2023 ASB Classic/Auckland Singles Preview


Tournament not held


*The ATP World Tour returns to Auckland for the first time since 2020 when Ugo Humbert scored his maiden tour title with a win over Benoit Paire. That marked the second straight year that an unseeded player won his first tour title with Tennys Sandgren doing the trick in 2019. Six of the last seven runs in Auckland have seen at least one unseeded finalist with three unseeded champions in that mix.

*Seeds still made up three of the four semifinal slots in 2020, but we did see two of the top four seeds going down in their openers in round two. That included the top seed Fabio Fognini. 2019 saw an all unseeded final four with five of the eight seeds dropping their openers. 2018 was back to seeing more seeds in the semis with three of the four slots going to seeded players, but again top four guys had trouble early. Two of the top four seeds again lost their openers off the first round bye in round two. Take a good look at those spots as always.

*Underdogs hit in just eight of the 27 matches in 2020 with a high of 3.10 (+210) in the quarterfinals when Humbert took out (2)Denis Shapovalov. The underdog wins were spread out fairly evenly in 2020 with three in round one, two in round two, a pair in the quarters and one in the semifinals. Although Humbert was the favorite in that year’s final, underdogs have had a nice history of hitting in the championship match in recent times with three of the four runs from 2016-2019 seeing an underdog score for the title. The largest hit came when Roberto Bautista Agut beat Juan Martin Del Potro in 2018 as a 3.17 (+217) dog. The biggest underdog bite of late came in round one in 2019 when Rubin Statham beat (7)Hyeon Chung at 6.91 (+591). 2017 had the next biggest hit with Robin Haase at 3.98 (+298) in round one over (3)David Ferrer.

*Three set matches flooded the 2020 version of the ASB Classic with 15 of the 27 matches going the distance. That marked the third time in the last four runs in New Zealand where there have been at least 12 matches requiring three sets to finish.

*Tie breaks didn’t appear to be too prevalent last time out with 19 of the 69 sets played in 2020 seeing a tie break. That’s just a 27.5% clip. 2019 saw even fewer tie breaks with just 12 of the 61 sets played going that way for a 19.7% rate. Auckland also has multiple indoor courts which came into play during the women’s version of this tournament this past week and the start of men’s qualifying. It may pay to keep an eye on that for the week with some more rain possible. It doesn’t appear to be a big advantage going indoors as far as seeing tighter sets and tie breaks, but on a matchup basis, pay attention to whether or not a big server might get switched indoors. That might change your mind for certain plays.


*It is the final chance for a tune up prior to the Australian Open as this 28 player field descends on Auckland. Success here had been bad news of late for the champion as far as the quick turnaround to Melbourne. The last three ASB Classic champions from 2018-2020 all lost their Australian Open first round matches. Jack Sock was the last title winner here in New Zealand to avoid the one and done fate in Melbourne when he won the title in 2017 and advanced to the third round in Melbourne.

*Casper Ruud leads the field as the top seed, but he will be looking for his first main draw win here in his third try. Ruud split a pair of matches at the United Cup to start his 2023 campaign and has not seen a lot of early success prior to the Australian Open. Second seeded Cameron Norrie has some good memories here with a 2019 finals run, but he also lost his opener the following year. Norrie comes in streaking after sweeping his three matches at the United Cup against Alex de Minaur, Rafael Nadal and Taylor Fritz. (3)Diego Schwartzman, (6)John Isner and (8)Adrian Mannarino are the only other seeds who have played this stop in the past. Mannarino sports the best result in making the 2015 final, but he has lost his opener each of the last two trips in 2017 and 2020.

*The other seeds, (4)Francisco Cerundolo, (5)Alexander Bublik and (7)Sebastian Baez make their Auckland debuts. Cerundolo started 0-2 at the United Cup as did Bublik, while Baez dropped his opener in Pune. (6)Isner is playing his season opener this week, so he should be on upset watch early as he tries to round into form quickly.

*With the history of unseeded players making big runs in Auckland, it will pay to look around the draw at those potential danger men. 2020 champion Ugo Humbert is back this year and will be looking to atone for a loss in qualification at the Adeilaide-1 tournament last week. Watch his opening matchup though as he is slated to face a qualifier who will obviously have the match conditions advantage. Although I’m always an anti-David Goffin trusting guy, the Belgian draws Bublik to start. Goffin was crushed in both his United Open matches against Grigor Dimitrov and Stefanos Tsitsipas, but he does own a win over Bublik in their only career meeting in 2020. Wildcard Ben Shelton may also be one to watch as he draws Baez to start. Shelton lost his opener in qualis last week in Adeilaide. The whole bottom half of the draw looks loaded with potential trouble spots with Molcan, Halys, Brooksby, Fognini, Wolf, Giron and more qualifiers joining Shelton as players who could continue the unseeded dominance in Auckland.

