Wimbledon is the Mecca of tennis, which you’ll be constantly reminded of over the fortnight by TV broadcasters, Wimbledon organisers, and the fans who set up picnics outside the courts to watch the matches on a big screen. It’s probably true, however, and the cast of transcendentally good tennis players and feverish fans that descends upon the tournament every year certainly lends itself to that conclusion.
The big story this year in tennis is the Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal victory lap through the slams they once dominated. Despite their advancing age, the two split the first two slams of the year in dramatic fashion. The tennis world’s prayers were answered when the two faced off in an Australian Open final that went to a gruelling five sets and saw Federer win his 18th Grand Slam. With Federer sitting out the French Open, Nadal torched his way through a strong field in imperious fashion. Both are set to contend at Wimbledon, and it’s no surprise that they’re among the favorites. There’s also a crop of young talents and perennial contenders, so the betting lines are interesting and there’s value to be had.
Evaluating form for the slams isn’t easy because of the way the surface changes across the tournaments. Thankfully, however, changes to the surface at the Australian Open yielded ball speed and trajectory numbers similar to those at Wimbledon, so we can get some idea of how the top players will perform on the grass at Wimbledon. Because of this, we can reasonably conclude that Nadal, who has not played on grass this year but made the final at the Australian Open, will probably adjust just fine to the surface. We can also speculate that the more aggressive players, the Mischa Zverevs and Roger Federers and Milos Raonics of the world, will once again dominate, as they tended to do at the Australian Open.
Do the current odds at the major sportsbooks (provided below) offer value? Punters seem to be opening their wallets for sentimental favorites, driving the prices for Federer and defending champion Andy Murray way down. It’s hard to believe, given his performance so far this year, that Murray would be at anything close to +300 (25-percent implied probability) if he wasn’t the hometown hero. Similarly, Federer’s prospects (+225; 30.8-percent) might be a little bit of wishful thinking.
Roger Federer: 9/4 (+225)
Federer is the single best tennis player in the history of grass courts. I don’t think anyone is in a position to argue that point. But +225 is a pretty steep price to pay. He’s shown a little inconsistency this year on grass, playing well in Halle but losing in the first round at Stuttgart, so signing up for a 30% implied probability of winning it all seems like a sentimental play.
Keep an eye on Federer’s prep as he moves through Halle, particularly if he ends up against Zverev in the final. He should improve as he gets more and more matches on grass, and a match against a top player would be very valuable. His decision-making, shot placement and movement have all been solid so far — his match against the elder Zverev (Mischa) was testament to that — but look for him to grow towards that ludicrously high ceiling.
Betting outlook: +225 is a little pricey, even for the best grass court player of all time. Let’s see if he can win in Halle first.
Andy Murray: 3/1 (+300)
The reigning world #1 is — how do we put this — not the favorite to win his home tournament. He was knocked out of the Queen’s Club Championship in the first round by world #91 Jordan Thompson, and also lost at Indian Wells to Vasek Pospisil. There are those who will cling to Murray’s 2016 win, but it’s important to note that performance was coming off a dominating win at Queen’s and a much more complete preparation for Wimbledon. He’s still one of the best players in the world, certainly, but even the best players need good preparation to perform well at the biggest tournament on the schedule.
Betting outlook: +300 is awfully expensive. Pass.
Rafael Nadal: 4/1 (+400)
There is nothing new to report about Rafael Nadal. He is still the strongest clay-courter of all time; he is still a furious mesomorph with nuclear groundstrokes and unbelievable footspeed; and he is still the best in the world at defeating Roger Federer. He hasn’t played since his win at the French Open, apparently preferring rest to grass court warm-up tournaments, so we don’t have any sample of his play on grass since last year. His play at the Australian Open was sufficient to take Federer to five sets in the final, however, so don’t expect the Spaniard to struggle too much on a faster surface.
