We recorded a slight loss on Friday, as Gilles Simon’s tame effort put us on the back foot before Brian Baker restored some order in the evening in Nice. Still, it’s been eight winners from 10 bets this week as we go into the final day at the Open de Nice Cote d’Azur.
The story of the tournament has been Baker’s Lazarus-like return to the ATP Tour, having not played at this level for an incredible seven years due to injury.
Bizarrely, Baker’s last match before this week in the main draw at anything above Challenger level was against Xavier Malisse in New York and he will play Malisse again in a few days time at Roland Garros.
But for now he’s got the small matter of his first ever tour level final to deal with – nine years after he turned professional. He faces the defending Nice champion, Nico Almagro.
Baker has made us some money this week, as I’ve been able to call his matches correctly, but this is another step up for the gutsy fighter from Nashville. He was behind against Sergiy Stakhovsky, Mikhail Kukushkin and Nikolay Davydenko this week but battled back to win against all of them. He’s now on a winning streak of 15 matches.
Surely he can’t lift this title today, though, at a price of around 5.85. Today’s opponent has won at least one ATP title each year since 2006 and his record in finals is pretty good – 11 wins and five losses from his 16 championship matches.
Four of those five losses have come at the hands of David Ferrer and the other was to Gilles Simon, so the Spaniard has never lost a final to a player ranked outside the top-20 in the world.
Interestingly, each of Almagro’s previous six finals have all gone to a deciding set – including the one here 12 months ago against Victor Hanescu. Almagro started as a 1.23 favourite that day.
Baker is a consistent and pure ball striker who likes to put pressure on the opponent’s second serve by taking it incredibly early. He sometimes meets the ball not far outside the service box, but he hasn’t faced someone who hits as hard as Nico this week.
Almagro won 81% of his first serve points against a decent returner in Gilles Simon yesterday, despite getting only 49% of his first serves in, but he did bang down eight aces in as many service games.
Baker put pressure on the Davydenko serve last night by winning 48% of the points on the Russian’s first serve and 62% on his second serve, but I can’t see him making that kind of impression on Almagro’s delivery.
The Spaniard isn’t unbeatable, however, as the lower-ranked Lukas Kubot showed by winning from two sets down at Roland Garros last year.
Almagro should win this today, but after a good week in Nice I’ll take a chance that Baker can push him close with a 4.5 game start on the handicap. Only once in his last seven finals has Almagro won by more than 4.5 games and with a bit in hand this week it’s worth a value punt at a price of 2.25 that an inspired Baker can run Nico close.
Back Baker +4.5 games at 2.25