For many of us in the handicapping community, late January means transitioning from NFL betting to our other passions. This article addresses some of the basic elements of tennis modeling strategy through some simple questions and answers to help in your preparation for match betting for the 2019 season.
So I've been posting the results of the tennis model I use fairly regularly and as noted by reader @Polish_Middle it was time to add a few helpful tracking tools to the presentation....
With this in mind the updated tennis model presentation now looks like this with two added columns of data and symbols:
As always we have the tourney info for tracking purposes, the player, country and opening price from MarathonBet which is regularly the first shop to hang a money line for a tennis match. The calculated implied probability of the opening price is presented next, followed by the "Current" price which is simply the price at 5Dimes (where I bet most of my tennis) at the time that I'm working on my handicap. Finally the Model win % is based on a simple algorithm that combines past performance in general, past performance on given surface, past head-2-head performance, tiredness, recent retirement, success at the given tournament and a current form score to come up with the expected likelihood of the player winning the match-up.
Now at this point I generally stop, create the graphics and post the results before continuing on my handicap. As I've discussed on past Deep Dives, for me the model is just a starting point to assess which sides present expected value and from there I make a series of decisions on the most effective way to back or fade a certain player, recognizing that in a lot of cases when the underdog presents value, there may be a better way to cash a ticket than backing the ML. This is a long way of saying I do not blindly tail the model and it's a discussion for a different post, so onto the new stuff.
The last two columns now show the difference between the model win %tage and the current price with a handy colorful data bar that scales so that you can see the bar clearly when it is over 5% and very clearly at 10%. The final column indicates sides where there is more than 5% perceived edge on a side and if the line is moving in the direction of the model valued player, a green check appears. For players with a perceived edge of more than 5% where the line is moving against the player with value, a yellow exclamation point appears. The reasoning behind this is the model can't capture everything and it's worth knowing if the market is moving in the direction of the model or against it which should help inform the handicap.
Hope you enjoyed this soliloquy and make intelligent decisions with this information. BOL!
Guest post by @BigTenWatto
Tennis is played almost every week of the calendar. As a pro (or a fan), if you want to, there is a tennis tournament starting basically every Monday of the year that you can play in (or watch… or gamble on).
It’s long been a contention of the tennis community, especially the sports betting tennis community, that when players decide to play in back to back weeks they face a disadvantage due to potential fatigue. This is considered to be amplified when a player makes a final; meaning they have to play on a Sunday, travel on a Monday and then most likely play again on a Tuesday.
This amplified fatigue, from playing on a Sunday, is considered even more detrimental if the player happened to win a title — maybe they partied, maybe their sleep schedule and daily routine was thrown off, maybe they had additional media responsibilities.
Now, what if the player in question played on a Sunday, won a title, had another tournament scheduled the following week and it was his FIRST title? How much partying happens then? How much extra media is there? How many family touch-points are added? This could be considered the worst case scenario. On the other hand, for a sports bettor, this would seem like example ‘A’ of the perfect fade. This player is still basking in the after-glow, they’re tired, they’re probably not focused.
So, this week, sports bettors, and the tennis community in general, are presented with two such cases. Both Matteo Berrettini and Nikolai Basilashvili won their first title last week and are playing on Tuesday in Kitzbuhel. Should I bet against them, simply on this long accepted premise that they are fade material? Or is this some form of a gambler’s fallacy? In order to find out, I looked back at the first time title winners in the current era (back to Federer’s first, considering he is both one of the oldest and also one of the best players on tour). The following tweet from @lucabeck was instrumental in my research:
To complete the study I collected the data around each players activity after they won their first title to see if there was any pattern or any discernible way to bet future first time title winners who choose to play the week immediately following. This is the result (since I couldn’t figure out how to get a pivot table into this blog, you just get raw data):
Don’t worry I have done some tabulating for you. 83 players won their first ever title and chose to play the following week. Only 29 of them were eliminated in the first round. A full 54 (65%!!!) of them managed to make some progress in the following tournament. Five of them actually managed to win back-to-back titles (think about how crazy that is; to win your first two titles in consecutive weeks).
Some further research I am tempted to tackle is how much travel these players had to do after winning their first title (furthering any potential fatigue) and possibly how old they were at the time they won (older, more mature maybe able to handle the situation better). Maybe if there is another first time winner this season I can update this article. In the meantime, I don’t think I’ll be fading Berrettini or Basilashvili solely on fatigue on Tuesday.
Good luck with your wagers!
The guys again tackle three tournaments in across the world and on different surfaces. The prestigious history of the Austrian Tennis Championships are looked at, Nick Kyrgios' impressions are discussed and for some reason the WTA makes a brief appearance. Kelly finds outrights and Andy finds a way to go against him. Good times are had by all.
This preview frames the 2018 season and highlights the current form and expectation level for the betting market contenders in the field as well as some long shots worth watching. Both Men’s and Women’s sides are discussed although it should be noted the single game betting will be predominantly ATP until the later rounds of the tournament.
Men’s Singles… Find Your Blue Chip
The first major of 2018 finds the ATP trying to answer three key questions:
- Can anyone stop the greatest two players of all time, Federer and Nadal, from sweeping the Slams again this year?
- Will the young up-and-coming players who showed so much promise last season claim their maiden titles?
- Can dangerous vets Djokovic, Wawrinka and Del Potro (and Murray later in the season) overcome their recent injuries to put another notch on their belts?
We always learn a little about the up-coming season during the Aussie, this is the first major tourney of the year, takes place in the midst of the sweltering Australian summer and it gives us a glimpse of who is in-shape and ready to compete for the early season championships. After a month plus hiatus, we have had a week and a half of competitive play so far this year and it’s somewhat speculative to say which players have the form to get it done until we see a week of best-of-five tennis. In other words, the AO is an extremely tough tournament to win and your best bet from handicapping perspective is to pick a blue chip and ride ’em out.
Past Aussie Open Champs is an Elite 4-man list
So who are the blue chips and which one do I pick?
