WTA Tokyo: A good chance Nao for Hibino

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TENNIS boffin Gavin Mair (@gavinnightmair) analyses the the WTA Tokyo International event.

WTA Tokyo International | 11th – 17th September 2017

The Grand Slams may be over for 2017 but there’s still plenty left to play for as the tour moves to Asia. Ranking points, prize money and potential qualification to year-end championships give players plenty of incentive to keep it going. T

okyo hosts the first of two separate WTA events in the city, the second of which is the more prestigious Premier level event, which is curiously played at the same venue.

This is the third and final Tokyo International event before moving to Hiroshima in 2018. The previous editions were won by the unseeded Yanina Wickmayer in 2015 and by Christina McHale in 2016, who was seeded seventh. The two are far from standout names on the tour, but are journeywoman types capable of the occasional good week here and there.

The entry list for the 2017 edition features a number of unreliable favourites and there may be betting value to have at slightly higher prices.

As ever my betting previews are based upon statistics that I have researched and analysed, as well as any additional relevant information. I have made a tracker where you can follow my week to week results.

Quarter 1

The first quarter is led by the badly out of form Kristina Mladenovic, who after a bright start to the season is in danger of failing to reach the year end tournaments. She is by far the highest ranked player present in Tokyo but she routinely disappoints on hard courts, even at the International level.

I am surprised to see Mladenovic in Tokyo as last month she was listed as an entrant at the Quebec indoor event that is also played this week. Mladenovic typically goes a lot better indoors than outdoors and although I understand the rationale in arriving in Asia earlier to prepare a last ditch tilt to qualify for the year end events I do not think Mladenovic can reliably bank on success at this type of event.

The French player has landed in a competitive part of the draw and will have to be much improved from her recent outings if she is going to make progress this week. First up is Jana Fett, who has some promising performance numbers but it is hard to know how strong they are given the 2017 is her first season playing regularly at this level. If she can repeat the hard court form that she has suggested she is capable of then Mladenovic might already be in trouble.

The other seed in this quarter is Naomi Osaka – the Japanese media darling. The quirky American/Japanese player has a game that is suited to the big time, but she is still clearly in development. Osaka destroyed the defending US Open champion Angelique Kerber, but then tamely lost to Kaia Kanepi in New York.

Osaka made the final at the Premier event last season and it is certainly within her capabilities to lift this title. But as I prefaced at the start of the article there are a number of unreliable seeded players and she certainly fits into that category.

A reliable player that I like at a higher price than either Mladenovic or Osaka is Qiang Wang. The Chinese has a steady style of play and has made great strides forward this year. Her performance statistics are the highest within the quarter and if Mladenovic, and especially Osaka, are off their game Wang at 16/1 with BetVictor is worthy of your consideration.

Quarter 2

Kristyna Pliskova was awarded a wildcard into Tokyo and starts as the tournament’s 4th seed. She played her first match last night and her fitness looked a little bit dodgy to my eyes. Again she is an unreliable seed that I am happy to oppose.

The second highest seed is Alison Riske. The American loves to play at International events in Asia but I have unimpressed by her level for quite some time and there are better options out there at bigger prices.

One such option is the unseeded and consistently undervalued Nao Hibino. The Japanese is profiled by the betting markets as being another moderately ranked Asian player. However, she has more about her than most.

Hibino has made two International level finals this year, has exceptional performance statistics and comes into Tokyo fresh off a fine US Open. Hibino was a 6/1 shot to defeat the great American hope – Cici Bellis – and was similarly priced to defeat Lucie Safarova in the following round. Ultimately she lost to the Czech but she still took her more experienced opponent to three sets.

I like Hibino’s draw, and she should never be priced at 66/1 with Unibet.

Quarter 3

The third quarter sees Sam Stosur return to the tour after several months off through injury. In her pomp Stosur was a reliable player in the Asian hardcourt swing, but she is no longer at an elite level and with her fitness doubts I don’t rate her chances.

Elise Mertens (9/1 Stan James) is the third seed and is the priced similarly to Mladenovic this week. Mertens has made a breakthrough this season, quickly climbing up the rankings and finding consistent results at a series of quality events. However, can she maintain her level so deep into the season? I am sceptical of this and again, the betting value has to lie away from the seed.

The defending champion is Christina McHale and she also made the semifinal the season before. In New York she showed signs that some level of form was returning and it looks like this is nicely timed for another deep run in the Tokyo International. 25/1 with Unibet is again worthy of consideration.

Quarter 4

The bottom quarter is fronted by 2nd seed Shuai Zhang. The Chinese player is another unreliable seed but she has an absolute gift of a draw. She has not won a title since 2013, but Zhang has shown that she can more consistently play to her top 35 ranking and if any of the seeds are to have a good week it is her that I have most faith in. Zhang is 9/1 with Bet365.

Yulia Putintseva is the other seed in the quarter but she is lucky to still hold such a position given the sharp decline in her ranking, which is an indication that she had been over ranked in the first place.

This is an exceptionally weak quarter, and if it’s not Zhang that progresses it is hard to trust another player. Zarina Diyas qualified and is a player that can survive at this level, but her qualifying form was far from impressive and I don’t see this being her week.

Best Bets

WTA Tokyo International – Qiang Wang to win outright (16/1 BetVictor)

WTA Tokyo International – Nao Hibino to win outright (66/1 Unibet)

WTA Tokyo International – Christina McHale to win outright (25/1 Unibet)

WTA Tokyo International – Shuai Zhang to win outright (9/1 Bet365)

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