2022 Rolex Paris Masters Quarterfinals
Alcaraz vs Rune :
WHY AREN’T YOU TIRED? Tales of professional tennis burnout are extremely common. Expectations of early losses after title wins are a constant. The fruition of these expectations is hard to pin down, and Holger Rune is improving with more matches rather than dying out. It sounds a bit callous, but the amount of practice and training that the pros do even on match days makes me think that playing one match a day on hardcourt isn’t really that exhausting unless there is extreme heat. Even when players look visibly tired (like Simon in his last two matches), they still jog to their return positions and sprint around the court to make gets. There may be slight level drops, but I’m starting to think that health, nutrition, and training regimens are eclipsing the old limitations of physical ability. Something to look at I guess going into next season.
As for the actual tennis, early on against Rublev it became pretty clear that Rune is just a more comprehensive tennis player at this stage in the season. He’s defending better, he’s serving way better, and Rublev really only scored when he had control of rallies. It was a frustrating day for Rublev but a good end to the season for him to get a few wins. His main struggle this year has been with hitting the net, and I expect him and his team to do a lot of cross training and footwork drills in the offseason to strengthen his legs. A strong base makes it a lot easier to avoid rally ball errors, and Rublev is a really hard worker off the court so it’s likely we see him get back to his best form in 2023.
Alcaraz was similarly dominant against Dimitrov. Grigor hit some highlight reel shots and managed to get a break back in the second, but Alcaraz is getting to that Nadal level where even when you break him it’s still extremely uphill to get the rest of the games. I like Alcaraz’s forehand production this week; him and Tommy Paul are the guys really hitting close to the baseline with great shape when they have a chance. Books have dropped Alcaraz to -220 for this match, and that’s more than Rublev/Hurkacz opened but still a big nod to Rune’s level. This is a match Rune is certainly playing well enough to win, but his opposition so far has been slightly incomplete. Wawrinka is resurgent, but he’s been losing close matches in the deciding sets due to mild fatigue. Hurkacz is brilliant, but he’s slightly behind the pace from the baseline. Rublev is a great power player, but his lateral movement and serving is slightly off the top tour level. Alcaraz’s weakest facet right now is probably his serve, and that seems to be improving quickly. More importantly, he has dialed up great serving when matches have gotten close, which is a testament to his physical strength. At this point, I think Alcaraz is a game or two better than Rune, simply because he won’t get bullied from the baseline. I’d expect a similar match to De Minaur and Tiafoe where both are really playing at the fastest pace they can and most service games are close. Alcaraz is a tougher matchup, but Hurkacz and Rublev and legitimate wins and Rune can’t be counted out here. The first of 4 fairly unbettable matches. Alcaraz in 3.
Tiafoe vs Auger-Aliassime :
De Minaur hadn’t lost to Tiafoe in his career but he really was outhit in their match today. It was dead even throughout in terms of baseline rallies as far as position, but Tiafoe was always the one hitting a heavier ball. The result was De Minaur pressing when he got down in the scoreline on serve, and Tiafoe getting to go a bit more aggressive on the big points. After losing the first 6-3, De Minaur started to make inroads into Tiafoe’s service games. A few errant backhand slices got him some break points, and he finally broke for 5-3 after Tiafoe made some fairly random errors. Just when it seemed like ADM’s work was paying off, Tiafoe turned around and broke him to love. It isn’t great to cough up a break, but getting it back immediately is a really good sign. Tiafoe’s serving is so good right now that I’d almost want to call him a servebot, but his returning and forehand are making the Paris courts look extremely fast. In the tiebreaker Alex pulled back a few minibreaks, but Tiafoe isn’t looking to win by earning errors, he’s looking to score the points himself and he was able to convert a beautiful short backhand down the line off ADM’s kick serve for match point. It’s been cool this week that a large portion of the French crowd has been cheering for Tiafoe, and the salt bae celebration was a bit cringe but he’s really treating the crowd to some great tennis this week.
FAA is through after a routine win against Gilles Simon. It was a nice finish to Simon’s career, and he’s been a great role model for the young French players for a long time so hopefully he stays involved with tennis in some capacity. It didn’t really provide any extra info about Felix’s level, but we already know there are no rewards in a late round at a Masters 1000. Playing Felix Auger-Aliassime right now is a big ask, and FAA has beaten Tiafoe in their last two matches at a level well below his current one. If you plug FAA in where ADM was, the match definitely goes to 3 after Tiafoe gets broken in the second. Tiafoe’s serve is good enough to get him deep in sets, but the occasional service game lapse will cost him those sets. Luckily, and this is reflected in the +160 Tiafoe is listed at, Frances is a big match player. He seems to play to the level of his opponent, and this will be a server’s duel. I’d expect a tiebreaker or two, and I think Felix will be a tiny bit more steady on the day. His own forehand being much heavier than De Minaur’s will let him trade a bit more safely, and his serving is way more effective than ADM’s. It’s not a great idea to fade either of these players right now, but FAA in 3.
