Tennis LIVE: Millennium Estoril Open
Millennium Estoril Open
- Estoril, Portugal (outdoor clay)
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CRISTIAN GARIN is another player I’ve mentioned in dispatches about regarding ability on clay and he looks to have a decent title opportunity in Estoril this week.
I tipped the Chilean at a whopping 250/1 in Monte Carlo a fortnight ago but his run was ended in the last 16 by Stefanos Tsitsipas.
While there was certainly nothing unfair about that result, Garin did manage to keep it fairly close and the form has been franked given Tsitsipas went on to lift the title and at time of writing is playing in the final of the Barcelona Open.
Garin has already won in Santiago this season, the fifth claycourt title of his career, while he’s also got experience of winning in Europe having done so in Munich in 2019.
Cameron Norrie and Kei Nishikori, who beat Garin last week in Barcelona, are probably the biggest threats on his path through the draw but I believe that if he plays towards his top level, Garin should at least be making the final this week.
He’s seeded to face Denis Shapovalov there but the young Canadian continues to struggle to reward his backers and I’ve no interest in him at 11/2 this week.
Shapovalov has still won just one title at ATP level and has just one other final appearance on his CV. None has been on clay and the most recent was in 2019.
He was well beaten by compatriot Felix Auger-Aliassime in Barcelona last week and I would not be surprised were he to lose early again here.
I’ll oppose him in this half with two players, 9/1 shot ALBERT RAMOS-VINOLAS and 60/1 outsider PABLO ANDUJAR.
Ramos-Vinolas has been churned out the wins on his beloved clay so far this year, finishing runner-up in Cordoba and then making the semis in Buenos Aires.
On his return to Europe, ARV narrowly lost in the semis in Marbella – another of the recent agonising near-misses for this column – and his defeats since have come against Jannik Sinner and Andrey Rublev.
Neither can be described as disappointing and there’s no-one of their calibre in attendance at the Club de Tenis do Estoril, the Cascais venue where this event set up in 2015.
With that form in the book, I’ll happily back him at 9/1.
I also feel Andujar, another Spaniard, is too big at 60/1.
His second quarter doesn’t look very strong – Ugo Humbert prefers a much faster surface, while Alejandro Davidovich Fokina is the other seed in the section.
He is Andujar’s first opponent and 9/1 for the title but that looks too short.
It appears based on his run to the quarter-finals of Monte Carlo but there his opponents weren’t the strongest with his marquee success coming against Matteo Berrettini, who was in the early stages of an injury comeback.
Davidovich Fokina then retired injured against Tsitsipas in the last eight and when he played in Barcelona a few days later he lost in round one.
Andujar is far from without a chance in that one and the draw could then open up.
While he’s not in the sort of form which has seen him win titles at this time of year in the past (Marrakech, Casablanca – he’s also made the final in Barcelona), Andujar has been decent dirt-ballers in Gianluca Mager and Gilles Simon this season.
Those results offer hope and while there’s no doubt he’s a long shot, I’m pretty sure he shouldn’t be on offer at this price.
Fixture: Frances Tiafoe vs Kevin Anderson
Tournament: Millennium Estoril Open 2021
Round: First Round (Round of 32)
Venue: Estoril, Portugal
Category: ATP 500
Surface: Red clay
Prize money: €419,470
Live telecast: USA – ESPN / Tennis Channel | UK – Amazon Prime Video
- Munich, Germany (outdoor clay)
Before Christmas, I picked out CASPER RUUD at 150/1 for the French Open in my ante-post preview of the French Open.
An injury-hit start to the campaign didn’t bode well but the Norwegian is now very much up and running and, after his run to the semi-finals of the recent Monte Carlo Masters, he’s into 80/1 in that market.
He’s obviously a lot shorter for this ‘250’ event – the lowest rank of tournament on the ATP Tour – but now could well be the time to back him again.
Ruud beat a string of top-20 stars in Monte Carlo – Fabio Fognini, Pablo Carreno Busta and Diego Schwartzman – before losing to Andrey Rublev. It was his second Masters semi-final on clay, having also made the last four in Rome, post-lockdown, last season.
It appears the fruits of his labour have ripened well.
Prior to August’s resumption, Ruud said: “I’ve made useful improvements in many different areas.
“I’ve tried taking my game to a new level by trying new ways of playing.
“I’ve purposely practised inside the court and been much more aggressive.”
He wasn’t just talking a good game; those improvements have been evident.
