Serena and specials the way to go
Our Andy Schooler expects Serena Williams to win Wimbledon again this year and is turning to the specials markets in search of value.
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Sparks have been flying between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova in the run-up to Wimbledon but on the court there's no doubting they are the most likely finalists in SW19 this year.
Williams is the hot title favourite and no wonder. She's lost just three matches in 13 months and for those of you who don't follow the tour on a regular basis, the American has been playing a full schedule so that stat does not, in any way, paint a false picture.
- 1pt Serena Williams to win the title without dropping a set at 4/1 (youwin) - the world's dominant player right now & is a five-time winner in SW19
- 2pts Williams-Maria Sharapova final at 15/8 (Paddy Power) - both playing well and suited to the grass
- 1pt Tsvetana Pironkova to win the second quarter at 33/1 (Ladbrokes, Coral) - proven on grass, former semi-finalist looks overpriced in weakest section
- 2pts Elena Balatcha to be the top Briton at 14/1 (youwin) - the big names in the market look vulnerable and Baltacha has been in decent form
When Williams plays her best, there's no-one who can live with her and in SW19 her hand is strengthened further. Her power game is aided by the fast, low bouncing grass, a factor which has helped her win the trophy on no fewer than five occasions.
Three of those wins have come in the last four years with the odd one out being 2011 when she arrived at the tournament just two weeks into a comeback from an 11-month injury absence.
The problem for punters is she's going off at the shortest price since Steffi Graf's era of dominance - 4/9 is the best you'll get - and that's not a price I'm interested in.
As an alternative you can get 4/1 with youwin about Williams winning the title without losing a set which seems fair enough.
Two of her five titles here have come in such a manner and right now she's playing some excellent stuff.
You will, of course, need slip-ups to be kept to a minimum so I'll be keeping stakes small, but the signs are pretty good.
At the recent French Open, Williams lost just a single set en route to the title and the clay is certainly her weakest surface. Only Svetlana Kuznetsova really troubled her in Paris and with the move onto her more-favoured grass, Williams will take some stopping.
I'll also suggest she'll meet Sharapova in the final.
The two are the players with the best grasscourt pedigree and are also mentally the best on the WTA circuit.
Having avoided Williams' half of the draw, Sharapova finds herself in with second seed Victoria Azarenka. However, Sharapova has to be preferred to the Belarusian on this surface. Azarenka will be a different beast once the hardcourts return but on the grass she's still not entirely comfortable. Yes, she's made two semi-finals at Wimbledon in the past but if she's in another, I'd expect Sharapova to be on the other side of the net and beating her.
A Williams-Sharapova final is offered at 15/8 and would be a fitting way to an end a tournament which has begun with the pair trading verbal blows over each other's personal relationships.
There are also a couple of other long-odds bets I like the look of among the various specials on offer.
First of all, it's worth looking at the second quarter betting.
While Williams, Sharapova and Azarenka are all rightly odds-on to reach the semi-finals, there's no clear favourite in the second quarter.
The player seeded to get that far is last year's beaten finalist, Agnieszka Radwanska but at 9/4 she looks worth taking on.
The player to do that with at a tasty 33/1 is Tsvetana Pironkova. She's just 6/1 with Betfred.
The Bulgarian has enjoyed herself at Wimbledon in recent years, reaching the semis in 2010, the quarters in 2011, while last season she got a tough draw but still pushed Sharapova to a third set before losing in the second round.
Basically Pironkova is a player who feels at home on the grass, which is not something that can be said for a lot of the players these days.
She reached the quarter-finals of the recent (saucily-named) Topshelf Open so arrives with some grasscourt wins under her belt and at the price I think she's worth a small punt.
Finally, youwin price up a top Briton market - one followers of this column would have made money on a couple of years ago.
On that occasion, Anne Keothavong earned profits; this time I'm hopeful Elena Baltacha will do the same.
There are seven Britons in the main draw, the majority thanks to wild cards, and it looks pretty safe to say most will bow out in round one.
Laura Robson certainly looks up against it as she's drawn 10th seed Maria Kirilenko, while the even-money market favourite, Heather Watson, is also facing a tricky opener against rising American star Madison Keys. Watson is also only just back from her bout of glandular fever and is clearly not yet back to her best so could well lose to a player ranked four places higher than her.
Essentially the players towards the top of the market look worth taking on and Baltacha is the person to turn to.
A player who has beaten seeds at Wimbledon in the past, Baltacha has the game for grass with her big first serve a real weapon.
She's recently won an ITF tournament in Nottingham on the surface and pushed the aforementioned top-10 star Kirilenko all the way at Eastbourne last week.
In round one, Baltacha will be up against Flavia Pennetta, a player who has been struggling for form since returning in February from a lengthy wrist injury.
More recently, Pennetta had a hamstring problem and upon her return lost in the first round at Eastbourne. Her record on grass isn't great and she looks vulnerable to Baltacha.
Victory for the Briton could easily be enough for her to earn at least a tie in the market so she's worth backing at 14/1.
- Stan James are offering money back on all outright losing bets if Sharapova wins the title.