The One with the Easiest Path
Number 1 seed Rafael Nadal (+450) returned to his former glory in 2017 winning his 10th French Open and his 3rd US Open to give him 16 total slam titles. The glory did not come without a price, however, the season wore down his body and left him injured and exhausted, withdrawing from the Tour Finals in London to end the year. Nadal is still battling serious knee issues and will need to play his way into form to have a shot at the title in Melbourne. Thankfully for Rafa fans, the draw he was given will afford him that exact opportunity. Rafa’s quarter presents minimal challenges and if he can get past the tricky young Croat, Borna Coric in Round 3, he’ll almost certainly have a spot in the semi-finals. Not backing Rafa pre-tourney, not backing Rafa until clay season based on the wear and tear of the final stretch of the ‘17 season.
The One Writing History
Above all else, Roger Federer (+175) is here to win Grand Slams. Federer is the defending champion and odds on favorite for good reason, his game continues to evolve and on his best day he’s the most dangerous player on tour. Despite his 36-years on this earth (making him one of the oldest men in the draw), Federer looks to be in fine health and perfect fitness to make a run this fortnight. Competent challengers have been sprinkled throughout Fed’s quarter and he will be forced to navigate a difficult path if he hopes to reach the semifinals for the 14th time in the last 15 years. His next title will be his 20th, a mark that is unlikely to ever be surpassed (even if Nadal plays another 5 French Opens). While this milestone is obviously important to Roger, should he come up short, he’ll undoubtedly be the overwhelming favorite to repeat in Wimbledon this summer. Holding a small position on Rog at +300 from New Years and will likely up my stakes on the GOAT during Week 2 as we see his form improve.
The One who has been Rejuvenated
The wild card among the favorites is clearly Novak Djokovic (+550). We last saw Nole play meaningful tennis in July at Wimbledon where his lost 2017 season came to an end with shoulder and elbow injuries. It was clearly evident last season that extended rest was very important for the vets Nadal and Federer who used similar breaks to enter 2017 fresh/healthy, met in the Finals of the AO then went on to own the tour. Two years ago Nole was unbeatable and from a fans standpoint, hopes are high the Djoker can regain his peak form and contend for titles in 2018. Court speed and conditions have made Melbourne a killing field for Djokovic over the last several years; Nole has won six titles here (his most of any major) including four of the last six. Cautiously optimistic about his health/form and holding a ticket at +450 based on rest and his past success here. Would have added more at the current price of +550, however Djokovic got a difficult quarter and will likely face AZverev, Thiem and Federer in the second week just to get to the Finals.
The One who is Ready to Make “The Leap”
If one player took the intermediate steps necessary to launch his name into the slam title conversation in 2018, it was Grigor Dimitrov (+1000). After years of failing to live up to expectations, Dimitrov put together an impressive campaign in 2017, making his first slam semifinal (AO), winning his first Masters title (Cincy) and capping it off with a Tour Finals championship giving him a career high ranking of World No. 3. Grigor still lacks some consistency and outside of last years Aussie has been a disappointment in best-of-five play (which is surprising given his fitness level). That said, he has the tools, the focus, the pedigree and the draw to afford him a legitimate shot at this years Aussie Title. It’s rare for players to win their first ever slam here but we’ve seen both Nole and Stan Wawrinka pull it off in the last 10 years. Grigor has a very winnable quarter and if chalk rules in Melbourne, we’ll see Dimitrov with a shot to avenge his 2017 semifinal loss to Rafa Nadal in this years top half semi. Worth a sniff at 10/1 but expecting Dimitrov to take the next step, make the Final and come up short against the likes of Federer or Djokovic.
What if I want to back a long shot?
The remaining field has value but it’s unlikely to find a winner outside of the blue chips. Some of the names worth knowing…
Alexander Zverev is the rising star on tour and will likely be World No. 1 before 2020, however he lacks the experience in best of five tennis to be a serious threat to win seven matches in this fortnight.
Australia’s best hope in the Men’s draw is mercurial Nick Kyrgios who has the talent and tools to be the next great tennis star but the physical and mental fitness to disappoint in every major.
Argentinian veteran Juan Martin Del Potro had a dreadful start to the 2017 season but finished relatively strong (including an incredible upset of Federer in the USO). He appears to have carried his fitness/form into 2018 and looks to have a last push in him for a second slam title before hanging it up, however he’s in the section of death and will likely fall to a vengeful Fed in the QFs.
Kevin Anderson, the USO Finalist may have another magical run in him with a particularly easy path to the QFs.
American’s typically fair very poorly in the AO so wouldn’t stake much hope in Sock, Isner or Sam Querrey.
Among the long, long shots, noted match fixer (alegedly) Alexandr Dolgopolov and young talent Borna Coric are both playing well and fall in the section of the draw that seems most likely to open up (if Nadal w.d due to injury); holding lotto tickets at 400/1 and 500/1, respectively in case something breaks in their favor.
The Men’s Singles draw in the Aussie Open plays out similarly every year, we have some wild upsets in Round 1, a few more in Round 2, and then chalk city the rest of the way so not the best opportunity to find value in the futures market unfortunately.
The opposite is true of the Women’s draw…
Women’s Singles… Catch Fire and Hoist the Cup
There are no fewer than 25 women in the field of 128 with legitimate shots to win a slam title over the next fortnight. Women’s tennis won 2017 by a landslide putting forth some phenomenal major action and introducing the world to a slew of new-comers to fill the void left by Serena Williams. Players with a shot have various skill sets and strengths making the matches in the 2nd week outstanding to handicap and find winners. Currently sitting on three future positions from January 4th (after we got to gauge how fit the players were) and already captured significant value with the withdrawal of Serena Williams. The current positions in no particular order are:
- 1u on Caroline Wozniacki at 12/1, loved that she finished 2017 with wins in Tokyo and Singapore, opened 2018 with a Final in Auckland and looks perfectly fit for the conditions
- 1u on Elina Svitolina at 16/1, Svits fan here, her focus and fitness look idea for her to finally break through at the major level
- 0.5u on Angelique Kerber at 20/1, her form so far in 2018 is reminiscent of her spectacular 2016 season where she was the premier player on tour and the Aussie Open champ
Missed the boat (at least missed the best prices in the future market) on several other women who have legitimate shots including Ashleigh Barty, Julia Görges and the sleeping giant Maria Sharapova. Will be keeping a careful eye on all three of these women to potentially add to the mix as the draw unfolds.