With Munich getting pretty close to the Alps there’s a bit of altitude here – it’s around 500m above sea level – so it’s worth looking for player who have good experience in such conditions.
Ruud ticks that box having made the final in Santiago last year and the semis in Kitzbuhel in 2019, an event at which he beat Pablo Cuevas, who could be his opening foe this week.
His under-rated serve should set him up well in such conditions, while his game from the baseline has always been strong and, as highlighted, is improving too.
The main danger, at least at time of writing, in his section of the draw is Aslan Karatsev, whose terrific season continued over the weekend in Belgrade where he defeated world number one Novak Djokovic in his own back yard in a match lasting well over three hours.
But I expect that week has taken plenty out of the Russian, physically and mentally, and while I can see good reasons why people would want to back him at 11/2, my preference is for Ruud at a similar price of 5/1.
The opposite half of the draw is led by top seed Alex Zverev, a two-time winner of this event.
His big serve gets that added boost from the thinner air at altitude but it’s also a shot he’s admitted is causing him problems of late.
He recently said an elbow problem affects him most when serving and that’s a concern for anyone thinking of backing the German this week at 5/2.
Given Zverev is a player I’ve always struggled to win with, I’m happy to look past him in search of a spot of value.
Another German, YANNICK HANFFMAN, may be the man to oppose him with.
He’s a player who has produced his best results at altitude, finishing as runner-up in Kitzbuhel in 2020, a year in which he also won a Challenger title at L’Aquila in Italy.
Hanffman will be happy to be back on clay and showed as much in Cagliari a couple of weeks ago with a run to the quarter-finals, beating Tommy Paul and Marco Cecchinato.
He was also just a tie-break away from defeating Lorenzo Sonego in the last eight having led by a set and a break.
The wild card will face Taro Daniel in round one, a player who ended our hopes of a 50/1 success in Belgrade last week by beating Federico Delbonis in the last eight.
However, he’s had little time to adapt to the different conditions, while the seeds in this quarter of the draw, Filip Krajinovic and Jan-Lennard Struff, make this look the weakest section.
At 33/1, Hanffman looks worth an each-way punt.
Frances Tiafoe vs Kevin Anderson preview
Claycourt tennis heads to the shores of Estoril, Portugal this week, where Frances Tiafoe will take on Kevin Anderson in the first round of the 2021 Millennium Estoril Open. Tiafoe will be playing in his fourth claycourt event of the year, but for Anderson this is the first appearance on red soil in 2021.
Tiafoe is coming off a mediocre performance at the Barcelona Open, where he failed to make it beyond the second round. While the American did get the better of the in-form Carlos Alcaraz in the first round, he fell to Diego Schwartzman in the second.
Interestingly, Tiafoe also failed to progress beyond the second round at the two other clay events he played earlier in the year – the Argentina Open and the Chile Open. He will be looking to make amends on his fourth attempt at the Estoril Open.
Kevin Anderson, on the other hand, hasn’t played on clay since his third-round defeat at the 2020 French Open. In fact, the South African has only played in three events this year – the Great Ocean Road Open, the Australian Open and the Miami Masters.
While Anderson progressed to the Round of 16 at the Great Ocean Road Open, he failed to cross the first round in either Melbourne or Miami.
The 34-year-old was forced to pull out of the Qatar Open and the Mexican Open due to recurring knee and hip injuries. Physical issues have constantly hindered his career in recent years, but Anderson is ready to keep fighting.
The two-time Grand Slam finalist believes he still has some tennis left in him. But clay is his weakest surface, so Anderson likely isn’t coming into this tournament with too high expectations.
Frances Tiafoe vs Kevin Anderson head-to-head
Kevin Anderson has enjoyed decent success against Frances Tiafoe in the past and leads the American 3-1 in the head-to-head. This will be their first match-up on clay.
Their most recent encounter – at the 2019 Australian Open – was won by Tiafoe in four sets.
Frances Tiafoe vs Kevin Anderson prediction
Kevin Anderson’s big serve and groundstrokes always make him a threat regardless of the surface. However, there are big question marks over his form and fitness ahead of his match against Frances Tiafoe.
Tiafoe on his part is a powerful striker of the tennis ball himself, and can generate winners at will off his excellent forehand. The American is also more agile on clay than his counterpart, and will have the upper hand in the longer rallies.
Anderson will undoubtedly look to dictate play with his powerful serve and crushing forehand. But it remains to be seen if this ploy will see him through the entirety of the match.
