Goffin withdrawal further weakens Winston-Salem field
The 250 level event at Winston-Salem rarely attracts the most prestigious field, and this year's event is no exception, with no top ten players participating. David Goffin was due to be the top seed, but the Belgian has been forced to withdraw with the shoulder injury that caused him to retire in the semi-finals of Cincinnati on Saturday night - Radu Albot, the qualifier, is the lucky recipient of Goffin's berth, giving the Moldovan the extremely fortunate scenario of a first-round bye.
15 other players also have first-round byes, with there being 16 seeds in a 48-man draw, and in a wide-open looking event, not a single player is shorter than 8/1 with the Sportsbook.
Roberto Bautista-Agut is not defending his title, and in many cases in recent years, there has been a low-profile finalist, with Damir Dzumhur, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Lukas Rosol and Jurgen Melzer all having reached the final in the last five years.
Data indicates conditions unlikely to be particularly quick
Conditions at the Wake Forest University venue are likely to be very slightly on the slow side of medium for a hard court, with 63.3% of service points being won across the last three years, marginally down on the 63.7% across all ATP hard court matches in that time period.
However, the aces per game figures during this time period are a little above average, running at 0.59 aces per game, 0.03 higher than the ATP hard court mean.
With this in mind, it's unlikely that any particular player genre will hugely benefit from conditions here, and it's interesting that there hasn't been a single American finalist at this event since John Isner won in consecutive years in 2011 and 2012 - very unusual for an American-based event, where home players tend to thrive. It is difficult to know whether there is any particular reason for this, or if it is purely just variance.
Difficult to gauge player motivation this week
In truth, it's often difficult to ascertain in advance how motivated a lot of players will be in these pre-Slam warm-up events. A tough week, particularly a number of long matches, can often have extremely negative implications on a player's level at the much bigger Grand Slam event, which has considerably greater rewards, both from a ranking point, and a financial, perspective.
However, all we can do in advance is purely treat all players as having the same motivation, which isn't ideal, but the best we can manage.
Top half of the draw looks extremely weak
Looking at the draw, the top half is very weak indeed, with Goffin's absence leaving a gaping hole. With the likes of Marco Cecchinato - whose record and data on hard court is atrocious - and the inconsistent Dzumhur leading seeds in this half of the draw, it really does play into the hands of Sam Querrey to make a big impact in his home country.
Querrey with strong hard court data despite lack of wins
The American is 8/1 co-favourite with the Sportsbook, and while this is a little short given his draw, I do like his chances. While his record here in recent years hasn't been fantastic, he made three consecutive semi-finals at the venue between 2012 and 2014, and has consistently decent hard court data.
While Querrey's hard court record this year is a mediocre 8-9, this only tells part of the story. He's underperformed in tiebreaks in these matches, winning just three of ten, and is running at a combined 103.7% serve/return points won percentage from them also.
With figures like that (and a combined 105.6% hold/break figure) he should have a record around the 11-6 mark from these 17 matches, and I feel that this has caused the market to under-value the big-serving American.
Other threats in the top half of the draw include the inconsistent but talented Daniil Medvedev, Andreas Seppi and Jan-Lennard Struff.
Bottom half of the draw much more competitive
The bottom half of the draw lookse,considerably more competitive with Steve Johnson, Andrey Rublev, Kyle Edmund, Hyeon Chung and the 2016 winner, Pablo Carreno-Busta, all capable of playing to a high level, and routinely defeating much worse opponents. I'd anticipate that these players are likely to be fighting it out to reach the business end in this bracket.
All things considered, Querrey looks the bet for me this week. The Exchange market is a little illiquid currently, so my recommendation is to put an order in to back him ataround the11.00 mark, which I expect to be filled given general market prices.