As good as Garbiñe Muguruza is her form looks way off to start the year, Venus Williams may have difficulty with the conditions and we have yet to see slam-level mental toughness from Karolína Plíšková, Caroline Garcia or Johanna Konta, all good reasons to avoid in futures and pools.
Simona Halep looks likely to finally break through in 2018 but the court speed will probably undo her at some point in Week 2. CoCo Vandeweghe may bash her way into another semi-final but lacks the shot-making ability to beat the best in the field when the going gets tough.
We haven’t seen enough consistency from either Jeļena Ostapenko or Sloane Stephens after winning their maiden titles in 2017 to consider them true threats in Melbourne.
Opportunity abounds to make single match wagers as the players reveal their form on the women’s side so watch carefully in Week 1 and let’s have an outstanding Aussie Open and an ever better 2018!
The US Open is upon us. Qualifying for the fourth and final slam of the 2017 season is underway and both the Men’s and Women’s sides offer a ton of valuable positions in the futures market. Well known names have pulled out or are playing injured, up-and-comers look ready to pop and upsets will be commonplace at Flushing Meadows over the next fortnight. To some degree this slam is going to be a battle of attrition, last man and woman standing win… Welcome to New York!
Men’s Singles Draw
The current prices available for the Men’s Singles Draw are noted below; these are from 5Dimes but are fairly representative of the market median prices available pre-draw.
Roger Federer +175: The favorite at a ludicrous price of +175 is 19-time slam champion, 37-yr old Roger Federer. We previously covered the goat in our Wimbledon Preview and as hoped, Roger put on a spectacular performance at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club this year. The level to which he was able to perform is unlikely to be match in the USO and at this price there is no reason to run to the window to back Fed. Roger (who last won the US Open in 2008) enters the USO with the third seed and should receive a cherry draw, however he sustained a potentially problematic back injury in the Rogers Cup Final that limited his effectiveness and subsequently kept him out of the Cincinnati Masters. It will be very important to keep an eye on his fitness level as his 2017 year has been equal parts amazing success and significant wear-and-tear on his body. If he has another slam title in him, we should be able to identify it based on his play early in week two and get some open parlays in place to equal or beat the current price.
Rafael Nadal 3/1 : The second favorite is the current World №1 and tourney 1-seed Rafael Nadal. Again, we previously covered the King of Clay in the French Open Preview and as expected that tourney was Rafael Nadal’s crowning achievement. He smoked the field in style, capping off the most spectacular clay season on record, however that run has taken its toll on the player and he has yet to reach the quarterfinals of a tournament since that success. It’s fair to wonder what, if anything, his knees have left in them and it’s fair to wonder what he has left to prove this season after completing La Decima and re-claiming the World №1 ranking. The current price of 3/1 to back Nadal is way too short, like with Federer he may very well have another slam in him this year and we’ll be on the lookout for it but there is no reason to run and back Rafa at this number. Based on his recent loses, Rafa will be vulnerable to the heavy hitting servers who can power him off the court and if he can show an ability to get past players who fall into this category he may be worth backing to make a run in the 2nd week here but there is very limited optimism of that happening in New York.
Been a long season, huh fellas?
So if the whole market is tilted toward the two favs who are over-priced (in my opinion) then there must be value on the players listed at 8/1 and higher that we can take advantage of. The questions is who?
Injured Reserve: If it feels like we are repeatedly coming back to injury and fitness speculation in the remaining breakdowns, you are not crazy. The current field on the Men’s side looks like the walking wounded. In addition to Fed and Nadal who are dealing with wear and tear issues, Murray, Kyrgios, Cilic, Raonic, del Potro and Isner have all recently missed time due to various degrees of acute injuries. In addition, 2016 winner Stan Wawrinka, 2016 finalist Novak Djokovic, and 2016 semifinalist Kei Nishikori have all withdrawn. So we know for sure the Final is going to look a bit different this year.
See you guys in 2018
Alexander Zverev 8/1: Outside of the amazing resurgence of Federer and Nadal this year, the story of the 2017 tennis season has been the emergence of AZ. The 20-yr old wunderkind realized his potential early this season winning some mid-level tourneys on indoor hard and clay before breaking into the elite club of Masters Champs in Rome back in May. He followed that up with his first Slam Quarterfinal at Wimbledon and perhaps even more impressive, a second Masters Title on the hard courts in Montreal at the Coupe Rogers, stomping the invincible Federer 6–3 6–4 in the Final. He now sits at No. 6 in the world and will likely finish the year in the top 3, a position he could feasibly maintain for the next decade plus. From the lukewarm take department… Sascha Zverev is the future of Men’s Tennis.
This looks intimidating, right?
So does that mean 8/1 is great value? Well he’s among the few healthy players and he is undoubtedly talented on the hard court but his success at the best-of-five level is limited (although with the new coaching of Juan Carlos Ferrero he may significantly improve in Slam performance, h/t @MatterTipTennis). A reasonable expectation is he takes another step in his progression, making his first semifinal before losing a tough five-setter to a grizzled vet. Of course he’s been defying the odds all season so a spectacular title run isn’t out of the question, just about as likely as the 8/1 price would imply.
Andy Murray 9.5/1: Expectations could not be lower for the past champ and former No. 1 in the world. Andy won his first slam title here in 2012 and there is zero doubt Murray would love another one to erase the nightmare that has been his 2017 campaign. It’s clear that the quest to become No. 1 had serious ramifications on Andy’s mental state at the start of the year; and now his body has followed, his hip finally breaking down in the QFs of Wimbledon when he was up 2 sets to 1 vs Sam Querrey and collapsed losing the final two sets 1–6 1–6.
British Commentators were literally saying Murray would still win “because of his heart!” as he looked like this…
We haven’t seen Andy swing the racquet (or use it as a cane) since then and in that time the tennis world has been anxiously waiting for word on his plans to play or sit out the USO. Even though he’s decided to play and his No. 2 seed will afford him a friendly draw, his chances of winning are significantly lower than what you get at the current consensus price of 9.5/1 which makes him a stay away until further notice. Get well soon Andy.
