Houston Singles Preview


(3)Reilly Opelka d. (4)John Isner 6-4, 7-6(7)

3, 4, 5, NS

SEEDS: ONE & DONE (1st Match Loss)
1 out of 7


*Reilly Opelka’s title win in Houston last year marked the fourth straight run in Houston where the favorite won the final match. Opelka won as a 1.61 (-164) favorite. The last underdog winner in the Houston title match came in 2017 when Juan Monaco defeated Jack Sock as a hefty 2.84 (+184) dog in the championship match. The 2022 title match finished in straight sets which broke a four year streak of the Houston finale needing three sets to finish.

*Overall, there were seven underdog wins in 2022. The largest came against the only seed to fall in their opener as J.J. Wolf took down (6)Jenson Brooksby at 3.60 (+250) in round one. Three of the dog scores came in the opening round with another pair in round two and then one each in the quarterfinals and semifinals. All of them hit at 2.47 (+147) or better with a trio of those scalps coming above 3.37 (+237). The seven in 2022 were down from nine in the last run in Houston in 2019, but all of those fell below 2.79 (+179).

*There were a dozen three setters in the 2022 run of the US Men’s Clay Court Championship out of 25 completed matches. That made it double digit three set matches in three of the last four runs in Houston. Five of the three set finishes came in round one in that last run with four more in the round of 16. The late stages of the tournament haven’t been immune to the longer matches either with three of the seven matches in the quarters, semis and the final going the distance last year. 2019 only saw two of the last seven going to three, but in both 2017 and 2018 six of the seven final matches finished in three sets. Looking to 2023, keep an eye on Garin for three set matches, he’s played seven in the nine total matches the Chilean has played in two years at Houston.


*Houston serves as a sort of gateway into the clay court swing of the Spring, especially for the players who have been playing in the US in March who may be looking for a last stop before heading to Europe. This is the only US-based clay court tournament on the ATP World Tour and it sports a 28 player singles field. With Opelka still sidelined due to injury, there is no chance for a repeat champion at this event. The feat was last accomplished in Houston by Steve Johnson in 2016 and 2017. US players have won four of the last six titles at the US Men’s Clay Court Championship.

*This year’s field is led by Frances Tiafoe. This will be Big Foe’s fifth time playing Houston with a 2022 quarterfinal serving as his best result. Tiafoe generally has seen mediocre results on clay, but he did make the Estoril final last year to show that he can still be a threat, especially with smaller events like this one. Following the American to make up the top four seeds are Tommy Paul, Brandon Nakashima and three-time Houston finalist John Isner. Isner did win this thing way back in 2013 and finished runner up last year. Paul has never been past round two in three trips to H-town, but figures to be more in the title hunt this year as he comes in with a solid 15-6 record. Nakashima makes his Houston debut and is still seeking his first tournament with back-to-back wins in 2023.

*The last half of the seeded field features two more Americans with J.J. Wolf as the number five seed and Marcos Giron as the seven. Jason Kubler is in as the six with Tomas Martin Echeverry as the eight. Wolf split two matches here in his debut a year ago. He went 8-4 on clay in 2022, but most of that came at Challengers and the two in Houston. Kubler plays Houston for the first time, but showed well on dirt last year at 20-5 overall. The caveat for the Aussie was a majority of those wins came at the Futures level early in the Spring, but he did win his first match in the main draw at the French Open too. Giron lost his main draw debut last year in Houston and was just 3-9 on clay in 2022. Echeverry is another debutant at this tournament, but loves playing clay. He’s already racked up a 6-4 mark on clay this year with a trip to the Santiago final as his best result plus a quarterfinal in Buenos Aires.

*Qualifiers have shown some promise at this event, so keep an eye on them again in 2023. Last year, Gijs Brouwer and Michael Mmoh made the quarters in Houston as a qualifier and lucky loser respectively. 2019 saw Daniel Elahi Galan get to the semifinals as a qualifier with Henri Laaksonen also making the quarters that year as a qualifier.

