The new season is upon us and the first stop for tennis fans and the game’s elite is in Abu Dhabi for the Mubadala World Tennis Championship. The annual exhibition tournament has attracted the top four players in the sport along with top-ten ranked Stanislas Wawrinka and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Below is a preview of the first two matches of the event starting Boxing Day.
Stanislas Wawrinka to beat David Ferrer @ 10/11
Arguably no one on the tour had a more impressive season than Stanislas Wawrinka and the Swiss number two will be desperate to consolidate his performances last year with a win in his first event of the new campaign against David Ferrer.
Wawrinka reached the semi-finals of the end-of-season tour championships at the O2, a fitting culmination to his best year to date.
The 28-year-old reached the semi-finals of the US Open, only to lose out in a five-set thriller to Novak Djokovic, the quarter-finals of the French Open, defeated by eventual champion Rafael Nadal, along with a host of other notable performances including finals in Buenos Aires, Madrid, Hertogenbosch and winning his fourth career title at Oeiras.
His first opponent in Abu Dhabi, David Ferrer, also posted some incredible results with the evergreen 31-year-old reaching three consecutive finals in Stockholm, Valencia and Paris before the London finale to add to his 19th and 20th career titles in Auckland and Buenos Aires.
Two more final appearances at Acapulco and Miami were complimented by deep runs in the Majors, reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open, his maiden final at Roland Garros and quarter-finals at Wimbledon and the US Open.
At one point in the season after SW19 and at the beginning of the US hardcourt swing it appeared as if the burly Spaniard may have exhausted all his resources for the rest of the year, but in the manner typical of the world number three, he roared back to reach the aforementioned hat-trick of finals – albeit losing out in each.
Both players are more than familiar with each other with this their 13th career meeting. Although Ferrer edges that history 7-5, the momentum between the two is currently with the younger man with Wawrinka winning both of their last two matches with only one set lost.
The Swiss swinger also leads their record on the faster surfaces with three wins to Ferrer’s two and although it is always difficult to predict how the players will return after a break the advice is to back Wawrinka to inflict a third straight defeat on his opponent.
The layers are understandably unsure of who to make favourite considering their close records and time away from the court, however, at the very least they should be joint-favourites and so the 10/11 available on Stan should be taken.
Anyone supporting Ferrer will never be left with the feeling that their man did not give everything he could and no-one who has watched him over the past few years could justifiably say he is on the wane.
However, for the first time in 15 years Ferrer is in significant transition with long-time coach Javier Piles relieved of his duties following a long-term partnership.
It’s unlikely that it will have too much of an impact on a consistent professional like Ferrer but it certainly doesn’t help.
In addition, Wawrinka’s form was solid enough last year to bolster the belief that his presence in the top ten will now be a permanent one, and even if Ferrer doesn’t know it himself, Wawrinka could be the more motivated to accelerate his pace in search of a maiden Grand Slam.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to beat Andy Murray @ 11/8
As mentioned above there is always a certain amount of conjecture involved when trying to forecast how a player will return after a break and even more so an injury, making Andy Murray’s return to action against Jo-Wilfied Tsonga a difficult match to call.
What is certain is that Murray would not be entering the fray again unless he was confident he was able to compete but he still looks a shaky 8/15 favourite.
Murray’s first main target of the year is not in Dubai, but at the Australian Open and although he will want to win he has shown in the past that he is not willing to test his body to its full extent if it means jeopardising future goals.
Tsonga has also suffered from injuries last season so much so that he failed to finish in the world’s top eight and fall short of qualifying for the end of season championships which he had contested for the last two years.
The 28-year-old did become the first Frenchman since Gael Monfils in 2008 to reach the semi-finals of the French Open after brushing aside Roger Federer in straight sets in the round before.
However, his performance against David Ferrer in the last-four left a nation puzzled such was its poor standard and only a losing final in Metz against countryman Gilles Simon was left from a largely disappointing and frustrating year.
Those wanting to back the newly crowned Sports Personality of the Year don’t have to look too far for encouragement.
The Wimbledon champion has dominated the Frenchman in their career history, winning eight of their ten encounters including the last seven.
Supporters of the world number 10 can point to the fact that only two of those last six defeats have come in straight sets, but that doesn’t hide the reality that even in the matches where a deciding or fourth set was required, the Brit never relinquished control of the game’s tempo or lead.
This will be one of the best opportunities for Tsonga to claw back some respectability in their head-to-head as Murray has not played a competitive match since winning both his rubbers in the Davis Cup in the middle of last September.
Furthermore, despite his woeful record he has actually won one, lost one when they have met on hardcourt, with four of their last six meetings coming on Murray’s much favoured grass.
There are more question marks surrounding this clash than anything else, with the fitness, drive and mindset of both players largely unknown.
On the surface and at the prices Tsonga has to be the selection though to take advantage of Murray’s rustiness at 11/8.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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