Nick Kyrgios 14/1: Despite the ridiculous serve and the unreal forehand, this guy is a meltdown waiting to happen with fatigue concerns in best-of-five tennis. Maybe worth backing to pull off an upset if he can make it deep into this tournament but very low likelihood he can keep a cool head and fit form for seven matches.
Grigor Dimitrov 16/1 : Very worthwhile player at a price that still has value; Dimitrov fresh off his first Masters title in Cincy is in great shape (both not hurt and physically fit). If he gets matched up against Federer, low confidence he pulls it out because Fed eats Grigor alive of his sorry 2nd serve, but otherwise Dimitrov has a great shot head-to-head against any other contender in New York. His level right now is as high as it has ever been…
Dominic Thiem 20/1 : This price makes no sense, should be closer to 50/1 the way Domi plays on hard courts and in the US. Like Domi a lot as a fan but his campaign this summer has been a complete disappointment and he needs to add a lot to his game to compete at tourneys like the Aussie and US Open in years to come.
Marin Cilic 20/1 : High risk, high reward here. The last time we saw Cilic he went full Baumer in the Wimby Final… He’s taken off his shoes and a sock, actually I think he’s crying. He skipped all the run-up tourneys in the US in the interim, including choosing not to defend his Cincy title, due to an “abductor injury” which is concerning, if true. There is a sneaking suspicion that he has overblown his injury in order to rest (and train with his team in Europe, if you catch my drift) in preparation to take this tournament by storm. Outside of Federer and Nadal, Cilic has played the most impressive best-of-five tennis this summer and he’s won the title here before which matters a lot. At the current prices, if I could only place one future bet on the US Open it would be on Cilic at 20/1.
Milos Raonic 25/1 : Another price that doesn’t make any sense. Milos has been fighting through a whole slew of injuries and the idea that he can win 7 best of five matches seems crazy. This summer has seen him lose to average Tour players like Sock and Mannarino making him a stay away from Round 3 on. (Update, Milos pulled out with a wrist injury).
Juan Martin del Potro 25/1 : Talented enough on his best day to win it all but seeming in the twilight of his career after completing his comeback last year with a silver medal in Rio and a Davis Cup title for Argentina. Will be a nice ML parlay leg type of play in the opening rounds but likely to wear down and lose early in week 2, draw dependent.
The price drops off significantly beyond these fellas, but there are a few head-scratching long shots that are worth backing…
Gael Monfils 100/1 : Monfils is the only semifinalist from 2016 in the field this year and is a jaw-dropping 100/1 to win right now which is ridiculous. If he makes it to R4 you are in shape for a hedge, QF or deeper and you can make something serious out of this. He is playing well right now as evidenced by his incredible comeback to beat Nishikori in Montreal (see below) and he’ll go toe-to-toe with the best in the game, especially given the extra day rest the players get between matches. The only potential drawback is his draw, currently the 19-seed means he’ll have a very tough road, but at this price it’s silly not to grab a taste.
Sam Querrey 150/1 : It has been a while since Sam had a nice run at the US Open, his best performance here was a Round 4 appearance in 2010. However, Sam Querrey is having himself a year. He’s won titles in Mexico twice (Acapulco over Nadal and Los Cabos just last month). He ousted Murray in Wimby on his way to his first slam semi and he’s played very well in best-of-five in recent years and 60 or 75 to 1 is a much more reasonable price making him a steal at 150/1.
Dick Gasquet 250/1 : Gasquet is a great player in the later stages of his career but he has found success at Flushing Meadows, making the Semi-finals in 2013. The most competitive match of the whole summer was Alex Zverev vs Gasquet in Montreal where the kid fought of two match points in superlative fashion (see below). If that match was an indicator of his level and AZ is currently 8/1 then Gasquet at 250/1 is a terrible number and a must grab.
David Ferrer 250/1 : If 2017 is anything it’s the year of the old guys and their is one more old guy who looks like he still has the juice on the tennis court right now, Senior David Ferrer. Two-time semi-finalist making his last ride this summer is going to make some noise, he’s great in best-of-five and really he’s a lot of fun to pull for so might as well back him at 250/1 and hope for a magical run.
Women’s preview will pop up here with a summary of future positions on Friday. Cheers and enjoy The US Open!
Cheers mates! Wimby ’17 arrives just in time to fill the dog days of summer. Two weeks watching the best in the world go head-to-head on the grass is on tap; mornings of live tennis and afternoons of baseball for us in the States is a great way to pass a summer day. The field at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club this year is stacked for both the Men’s and Women’s draws… let’s get after it!
Gentlemen’s Singles Draw
As noted in the French Open Preview, the Men’s draw at Roland Garros was lacking in drama with the tournament essentially Rafael Nadal’s to lose. A common take heading into Wimbledon is that this is Roger Federer’s to lose, and while it’s a valid argument that Fed is the most dangerous player of all time on the grass, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and most notably Rafa are all threats to prevent the Fed from claiming his eighth Wimbledon crown. Some of the other names to watch for include: Alexander Zverev who is poised to make his first major quarterfinal appearance (potential semi-finalist if the draw works out; Marin Cilic who has been peaking this Spring/Summer and has the chops to win a major; Stan Wawrinka who can never be dismissed at a slam (even one on grass where he’s not very good); and Tommy Haas… just kidding 39-yr old Tommy will likely be playing in his last Wimby and he’s cool so enjoy!
In seriousness though, from an outright handicapping perspective, the Men’s Singles draw is a two GOAT race….
Your Wimby ’17 Winner Pictured Above
2017 Roger Federer
Roger Federer is the most accomplished Men’s tennis player of all time holding 17 Grand Slam Titles including 7 Wimbledons. He broke his maiden at the Slam level here in 2003 beating Mark Philippoussis in straight-sets. Back then, challenger AZverev was 6-years old, World №1 in golf Tiger Woods was an eligible bachelor, the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series in 86 years and Michael Phelps had yet to win a single Olympic medal (or take a bong hit, probably). In the 14 years since, Federer has dominated the sport of tennis, no more so than at this venue where year in, year out the fans have opined for one more title from the Great Swiss on the grass.
