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Given the perennially hurried transition from hard court to clay events in the tennis calendar (qualifying for this week’s tournaments began during Championship Weekend in Miami), upsets frequently define the early portions of the clay court season.
Who can forget 18-year-old Thiago Seyboth Wild’s dramatic run to the 2020 Chile Open title, then-world #127 Gianluca Mager’s upsets of both Casper Ruud and Dominic Thiem on his run to the 2020 Rio final, or even 19-year-old Juan Manuel Cerundolo’s title in Cordoba in his first-career ATP-level event earlier this season?!
Actually, I imagine most of you have forgotten those runs, and that’s exactly my point. Funky things always happen at the start of the clay court swing, and through the first few days of the 2021 ATP and WTA clay season, this year has proven to be no exception.
Entering Friday’s quarterfinal play, World #1 Ashleigh Barty (who survived a three-set battle on Thursday) is the only Top Four seed remaining in either of the week’s two WTA-level events. The highest remaining seed in Bogota, world #90 and #5 seed Tamara Zidansek, has yet to win a WTA-level event in her career, and seven of the eight surviving Bogota quarterfinalists are both unseeded and currently ranked outside of the Top 100 of the WTA rankings.
Though the week’s ATP results are tame by comparison, just three total Top 30-ranked players are still alive in the draws. Oddsmakers list former World Junior #1 and 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti (+300), who on Friday will play in just the 3rd ATP-level quarterfinal of his career, as the favorite in Cagliari, while top-seed Pablo Carreno Busta (+200) narrowly edges out rising young stars Casper Ruud (+225) and Carlos Alcaraz (+550) as the lead contender in Marbella.
With that in mind, and coming off of a 2-2 (but +0.50 unit) performance on Wednesday, here are my picks from Friday’s clay court action. To learn more about the beginning of the clay court season, catch up on everything that has happened in the tennis world of late, or to start following along with the day-in, day-out happenings on tour, be sure to check out all of the work being done at crackedracquets.com. Also, be sure to tune back next week for another round of professional tennis picks.
(Small Citation note: Unless otherwise noted, all stats come from tennisabstract.com, truly the best research database for anyone aspiring to wager successfully on pro tennis)
All good things come to an end: Veronika Kudermetova ML (-134) over Sloane Stephens – 1.5 units to win 1.12
By reaching the quarterfinals this week in Charleston, 2017 US Open Sloane Stephens has won three consecutive matches at the same event for the first time since May of 2019.
The 27-year-old American has struggled mightily since the start of 2020, going 8-16 overall and falling outside of the Top 50 of the WTA Rankings for the first time since 2017. However, she’s yet to drop a set this week in Charleston, and has earned victories over two Top 50-ranked opponents in Madison Keys and Ajla Tomljanovic.
Stephens’ opponent tomorrow, world #38 Veronika Kudermetova, is playing in just her 5th career WTA-level quarterfinal on clay, and has yet to advance to the semifinal round of a WTA-level clay event. However, unlike Stephens, the 23-year-old Russian has gone 23-15 since the start of August, with 13 of her 15 losses coming to players ranked inside the WTA Top 40.
Stephens’ career win percentage on clay (92-51, .643 overall) exceeds Kudermetova’s mark (55-42, .567 overall), yet the more immediate statistics trend in Kudermetova’s favor. While neither player has dropped a set this week, Kudermetova has won 79.2% of her 1st serve points compared to Stephens’ 70.5%, and 51.4% of her return points compared to Stephens’ 44.5%. Additionally, Kudermetova’s playing in her fifth quarterfinal in the past six months, while Stephens has not reached this round of an event since the 2019 French Open.
Charleston has been an undeniable step in the right direction for Stephens, and will be considered a success regardless of her outcome on Friday. While the same can probably be said for Kudermetova, given her recent level of play, distinct firepower advantage over Stephens, and the results she’s put forward the past seven months, this is absolutely a match she should win. As such, let’s throw 1.5 units on Kudermetova to get the job done, then kick our feet up and enjoy the show.