Djokovic vs Musetti :
Novak started off the match against Khachanov at such a perfect level that he quickly lost the plot. There’s somewhat of an inadvertent heat check when you’re making great contact and landing every shot. You start to get smoother and more casual, and start to really try to see the ball to the next location. Djokovic was up an early break and coasting, and he just played a bit too casual. He chose the wrong/extra creative shot on a number of open court opportunities, and frustration built and also a bit of pressure. With anyone else the set could have been in question, but Djokovic’s errors only just allowed Khachanov to linger in the match. Once you choose the wrong option once, it tends to happen a few more times as you get into a guessing game with yourself about what your opponent expects. After this mini-cycle ended though, it was all Novak. A quick 6-1 win in the second brings up a contest that Djokovic was opened at -800ish for. I disagree, but let’s weigh the pros and cons of that disagreement.
Lorenzo Musetti won a pair of 6-4 sets against Casper Ruud after losing the first by the same scoreline. His play in the third set was good enough to challenge Djokovic, but him being in a third set with Ruud (who’s not the greatest indoors) is an argument for Djokovic. What I like about Musetti’s chances as opposed to Khachanov’s is how clean Musetti is hitting the ball. Khachanov also telegraphs his forehand a bit and wasn’t really getting it through the court. Musetti has a pretty fluid swing and doesn’t really show you where he’s going at all. For one-handers, the mark of their top level is almost always them hitting big shots down the line. Musetti barely missed a backhand pass late in the match, and honestly he started to look like a future top 10 player. He’ll be somewhat comfortable playing against Djokovic, and he’s used to earning points from the baseline so his serve coming back often won’t be the end of the world. He does have a decent kick serve and that’s one of the few things Djokovic will leave returns short off of, since he does a lot of guiding the ball in rather than driving it. That’s all pro-Musetti thinking, but beating an in-form Djokovic is going to be really tough.
Djokovic’s serving is what makes him nearly impossible to beat. He had some struggles late in the match as the crowd started shouting during every service rhythm, but his location on his serves is probably the best on tour now that Federer is retired. I can’t really sell Musetti winning outright, but I do think he’ll get a bit closer than the 5 game spread being offered at most sets. Again, there’s not much reason to bet against Novak Djokovic when he’s playing well, but I also would be hesitant to just blindly follow a price which is clearly set with the intent of pricing bettors out of being able to back Djokovic. I’m expecting 2 close sets and a Novak win, but this will be Djokovic’s biggest test in the bottom bracket.
Tsitsipas vs Paul :
Tsitsipas pricing has been puzzling all week. He opened at -400 against Moutet which I thought was fair given his great play vs Evans. This number quickly went to -650 which I suppose resulted in profit for people, but is a really bad purchase. Tsitsipas is in good form (not great), but he’s still Tsitsipas. This is the same guy who smashes racquets, hits balls at his opponents when things aren’t going his way, who argues with his dad during matches, who visibly gets rattled and cracks during winnable matches, etc. This behavior is somewhat isolated, but that needs to be in your mind when you offer 6 to 1 odds on a bet. Generally, I wouldn’t advise going above -300 outright, simply because your odds of beating that pricepoint for any significant sample size is unlikely (not because you’re bad, but because you’re paying significantly more juice the higher the price). -300 gets paired with +250. -400 gets paired with +300. -650 gets paired with +400. -833 gets paired with +500. Sure these guys are favored, but oof are those gaps in the middle a huge cushion for the books.
Anyway, Tsitsipas had a tense couple of games against Moutet early on. Both players were scoring, but in neutral rallies they both looked like they weren’t ready to go for much. Tsitsipas ended up needing a tiebreaker to escape the second set, and it’s one reason that I think Tommy Paul has a chance here. The other two reasons are wins against Rafael Nadal and Pablo Carreño-Busta. Tommy always serves well, and his forehand is hit with great shape and depth. He has good enough speed to run down Stefanos’ groundstrokes, and he’ll just need to be a bit more stable on his backhand and a bit more patient in long rallies. Pablo turned things up late on his forehand, hitting some incredible inside out winners, but his own serving wasn’t great. Tsitsipas represents a big step up in that department, and he tends to play a very good first set so for Paul it’s a long-term plan here. I expect Tsitsipas to start off very aggressive, rush the net a good bit, and likely earn a break as Paul gets in a groove. In the second I’d make it a 50/50 battle. The -278 for Tsitsipas is a bit too high for me, but he’s been great in every round this week and leads the H2H 2-0 (Lyon clay being the most recent meeting 6-1, 6-4 for ST). Add in being ranked 26 spots higher and it does seem like the pricepoint at which the book is going to balance investment. Another spot where I expect a very close match, but the favorite should be slightly better. Tsitsipas in 3.