After winning 17 Grand Slam events between 2003 and 2012, the field caught up to Fed and the deluge of titles turned into a drought that lasted for 17 major events. As recently as Wimbledon 2016 when Federer was eliminated by up-and-coming Milos Raonic in the semifinals, many experts thought we would never see RF win that elusive 18th title. However, after rehabbing from an injury layoff that took him out of competition for the second half of 2016, Roger came back and won the Aussie Open in January (in an epic final against none other than Rafa Nadal) to claim №18.
What followed has been a shocking return to form; 2017 Federer has lost only two matches, both in relatively low-stakes situations. He supplemented his AO title with wins at the hard court Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami before taking a two month vacation to save his body from the wear and tear of the clay court season. Coming back to play on the grass tournaments in Germany, a rusty Fed lost to his old buddy Tommy Haas in Stuttgart before taking the Gerry Weber title in Halle, an event that saw him round into form without dropping a set, capped off with the demolition of the young Zverev 6–1, 6–3 in the Final.
Federer enters Wimby as the №3 seed behind 2016 Champ Andy Murray and 2015 Champ Novak Djokovic, however the consensus odds make Roger the favorite to win outright at around +225 (3.25 for you European lads). Federer clearly has a psychological edge over every young player in the field and the chances of an upset except to the hands of a select few is unlikely. In terms of form, his point construction and shot-making has been as good as ever although his serve has not been as lethal as it was prior to his spring recess, which is surprising playing on grass. The work done in the offseason with his coach Ivan Ljubicic to sure up his weaknesses and reduce errors on his backhand continues to keep Federer impregnable to the types of attack that brought him down the last few years.
The price is right at +225 to back Federer to win his 8th Wimbledon title which would move him out of his current tie with Pete Sampras and secure his place as the standalone greatest ever to play on grass.
The King of Clay
Rafa Nadal was absolutely spectacular on clay in 2017 capped by a superlative sweep at Roland Garros where the only thing he lost was more hair. It’s very hard to determine exactly how much better Rafa was than the next best player in the tournament but it was not close. Rafa took home La Decima without dropping a set and in fact never conceded more than 4 games in a set over the fortnight; his total time spent on court was the shortest ever for a major champion who played at least 18 sets by over an hour. Simply stated it was among if not the single most dominant performance ever played out on a tennis court.
Winning seven best of five matches without losing a set in a major is quite a feat and you may ask “has anyone ever done that before?” Well, yes, this makes the third such sweep for Rafa at Roland Garros and interestingly, after sweeping in 2008 and 2010, Rafa went on to win his two Wimbledon titles (including a 2008 upset over tournament favorite… you guessed it, Roger Federer). So if you’re keeping track at home, every time Rafa has swept the French he’s gone on to win Wimbledon, he’s only ever won Wimbledon after sweeping the French, and he swept the French this year. This is a long way of saying Rafa is in peak form, potentially the best of his life, and he presents a very real threat to stop Federer from winning this championship.
Nadal will be seeded №4 and has consensus odds around +500 (6.00) which is longer than one might expect given the fact that he was an unstoppable force just last month on clay. As you may know, clay is the slowest of the tennis surfaces while grass is the fastest and the challenges presented by court speed will limit Nadal’s effectiveness somewhat. There is always a chance that after accomplishing the career goals that Nadal accomplished this Spring he’ll have a letdown. Rafa is also coming off an injury-filled 2016 and has publicly stated his concern about the impact that playing on grass will have on his body. He withdrew from Queen’s last week, the one grass tune-up he had scheduled, so Round 1 will be his first look at a grass court since losing to Dustin Brown in the 2nd Round of Wimbledon 2015, two years ago. Finally, the odds fall well short of Roger’s because 2017 has been a turn of the tide in the “Fedal” rivalry. After years of coming up on the short end in their head-to-heads, 2017 has seen Federer the victor in all three hard court matches contested including the highest stakes match of the year, the Australian Open Final.
These are all legitimate reasons to be concerned about backing Nadal, however, at +500 this is the only other future worth considering in the outright market and it’s based entirely on the overwhelming domination that Rafa exhibited in April and May. The odds on an exact Federer-Nadal Final will absolutely make the card after the draw is released on Friday.
The Lesser of the Big Four
Poor Andy Murray and lost Novak Djokovic are in the midst of mid-career lows. Neither has played an inspiring tournament of tennis this calendar year and it appears as though the grind of running down Fed and Nadal has taken it’s toll and both appear ready to concede their places at the top of the ATP rankings with little resistance.
Hopefully Andy Murray will mount a rousing Title defense and make a run to the semis where we can rekindle his grass rivalry with Roger Federer. A more likely outcome seems to be a defeat at the hands of Marin Cilic or Alexander Zverev both of whom would be great looks to come out of the top quarter if they find themselves seeded there.
Djokovic on the other hand looks like he has no interest in playing at the highest level right now as evidenced by his complete fold-up job against Dominic Thiem in the French Open quarterfinals. Unfortunately for him, an extended break which would likely solve some of his issues is not a possibility given he is a prisoner to his new deal with Lacoste as the brand ambassador. As a result it feels likely we’ll see a challenger show up with their top form in the middle rounds and Nole will wave the white flag.
The odds for Murray and Djoker at +350 and +600, respectively, look like sucker bets and in each case sharp bettors will look for other potential players to come out of their quarters of the draw.
There will be many great matches out over the course of the two weeks we spend at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club but none of the other competitors that haven’t already been mentioned stand a particularly good chance at taking home the hardware.
Marin Cilic stands out from the field as he is in the finest form of his life, expecting his spectacular 2014 US Open Title. For whatever reason Cilic has been unable to win a single tiebreaker on grass in the lead-up tourneys, otherwise he would likely have two titles to his name in June. He’s not a historically bad tiebreaker player so the struggles could go either way; he could be due for some luck or this could be in his head. Regardless, the concensus odds at 18/1 are just a little too short to do much with because his ceiling is likely the Semis.
