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Cracked Racquets: The 2021 Clay Court Season Begins

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With the conclusion of the Miami Open, the dawning of the clay-court season officially begins in Men’s and Women’s professional tennis.

After getting to enjoy opening months of big-serving, aggressive hard court play, fans (and gamblers alike) must now adjust their expectations for a three-month stretch on the dirt that is guaranteed to feature surprising results, breakthrough performances from the tour’s young stars, and some borderline impossibly physical tennis.

From a gambling perspective, newcomers to the sport should beware of the impact the change in surface will have to the results that emerge over the next few weeks. In Men’s tennis in particular, tall, power-based players such as Lloyd Harris, Alexander Bublik, and Alexi Popyrin, who each achieved so much success throughout the opening third of the season, often see their games become less effective on the slower, grittier clay courts.

Conversely, players such as Guido Pella, Jaume Munar, and Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who are all known much more for their physicality and ability to construct points than their size or power, thrive in the conditions offered by the change in season.

Despite last week’s 1000-level event in Miami, neither the ATP nor WTA offers any rest for it’s players this week. For the women, 11 of the Top 30-ranked women in the world, including 2021 Miami Open Champ and World #1 Ashleigh Barty, will compete for the crown in Charleston, while two of the top four seeds have already been eliminated at this week’s WTA event in Bogota.

Meanwhile, the ATP Tour heads to Europe this week, with four Top 50-ranked players (Carreno Busta, Fognini, Ruud, Ramos Vinolas) competing in Marbella, Spain, and six Top 50 guys (Evans, Fritz, Sonego, Basilashvili, Struff, Millman) playing in Cagliari, Italy.

With that in mind, and coming off of a 5-3 overall performance in Miami, here are my picks for this week’s clay court action. To learn more about the beginning of the clay court season, catch up on everything that has happened of late in the tennis world, 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 Thursday 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)

The Men’s Parlay: Jan-Lennard Struff ML (-230 over Liam Broady) + Alejandro Davidovich Fokina ML (-360 over Ilya Ivashka) + Casper Ruud ML (-180 over Gianluca Mager) – +185, 1.5 units to win 2.78

Here are the respective records for Liam Broady, Ilya Ivashka, and Gianluca Mager in their ATP-level matches on clay, ATP-level matches in general, and career records in clay court matches.

Liam Broady: 1-2 overall in ATP-level clay court matches, 5-11 overall in ATP-level matches, 56-41 career record on Clay

Ilya Ivashka: 2-6 overall in ATP-level clay court matches, 28-35 overall in ATP-level matches, 21-23 career record on Clay

Gianluca Mager: 7-9 overall in ATP-level clay court matches, 10-14 overall in ATP-level matches, 224-144 career record on Clay

Of the underdogs, only Mager has ever advanced to an ATP-level Quarterfinal on clay, and neither Broady nor Ivashka has ever won more than one match at an ATP-level clay court event.

It’d be one thing if Broady, Ivashka, and Mager were 21 or 22 years old, and only just now beginning to break through at the ATP level. However, that the entire group of 1994-born players all lack significant ATP-level clay court experience speaks to why they enter Thursday’s matches as prohibitive underdogs across the board.

Of the favorites, Davidovich Fokina appears the most vulnerable. The 21 year-old Spaniard carries just a 22-21 career mark in ATP-level matches, though he has won 17 of his last 27 ATP-level matches. Additionally, after breaking through on the clay in Estoril back in 2019, Davidovich Fokina is just 3-4 overall in his seven ATP-level clay court matches since the start of the 2020 season.

However, it worth noting that it was the clay court-portion of the 2020 schedule that was most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is not unreasonable to think that Davidovich Fokina (who carries a 64-42 record for his career in clay court matches) would have boosted his numbers under normal circumstances.

+185 odds for a three-person MoneyLine Parlay is far from spectacular, but known commodities carry additional value this early in the clay court season. Given that all three of Casper Ruud’s career ATP-level finals have come on clay, that Jan-Lennard Struff’s career win percentage on clay (62%) is significantly better than his corresponding records on either hard (55%) or grass (62%) courts, and the lack of ATP-level success all three underdogs have had on clay, throwing 1.5 units on Davidovich Fokina, Ruud, and Struff to all win Thursday feels like a high-percentage start to high-percentage tennis season.

A Disrespected #1 seed: Over 2.5 sets in the Dan Evans/Lorenzo Musetti match – +188, 1 unit to win 1.88

That 19 year-old Lorenzo Musetti enters his match against Cagliari top seed Dan Evans as a -420 moneyline favorite speaks to the success that the former World Junior #1 has already achieved in his young professional career.

Musetti’s put together a 40-16 record since the start of August, and has sky-rocketed to a new career-high of #90 in the ATP rankings. He’s 26-9 in clay court matches during that span, and earned a Challenger-level clay court title in Forli back in September. He also reached the Round of 16 at the 2020 Rome Masters, and reached the final of the Antalya Challenger (another clay-event) in January.

His opponent, World #32 Dan Evans, is just 14-13 since August, and carries a career mark of 4-12 in ATP-level clay court matches. He’s lost nine consecutive ATP-level clay court matches, and has not earned an ATP-level clay court victory since he defeated Mischa Zverev in Barcelona back in 2017.

Musetti’s 5-3 in his career against Top 50-ranked opponents, and defeated both Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka on clay last season. He’s only gotten better since then, and enters the match with all of the momentum and confidence in the world.

However, I just don’t think Musetti has the weapons quite yet to blow Evans off of the court. A disrespected Dan Evans is the most dangerous Dan Evans, and while I do think the top seed gets knocked off by the young Italian, I do not expect him to go away quietly. Let’s throw a unit on the over, and try to figure out just how much fight the top-ranked British male in the world has in him.

Some Faith Required (Women’s Parlay): Belinda Bencic ML (-148 over Paula Badosa Gibert) + Marketa Vondrousova ML (-550 over Kurumi Nara) + Leylah Annie Fernandez ML (-350 over Danka Kovinic) + Sofia Kenin ML (-410 over Lauren Davis) + Elise Mertens ML (-480 over Alize Cornet) – +283, 1 unit to win 2.83

Is +283 a pretty crappy return for a 5-player MoneyLine parlay?! Absolutely.

However, I choose to think of it this way: 2020 French Open Finalist (Kenin) + 2019 French Open Finalist (Vondrousova) + 2020 WTA wins leader (Mertens) + 2nd highest-ranked U19 player in the world (Fernandez) + the #12-ranked player in the world (Bencic) = a pretty safe bet

(To those unaware: The French Open, much like the event in Charleston, is played on clay courts).

The Bencic match will cause some sweat, as the majority of her opponent’s (Paula Badosa Gibert) professional victories have come on clay. Additionally, while 18 year-old and former Junior French Open Singles Champion Leylah Fernandez enters her match against 26 year-old Danka Kovinic as the favorite, Kovinic’s career win percentage in clay court matches (67%) far surpasses her record on other surfaces, and she will be happy to be back on the dirt for this match.

Still, I thoroughly expect each of these players to advance relatively comfortably through their early round matches. And at +283 odds, I’m happy to parlay the group and join along for the ride.

An Old-Fashioned American Showdown: Over 2.5 sets in the Shelby Rogers/Amanda Anisimova match – +112, 1 unit to win 1.12

Power tennis + a Charleston, South Carolina skyline. Does it get any better than that?!

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.

Written by OutKick Bets

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