As we approach the end of the 2011 tennis season, things are heating up in the race for London. The China open looks all set-up to be a battle between the players just in and around the World’s top eight.

The French

Wilfried TsongaWith just 90 rankings points separating current French No.1, Jo Wilfied Tsonga and his nearest, rival Gael Monfils, this will be an important week for Tsonga. Following Monfils’ withdrawal on Monday afternoon, this is a big chance for Tsonga to cement his position inside the top eight.

Tsonga is the top seed here and is the tennis betting favourite to take the title at 10/3. Fresh from his first tournament victory of the season in Metz two weeks ago, and following impressive runs at the last two Slams, Tsonga will be right up for this one as he knows that success will move him within touching distance of the Tour Finals.

Tsonga’s draw is favourable and, if on form and motivated, he shouldn’t be posed with too much of a threat before a likely meeting with Gilles Simon in the quarter finals. Fellow Frenchman Simon is also coming in to the event on the back of some solid results and currently ranked at World No.12, just 600 or so points behind Tsonga, he will see this as a great opportunity to claim the 500 rankings points on offer and close the gap on his rivals, without any of the big four in attendance.

John Isner

Both Isner’s results and his performances have been steadily improving across 2011 and following a hugely successful summer which saw him pick up a couple of titles and reach the last 8 at the US Open. The 26-year-old American has to be taken seriously in any event, especially one in which none of the big four are in action. 

With two time Champion, Novak Djokovic missing out and 2008 winner, Andy Roddick a first round casualty, there will be a new name on the trophy this year, and at 10/1 on the tennis odds boards, I feel John Isner has as good a chance as anybody and is well worth a tennis bet.

Isner is in a very favourable section of the draw, and if he can get past Croatian, Ivan Ljubicic in the first round he should be in good standings. Ljubicic is always a danger,  and he reached the final in Metz just a fortnight ago. My tip would be that whilst 10/1 is a nice price for Isner, it won’t change too dramatically after his match with Ljubicic. It may be worth holding off on the big serving American until he is safely through his opener. 

Tomas Berdych 

With Gael Monfils pulling out of this one, Berdych has now been installed as the tennis handicappers’ second favourite and the Czech 26-year-old is another man, just outside the top eight, who knows a good run will put him in with a great chance of the London Finals. Berdych has not been enjoying his best year on the tour, however an impressive victory over Roger Federer in Cinncinati proved that on his day, he is still very capable of beating the top players.

At odds of just 6/1, Berdych is not a pick for me here, as I feel Tsonga and Isner have shown better form of late and there are a handful of outsiders who will possibly pose as much threat and give you far greater value than the Czech. 

John IsnerOutsiders

Russia’s Kevin Anderson ousted Andy Roddick in the first round here on Monday and has been threatening to make a notable breakthrough at one of the bigger tour events throughout 2011. At 14/1, the draw has just opened up a little for 25-year-old and although a possible test from Marin Cilic lays in wait, I would probably rather back Anderson than the out of form Cilic, who can be backed at only around 7/1.

Thomaz Bellucci is another dark horse here, having picked up a few notable victories in 2011 and almost beomce the first man to defeat Novak Djokovic when he took the first set and went a break up in the second at the Madrid Masters. At 80/1, Bellucci could be worth a small tennis bet as well. 

Picks

Tsonga should be more up for this one than anyone, and I’d back him to notch his second title of the year here in the China Open. Look out for John Isner though. If he comes through his opener, I’d expect a really good run from the American.