Still just 17 years old, rising women’s tennis star CoCo Gauff has started her 2021 season by continuing her rapid ascension towards the top of the women’s game.
The world’s 36th-ranked player has won 14 of the 20 matches she’s played so far this season, and has dropped just one set in her three victories in Charleston this week. She’s now reached the quarterfinal round in three of her last four events, and enters tomorrow’s match against world #28 Ons Jabeur with a 2-0 head-to-head advantage over her Tunisian opponent.
Though Jabeur’s career record of 108-48 (.692) in clay court matches significantly dwarfs Gauff’s 13-8 (.619) mark, neither player has advanced to the semifinal round of a WTA-level clay court event in their respective careers.
Additionally, Gauff earned 13 breakpoint chances, and won over 55% of Jabeur’s service points in a straight-set, clay court victory over Jabeur back in September. Plus, while Gauff advanced Thursday over Lauren Davis in a relatively straightforward hour-and-a-half long match, Jabeur needed nearly three hours to overcome Alize Cornet in an intensely physical round of 16 battle. As such, she justifiably enters tomorrow’s Charleston showdown as the oddsmakers’ MoneyLine favorite.
While those September numbers would be difficult to replicate against any Top 100 opponent, Gauff’s variety, ability to play first strike tennis, and rally tolerance have always frustrated even a well-rested Jabeur. The circumstances and physicality of Jabeur’s Round of 16 match should only serve to increase Gauff’s chances for victory tomorrow, and thus, she becomes Leg #1 of Friday’s parlay.
Enter Jaume Munar: Leg #2 of Friday’s #NextGen Quarterfinal Query.
Ranked #95 in the world, the 23-year-old Spaniard has put together an absurd 38-14 (.731) overall record since ATP Tour play resumed in August, and 47 of those 52 matches have come on clay courts. Munar has gone 36-11 (.766) with two Challenger Titles, three other Challenger Finals, and nine total Quarterfinals in the thirteen clay events he’s played during that stretch.
Though Munar has advanced to only one ATP-level clay court semifinal in his career, his opponent tomorrow, 27-year-old Ilya Ivashka, is playing in just the tenth ATP-level clay court match of his career. Ivashka has also played just 51 total clay court matches as a pro (24-27, .471 overall), a remarkably low number for a player entering his eighth year on the tour (and a stat highly indicative of Ivashka’s preference to stay away from the dirt.)
While neither Munar nor Ivashka has advanced to any ATP-level SF since the 2018 season, both have made deep runs at ATP Challenger-level events in recent months, and should enter Friday’s match relatively fresh from a physical standpoint. Ivashka possesses bigger weapons than Munar from the baseline and with his serve, and on a hard court would be favored to win Friday’s match.
However, despite being four years younger than his opponent, Munar has played more than 6x the number of pro clay court matches then Ivashka has played during his career, and possesses a much more suitable gamestyle for clay courts. He may lack the firepower of Ivashka, but few players look more at ease on the dirt then Munar. Even if Ivashka lands a high percentage of first serves, Munar’s got the discipline, variety, and speed necessary to disrupt Ivashka’s rhythm, and should ultimately advance on Friday.
Quick sidenote: Neither of my Wednesday parlays hit, so it also feels like we’re sort of due today. In that spirit, let’s parlay the Gauff and Munar MLs together at +106 odds, throw 1.5 units at it, and hope the youngsters continue to deliver the goods.
Trust me, these are all going to be doozies.
To hear more about the logic behind these picks, tune into the daily Cracked Racquets Great Shot Podcast: Ace of the Day segment, a series singularly focused on negotiating the many wagering opportunities happening every day in the sport. Also, if you’re interested in hearing recaps of each day’s results or feel inspired to start following tennis more closely, tune into our Cracked Racquets “The Mini-Break Podcast” wherever you listen to your podcasts, or follow @crackedracquets on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
Alex Gruskin is the Editor-In-Chief of Cracked Racquets, host of the Cracked Interviews Podcast/Mini-Break Podcast, and host of the “Ace of the Day” segment on the Great Shot Podcast – a Tennis Channel Podcast – which breaks down daily tennis prop bets, picks and parlays.