Alexander Zverev was a Round 1 bust at Roland Garros but rebounded nicely in his grass court matches this last month. He managed a 6–2 record with some gutsy wins and only the one bad loss to Federer in the Halle Final. A dream draw puts him in Nole’s quarter and Zverev makes a semifinal run to lose a 5-setter to Nadal. Again at 20/1 given his lack of success in best-of-five tennis there doesn’t appear to be a strong reason to back his future.
Other well know names like Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem are cross-offs because they have shown incredible poor form on grass over the years with neither performing above the level of an average player on this surface. Milos Raonic, last year’s runner-up, is a huge question mark; it’s completely unclear how healthy he is and his recent form has ranged from the un-exceptional to the outright atrocious so he is also worth steering clear of.
There are really no long shots to note but it would be a shame to move on without acknowledging the excellent grass performances by Giles Muller and Feliciano Lopez over the last few weeks. Both men won titles in very impressive fields with play that belied a toughness that neither competitor was known for. Muller has been a tiebreak winning machine and Lopez has been grinding out 3–set wins against players traditionally ranked above him. The Lopez victory at Queen’s Club in London was a particularly special moment for the 35-yr old Spaniard marking his first title at the 500-level on the ATP tour.
Well that wraps the outright preview for the Gentlemen’s Singles field. Coming up Thursday and Friday look for a few more posts touching on the Ladies Futures, Things to Know as a Casual Fan, and a short breakdown/analysis of the draw with a full futures card once we get a peek at the draw.
Cheers and enjoy The Championships!
This preview for Roland Garros recaps the 2017 season to-date and highlights the current form and expectation level for the seeded players in the field as well as some long shots worth watching. The knowledge base is limited to Men’s Singles so this article stays in that lane.
The second major of 2017 is upon us and it has some interesting story lines to compliment what has been a fascinating 2017 to-date. Heading into 2017, the world of tennis had come to accept that the Majors and Masters would likely be divided between Murray and Djokovic while we may get some glimpses of past greatness from all-time players Federer and Nadal, now in the twilight of their careers. That notion was immediately flipped on it’s head when Murray and Djokovic were the victims of unlikely upsets and then Federer and Nadal had equally impressive runs in Melbourne, facing off in an epic 5-setter in the Aussie Open Final with Federer prevailing to win his 18th Grand Slam Title and his first since Wimbledon 2012. The AO win for Federer was no fluke as he cemented his status as firmly “back” with Masters Titles in Indian Wells and Miami (dispatching Nadal with ease in both tournaments).
In early April we began the European clay swing and from the first big stop, the Monte Carlo Masters, it became clear that Nadal was ready to re-affirm his position at the King of Clay (more on this below). Nadal got stronger each round eventually claiming his 10th Monte Carlo title and his 28th overall Masters Title on clay. He followed this up with a sweep in Barcelona the next week winning 10 consecutive sets for his 10th Barcelona crown (smashing Dominic Thiem in the final on the court that is now named in his honor). Nadal took the next week off and we saw some young blood in AZverev and PCB win 250 titles in Munich and Estoril, respectively, while Cilic took home his first title of 2017 in Istanbul.
In the first of back-to-back clay Masters in May, Nadal picked up his 5th Madrid Title in a venue he where he typically has a bit more difficulty. Fabio Fognini gave him a very tough 3-set test in his first match and Dominic Thiem had a second crack at Nadal this season in the Final coming up just short 7–6 6–4. Rafa’s undefeated clay run came to an end in the Rome Masters quarterfinals where Thiem finally broke through against a fatigued Nadal in his third chance. This cleared the path for a surging Djokovic to make his first big tournament Final, however it was not to be as 20-yr old Alexander Zverev stomped the past champ 6–4 6–3 to break his maiden at Masters level in impressive fashion, securing a top 10 ranking for the first time in his young career.
As we head to Roland Garros for the last clay stop of the Spring, as expected Rafa Nadal is the overwhelming favorite to win the title. This leaves futures bettors in a difficult position of either laying the juice on an outright bet, or deciding “if not Nadal, then who?” At the current consensus price of -121 (1.82) this implies that Nadal has a 55% chance to win his 10th French Open Title, that percentage seems about right (if not a little low), but as discussed below there may be a way to secure a slightly better number with a moneyline roll or an open parlay staking plan given the overall strength of the field and the way the seeds have worked out. Draw comes out Friday the 26th, pre-draw analysis of the seeded players discussed below.
Note: Generally stated, when placing a future in the sub 5/1 range, you’re looking for the player to at least reach the final to have some hedging value. A future in the sub 12/1 range suggests a player needs to reach the semi-final, 25/1 range looking for a quarterfinal appearance, 50/1 to 100/1 hoping for Round 4. A future placed at higher than 100/1 is basically a lotto ticket because it is extremely tough to extract any value since they will likely be overwhelming underdogs even if they get to R4. The most fun/effective way to hedge a future is to buy some future stock in the opposing player as a swap if your guy loses.
The King of Clay
Rafa Nadal is the undisputed King of Clay. Not just the best player on tour right now on this surface but clearly and unequivocally the best player to pick up a racquet and hit the dirt. Having won nine (9!?!) previous French Opens, the soon to be 31-yr old Nadal has never looked sharper and is rightfully the heavy favorite to title. Not one for hyperbole here, but his accomplishments at Roland Garros will never be surpassed in this lifetime.
The question becomes, if the wisest play is Nadal to win, is there a way to beat the current consensus futures price of -121? To title Nadal must win seven matches and the moneyline roll odds are an unknown but given the overall strength of the field there is a great chance an open 7-leg parlay with Nadal MLs (or a ML roll if your book doesn’t allow open parlays) will very likely net odds better than -121 and potentially as high as +200 if the draw breaks just right.
After a deep dive into the historical odds, the above chart compiles the pre-tournament odds for Nadal to win compared to the net odds from an open 7-leg parlay. As you can see, the 7-leg parlay odds consistently beat the outright price and offered other advantages, such as in 2016 when Nadal withdrew prior to his 3rd round match and the parlay was canceled in lieu of an outright loss. Nadal set lines would potentially be ever more rewarding, especially in the early rounds where he rarely drops a set (except for dropping two in the 1st round to John Isner in 2011 somehow). Regardless, with Nadal going in seeded 4th and the field, especially at the top likely to make it well into the tournament, the potential for surpassing the future price is high.