Betting outlook: +400 is pretty expensive for a guy who hasn’t played on grass this year, but it could be the case that we get through the first two rounds and his crushing inevitability sets in like it did at the French Open. Might be the best pick of the favorites.
Alexander Zverev: 20/1 (+2000)
The second theme of 2017 has overwhelmingly been “The Kids Are Alright.” Zverev, Thiem, Kyrgios and others have been playing incredible tennis and I don’t worry about the future of the sport when the “Fedal” era ends. This 20-year-old, in particular, has had some great results this season: he’s through to the quarters in Halle and won the Italian Open earlier this year. His play matches up well with grass courts, and it looks like he’s going to be a contender at Wimbledon for years to come.
Betting outlook: a good outside pick, with a style that suits the surface and a growing game.
Stan Wawrinka: 25/1 (+2500)
It seems crazy that the #3 player in the world is at such long odds, but this Swiss has never had much success on grass for some reason. He made the quarterfinals in 2014 and 2015 but has never gone further. If you think he’s ripe for a breakthrough, +2500 is a hell of a deal for the fifth seed in the tournament. Personally I think his unique style is better suited to hard courts and clay than grass.
Nobody has a tougher draw than Wawrinka. His disappointing grass court season puts him in the #5 ranking, where he’ll have to beat three of the four best players of this century on his way to his first Wimbledon win.
Betting outlook: has struggled on grass in the past, has continued to struggle on grass this year, and while I’m certain Wawrinka the Thinka will figure out a way to win matches on the green stuff, I’m not certain he’ll figure it out in this particular fortnight.
Dominic Thiem: 25/1 (+2500)
Dominic Thiem is one of the young players making a huge impression on the tour this year. His huge groundstrokes and aggressive play have won him fans quickly, and his defeat of Nadal on clay points to a huge upside. Thiem’s also had success on grass in the past, winning the Stuttgart Open last year by defeating Mikhail Youzhny, Philipp Kohlschreiber, and noted grass-courter Roger Federer. It makes sense why: when Thiem gets his feet set, he’s able to hit the ball with furious pace and good enough placement to sail by opponents on a fast surface. Thiem might be the most promising of the young players on tour this year, and he’s already got some upset wins to his name. Limitless upside.
Betting outlook: this is my preferred outside shot, both because he’s very good (and getting better) and you’re going to have a lot of fun watching him.
2017 WIMBLEDON PROPS
Andy Murray is no longer world #1 at the end of the tournament: 7/3 (+233)
Andy Murray currently holds a sizeable lead in the rankings, but he has 2000 points to defend at Wimbledon and a few of his challengers are in good form. Rafael Nadal, for example, will only be 140 points behind once those points from last year’s tournament expire, and he’s fresh off one of the most dominant Grand Slam performances in history.
Federer and Nadal meet in the final: 3/1 (+300)
The way Wimbledon does its seeding (essentially giving players double points for their results on grass) has put Nadal and Federer 3rd and 4th, respectively. This puts them on opposite ends of the men’s draw and means that they would only meet in the final. It’s storybook stuff, a repeat of the 2017 Australian Open final and reminiscent of David Foster Wallace’s first religious experiences. Despite the promise of some of the younger players, this is the result the tennis world will be praying for.
American makes the men’s final: 19/1 (+1900)
I’m very sorry to say this, but American men’s tennis is not what it used to be. The highest-ranked American is #18 Jack Sock who, while promising and certainly fun to watch, has only ever won at the 250 level and has never made it past the fourth round of a slam. John Isner’s game would have dominated the grass court circuit a few decades ago but is overmatched by the more versatile players of today.
Canadian makes the final of men’s draw: 8/1 (+800)
Canada, a country a tenth the population of the United States, has a markedly better chance of making the final, although that really comes down to one guy. Milos Raonic isn’t a terribly long shot to win the tournament (+1400) and he made the final at Wimbledon just last year, losing to Murray in straight sets but otherwise impressing throughout the tournament. His startling serve is helpful, to say the least, on the fast grass at the All England Club.