TENNIS analyst Gavin Mair (@gavinnightmair) has been in fabulous form since signing up with WLB. He's back to look at this week's Houston event.
ATP Houston | 10th-16th April 2017
The clay season will start in Europe next week, but there is still time for a transition tournament in the United States before then.
The only ATP tour event on clay in North America takes place in Houston in conditions that are quite a bit different from the typical slow and heavy thick red surface that the top players will compete on for the next few months.
Year after year the entry list contains many American players that are more suited to hard courts, and which tend to struggle more on the red dirt conditions of Europe. The tournament does however also attract several more traditional clay courters that aim to exploit the awkwardness of their native adversaries.
The clay courts in Houston have something of a home bias in that they play quicker than the standard clay court. But despite that the winner roll has hosted a mix of both the more traditional clay court players – Juan Monaco 2015 and 2012, Fernando Verdasco 2014 or Juan Ignacio Chela 2010 – and those adoring faster conditions – Jack Sock 2015, John Isner 2013, Ivo Karlovic 2007.
It is one of the most intriguing events of the season. Who stands a chance of leaving the Lone Star State with 250 ranking points?
As ever with my tournament previews I dissect the draw quarter-by-quarter using a statistical overview to determine where the value lies.
Using this method I am over 66 units up for the season to date – I track the results on my website, which you can read here.
The top seeded Jack Sock has been one of the best players in 2017, winning a couple of titles and finding his way into the latter stages of the biggest hard court events.
However, with that success comes greater hours spent on court and for market favourite Sock it certainly won’t have helped that he was part of an unsuccessful US Davis Cup team – alongside Sam Querrey, John Isner and Steve Johnson – that travelled to Australia for the weekend to be soundly beaten by Nick Kyrgios and co.
The hours must have taken their toll on Sock, and it would be no surprise at all to see him struggle despite his fondness for Houston.
His quarter isn’t exactly overflowing with quality but a less than 100% Sock doesn’t represent any value at 11/2 best price on the outrights.
I’m intrigued to see how Hyeon Chung fairs this week. The South Korean made the quarter finals last season, and has a decent track record on clay in North America.
Previous champions Juan Monaco and Fernando Verdasco are the standout names in the 2nd quarter.
Of the pair it is Verdasco that has more upside. His recent form has been strong and he clearly knows how to handle the conditions in Houston. As for Monaco, he is not long back from a long-term injury and has yet to find his feet this season.
Third seed Steve Johnson is no clay courter and he stands little chance of progressing from his quarter.
Another of the Australian travelling party is in action in the 3rd quarter in the form of Sam Querrey. Big Sam has some very good course form, but having played on Sunday in Australia it seems sensible to look beyond him as a viable contender.
This is not the strongest of quarters with the hit and miss Thomaz Bellucci the highest other seeded player. Bellucci is a strange animal. He is a mercurial talent that on his day is capable of some special tennis but as he showed at the weekend he was taken to five sets in Ecuador by the limited Emilio Gomez.
The promising Francis Tiafoe will face Bellucci in the first round and he is a man that has some serious firepower that might be effective in Houston. The young American has good results on clay in his home land and now that he has had some exposure to the ATP tour this season it wouldn’t surprise me to see him having a good week here.
The second seeded John Isner leads the way in the bottom quarter. Big John has not been at his best this season and his performance stats tend to suggest that he is in decline. Furthermore, even when Isner was playing at something more akin to his peak he has not been one to rely on to play to his seeding on the dirt.
There are a couple of names in this quarter that could conceivably take advantage. The first is Donald Young, who is having a very good season to date. He is far from a natural clay courter but he is playing confident tennis and has course form.
Adam Pavlasek and Leonardo Mayer play their best tennis on clay. For Pavlasek it is perhaps a tournament or two too early to make an impact as he has had an injury disrupted start to the season and hasn’t yet found top gear.
Mayer is on the comeback trail. The Argentine is injury prone but on his day he is a formidable player, and with a Challenger level final on his resume this month it seems he is on the up again.