Without the benefit of knowing the draw, the worst possible run contactable would be someone like Taro Daniel in R1, Chung in R2, Querrey in R3, Kyrgios in R4, Thiem in the QF, Djokovic in the SF and Stan Wawrinka in the Final. We would likely see odds in the ballpark of -2500, -2000, -1000, -650, -650, -250 and -300, respectively in those matches which would make the open parlay odds: 1.03*1.04*1.10*1.15*1.15*1.40*1.33=2.94 or +194 to win the title. Even if we see some upsets and Nadal is more like -500 in the SF or Final, the total odds would work out to +126, still beating the -121 posted now. For the sake of entertainment, we’ll run out a $50, 7-leg parlay and post the results at the end of the tournament, if it makes it.
If Not Nadal Then Who?
Roger Federer isn’t in the graphic above because he’s not playing. In fact Federer very wisely sat out the entire clay swing, so in a sense he is already a winner because he’ll take fresh legs into the grass season and the US Open, immediately making him the favorite to pick up at least one more Grand Slam title this year, which means Federer could finish the year with 20 Slams at age 36.
Novak Djokovic is the defending champion, number 2 in the outright market and one of two legitimate threats standing in the way of the King. Even as the second favorite, Nole is far from the peak of his powers just one year ago and his struggles over the last calendar year suggest all is not well with Djoker.
A brief recap, Nole completed his career slam finally winning the 2016 French Open at RG in his 12th attempt. Having conquered the world of tennis and fulfilled the dream of his childhood coach Jelena Gencic, Nole took a significant step back in his level of focus and intensity, allowing the world to sneak up and knock him off the top of the mountain. The next several months included a shocking early round loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon, a first round exit at the Olympics, a Final loss to Stan Wawrinka in New York and demotion to World №2 by Andy Murry in November. Many expected him to get back on track in 2017 with an Aussie Open title, however he was quickly sent out of the tournament by Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin, a career low point in the eyes of the tennis world. The struggle continued through the early season Masters and clay tournaments leading to the abrupt dismissal of his entire coaching and physio team pre-Madrid. In following matches, sparks of what made Nole so dominant were clearly visible and although he was unable to title in either of the French Open lead-up Masters, it is reasonable to predict a more focused and dangerous Djoker (accompanied by new brand Lacoste! and new coach Andre Agassi!!!) will be on hand at Roland Garros.
Best case scenario, we get an epic head-to-head with Rafa in the semis or final… worst case scenario is an early round upset at the hands of a tomato can like Andrey Kuznetsov, or equivalent. Not worth backing at +300 but well worth watching for signs of vintage Nole.
Stan Wawrinka is the only other past winner in the field and can’t be dismissed from contention despite a truly lackluster 2017 campaign. Year-in, year-out, Stan brings his best out for the major tournaments, having won three despite never being ranked World №1 (a distinction which he alone holds). Stan’s previous title at Roland Garros came in 2015 when he upset an exhausted Djokovic in the Final 4–6 6–4 6–3 6–4 as a +525 underdog; worth noting that Nole dispatched Nadal that year in the QFs and slogged out a 5-setter with Andy Murray in the SFs while Stan had an extremely favorable draw. Stan backed up his win with a second victory over Djokovic last year in the US Open and his general strength and stamina puts him in the conversation with Nole as realistic contender to title. His current odds around 13/1 are very nice and will be worth strongly considering once we see who ends up in his quarter of the draw; it may be wise to snap up that number now if you like it, if he ends up with Raonic or Nishikori opposite him in the top half with Murray, the 13/1 will become 8/1 or 9/1 very quickly.
Young Guns Looking to Make a Run (That Probably Will)
Dominic Thiem, in the eyes of many, is the strongest clay player in the world not named Rafael Nadal and it is only a matter of time until he secures his first Grand Slam Title. He made a semi-final run in here in 2016 which ended poorly at the hands of a peaking Djokovic. His run-up to the French Open this year featured better scheduling decisions and important head-to-heads, despite not taking home the hardware in the chances he had. On the plus side, Thiem is a fun player to support, easy to cheer for, always shows up with effort at 100% and on the right day he can beat anyone. On the minus side, his price absolutely reflects his status as a fan favorite. It’s somewhat surprising, even silly to see a player that has never won a Major or a Masters event listed under 10/1 but here we are looking at Thiem the third favorite to win the French Open at 9/1.
As noted in the season recap above, Thiem finally broke through vs Nadal in Rome (in his third attempt) but followed it up with a miserable outing vs Djokovic which is completely understandable for a young player. For him to win, Thiem will need a magical draw (i.e. fall on the opposite side of Nadal) and have Nadal get bloodied or beaten on the way to the Final all while not losing focus against more experienced players that he is capable of beating on talent alone. For me his outright number should be in the 20 to 25/1 range not 9/1, but that’s fine because there will be many opportunities to back this young exciting player along the way.
Alexander Zverev represents the future of tennis on an even longer timeline and potentially to a greater extent than Dominic Thiem. Having won the Rome Masters and entering the top ten for the first time, the world wonders how long it will take him to reach №1 and how many Majors he’s capable of winning. That’s a lot of pressure for a 20-yr old kid but to this point in his career he has handled exactly this kind of pressure extremely well at nearly every opportunity. He’s had a few hiccups in 2017 and fared very poorly against Nadal on clay in Monte Carlo (losing 6–1 6–1) but his flashes of brilliance against Nadal at the Aussie Open and at Indian Wells in 2016 would suggest he’ll come more prepared to compete should they meet again. Other than Nadal, it’s unclear if Sascha would be a significant underdog to anyone in the field at Roland Garros. In a dream scenario there will be opportunities to back him as a small favorite vs the likes of Kei Nishikori or as a small dog vs the likes of Andy Murray. In a similar light as discussed with Dominic Thiem, however, his future price at 16/1 is off the rails for someone who has never made it past the 3rd round of a Grand Slam. Again, someone to enjoy watching and backing often but not a future play worth making, especially pre-draw.
