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Hijikata can keep it close
Bautista Agut to topple Rublev again
Ramanathan has underdog potential
Ruusuvuori eyeing Pune title
Rinky Hijikata (+4.5) to beat Denis Shapovalov on the game handicap at -130 at Caesars Sportsbook
Roberto Bautista Agut to beat Andrey Rublev at +175 at Caesars Sportsbook, DraftKings Sportsbook & bet365
Ramkumar Ramanathan to beat Pedro Martinez +140 with BetMGM
Emil Ruusuvuori to win ATP Pune at +750 at DraftKings Sportsbook
Shapovalov ended 2022 well but he’s never been a fast starter and he could find this a bit of a struggle.
The Canadian has won his opening match of the season just once in the last six years, while he’s also left Australia with a positive win-loss record on one occasion in that period.
It’s fair to say that Hijikata is a weaker opponent than most if not all the players in that data set but he still shouldn’t be written off here.
Hijikata won a Challenger title in his homeland back in October – his second Challenger final in the second half of 2022 – while his rare forays onto the main tour showed he can be competitive. He took a set off Rafael Nadal at the US Open and while he has beaten in straight sets by Daniil Medvedev in Los Cabos, it was a match that featured only two breaks of serve.
The home hope came through qualifying in impressive fashion, losing serve just once in his two matches – and that’s a nod to how conditions will be in Adelaide.
The Greenset surface and Dunlop Australian Open balls should make things pretty speedy – that was certainly the case last season – and I’d expect serve to dominate this one.
Shapovalov’s big delivery is well known but his return game is frankly disappointing for a top-20 player – he was ranked just 44th for return games won in 2022, with a figure of just 18%.
If Hijikata can keep his serve going well, he can at the very least keep this close and I’m happy to back him on the game handicap in which he gets a 4.5-game start.
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This looks like a tough start to the season for Rublev in Adelaide.
Bautista Agut is a player who is well known for his fast starts to a season – four of his 11 career titles have come in January with opening-week success in both 2019 (Doha) and 2017 (Chennai). More recently he’s started his season at the now-defunct ATP Cup and racked up an 11-3 record across the last three years.
In short, Rublev will need to be on his game but a look at the head-to-head won’t fill him with confidence.
While the Russian leads 4-3 overall, he’s 3-1 down on hardcourts with RBA having won two out of two on outdoor hard. Two of the Spaniard’s defeats have also been very close.
Rublev was thrashed by Daniil Medvedev (who won only four games) at an exhibition in Saudi Arabia last month so could be vulnerable here.
A straight moneyline bet on the underdog at +175 (Caesars Sportsbook, DraftKings Sportsbook, bet365) is the suggestion.
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The opening week’s other event takes place in Pune, India, where one of the home players could be a spot of value as the outsider.
Martinez is no great shake on a hardcourt surface – few players see their service-hold percentage drop on hard but Martinez’s did in 2022 with his overall figure being 72%, one which fell three percentage points on hard.
He went 7-14 on the surface last season, notching only two top-50 wins and both of those came against fellow claycourt specialists Cristian Garin and Federico Delbonis.
In addition, one suspects the altitude here will make it too fast for his liking and that makes the local player, who needed a wild card to get into qualifying, of interest.
Ramanathan made good use of his wild-card opportunity, taking down two seeds in the qualifying draw over the weekend when Otto Virtanen was beaten in three sets before an easier victory over Mattia Bellucci, who failed to break the Indian’s serve.
A regular feature of this column is trying to dig out a potential upset or two in the second round, usually looking at those seeds with a first-round bye.
There are only four such players this week though – the top four seeds in Pune – and I’m not sure any will fall.
Top seed Marin Cilic might be a little vulnerable if he faces Roberto Carballes Baena, a player who has produced some decent results at altitude over the years, although usually on clay. Perhaps the handicap market could reward.
Meanwhile, fourth seed Sebastian Baez is another who has traditionally struggled on a hardcourt and the aforementioned Ramanathan may fancy his chances of another upset if he gets past Martinez.
Emil Ruusuvuori made the final in Pune last season and can go one better in 2023.
The third-seeded Finn doesn’t have a great deal to beat, with Marin Cilic the only top-30 player in the field – and he’s never been one to revel in the role as favorite.
Ruusuvuori, who is in the opposite half of the draw, started last season well by reaching the semi-finals in Melbourne before running into eventual champion Rafael Nadal.
As already explained, there’s no one of that quality here this week and a player who produced some good results on fast courts last season looks worth backing at +750 with DraftKings.
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What - ATP Adelaide International 1; ATP Tata Open Maharashtra
Location - Adelaide, Australia; Pune, India
Time - Sunday, January 1 to Sunday, January 8
How To Watch - Tennis Channel
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Andy is a sports journalist of more than 20 years’ experience and is a former betting editor of the UK-based website, Sporting Life. He has specialized in tennis for many years, previewing hundreds of ATP Tour events and reporting from tournaments such as the ATP Finals and Davis Cup final. Andy has also covered numerous other sports, with a particular interest in soccer and cricket.More info on Andy Schooler
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