With this week's ATP events in Europe concluding today, the tour moves to Asia with tournaments in Chengdu and Shenzhen. Our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, returns with his preview...
ATP Tour moves to Asia for three weeks
There are three weeks of Asian events taking place on the ATP Tour now, culminating in the Shanghai Masters, starting on the 8th October. Big-name players will be taking the chance in these warm-up events to fine-tune their game in advance of the two remaining Masters, while those with a lower-profile will be keen to ensure that good performances are rewarded with Australian Open seeding or ensuring that their ranking is high enough for a place in the main draw.
Action in Asia starts this coming week with two relatively small, 250 level, hard court tournaments in China, with the cities of Chengdu and Shenzhen playing host.
Tough task faces Murray in China
After stating that he was using the next two weeks in China to conclude his 2018 season, Andy Murray lines up in Shenzhen, although the Scotsman is unseeded and faces fellow wild-card Zhizhen Zhang, in the round of 32.
Murray must win five matches to take the title, one more than the seeded quartet of David Goffin, Borna Coric, Damir Dzumhur and Stefanos Tsitsipas, who take first round byes. In what looks medium-paced conditions for a hard court event, it would take a brave bettor to back Murray at 6/1, even though the Sportsbook have made him best price across the industry for the tournament.
The Sportsbook's lack of faith in Murray is underlined by pricing Coric, Tsitsipas and Goffin at shorter prices, and looking at his draw in the first quarter, a second round tie with Goffin followed by a potential quarter-final with Fernando Verdasco isn't the easiest pathway to the latter stages of a 250.
Coric and Shapovalov also threats in the top half
Also in the top half of the draw is Coric, as well as Denis Shapovalov, who bookend quarter two. If Cameron Norrie, or fellow prospects Yoshihito Nishioka or Ilya Ivashka can produce a good week, they may also threaten in this bracket, and with a fairly stacked top half of the draw (compared to the traditional quality in 250s), it may be wise to focus on a less competitive bottom half of the draw.
De Minaur capable of a decent run at a big price
Dzumhur and Tsitsipas are the seeds with byes in this half and taking on the inconsistent Bosnian, Dzumhur, in quarter three, looks a solid plan.
The Australian, Alex De Minaur, looks like the player best equipped to do this with. He should be a favourite against any player in the quarter, and boasts an improving 102.8% combined hold/break percentage on hard courts this year.
De Minaur opens against Yuichi Sugita, who this year has demonstrated how variance-heavy his random run up the rankings last year was - the Japanese 30 year old is 3-9 on hard court this year, with dire return data. At 16/1, the seventh seed can give us a good run for our money in Shenzhen.
Fognini with a generous draw in Chengdu
Over in Chengdu, the outright prices are yet to be added to the Sportsbook, but again, conditions aren't anticipated to be hugely dissimilar to medium-paced, with historical data showing little deviation from mean figures.
In what looks a slightly lower quality event, Fabio Fognini, Nikoloz Basilashvili, Adrian Mannarino and Hyeon Chung are the seeds with byes, with top seed Fognini having received a gift draw in the top half, with only Matteo Berrettini in his quarter able to boast decent hard court data.
Querrey's record in Asia leaves much to be desired
Quarter two, also in the top half, looks weak, with Basilashvili somehow getting a bye despite Sam Querrey and Taylor Fritz being more competent hard courters. Querrey's record in Asia, however, is atrocious, barely winning 40% of his matches in the continent and it's difficult to even remotely consider him as an outright option this week.
Seeds Mannarino and Chung with question marks over them
In the bottom half of the draw, seeds Adrian Mannarino and Hyeon Chung also have question marks over them. The Frenchman, Mannarino, goes into the event needing to snap off a three match losing run, and his record in his last six matches is 1-5, with the win over Marco Cecchinato, whose lack of competence away from clay has been well documented in this column previously.
As for Chung, I'm not convinced of his fitness, with his last outing being a very disappointing straight-set loss over Mikhail Kukushkin at the US Open. With this in mind, I don't mind chancing Gael Monfils, who stands at around 7/1 at general market pricing.
Acclimatised Monfils with a decent chance in weak event
The Frenchman has prodigious talent but hasn't been able to demonstrate it consistently this year, with injury hampering his efforts. However, he looks here to play as he's come over to Asia a week early to acclimatise, culminating in winning the Kaohsiung Challenger event this morning.
Monfils faces the South African prospect, George Harris, in his opener, prior to a possible round two meeting with another inconsistent performer, in the shape of Bernard Tomic. However, Tomic tends to do his best work in quicker conditions than he's likely to find in China in the coming week, and for a small stake, Monfils looks the best bet if you can get 7/1 in what is a wide-open tournament.