, seven time champ, Djokovic four time champ, Nadal, Murray, Wawrinka. Last year was the first time a non-top six guy had won the tournament dating back to 2002 (and that’s probably because Dimitrov was the only top 10 ranked player to attend last year).
This year, Federer occupies the #2 seed and headlines the bottom half of the bracket. That makes the entire lower half of the bracket a no-fly zone. Federer didn’t look overwhelming at the Aussie but even at 75% he should run through this field — Verdasco, Struff, Basilashvili, Berdych, Coric, RBA? Only Coric and Berdych have had any past success against Federer and neither has looked stunning since the Aussie. With a price of +125 to the field though, it’s best to look to the top half of the bracket.
The first quarter and the second quarter are set up very similar. Two big seeds and a bunch of middling players in between. The first quarter has Nishikori and Tsitsipas slated to meet in the quarter-final. Nishikori is coming off a win in Brisbane, a quarter-final in Melbourne and a semi in Rotterdam. It’s a hell of a season but, he has never been to Dubai before and Tsitsipas is playing so well that the quarter-final looks tough. At 4/1 or 5/1 Nishikori would have a path of Tstsipas, Cilic/Medvedev, Federer. If you truly believe Nishikori can win you might as well just parlay those moneylines, there is a good chance he is the underdog in all three. Tsitsipas is intriguing just based on his form. The issue there, of course, is fatigue. Tsitsipas went to the semis in Melbourne but followed that up with a second round exit in Sofia and a first round exit in Rotterdam. He got everything back on track last week, winning in Marseilles, but this is now his fourth straight week of tennis. No thanks.
That leaves the second quarter. It is, as stated just above, set up very similar to the first quarter. The big names are Marin Cilic and Daniil Medvedev, slated to meet in the quarter-final, surrounding by a bunch of middling players. Medvedev has a lower price because he has the easier first two matches. He is also in crazy good form early in 2019. Taking Medvedev is super tempting. The concern with Meds is he would have to beat Cilic/Monfils, Tsitsipas/Nishikori and Federer to win. Medvedev is turning into the kind of player who beats who he is supposed to beat and struggles with those above him. He is now 1–10 against top 10 players — Cilic, Nishikori and Fed all fit that bill (and he has already lost to Nishikori this year). He lost to Monfils two weeks in Rotterdam. The only one of that bunch that probably wouldn’t trouble him is Tsitsipas, with whom he has a great head-to-head. That means Cilic is the man this week. Now, he does have trouble with Monfils historically. That is why his outright price is a tad higher than Medvedev’s. But, Monfils is coming off a title in Rotterdam and his motivation could be questioned. Cilic has the big serve to hit through this court, he is due for a big showing after choking in the fourth round against RBA, and he has had success against Tsitsipas and Nishikori in the past, should he meet either in the semis. At 10/1 this is a decent option for the week.
The most lopsided field of the week. Two huge, heavy favorites and a field of also-rans. Nadal and Zverev are so heavily favored, and their paths so wide open that finding a book that offers the prop “who makes the final” would be a wise move. A guess would be that a Nadal/Zverev final would pay about 4/1.
Failing that, the best idea here is to find the guy that offers the most resistance to either Nadal or Zverev.
Nadal’s path looks scarily easy. The two scary names in Nadal’s quarter would be Nick Kyrgios and Stan Wawrinka. Kyrgios hasn’t looked right in 2019 yet and the version of Nadal that showed up at the Aussie Open should wreck Kyrgios. Wawrinka went to the finals in Rotterdam, so given his hot and cold nature (he went out in the first round at Sofia, just before Rotterdam) you wouldn’t be surprised to see him duck out early or offer up scant defence to Rafa. The second quarter may be the easiest quarter in the draw. Isner has looked old, Mannarino has one win on the year, Gojo and Millman both are .500 and both went out last week (and Gojo is one of the few cross-pollinators this week, travelling from Marseilles). Former champ Sam Querrey is in the second quarter, he has all of four wins on the season and none of the completed match wins were even against anyone in the top 50. Nadal looks to be able to walk to the final.
