WIMBLEDON: Most tennis enthusiasts will agree: the pinnacle of the sport is the two summertime weeks at the All England Club, where we get to watch the most famous grass courts in the game gradually fade from a rich green to a weathered brown as the world’s best players vie to make history. The 2017 edition of The Championships at Wimbledon will begin in earnest on Monday, and the markets at BETDAQ have really started to pick up over the past couple of days. Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect on both the men’s and women’s side, as well as a few recommendations:
In last year’s Wimbledon preview we discussed how the “Big Four” in men’s tennis was actually a Big Two, with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray clearly separating themselves from fading greats Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal. Murray went on to win, of course, while Federer flamed out in the semis and Nadal stayed home nursing an injury. Considering the ages of all involved and the fact that we’re talking about tennis here– the consummate young man’s game– it seemed highly unlikely that Rafa and Roger would ever close the gap on their younger rivals, much less surpass them again.
Yet here we sit, one year later, and Roger Federer sits atop BETDAQ’s outright market at 3.3, while Nadal follows close behind at 5.8. Though Murray and Djokovic are still seeded 1 and 2, they’ve both been struggling in recent months and seem ripe for the upset. Murray looked terrible in a first round loss at Queen’s last week and has since pulled out of two exhibition matches, citing hip soreness, and Djokovic has been in a baffling funk since last year’s French Open, winning only two titles in the past 12 months after looking nearly unbeatable for the better part of three years.
As for the old timers, Nadal’s dominant clay court season was capped off by a record tenth win at the French, while Federer, after skipping the clay court run to better prepare himself for this tournament, picked up a victory in Halle last week without dropping a set and now has four tournament titles in 2017, including the Australian Open. I know I’m not alone in sensing that Fed has that same “destined to win” aura surrounding him this week that Nadal had a few weeks ago at Roland Garros. Still, I’m having trouble getting excited about the prospect of backing a 35-year old at a price like 3.3, even though the 35-year old in question happens to be the greatest grass court player the game has ever seen. Remember: Federer’s win at the Australian back in January was his first grand slam title since 2012. An eighth Wimbledon title would be a remarkable accomplishment and is a realistic possibility, but it’s far from a sure thing.
Can anyone outside the Big Four make a run to the final? Milos Raonic was a bit of a breakthrough in this regard last year, becoming the first finalist not named Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, or Murray since 2010. He hasn’t been sharp this year, however, so a repeat performance seems unlikely. Two guys I’m keeping an eye on are Marin Cilic, who has advanced to the quarters here in three consecutive years and made the final at Queen’s Club last week before losing a nail-biter to Feliciano Lopez, and Nick Kyrgios, who, despite being immature and unlikable, has a game that is perfectly suited for grass and has shown that he can trade blows with the best of them, most recently in his thrilling 6-7 (9-11), 7-6 (11-9), 6-7 (5-7) loss to Federer in the Miami Open semis a couple of months ago.
Unlike what we expect to see on the men’s side, the women’s draw is as wide-open as it has been in recent memory. With Serena Williams sidelined, there is simply no clear-cut favorite this year and it’s quite possible that a little-known longshot walks away with the title, as was the case with Jelena Ostapenko’s French Open win last month. To drive home the point, player/coach-turned-analyst Brad Gilbert said this week that he believed up to 40 women have a legitimate chance. The more you study the draw, the more you realize that Gilbert might not be too far off.
Petra Kvitova heads the market at BETDAQ, which is remarkable when you consider that she is just six months removed from a frightening stabbing incident that threatened her career. Grass is her best surface and she’s coming off an impressive win at last week’s WTA Birmingham, but will she be able to cope with the two-week grand slam meat grinder after being out of competition for months and still lacking full strength in her left hand– her playing hand?
Of course, you could build a pretty strong case against all the ladies who are near the top of the market. Karolina Pliskova has never advanced beyond the second round at Wimbledon; Johanna Konta may be injured after a nasty fall at Eastbourne; Angelique Kerber hasn’t won a tournament this year and faces a tough draw; Garbine Muguruza is also without a title in 2017 and is coming off a 1-6, 0-6 first-round loss to Barbora Strycova in Eastbourne… you get the idea. Venus Williams is a popular dark horse pick but she’s been dealing with significant off-court issues in recent weeks, while French Open champ Ostapenko, an afterthought in the women’s game prior to a few weeks ago, is now trading at a shortish 16.0 and has many touting her chances, citing her Wimbledon Junior title in 2014 (and apparently forgetting her opening-round loss last year).
So there are no easy answers on the women’s side, meaning it might be a good time to roll the dice on a couple long-odds types. Dominika Cibulkova, despite struggling for much of the year, is a player with a proven pedigree and an attractive price, and someone like Sabine Lisicki, who has been injured for most of the year but is very capable when healthy, may turn out to be a great value. I really like the looks of 2014 semifinalist Lucie Safarova, who has begun to heat up since her French Open doubles title (6-2 in last 8 matches, reached the semis of last two tournaments) and is trading at a whopping 74.0. Serena’s absence may have deprived us of seeing the greatest women’s player ever continue to rewrite the history books, but it’s also added a shot of unpredictability and intrigue into the proceedings. It should be fun.
RECOMMENDED BETS (odds in parenthesis)
LAY Rafa Nadal (6.0)– Grass is Nadal’s worst surface and he hasn’t made it past the fourth round at Wimbledon since 2011. Even when he was at his peak, winning this tournament was always a tremendous challenge.
BACK Marin Cilic (21.0)- If someone outside the Big Four is going to crash the party, Cilic is the most likely candidate. He nearly beat Federer in the quarters last year, letting multiple match points slip by, and he’s in top form right now. If he can get past a tough opening-round match against Philipp Kohlschreiber, look out.
BACK Petra Kvitova (5.5)- She seems to be on a mission since the knife attack, returning to top form faster than anyone thought possible. Riding the winds of confidence after her victory in Birmingham last week and facing a favorable draw, the stars seem to be aligning for Kvitova. Yes, the price is short, but not too short.
BACK Lucie Safarova (74.0)- Considering her current form and past record at Wimbledon, I think Safarova is the best value on the board. The top seeds in her quarter– Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza– are both very vulnerable.