*There have been several unseeded champions in the history of this stop in Houston. There have been three since 2015 with Cristian Garin as the most recent in 2019. Eight of the last 16 semifinalists at the US Men’s Clay Court Championship have been unseeded. Being the top seed in Houston has not been a great place to be with the #1 seed at this event failing to make the final since 2013. So although seeds have been more prominently featured in the title match the last few years, it’s been players seeded three and below who have been involved.


For me, the biggest problem spot for the top seed Tiafoe could be that opener. It’s potentially going to be against a player in Steve Johnson who has had a ton of success at this tournament. He’s also 2-0 against Big Foe with both wins on dirt, including here in 2018. The good news for Tiafoe is Johnson is a far cry from the form that beat him in 2018 and 2021. Johnson has dropped five straight and does not own a main draw ATP win in 2023. He’d do well to get that against Bagnis in round one. The Argentine plays most of the time on clay, but has not seen great results in 2023 at 5-6 on clay. He got his first main draw win of the season in Miami last week. That’s a real 50-50 call in round one, but both own wins over Tiafoe on clay, which makes round two one to watch. The bottom half of the quarter features Kubler as the seed. He faces Verdasco who hasn’t won a tour level match since Sofia indoors last September. Even with Kubler not having many wins at this level on clay, that’s a winnable opener. Round two will be interesting with either Galan or Zhang. Galan normally excels on dirt, but is just 2-5 across all levels on the surface so far this year. He has lost eight of his last ten overall. Zhang piled up the wins at the Challenger level on clay last year with a 29-11 record that included a title and two other finals made. It’s a chance for him to grab his first main draw win at this level in 2023, a recurring theme in this quarter.

Tiafoe is a big talent of course, but this not being his best surface, even this draw can be tricky. These 250s are a time where you can see the have nots become the haves. Kubler certainly will feel like he has a shot to make a run with this draw too and the quarter is littered with experienced dirt ballers who may just need a win to get going. You’d normally say easy show for Tiafoe, but I sense shenanigans in this quarter so I think it’s pretty wide open and taking a dark horse shot might be worth it.

Johnson/Bagnis over (1)Tiafoe

Isner hasn’t dropped his opener in Houston since 2015, but the 2023 version of the original serve bot has seen one and done in five of six tournaments played. With the small margins of error in the Isner game, Brouwer or Kovacevic will feel like they can steal one. Brouwer you may recall made the quarters here a year ago, but he did lose to Opelka in the quarters. Power might be his kryptonite, while Kovacevic just hasn’t played enough on clay to know exactly what he brings on the surface just yet. In the other half, Wolf should be on alert in round one against Thompson. Although he beat the Aussies down under to start the year, Thompson has been a tough out in his three trips to Houston. Wolf did break a two tournament skid of losing his openers last time out in Miami, but he has struggled a bit more for consistency over the last six weeks or so. I’m looking out for the Aussie qualifier Vukic going up against Kudla in round one. Kudla is on a four match losing streak and has never been at his best on clay, so he’ll be prone to an “upset” in round one.

Isner certainly could over power the field in this quarter, but his lack of wins in 2023 has me looking elsewhere. Wolf has shown at the Challenger level that he can compete well on clay and in being honest, this field’s form isn’t presenting any top level threat. I think the survivor of that Wolf-Thompson encounter could be the one to watch.

Brouwer/Kovacevic over (1)Isner
Thompson over (5)Wolf

Both seeds have been dealt harsh hands to open this week. Nakashima is already having difficulties finding consistency from match to match and now faces the possibility of seeing former Houston champion Cristian Garin in his opener? Tough. Now Dellien is no pushover for Garin in round one as he comes in hot off a Challenger title in Santiago last month, but Garin has taken him out in both career meetings that went to completion. Garin has acclimated to these Houston conditions well with the title run in 2019 and a semifinal here last year, so I’d still give him the edge, but expect a battle. Given Dellien’s form, he certainly could give Nakashima a run as well if he scores the upset in round one. The other half sees Echeverry against Juan Manuel Cerundolo who has beaten the Argentine in their last two meetings to even their head-to-head at 2-2. Even in defeat on hard courts, Echeverry has flashed his potential in taking a set off Khachanov in a loss in Miami and one off Andy Murray in a loss at Indian Wells. I think if a seed squeezes out of this section, it’s likelier to be Echeverry. A round two date with Altmaier or Purcell won’t be easy, especially if it’s Altmaier who is the more accomplished clay court player of the two. Altmaier won three Challenger titles on clay in 2022 and has split a pair of three setters against Echeverry in the past few years on clay.

