TENNIS analyst Gavin Mair (@gavinnightmair) made a winning start to his WLB career. Gavin's back to look at this week's Delray Beach Open from Florida.
Delray Beach Open | 20th-26th February 2017
The build up to important hard court events next month in Miami and Indian Wells steps up a gear this week with the 2017 season’s first outdoor hard court tournament in the USA.
There is something that the winners of this event have in common – they all tend to have serve-based games. Recent winners include Sam Querrey, Ivo Karlovic, Marin Cilic, Kevin Anderson and Juan Martin del Potro, four of whom are in contention this week.
The Florida-based event has a history of windy conditions combined with courts that respond well to spin. This blend accentuates the qualities of big serving players making their first shot difficult to handle.
Let’s take a look quarter by quarter to see those most likely of success this week.
Milos Raonic has taken a few weeks off to rest an abductor injury, and having given assurances that he is fit, he should win the first quarter.
The highly-ranked Canadian has given 250 level events plenty of respect in recent years, reaching at least one final in each of the past three seasons. He has the best hard court win/loss record of any player in the draw, and has shown that he can do the business consistently in North America.
Whilst so far this season Raonic has failed to reach the final result that his pre-tournament seeding suggests, this can be excused when considering that his 2017 defeats have come against Rafael Nadal and the in form Grigor Dimitrov. There is not a player of that ilk outside of Raonic in this field.
It is quite possible that the other seeded player in this section will not be able to live up to his billing. Kyle Edmund has the potential to play well on hard courts, but his week-to-week form on this surface has yet to convince.
Edmund will do well to overcome his first two opponents, both of whom are experienced hard court players that have shown competitive results in the past. Edmund toppled Adrian Mannarino in the first round and will now face Yen-Hsun Lu.
The Taiwanese player blows hot and cold, but he has made a quarter-final at Delray Beach before and must be respected.
The much-hyped Bona Coric also features here, and he showed signs that his form might be improving in Rotterdam by overcoming Karen Khachanov before testing his compatriot Marin Cilic.
Coric has a major technical fault in his game, possessing an oft wayward forehand and if presented with an opportunity against Raonic, it is hard to imagine him rising to the occasion.
Raonic has the game to take advantage of server friendly conditions.
Sam Querrey won this event 12 months ago, and has considerably better results in his homeland than elsewhere on the tour.
Querrey has the ability to produce a good week out of nowhere, which always makes him dangerous, but his lack of consistency and a decent quality entry list do not make him an attractive betting proposition this week.
Juan Martin del Potro will take to the courts for the first time this season, and he takes the other seeded position in this quarter – a sea change from this time last year when he arrived with a ranking of 1042, yet still made the semi-final.
It was Querrey who ended the dream comeback of del Potro last season, but since then the Argentine has re-established himself towards the top end of the sport.
Given Del Potro’s lack of playing time this season it seems a bit of a stretch to expect him to leave Delray Beach as champion given his draw.
His first round opponent is 2014 finalist and 2012 champion Kevin Anderson. The South African has had a prolonged spell with injuries and even when both he and Del Potro were fighting fit, it was the Argentine who got the better of their head to head.
A quarter final contest with Querrey could also be on the menu before he would play a match hardened Raonic in the semis.
If he’s ready, del Potro will come through his draw.
A pair of Americans hold the seeded positions in the 3rd sector.
Despite the conditions playing to his serve-orientated strengths, Steve Johnson has the habit of underwhelming. His record at this venue is stronger than most other hard court venues but his unreliable mentality makes him another like Querrey who is dangerous but probably best avoided.
On the other hand the 3rd seed Jack Sock has made a decent start to the year and has very competitive hard court statistics. His recent record stateside exceeds that of even Querrey.
Sock looks to be the best player on paper in this half of the draw, but I don’t compare him favourably to either Raonic or Del Potro who are scheduled to feature in the final from the opposite end of the draw.
Sock a good chance of second 2017 hard court final appearance.
The fourth quarter appears to be an open field and it would not surprise if any of a handful of players take advantage.
The seeded players Ivo Karlovic and Bernard Tomic have not been at their best lately, and even though they have scored creditable results here in the past it looks likely that they won’t be contesting the latter stages this week.
There isn’t much to choose between all the players in this section and it is just as easy to make a case for in form players such as Steve Darcis to advance as the aforementioned duo.
Tomic has the most upside and would be my choice if I had a gun to my head…
Outside of this pair it is the third favourite Del Potro (6/1) who is most likely to upset the apple cart, but his level is an unknown and Raonic is probably too big a challenge on his first week back.
Delray Beach Open – Milos Raonic to win (6/4 Paddy Power)
Delray Beach Open – Jack Sock to win (11/2 each-way Ladbrokes)