One last hurrah for Venus
Oppose Serena Williams and back Venus Williams is Andy Schooler's advice for the US Open women's singles.
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At the turn of the month, Serena Williams had drifted out to 5/2 to complete a US Open hat-trick and win the title for a record-equalling sixth time.
A few weeks later and with titles bagged in Stanford and Cincinnati, the two-time defending champion is back into 13/8.
In short, any value there was has gone. I probably wouldn’t have backed her at 5/2 and I’m certainly not going to do so at 13/8.
Yes, she remains the best player in the world on her day – and she has plenty of those. The problem is few of them have come in the Grand Slams of late; Williams is yet to go beyond the last 16 in any of the majors this season.
Her early defeats have come pretty much out of the blue. After a superb 2013 season, few saw her exit at the hands of Ana Ivanovic coming in Australia (although – trumpet-blowing time - I did oppose her and landed a 66/1 quarter winner in Melbourne), while form was strong going into the French Open where she suffered a second-round loss.
Looking at the draw here, Sam Stosur – the player who upset her in the 2011 final here – and Ivanovic are both tricky potential foes, although quite frankly the upset is capable of coming against almost anyone. Remember it was Garbine Muguruza who conquered Williams in Paris and Alize Cornet at Wimbledon.
Essentially, Williams is a lay at 13/8 and instead I want a bigger price somewhere else.
And I’m going to seek it out by turning to a certain Ms Williams – Venus Williams.
It’s certainly a bit of a left-field approach but there have been some strong signs that woman who won this title way back in 2000 and 2001 might just be able to muster one last hurrah at the age of 34.
No-one came closer to beating Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon (Venus eventally lost 7-5 in the third) and although it was easy at the time to suggest that was simply down to the veteran's grassdcourt prowess, it's fair to say she's built on that effort since stepping onto the hardcourts and as a result is on her most consistent run of strong form for years.
She was highly impressive in Montreal where she beat her sister in the semis and finished runner-up to Agnieszka Radwanska.
Angelique Kerber and Victoria Azarenka have both been beaten in recent weeks, while even in the matches she's lost, Venus has gone down fighting - just as she did against Kvitova in SW19.
Some will says that's a sign she can't get over the line these days - and she remains frustratingly inconsistent at times - but I'd suggest she's close to winning a lot of big matches right now.
What might just make the difference is a return to Flushing Meadows where she's won before and will be supported to the rafters (actually that roof hasn't been built yet).
If you take her sister out of the equation, which I’m prepared to do, this looks a wide-open betting heat and I really couldn’t predict a winner with any great confidence so 50/1 is a price I'll take a small slice of.
Of the supposed contenders, Eugeine Bochuard, a strong fancy a couple of months ago, has barely won a match since her run to the Wimbledon final and is also carrying a hamstring injury.
Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova has also been struggling for form, although has admittedly looked better in New Haven this week.
Simona Halep’s tide appears to have turned slightly, while the likes of Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska too often find a way to lose on the hardcourts.
Not keen on many – if any – of the favourites, I’m going to supplement my outright punt with some outside picks in the quarter betting.
First up I’ll side with Ana Ivanovic in the top quarter for, as I’ve explained, I’m looking to take on Serena.
Sadly the early 7/1 quotes have been taken but Ivanovic is still worth a shot at 6s. She has good form on the North American hardcourts having reached the final in Cincinnati where she beat Sharapova and eventally lost to Serena. It was the world number one who also stopped her run in Stanford.
It’s worth noting that she won in Auckland the week before she toppled Serena in Melbourne so that strong run in Cincy has added relevance.
In the second quarter, a player I mentioned in my ante-post look at the tournament is someone I’m still prepared to back now.
Ekaterina Makarova is enjoying a fabulous season and captured her second WTA title in Thailand earlier this year.
She’s built on that since and many of you will have seen her reach the last eight at Wimbledon.
Back on the hardcourts, her good form has continued with a run to the last four in Washington followed by another semi-final appearance in Montreal where she beat Kvitova and only narrowly lost to Radwanska.
This section of the draw is the domain of Kvitova and Bouchard, plus the runner-up of each of the past two years, Victoria Azarenka. However, she’s had injury problems and is clearly still a long way from her best and an early exit for the Belrusian would be no surprise.
Makarova is another player to have toppled Serena at a Slam (Melbourne 2012) so has the big-game temperament and at 14/1 makes good appeal in the market – she’s half that price elsewhere.
Finally, I’m going to side with Lucie Safarova in the third quarter which looks the weakest of the four.
That’s good news for the Czech as although she’s won plenty of matches on the WTA circuit this year, she’s often come off second best when facing the true elite.
Indeed eight of her 10 hardcourt defeats this term have come at the hands of a top-10er.
However, she has had some decent victories – Venus, Sloane Stephens and Caroline Wozniacki being among her victims – and with the draw she’s been given I would not be surprised to see her replicate her SW19 semi-final run.
You can get 8/1 which seems fair enough.
Posted at 0845 BST on 23/08/14.
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