The South African’s lack of mobility on clay might also be a stumbling block for him against Tiafoe.
The European clay swing heads to Portugal this week, where the Millenium Estoril Open is scheduled to begin on 26 April. The ATP 250 event in Estoril will host 28 players, including Denis Shapovalov, Cristian Garin, Marin Cilic, Alexander Bublik and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
World No. 9 Diego Schawrtzman was also expected to feature in the draw, but he withdrew at the last minute. That said, former US Open finalist Kei Nishikori and local favorite Joao Sousa have both accepted wildcards.
With main draw action set to kick off on Monday, here’s a look at how the top seeds are expected to perform:
Top half: Denis Shapovalov on the hunt for a second career title
Seeded Players:  Denis Shapovalov,  Ugo Humbert,  Albert Ramos-Vinolas,  Alejandro Davidovich Fokina
Expected semifinal: Denis Shapovalov vs Ugo Humbert
Dark horse: Lloyd Harris
World No. 14 Denis Shapovalov leads the way at the Millennium Estoril Open this week. However, Shapovalov has failed to make much on impact on the ATP tour so far in 2021.
After losing to Felix Auger-Aliassime at the Australian Open, the Canadian fell early in both Doha and Miami. His deepest run this season has been in Dubai, where he reached the semifinals.
Shapovalov started his clay season at Barcelona, where he bowed out in the third round. He will be looking to work himself into form and fitness at Estoril, especially given that his shoulder gave him problems in Barcelona.
Shapovalov’s path to the final is, fortunately for him, not too treacherous. The 22-year-old has a seemingly routine second-round match against Marcos Giron or Corentin Moutet. In the quarters, Shapovalov could come up against Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who reached the semifinals at Marbella earlier this month.
The other side of the half is led by France’s Ugo Humbert. While Humbert has been a mainstay on the ATP tour for a couple of years, he is yet to make much of a mark on clay.
Humbert’s path to the quarterfinal includes a matchup against Marco Cechinatto or Lloyd Harris.
Harris returns to the tour after an injury he sustained at Miami. The South African made waves earlier this year, reaching the final at the ATP 500 event in Dubai.
Eighth seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina is an accomplished claycourter and will look to make a deep run this week. The 21-year-old was a semifinalist at the last edition of the Estoril event (in 2019), and is scheduled to take on veterans Fernando Verdasco and Jeremy Chardy before the quarterfinals.
Bottom half: Cristian Garin and Kei Nishikori on a collision course
Seeded Players:  Cristian Garin,  Kei Nishikori,  Alexander Bublik,  Marin Cilic
Expected semifinal: Cristian Garin vs Kei Nishikori
Dark horse: Frances Tiafoe
Cristian Garin leads the bottom half of the draw in Estroril. The World No. 22 is a claycourt specialist, having won all five of his tour-level titles on this surface.
Garin came into the European clay swing on the back of a maiden title in his hometown of Santiago. He also reached the third round in both Monte Carlo and Barcelona prior to this week.
Standing in Garin’s way in the second round would be either Richard Gasquet or Juan Ignacio Londero. The Chilean is then likely to have a quarterfinal matchup against sixth seed Marin Cilic.
Kei Nishikori highlights the other side of this half. The Japanese has been excellent on clay throughout his career, and has grown from strength to strength since the start of 2021.
Nishikori reached the quarterfinals at both Rotterdam and Dubai prior to the clay season. The 31-year-old then got off to a solid start in Barcelona, where he forced his way to the quarterfinals before losing to Rafael Nadal in a hard-fought three-setter.
Nishikori is scheduled to face one of Kevin Anderson or Frances Tiafoe in the second round here at Estoril. But while Anderson is a two-time Grand Slam finalist, clay is not his strongest surface, and nor are his fitness and match practice up to the mark.
Tiafoe, however, could prove to be a tricky opponent for Nishikori. The young American has plenty of match practice under his belt this year, and his recent results have shown that he can more than hold his own on clay.
Nishikori could then potentially come up against fifth seed Alexander Bublik in the quarterfinals.
Bublik started the year off by reaching the final in Antalya and Singapore, before also reaching the quarterfinals at the Miami Masters. Clay, however, is not the Kazakh’s preferred surface, and he could have some trouble against Cameron Norrie or Joao Sousa in the second round.
Denis Shapovalov vs Alejandro Davidovich Fokina
Cristian Garin vs Kei Nishikori
Denis Shapovalov vs Cristian Garin
Prediction: Frances Tiafoe to win in three sets.