*Keep an eye on where the qualifiers are slotted into the draw. I talked about Humbert drawing one in round one and Isner is also slated to see one. There are some tricky draws left depending on how the final round of qualis goes today with Christopher Eubanks battling Jiri Lehecka and Gregoire Barrere waiting for either top qualifying seed Thiago Monteiro or Kiwi Rai Ajeet. The Lehecka-Eubanks survivor could be the toughest out with both having the big serves that can keep them in a match with easy points.


*Alexander Bublik vs David Goffin
Both players are 0-2 after the United Cup and certainly Bublik looked the better of the two with a tight three set loss to Hurkacz and a 6-3, 7-6 loss to Wawrinka looking better than Goffin’s straight sets defeats. Still, this becomes a question of motivation for the week for me. We know Bublik is one of those guys who can either go into clown-around mode and treat this as a practice session or be locked in and dominate with that first serve. Goffin has not played well on outdoor hard courts over the last three seasons at 11-23 since the start of 2021. He has however had some of his better results EARLY with a quarterfinal in Sydney last year and a semifinal in Antalya in 2021. I think this could be tricky for Bublik.

*Sebastian Baez vs Ben Shelton
Baez has been a mess since making the Bastad final last July. The Argentine is a phenomenal 1-15 since that finals’ loss. That has Shelton as a firm favorite to take the “W” in this match, but it likely won’t be simple. Baez has at least competed well despite the lengthy losing stretch and Shelton for all the hype from his breakout 2022 (40-11) still has just three ATP main draw wins with all coming last Summer. I think this one will be competitive.

*Alex Molcan vs Quentin Halys
Molcan had a huge 2021 with 66 combined wins, but predictably had less in 2022 as he transitioned to a full-time ATP slate. He finished 31-26 across all competitions still showing his best on clay. Halys secured 58 combined wins in 2022 with the majority of his best stuff coming indoors with 37 wins notched on that hard surface. Both players were in action last week with Molcan dropping his opener in Pune and Halys splitting two in Adelaide. For as good as Halys has been on indoor hard, he’s struggled to find consistent wins outdoors. That makes this an even matchup to me and Halys could have some trouble with the lefty perhaps a better shot than the odds suggest.

*Jenson Brooksby vs Fabio Fognini
There could be some choice words flowing from the Italian in this matchup as he takes on the American for the first time. Brooksby’s unorthodox mix of variety has frustrated many an opponent and facing him as your first match of a new season doesn’t seem like a good time. That said, this is the opener for both and Fognini has a lot of experience at this stop with this being his sixth trip. Brooksby is playing this Aussie/NZ swing for the first time, so this is all new to him and that makes it interesting. I wouldn’t touch this match with a hazmat suit and rubber gloves, but it could be fun to watch.

*Adrian Mannarino vs J.J.Wolf
This is a good clash in round one with two guys who can really defend when they’re healthy. Mannarino has the edge of having played a few matches at the United Cup, while Wolf is debuting in 2023. Wolf had his best year as a pro with 43 wins combined in 2022 and he’s at his best on this surface with 23 of those wins coming on outdoor hard courts. Wolf has been excellent against lefties at this level so far at 5-1 early in his career, something he has carried over from Challengers where he’s 11-6 against lefties. He’s been hugely successful when winning the first set, going 13-1 at this level when taking the opener. He’s just 4-18 when dropping the opener, so keep an eye on how the American starts.


Ruud and Isner are the seeds. It’s intriguing to see how each treats this spots. Isner you’d figure is keen to get some reps with this being his 2023 debut, but again could have a tough draw with a qualifier coming up first. Ruud could see a tough foe in his opener depending on the result of Munar-Djere. Munar has been pesky against Ruud with his first win over the Norwegian last year on a hard surface in Tokyo. Ruud had taken the first two matches on clay, but both were very competitive. Djere owns a win over Ruud too, but that was back in 2019 when Ruud was still earning his stripes. In Isner’s half, he’s the guy to beat if he finds his serve early. Lestienne is an interesting guy to take a look at in this half as well with the Frenchman doing a lot of winning on hard courts in 2022. The main issue is that most of those came at Challengers and power players could trouble him some here I think.