Young Guns Looking to Make a Run (That Might)
David Goffin is a guy that is intriguing because he’s good enough and experienced enough to make a deep run into the tournament, but also lacks the public support which suppresses the prices of the more trendy players. At age 26 we likely haven’t seen his best and he’s coming off career-best performances in many Majors and Masters in the last calendar year. At the current number 60/1, well worth a flier in the hopes he at least repeats his QF run from 2016 and potentially wins his quarter.
Grigor Dimitrov will someday reach his potential as a top dog on tour and may be a show-stealer in Paris. His 2017 has been very uneven after what looked like a breakout year on tap given his Aussie Open dominance; many would agree he should have been a finalist, coming up just short against Rafa Nadal in a 5-hr semi-final battle. Clay is arguably Grigor’s worst surface and he’s almost as equal a candidate for a 2nd round upset to an old fart as he is to making a QF or SF run. His general level of fitness, however, and his potential to break out make his 60/1 future worth holding, in the hopes he gets drawn into a non-Nadal quarter and makes another semi appearance.
Young Guns Looking to Make a Run (That Probably Won’t)
Jack Sock is the top American in Paris. He’s fun to pull for and may make some noise at Roland Garros in the years to come, but at this point in his career he lacks the focus and seriousness it takes to perform at your peak for a fortnight. His future at 150/1 is way under-priced relative to his talent level, especially on clay, so it’s worth a small, patriotic flier. He’s capable of competing and beating the Nishikori’s and Raonic’s of the field but will likely run into Nadal, Djoker or Stan buzzsaws at some point; expecting a QF loss from our top Ami.
Lucas Pouille is the Frenchman-in-best-form heading into Roland Garros and given the home-crowd support it’s always fun to hold a 100/1 lotto ticket on a Frog. Pouille has never made it past the 2nd round here but his past few months have seen him pick up an indoor hard title and a runner-up finish in France along with a clay title in Budapest (granted the field was very weak). His ranking in the Top 16 means he’ll hopefully be rewarded with a clean draw for the first three rounds allowing him to play himself into form and compete with the big boys for a spot in the QFs.
Grizzled Vets Who Will Win a Few Matches
Andy Murray the current World №1 has looked utterly toothless on clay (and in general) since seizing the crown from Djokovic back in November. We’ll break him down in much more detail pre-Wimby where he is the defending champ, but for RG his outlook is pretty straightforward. As the top seed he’ll get a favorable draw, he’ll beat the pants off a few tomato cans in the early rounds, people will start to wonder if they’ve underestimated Andy and then he’ll promptly no-show against a player he is leaps-and-bounds better than in the 4th round or thereabouts. Not even close to worth his 12/1 price; a R4 exit would be another 2017 disappointment, a QF exit would be predicable, a SF appearance would be a pleasant surprise, a SF win would be shocking and a Title would be earth-shattering given his current form.
Marin Čilić, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomáš Berdych and Richard Gasquetall fall into a category of unlikely to be upset by guys ranked significantly lower than them but even more unlikely to beat a player ranked above them. These are all guys that should make it through the opening week and then be summarily dispatched early in week 2.
Clay Specialists With Their Best Shot Here
Albert Ramos Viñolas, Pablo Carreño Busta and Pablo Cuevas have alternately looked like the best clay-specialists on tour in 2017. They’ve each shown flashes of brilliance that would suggest they can compete with the top dogs. Ramos upsetting Murray on his way to a Final in Monte Carlo, PCB with a breakthrough title in Estoril to go along with fantastic runs in Indian Wells and Rio, and Cuevas with his overall outstanding play over the last few months including the shot of the year (decade?) in an upset of Zverev in Madrid.
The expectations for these guys are tempered by the fact that they have excelled at best of three and none has shown much ability to take their game to the best of five level. None-the-less fade these three at your own peril.
Players Arriving With Baggage
Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Roberto Bautista Agut, Nick Kyrgios and Fabio Fognini are all seeded players arriving in Paris with heavy baggage. Milos and Kei are injuries waiting to happen this year. RBA hasn’t put together an impressive week of tennis let along two in ages. Nick always arrives with baggage, even moreso this year with an ailing hip. Fog would be a trendy play based on his recent form but has a newborn son and lacks focus even in the best of circumstances. The best approach for these fellas is to sit on the sidelines for their first few matches and watch for signs they have their act together then bet/fade accordingly. Depending on their early round match-ups it’ll be wise to avoid them as parlay legs no matter how tempting the price.
John Isner, Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey round out the contenders from Team USA in France. It has been an eternity since the US players were relevant in this tournament and outside of Sock that looks to remain the case in 2017. Would expect the public to fade these guys because of the general disdain for US players on clay (and in tennis as a whole), so their may be value in backing them in the right spots. They’ve also each had moments of clear competence on clay in Europe but their late arrival to the scene and the field’s general fatigue may be as much of a contributing factor as solid form from our boys.
Seeded Guys Worth Fading
Gaël Monfils, Ivo Karlović, Gilles Müller, Juan Martín del Potro, David Ferrer, Gilles Simon and Mischa Zverev all head into the draw at Roland Garros as seeded players and with that comes some expectation of early round wins. However due to injury, current form, or general poor performance on clay, these fellas make the fade list and will be on the losing end of a shocker in week one, draw contingent. If you’ve been paying attention this season, none of these names should be a surprise with the exception of del Potro who has been bitten hard by the injury bug and will sadly be limited this week if he plays at all.
Long Shots Trying to Establish Their Chops
Outside of the seeded players, we’ve seen strong play from the likes of Borna Coric, Diego Schwartzman, Karen Khachanov, Aljaz Bedene and Frances Tiafoe this spring. None are household names but their ability to do some damage early in the draw is worth keeping an eye on.
Evgeny Donskoy… Just kidding, if you made it this far I applaud you, you’re a true tennis head. Donskoy doesn’t really have a shot I just wanted to put him on here because he’s the only guy who has beaten Roger Federer this year in a non-exhibition match, which is insane.
Have a fun French Open!