With the ATP's best eight tennis players in action over the next week in London, our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, returns to give his thoughts on the outright market...
Nadal's withdrawal opens door for Isner
The ATP Tour Finals begins at the magnificent O2 Arena in London on Sunday, and following Rafa Nadal's withdrawal, and the subsequent inclusion of John Isner, the two groups of four - of which two from each qualify for the semi-finals - have now been drawn.
Realistically, the Spaniard's pull-out is of little surprise. He didn't play in Paris last week, and with the King of Clay largely keeping his court activity restricted to his favoured event, he would have been considered a major contender by the market solely due to his reputation alone.
Djokovic with slight edge over the field
In fact, there is a reasonable case for stating the same about Novak Djokovic. His level in Paris last week (105.8% combined service/return points won) was good rather than great, and while he created more chances than Roger Federer in the semi-final, which he eventually won via a final-set tiebreak, he was absurdly priced for that meeting, and we were unlucky not to get a heavy underdog victory for Federer from our recommendation that day.
Looking at his recent level, Djokovic does have an all-surface edge over the field, standing at 110.0% combined service/return points won across the last three months, but it's not a huge edge by any means over the likes of group rival Alexander Zverev (108.1%), and Federer, who stands at 106.7%.
Current Djokovic price looking short despite group rival limitations
Certainly, Djokovic's current market price for winning the tournament, at1.69 on the Exchange, looks short enough, and while he should cruise through a group with three players who haven't consistently impressed indoors in the last season - all are between a rather mediocre 99% and 102% mark for combined service/return points won indoors in the last 12 months - he might find matters tougher in the subsequent knockout stages.
Those rivals in Djokovic's group - the Kuerten group - are unlikely to trouble trophy engravers next weekend. All three have negative win-loss records against top 10 opposition in the last 12 months, as well as the previously mentioned mediocre indoor records. I'd be very surprised indeed if Zverev, Cilic or Isner took the title next Sunday.
Federer favourite to win the Hewitt Group
Looking at the Hewitt Group, Federer is the heavy group favourite and stands at3.75 to win the event on the Exchange. The Swiss legend loves indoor conditions - as evidenced by a superb 21-2 record in the last 12 months on indoor hard courts - and although I don't anticipate conditions to be really pacy, I do feel that the court speed will be more to his taste than the average outdoor hard court.
Federer needing a bigger outright price to be value
The big question is whether Federer represents value at that price, and I'm not convinced he does. He was priced around 3.40 to beat Djokovic in the Paris semi-final at the weekend and even if we accept that price was incorrect - as I strongly believe - it is difficult to consider a barely bigger price to win the tournament as value when we consider it is virtually certain that he'll have to beat the Serb to win the title, let alone get to that stage to begin with.
Nishikori with the best chance of the outsiders
With this in mind, extracting value from the event is quite tricky. Last year's final of Grigor Dimitrov and David Goffin was a big change from the traditional elite-dominated winners list this decade, and if we consider this domination from the elite four a reasonably reliable trend, it is difficult to consider the underdogs as being particularly viable.
Perhaps the best option from the list of tournament underdogs is Kei Nishikori. He has a 20-5 record indoors in the last 12 months, which aligns to an impressive 107.6% combined service/return points won percentage in this time period on the surface. This actually ranks him second (behind Federer) for this metric of the eight competitors, and there's a decent argument to consider him 'the best of the rest' in the field.
The Exchange market still needs a little more liquidity, and I'm sure the20.00 about the Japanese man will get a little bigger in the coming days. General market lines have him around 23.00, and he looks the best of a bad bunch, from an outright perspective.
First Alternate Khachanov boasting impressive data
Prior to signing off, I also want to add some final analysis on the first alternate, Karen Khachanov. The Russian triumphed in Paris last week and this victory rubber-stamped a huge improvement over the last few months, which has certainly been evidenced statistically.
Khachanov is 18-6 indoors in the last 12 months, with an impressive 107.6% combined service/return points won percentage - the same as Nishikori, and considerably better than much of this Tour Finals field. He's also 107.8% across all surfaces in the last three months - much better than Nishikori, also higher than Federer, and only slightly behind Djokovic and Zverev.
It is far from inconceivable that Khachanov might get to participate in the event, as he's first in line to do so if a player withdraws. If this occurs, and we can get around the 29.00 mark, or even bigger than this, prior to the event, this looks a pretty decent spot.