Munar is definitely the unseeded guy to watch for me in this quarter. He’s played Ruud tough and he’s already gotten some reps playing in Pune last week. Ruud has obviously become almost an all-surface threat outside of grass, but I think Isner is the seed who could do more damage here if he avoids early trouble.

ONE & DONE WATCH: Munar over (1)Ruud, Qualifer over (6)Isner

The Bublik-Goffin opener will shape this quarter I think with the winner getting a “good” win to propel them into round two. The survivor faces either former champ Humbert or a qualifier. This half looks wide open to me as Humbert certainly can do well here despite his struggles in the last year or so. Keep an eye on who that qualifier is in this part of the draw too. Goffin and Umbert have split two matches with Goffin winning last year at Wimbledon. Bublik has never met Umbert and that should be advantage to Bublik with his quirky game. We’ve seen Cerundolo fight well on hard courts and his early draw isn’t bad with Gasquet a likely first opponent. Gasquet battled hard in his opening loss to Giron last week in Adeilade and looms as an unseeded danger perhaps in this section.

I’d rate Gasquet slightly higher as an unseeded runner because he avoids the tougher half of the quarter. Goffin and Humbert certainly would not be big surprises if they make a run. For me the bigger surprise might be seeing a seed get through, but Bublik certainly has the potential.

ONE & DONE WATCH: Gasquet over (4)Cerundolo, Goffin over (5)Bublik

This was the quarter where I looked and said give me one of the unseeded guys to get the semifinals. The seeds don’t inspire a ton of confidence with Schwartzman making his season debut and Baez of course in that spectacular tail spin. Schwartzman had typically played ATP Cup for his first action of the season, but obviously did not have that option. Brooksby or Fognini as his opener will be tough. Diego did blitz Brooksby in their only meeting back in 2021 indoors and owns two wins against Fognini, but this is a little different with the Argentine making his debut. As for Baez, if he gets past Shelton, I still think he’s going to have trouble against Molcan or Halys. When you look at all the unseeded guys in this section with the exception of perhaps Fognini, you’ve got young guys who could be motivated to get a shot at a rare ATP title. Who’s the better shot?

As much as I like Ben Shelton, I think he could be in for some growing pains this year as he gains that experience around the world. Brooksby is the American with better sleeper potential to me, but how does he acclimate here? This is a tough section to predict.

ONE & DONE WATCH: Brooksby over (3)Schwartzman, Shelton over (7)Baez

For me, Cam Norrie is the favorite this week in Auckland. He’s in great form, so getting him at 3.75 (+275) on the outright market is something I’d be interested in over Ruud at the shorter price. Norrie will get a qualifier to start and given his form, I’m less worried about that than I might be for others. The other half sees Mannarino with the rough one against Wolf. Wolf certainly could be primed for getting the upset, but he’s got to find his rhythm in his season opener. Giron and Martinez could be competitive with both having played tournament already. Giron got a win in Adelaide and Martinez picked up two in Pune. The survivor of that one definitely has a shot to squeeze into the quarterfinal mix. Martinez has shown better on hard courts in the last year, but I think Giron gets through. Giron probably wouldn’t mind seeing his fellow American Wolf as he has beaten him the two times they’ve met as pros.

My eyes are on Giron and Wolf as the unseeded worries in this quarter. If Norrie plays anything close to what we saw at the United Cup though it should be a moot point as the #2 seed looks the firm favorite to be in the finals mix in Auckland.

ONE & DONE WATCH: Wolf over (8)Mannarino

I already spoiled it with one of the two picks I’m on this week and that is Norrie. You can question whether or not he will push himself full with the Australian Open up next, but I don’t think he’s looking to stop the momentum he started at the United Cup. The outright market is interesting to me with Brooksby seen as the fourth favorite in this tournament at 12.0 (+1100). That to me suggests that the odds makers believe he is winning that third quarter and certainly that can happen, but he still likely would have to go through Norrie. The Brit dismantled him at Indian Wells in 2022; 6-2, 6-4.

There are plenty of prices around that point and much larger that I would rather take a stab at in Auckland.

I’m going old school stab and Richard Gasquet. He gets the winnable opener against Pannu who is inexperienced at this level despite the “home court” advantage. And then I think you look at his quarter as a whole and I don’t see a sure thing with Cerundolo and Bublik both beatable albeit both tough as well. He has wins over Humbert and Goffin on his record, so there is potential there to me at a larger price.

Let’s Eat.

Norrie 3.75 (+275)
Gasquet 19.0 (+1800)


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