The 2017 ATP World Tour season stops in Sydney and Auckland on week two, with two ATP 250 tournaments ahead of the first major of the year in Melbourne.
We signed off from week one with a win and a loss on Sunday when Kei Nishikori yet again found himself let down by his body – a hip problem this time – in a defeat in the Brisbane final to Grigor Dimitrov.
But the last wager of the week was successful when Roberto Bautista-Agut secured the straight sets win we needed from him against Daniil Medvedev in Chennai.
We stay on Plexipave outdoor hard courts this week at the Apia International in Sydney and ASB Classic in Auckland and both surfaces should be on the quick side, with strong winds also playing a part in Auckland.
Last year’s Sydney event featured only 11 tie breaks in 27 matches, which is on the low side for a 32-man draw, and 20 of the 27 favourites won there last season.
In Auckland last year we saw 15 tie breaks in their 27 matches and 17 of the 27 favourites were successful in 2016.
There are 11 matches to choose from in total across the two tournaments on Monday, with one match in particular catching my eye.
Matthew Barton vs Kyle Edmund
It was Edmund’s 22nd birthday on Sunday and hopefully (for his sake) the Brit won’t have been celebrating too much, as his opening match in Sydney may prove to be a bit more of a test than the odds suggest.
It’s set to be 30C, with 55% humidity at 12:00 local time when this match is scheduled for Ken Rosewall Arena and we’ll see if Edmund has improved his questionable resistance to heat.
Weather aside, this one could be tricky, with Sydney-born Barton having come through qualifying here and he seems to be in prime form from the service line at the moment.
The Aussie remained unbroken and smashed down 27 aces combined against Mikhail Kukushkin and Matthias Bourgue (who many will remember taking Andy Murray to five sets at the French Open last season), so he’s in a good groove right now.
Barton was also in good form this time last year when he defeated Steve Johnson this corresponding week of 2016 and he defeated Edmund in their only career clash at Challenger level in 2015 when the Brit retired down 3-6, 6-3, 2-0.
Edmund’s return of serve stats aren’t the best, with 19.4% breaks of serve in the last year on hard courts at main level and with Barton averaging around 0.85 aces per game a tight set or two seems likely.
Edmund has clearly improved a fair bit in the last year, but he’s not yet one to rely on for short-priced favourite backers, having lost two of his four matches when priced as a 1.40 chance or shorter.
All four matches came on hard courts and losses to Steven Diez and Taro Daniel in 2016 make poor reading, while of the two he did win one was a final set tie break victory over Daniel Munoz De La Nava and the other a 7-6, 7-6 win over Ernesto Escobodo last week in Brisbane.
Barton has only played six matches at main level and he’s won three of them, with tie breaks featuring heavily (not a shock when considering the opponents were John Isner, Albano Olivetti and Jack Sock) and lost only to Isner, Sock and David Ferrer so far.
I’d expect him to be up for this one at home and over 9.5 games in set one at 1.95 appeals here given Barton’s serving record and Edmund’s mediocre return stats and set one to Barton at 3.30 stands a good chance too, as does ‘tie break played’.
Jiri Vesely vs Horacio Zeballos
Former Auckland champion Vesely is back for another crack at the title at the ASB Tennis Centre and I don’t expect the Czech to have things all his own way in this third match scheduled on Centre Court on Monday.
The pair have met once in the past, but it was on grass, where Zeballos has won just one main level match in his career, so I’m not too sure that there’s anything to glean from that encounter.
More of interest to me are the good service hold and poor break of serve numbers of Zeballos on outdoor hard courts at main level in the past year and the similar stats of Vesely.
Zeballos holds serve 85.5% of the time (bettered only by Gilles Muller, Steve Johnson, and Karen Khachanov of the players playing on Monday) and breaks just 12.5% of the time.
Vesely is also a strong server and holds serve over 80% of the time on outdoor hard at main level in the past year, breaking serve 20.6% of the time.
The Argentine was broken only twice by Novak Djokovic in Doha last week and only once by Florian Mayer in three tie break sets the match prior to that and he’s far from a clay court only man.
Five of Vesely’s last nine opening sets have gone to a tie break and 11 of Zeballos’ last 13 sets on hard courts have gone to at least 10 games, so I’m expecting a tie break here too.
1 point win over 9.5 games in set one of Barton/Edmund at 1.95
1 point win over 9.5 games in set one of Zeballos/Vesely at 1.70