Ernests Gulbis didn't start the season in the best possible way with three defeats in a row in the first qualifying round of the Australian Open and at the challengers in Istanbul and Quimper. The Latvian rider has been waiting for a victory on the main circuit for 13 months. But he made up for it last week in Biella by reaching the quarter-finals, crashing against Lorenzo Musetti. If he hasn't realized great performances, he has at least had the merit to prepare Singapore well, since this will be his fourth indoor tournament since the beginning of the year. Even if he hasn't found the level that made him a member of the Top 10, Gulbis is still a difficult player to play hard as he showed during the 2020 edition of the Australian Open where, while he was coming out of the qualifiers, he reached the third round by eliminating Felix Auger-Aliassime and Aljaz Bedene. He is also at ease in indoor (60% of victories) and his 2020 year proves it: he has won 8 of his 10 matches played on this surface (including a victory to the challenger from Pau). His opponent, Robert Marcora, will also be well prepared for indoor since he has played 14 of his last 15 matches there, with a little less success however (6 victories). Neck and neck according to the bookmakers, Gulbis seems to have a slight advantage on this match thanks to his serve which could hurt his opponent. The Italian is a rather complete multi-surface player but without much reference yet on the main circuit. His victory against Benoît Paire in Pune at the beginning of 2020 is to date the only one of his career against the top 100, all surfaces combined, and he counts a second victory in the challenger at Sophia Antipolis, once again against Benoît Paire. With Gulbis' style of play and personality coming closer to the Avignon native, can Marcora see this as a positive sign?
James Duckworth vs Yannick Hanfmann
James Duckworth had an encouraging start to the season on his Australian home turf with a successful first tournament at Murray River. The Sydney native reached the third round by eliminating Ugo Humbert in two sets (7-6, 6-4). At the Australian Open, he did the job in style against Dzumhur (6-3, 6-2, 6-4) before losing logically to Felix Auger-Aliassime. Although he hasn't won a single indoor match on the ATP circuit (only three matches played), Duckworth proved in the Challenger that he is capable of playing well on this surface with a title in 2014 and a final in 2016. But his good performances are starting to go back in time and he has only had two small successes in the last 4 years. Fortunately for the Australian, his opponent has the same problem: Yannick Hanfmann hasn't won a single indoor match on the main circuit, despite a rather good record in the second tennis division (52% wins, 1 title). But unlike Duckworth, the German started 2021 with two defeats in the first round of the Great Ocean (against Mario Vilella Martinez) and in the Australian Open (against Andrey Rublev), which makes Duckworth a rather logical favourite compared to the characteristics of the two hardcore players.
Yasutaka Uchiyama vs Marc Polmans
Yasutaka Uchiyama is struggling to regain the taste for victory since the season resumed last August. Starting from the US Open, the Japanese rider has won only two matches for ten losses and these were the first qualifying rounds. Even on the two challenger tournaments that he played in Bratislava and Ortisei at the end of the year, Uchiyama lost twice in the first round against players lower ranked than him. During the Australian tour, the Japanese player lost twice in the first round, but he showed another face, notably against Ugo Humbert at the Australian Open (6-3, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3). In the indoor event, Uchiyama is facing big difficulties. Since 2019, he has won only one match for 10 defeats, including 7 against opponents behind in the standings. His opponent, Marc Polmans, also started the season with two defeats, but his first round against Marton Fucsovics was encouraging (defeat in five sets). The Australian has almost no indoor references since he has only played 12 matches in total in his career. On a rather similar dynamic (with maybe a slight advantage to Polmans at this level), the confrontations between the two men turned, on the other hand, to the advantage of the Japanese twice over hard, which may explain his status as favourite.
Yuki Bhambri vs Matthew Ebden
This first lap between Yuki Bhambri and Matthew Ebden is going to be a duel of revenants. On one side, the Indian, currently 514th in the world (and former n°83) has used his "protected ranking" to enter the final table. The 28 year old player hasn't been on the courts for more than two years due to a very long injury and will inevitably lack some points of reference, but his motivation should be there on the other hand. In his own words, Bhambri says that he "doesn't know what level he is at right now because he used to play mainly with juniors in India" and that he "wants to see where he is at". The Indian has always been a good tough player as we saw in 2017 and 2018 when he beat players such as Gaël Monfils, Guido Pella or Lucas Pouille. He has fewer indoor references, but has a positive balance sheet on the ATP circuit (54% wins) and has already won a tournament as a challenger. His opponent has also known a vertiginous fall in the rankings. Matthew Ebden, in the top 40 at the end of 2018, is now in 316th position in the world due to several injuries. He fell in the first round of the Australian Open qualifiers and won his first ATP match in over a year at the Great Ocean Road against Delbonis. If the Australian is known to hate clay courts, his indoor statistics are not very good either (33% of matches won on the main circuit), even if he is still a good tough player. Considering the total lack of orientation of his opponent at the moment, Ebden will logically be the favourite of this match with an offensive style of play that should prevent the Indian from taking his bearings.
Radu Albot vs John-Patrick Smith
Author of a rather convincing Australian Open with victories against Roberto Bautista-Agut and Christopher O'Connell before crashing in four sets against Casper Ruud, Radu Albot has a first round at his disposal to launch his tournament well. The Moldavian rider had shown some nice things in indoor races at the end of last season. He reached the quarters in Cologne and Sofia (where he beat Shapovalov) and took out Hubert Hurkacz at the Masters de Paris Bercy. On a surface that he likes (56% of victories, his best score), he shouldn't be too worried about his opponent if he makes a serious match. John-Patrick Smith (306th) came out of the qualifications by eliminating Hobbs and Jaziri and will play against Albot, his second ATP indoor match. The Australian has performed very poorly in the last three seasons on this surface (5 victories in 16 matches, almost all of them as a challenger), which makes Albot a more than logical favourite.
Soonwoo Kwon vs Thai Kwiatkowski
Soonwoo Kwon will arrive in Singapore with full confidence as he just won the indoor title in Biella last week, with almost a clear round (only one set conceded). After eliminating Jung, Marcora, Maden, Donskoy, the Korean easily disposed of Lorenzo Musetti in the final (6-2, 6-3). This tough specialist (he has played 94% of his ATP matches on hard court or indoors) has already achieved good performances indoors, notably last year at the New York Open where he eliminated Milos Raonic. Small problem, how will he recover from the flight (20 hours) and jet lag (7 hours) in less than 72 hours? His opponent, Thai Kwiatkowski (219th) came out of the qualifications after victories over Luke Bambridge (800th) and Robert Galloway. The American has never won a single match on the main circuit and his best indoor performance remains a quarter-final with the Columbus challenger at the end of 2018. Kwon is announced as the favourite - he has won 77% since 2019 on hard court against players ranked above the top 100 - but is wary of the American, who will surely be eager to score his first victory on the ATP circuit. His first round offers him a great opportunity.
⭐️⭐️⭐️--- ⭐️⭐️ Victory Albot ⭐️ Victory Gulbis
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