The U.S. Open is underway with Serena Williams (who’s at 20/23 odds to win the tournament) looking to become the first woman to win the Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988. On the men’s side, Novak Djokovic is a significant favorite (13/10) to earn his third major title of the year.
Tennis is an interesting sport to bet, particularly because future odds don’t change dramatically early in the tournament. Sportsbooks think the chances of Williams losing in the first round are about 49/1 while Djokovic is given roughly a 199/1 shot of losing in his opening match. Because the numbers are so steep, the future odds won’t change a lot after their first matches.
However, astute observers can learn a bit about fitness and precision from watching the first week of the tournament. Take a look at these players and decide if they are worthy of a bet.
Serena Williams (20/23)
Serena is one major title away from tying Graf for second all-time (22). A six-time U.S. Open champ, Williams has won this event three years running. She’s less than even money to win the tournament, but considering no other player is under 10-1 (after the withdrawal of Maria Sharapova), who is going to beat her when chasing history?
One option to increase value on Serena is to wait until she falls behind a set, and then wager at somewhat reduced odds. She’s 7-0 in majors this year when dropping the first set.
Simona Halep (23/2)
It has been a tough year for Halep in majors, and she has reached just one major final in her young career. However, the no. 2 ranked player in the world is playing well right now, and won’t have to face Williams until the final. Halep beat Serena once last year and played a close match against her in Cincinnati two weeks ago.
Petra Kvitova (20/1)
It recently came out that Kvitova had mono for much of the year. That helps explain several lackluster performances. But the two-time major champ seems to be over what was ailing her, rolling through a U.S. Open tuneup in Connecticut, including crushing Caroline Wozniacki in the semi-finals.
Wozniacki is Kvitova’s likely quarter-final opponent in New York; and, like Halep, Kvitova is on the opposite side of the draw from Serena. The Czech national is 0-2 against Serena on hard court, but beat the world no. 1 on clay in 2013 in Doha, taking the deciding set 7-5.
Novak Djokovic (13/10)
Given what he’s accomplished at majors this year, coupled with the fact that his biggest challengers all have reasons to be doubted, Djokovic is the solid favorite. However, he didn’t play well in two U.S. Open warm-up tournaments, and a potential date with Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals is no picnic. Nadal has had a very bad year (mostly due to injuries); but he’s still a 14-time major champ who could piece things back together at any time.
Nole won three majors in 2011 and is looking to become the tenth player in history to win ten career major titles.
Roger Federer (18/5)
The 34-year-old, 17-time major champ has not won the U.S. Open since 2008. He has just one major win since 2010. That said, he’s taken a slightly different tack of late, playing fewer tournaments and ensuring his aging body is rested. The approach paid off last week as he beat both Murray and Djokovic in a U.S. Open tune-up. He also managed to reach the final at Wimbledon this year, but fell to Nole in the title match.
Kei Nishikori (18/1)
Nishikori has the best draw to reach the semis if he can handle testy Benoit Paire in the first round. A young player is going to break through and win a major at some point, and Nishikori got to the U.S. Open final last year. He played well in two hard court tune-ups before withdrawing from the Cincinnati Masters.
(Photo credit: Edwin Martinez1 (US Open 2007 205) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) via Wikimedia Commons. Photo may appear cropped.)