What about the bottom half? Well, the third quarter is, like the second, showing a dearth of big names. The only one with any success in 2019 is Mackenzie McDonald but he is coming off the disappointment of losing his first ATP semi-final in Delray Beach and might not be 100% focused. The best player in the third quarter might be Schwartzman. But, he is coming from Rio (one of three players in the draw making that trek) and that travel schedule has never proven successful. Schwartzman did this last year and went out in the second round. In fact, the only two guys you can find who have managed the Rio-Acapulco travel well are Dominic Thiem and David Ferrer. Hard to say if DSS is comparable to peak Thiem or peak Ferrer.
So, does the fourth quarter hold a challenge to Zverev? The only real threat appears to be Alex DeMinaur. DeMinaur hasn’t fared well against Zverev to date (0–3, none close) but, Zverev looked sloppy in a loss to Raonic at the Aussie and may not be settled in with new coach, Ivan Lendl, yet. If there is a surface where DeMinaur might be able to keep up with Zverev, it might be slower hard courts. ADM can get to everything, and maybe make Zverev hit an extra ball or two each rally and invite some errors. In a field where the two favorites are paying about 2/1 and everyone else is way over the horizon, ADM at 14/1 looks the best shot to make some money with.
The Sao Paulo tournament is the most wide-open event we’ve probably seen on tour so far in 2019. Big clay stars and Golden Swing fixtures, such as Dominic Thiem, Fognini, Marco Cecchinato, PCB, DSS, and even Dusan Lajovic have chosen to pull out or play in Acapulco. That leaves #38 Joao Sousa as the top seed. It would be hard to find a tournament in the last few years that was not immediately preceding a Slam that had this few top 50 players.
Sao Paulo is also unique, in addition to the weak field, for being played at a bit of elevation. At just over 2,500 feet above sea level it is one of the highest tour events on the schedule. So, serves will play fast and experience at elevation will help. With the field so open it probably pays to have a few options. Here are five to keep an eye on.
Big serve, experience at elevation. No surprise then that Pablo Cuevas has won this event three times. He is considered one of the bigger servers on clay that the tour has and he plays as many tiebreaks as anybody on tour not named Isner or Karlovic. He holds serve 85% of the time and has gone deep at all three Golden Swing events this year. That, of course, is a double-edged sword. Cuevas may be fatigued after going semi, quarter, semi in the last three weeks. He has played more tennis than any other person on the South American swing. His price is only 8/1 and he has to go through FAA and probably last week champ Laslo Djere — that is a concerning path.
Guido Pella has maybe the easiest quarter of the big seeds and he might get a semi-finalist like Djere or Cuevas who is coming off a quarter-final that went 76,67,76 at elevation. Pella has also been here five times so he knows the venue. He holds serve 79% of the time and like Cuevas he has also tasted success this Golden Swing, making the final in Cordoba, so the form is good. At 8/1 he is a maybe the best option.
Leo Mayer also holds serve 79% of the time and he also has plenty of experience here in Sao Paulo. He is very similar to Pella in that he also has what appears to be an easier draw. The concern is that Mayer is 1–3 on the Golden Swing and may not have the form you would be looking for in an outright.
Laslo Djere is the final one of the low-priced outrights that is intriguing. He holds serve 82% of the time. He won last week in Rio and if there was ever a champion that shouldn’t be tired the week after a title it is him. Djere got a walk over in his semi-final so he only had to play four matches and instead of getting his off-day on a Monday or a Tuesday, he got it on Saturday. He also never dropped a set in dispatching Thiem, Taro Daniel, Casper Ruud and FAA. His form is like lightning. The only concern with Djere is that his path would include Cuevas and probably Pella. That is not easy.
The long-shot option who checks all the boxed is Juan Ignacio Londero. Londero burst onto the scene three weeks ago when he won Cordoba. He is holding serve 81% of the time, we know he is in good form, he is in a pretty easy first quarter (given how first quarters usually look) and his outright price is massive. Lastly, he has shown an aptitude for altitude, winning the Challenger event in Mexico City (7,000 feet) last year. So, Sao Paulo should not be an issue for him. 40/1 lights the eyes right up.
Cilic 10/1, x0.5
DeMinaur 14/1, x0.5
Pella 8/1, x0.5
Londero 40/1, x0.5