Big names absent from Montreal field
With a rather depleted field, the first of two Masters events providing US Open warm-up court time, starts this evening in Montreal, with the first round getting under way at 17:30 UK time tonight.
However, the big names - minus the injured trio of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka - are likely to start their campaigns on Tuesday or Wednesday, and with two leading contenders absent, the outright betting market is primarily focused on the two remaining elite names, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.
Federer the market favourite following Wimbledon triumph
Federer - who hasn't won this event since 2006 - is the market favourite, available at 2.72 on the Exchange, with Nadal bigger at 4.90, and this duo are the only players in the market available at single digit prices.
Such market bias towards the big names is understandable - they've both had strong seasons and there is a marked historical tendency to elite names winning the Canadian Masters events (which switch between Montreal and Toronto each year). Only Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in 2014, was a non-elite four winner of this event in the last decade.
Having said this, numerous fringe players (and worse) have made the final in this time period, including Milos Raonic, Richard Gasquet, Mardy Fish and Nicolas Kiefer, so we can still look at each-way or back-to-lay options in the outright markets in the coming week.
Conditions tough to predict with rotating two-year venues
Conditions in Canada are difficult to anticipate, with the rotating events giving smaller recent sample sizes for analysis than normal tour events. The last time this event was held in Montreal, in 2015, 81.8% of service games were held (high for hard courts) but in 2013, just 76.7% were held (low), so my initial leaning is towards grading this event medium-paced, and then re-assessing after the first round. On this basis, no particular playing style will hugely benefit from conditions.
Looking at the draw, it's utterly understandable that Federer is the tournament favourite - he's been the most consistent player this year and has the best hard court stats in the field, but I'm less enthused by Rafa, who takes the top seed berth this week.
Far from a given that Rafa will show his clay level
Nadal is a solid but unspectacular 19-5 on hard courts this year, holding 88.4% and breaking 26.1% (114.5% combined) and this makes his level below the 120% elite mark. Many made the mistake of assuming that his incredible clay form would translate to grass at Wimbledon, and I'm not convinced he will be able to do so here either.
With this in mind, our outright choice should focus on Rafa's top half of the draw, and the main seeds in this half, receiving first round byes, are Milos Raonic, Alexander Zverev, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Raonic a fitness worry in home tournament
Backing Raonic, in his home tournament, would be a worry for me. He hasn't looked fully fit for months and has a propensity to withdraw from events in the latter stages. At odds of around 14.00, he's easily avoidable.
This leaves us with the likes of Zverev and Tsonga as those with main potential to usurp Rafa in the top half of the draw - other more limited threats come from John Isner, Juan Martin Del Potro, Richard Gasquet and the fitness doubts Nick Kyrgios and David Goffin.
Alexander Zverev with an excellent chance as an outsider
On hard courts this year, Zverev - who arguably had done his best work on clay previously - has witnessed an improvement, going 11-3, with a combined hold/break percentage of 109.9%, and with age-related upside, as well as being a rare player without any fitness issues, he can threaten this week in Canada.
Form for the young German certainly isn't an issue either, coming off the back of a win in Washington last week, where he dropped just one set, and with his strong break deficit recovery data indicating strong mental and physical qualities, I'd be much less worried about fatigue for Zverev as I would with many other players.
The 12/1 with the Sportsbook seems a solid each-way proposition - I find it tough to envisage him being underdog to anyone with the exception of Rafa - and I'm looking to Zverev to provide us with a positive result this week.
Back Alexander Zverev each-way at 12/1 with the Sportsbook
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