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Week Ahead: Focus on Ruud with clay now in play

Following on from last week's Miami Open, the tennis tour now switches its attention from hard-court events to the clay as the preparations for May's French Open begin in earnest.

Most of the game's highest-ranked performers are taking a well-earned rest but there are still three competitive events taking place on the ATP Tour with tournaments being staged in Marrakech, Estoril and Houston.

Lorenzo Musetti and Dan Evans are the top seeds in Marrakech but there is a classier field assembled in Estoril, where world number four Casper Ruud and world number 12 Hubert Hurkacz are the leading lights.

In Houston, American stars Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul, Brandon Nakashima and John Isner are the top four seeds and are likely to grab most of the attention.

However, there are also two WTA events taking place this week from Bogota and Charleston, with the tournament scheduled in South Carolina arguably the most competitive of the lot.

With Jessica Pegula, Ons Jabeur, Belinda Bencic and Victoria Azarenka among those lining up in South Carolina, it is a tournament that is going to take some winning.

Americans hold the aces in Houston

WhatATP Houston
WhereRiver Oaks Country Club, Houston, Texas
WhenTournament starts 20:00, Monday 3rd April
How to watchbet365 Sports Live Streaming
OddsTommy Paul 10/3, Frances Tiafoe 15/4, Brandon Nakashima 15/2, John Isner 17/2, Cristian Garin 17/2, J.J Wolf 14/1, Jack Sock 14/1

This is the last remaining ATP World Tour-level tournament in the United States to be played on clay courts and there is a strong home challenge with six of the top seven seeds all hailing from America.

Reilly Opelka defeated fellow American Isner in last season's final, meaning four of the last six winners of the tournament have also been represented by the US.

That trend looks likely to be enhanced given the strength in depth of the American's again this year and Isner is 17/2 to go one better in the absence of reigning champion Opelka.

However, with Australian Open semi-finalist Paul and former US Open semi-finalist Tiafoe also involved, America may have stronger chances of claiming the title.

Paul, who is a junior French Open champion, is 10/3 to clinch just his second ATP Tour title while Tiafoe, who has twice finished runner-up on the clay in Estoril, is 15/4 for the silverware.

That perhaps makes Tiafoe the value given he has achieved slightly more on the slower surface.

If there is to be an upset to the home challenge then Chilean clay-lover Cristian Garin looks most likely to serve it up at 17/2.

Garin won this event in 2019, beating the talented Ruud in the final, and he is a five-time champion on the ATP Tour, with each of those successes coming on his beloved clay surface.

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Bencic bidding to defend her crown

WhatWTA Charleston
WhereFamily Circle Tennis Center, Charleston, South Carolina
WhenTournament starts 15:00, Monday 3rd March
How to watchbet365 Sports Live Streaming
OddsJessica Pegula 9/2, Ons Jabeur 5/1, Belinda Bencic 7/1, Victoria Azarenka 11/1, Veronika Kudermetova 14/1, Daria Kasatkina 18/1

This will be the 50th edition of this event on the WTA Tour and, with it being classified as a WTA 500 tournament, there are plenty of familiar names on show.

It is also the only event of the clay court season that is played on green clay and defending champion Bencic is back bidding for more success.

The Swiss star defeated Jabeur 6-1 5-7 6-4 in last year's final, having previously got the better of Paula Badosa and Madison Keys, two players also returning to Charleston.

The fourth seed is 7/1 to successfully defend her crown but it won't be easy with Pegula, Jabeur, Azarenka, Daria Kasatkina and Veronika Kudermetova also in the field.

Armed with home advantage, Pegula is the 9/2 market leader as she bids to build on her run to the Miami Open semi-final.

The 29-year-old was a third-round casualty in Charleston last year but she is a former French Open quarter-finalist, so clearly has no trouble adapting to the slower surface.

Jabeur, who is a 5/1 chance, has been woefully out of form for some time so looks worth opposing, meaning former French Open semi-finalist Azarenka should be taken seriously given she is also housed in the bottom half of the draw with the Tunisian.

Those looking for an upset could do worse than trust in slick Spaniard Badosa, who has hinted at a return to form in recent assignments, at 20/1.

The 25-year-old is a three-time winner on the WTA Tour and a former French Open quarter-finalist, which supports the fact she is to always be feared on the clay.

Ruud could prove a cut above

WhatATP Estoril
WhereClube de Tenis do Estoril, Cascais, Portugal
WhenTournament starts 13:00, Monday 3rd March
How to watchbet365 Sports Live Streaming
OddsCasper Ruud 5/2, Hubert Hurkacz 11/2, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6/1, Roberto Bautista Agut 7/1, Sebastian Baez 9/1

Ruud found things tough in Indian Wells and Miami recently, but clay is his terrain and his trip to Estoril should prove more worthwhile.

The Norwegian finished runner-up to Rafael Nadal at last year's French Open and he is a nine-time winner on the ATP Tour, eight of those titles of which have come on clay.

So it is easy to see why bookmakers are expecting him to take his form up another level in Portugal, where he is 5/2 to resume winning ways.

There are plenty of challengers to his supremacy, however, with defending champion Sebastian Baez a lively contender at 9/1.

The Argentinian eased past Tiafoe 6-3 6-2 in last season's final and the 22-year-old has since reached two more clay finals, winning the Cordoba Open on home soil as recently as February.

Baez is a real clay-court talent and if Ruud fails to deliver then he may be most likely to prosper.

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