There are some real dangerous sorts amongst the unseeded floaters in this quarter. Garin will garner a lot of that attention, but Cerundolo, Altmaier and Dellien are all very capable of producing a run in this quarter to me. I’d probably be more surprised if a seed got the semifinal berth in this quarter than an unseeded player. Slight edge for me to the Garin/Dellien survivor on that front.

Garin/Dellien over (3)Nakashima
Cerundolo over (8)Echeverry

Tommy Paul won’t be too mad at this draw with multiple qualifiers and the enigma that is Jack Sock. The guy to watch out for is Giron. The seventh seed has beaten Paul in three of their four professional meetings, including the last in Miami in 2021. That said, Paul is at a different level now than he was back then, so the challenge is bigger for Giron to keep his dominance alive if that match-up happens. Paul gets a qualifier one way or the other in round two and that can be tricky off the bye. Hanfmann looks the larger danger to me as he’s already run out of qualifying to a quarterfinal in Santiago earlier this Spring. The German also owns a win on clay over Paul when they met in 2021 in Cagliari. Much like the Giron numbers, it remains to be seen where the two would stand now with Paul obviously elevating every aspect of his game in 2023.

Giron has a more straight forward match against Gomez in round one, whom he has beaten two times in two tries. Giron’s struggles on clay at this level give cause to pause though with the 29-year old American at 6-12 for his career at the ATP level on dirt. Gomez has done more damage on hard courts the last few years though, so I think Giron still should get through. He may see Sock who has had a few decent runs in Houston, although he lost his opener here in 2022. Sock has only played a half dozen singles matches in 2023 with a 2-4 record, so getting a win in round one should be job number one. That might be a tough ask with the talented Czech Tomas Machac up first. Machac made it through qualifying in dominant fashion. It’s a big chance for him to pick up his first ATP win in 2023 and what would be just his second career ATP win. He’s played just five main draw matches so far in his young career.

As long as Paul can find his footing in his opener, which might take a minute on the surface switch, this draw still suits him. In looking at all the seeds and the match-ups, he’s still the guy I think I trust the most to have a solid week. That said, it’s the first flip onto clay so don’t be shocked by any losses from the “higher ranked player” that the talking heads might try to sell as a shocker.

Hanfmann over (2)Paul

If you couldn’t tell from my vibe in this preview, I think that going the way of longer shots this week is where my head is at in looking over the outright markets. Tiafoe and Paul are the top two choices with Paul slightly ahead in this one at 4.25 (+325). I think that’s fair given the play of both right now. Paul is definitely the one I would be considering more so than Tiafoe in spite of his lack of consistent results on clay at this level. Garin is being shown as the biggest “outside” threat at around 9.25 (+825) ahead of more than half of the seeded field. Some of the longer shot ones to me that are intriguing include both Echeverry 19.0 (+1800) and Altmaier at 17.0 (+1600), better than the 15.0 (+1400) on Sock – which is a big pass for me.

The two seeds being given no chance apparently are Kubler and Giron. Both of those seem a but outlandish given that 250s sport plenty of odd finalists. I get that either could potentially have to go through the #1 or #2 seed just to get into a semifinal, but I’d take those sort of odds in this spot. So for me in Houston, I’ll be going with smaller stakes on the outrights to cover a few of the larger odds out there that I think are worth a go. As you notice for most tournaments, I don’t usually invest more than “two units” on the outright markets and that’s what I’ll be doing again.

Join me for the daily #PIGPIX and keep an eye out on MONDAY for my tweets of the doubles preview for the US Men’s Clay Court Championship.

Wolf 15.0 (+1400)*
Garin 9.5 (+850)*
Paul 4.25 (+325)

  • = half stakes

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