Net Talk: Eye on the grass

  • By: Andy Schooler
  • Last Updated: June 2 2014, 13:08 BST

Our Andy Schooler looks ahead to the grasscourt season and picks out some ante-post Wimbledon betting value.

Radwanska: Has impressed at Wimbledon in the past two years
Radwanska: Has impressed at Wimbledon in the past two years

This time next week the French Open will be over (weather permitting) and attention will be fully on the grasscourt season with the ATP and WTA stars moving on to Queen's Cub, Halle and Birmingham.

Talk will be of who will win Wimbledon, not Paris, and before that happens it could pay to look at the betting markets in search of a spot of value as, like the rest of us, the bookies will be focused on SW19 then too.

Let's start with the men and where the traditional 'Big Four' dominate the betting - they are all at 11/2 or shorter.

That's hardly a surprise given that between them the quartet have won the last 11 titles at the All England Club, Lleyton Hewitt being the last non-member to lift the trophy back in 2002.

Even today with the homogenisation of tennis courts, grass remains something of a specialist surface and these four all know how to play on it.

Novak Djokovic is currently the 2/1 favourite with reigning champion Andy Murray twice the price. He could be a bit of value given he's recently shown improved form - note that recent Rome loss to Rafael Nadal - and if, as he usually does, he wins he title at Queen's then he looks sure to go off shorter.

The same could be said of 5/1 shot Federer, who, following his early exit in Paris, will head to Halle next week where he has won six times before.

Of the four, the one I'd be most wary of backing would be Nadal at 11/2. He's often struggled to adapt to the surface immediately in the past, while the low-bouncing grass was blamed in places for restricting his movement in last year's first-round defeat to Steve Darcis, one which followed his early 2012 exit at the hands of Lukas Rosol.

As for outsiders, it's worth saying at this point that in the last 10 years there has really been just the one surprise finalist in SW19 - namely Tomas Berdych in 2010 when he beat Federer and Djokovic before losing to Nadal.

The only other man to even each the final in that time has been Andy Roddick, who was always an expert on the grass.

However, there have been suggestions over the past year that the gap between the Big Four and the rest is closing - the rankings actually show it has been closed, although Murray's injury problems have had much to do with that.

Stanislas Wawrinka broke the stranglehold at this year's Australian Open but he looks too short at 14/1 having never been beyond the last 16.

Instead, if you are looking for big-priced outsiders who might just be able to challenge the status quo this year, then Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Marin Cilic could be worth a poke at this stage.

Tsonga hasn't had the best of seasons but he's a man who's happy on the grass and always plays his best tennis on a fast court; it's no co-incidence his best result of the season was a runners-up finish in Marseille.

Take a look at the Frenchman's grasscourt results of late and you will be encouraged. Last year Tsonga was forced out of Wimbledon in the second round due to a knee injury but if you put that aside his last three appearances have resulted in two semi-finals and one quarter-final. In 2012 he lost in the last four to Murray, while 12 months before it was eventual champion Djokovic who accounted for him.

However, that 2011 run provides more evidence to show what a dangerous player he can be on the grass - Tsonga dropped serve just once (in his opening game) as he came from two sets down to beat Federer in the quarter-finals.

In that period, Tsonga also finished runner-up at Queen's (2011) and last year at the same venue he made the semis. Murray was his conqueror on both occasions.

Essentially it usually takes a good player to beat Tsonga on grass and on his day he's capable of beating the best.

The 29-year-old looked in decent nick during the opening week in Paris before being humbled by Djokovic but 50/1 is certainly worth considering.

Cilic is three times that price - 125s with the each-way option - but again looks a little large right now.

Like Tsonga, the Croat has the big serve-forehand combination in his locker, one which comes in very handy on this surface.

He's only been to the fourth round in SW19 - that's happened twice with Murray beating him in 2012. However, he now has former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic in his camp and his new coach is sure to have a plan to maximise a game which is well built for success on grass.

Cilic won Queen's two years ago and made the final again last season losing only to Murray in three sets having beaten Feliciano Lopez, Tomas Berdych and Lleyton Hewitt - all players who know their way around a grasscourt. He will play Queen's again this year. He's also beaten the likes of Tsonga and Tim Henman on this surface in the past.

Another player to run in to Djokovic in Paris, he put up a better fight than Tsonga and took a set off the world number two in what was a decent display.

To me, he looks the sort of player capable of causing a shock in SW19.

In the women's draw, Serena Williams - just as she was ahead of the French Open - is around the 5/4 mark.

She's certainly more at home on grass than on clay so this looks a better price than the pre-Paris one.

However, the five-time champion still looks very short given how vulnerable she's been to shock results in the Slams in recent times.

This may not be the first time you've heard me talk about this but she's now been sent off favourite in the last 10 Grand Slam tournaments but has one 'only' four of them. If you'd backed her blindly in them all, you would be well down.

In Paris, Garbine Muguruza became the latest shock name to beat Williams, joining a list which includes Ekaterina Makarova, Virginie Razzano and Sloane Stephens.

To me, backing the favourite at 5/4 is a simple no-no. It's also hard to see the price changing too much given the American won't play a warm-up event.

Maria Sharapova is next in the betting at 6/1 - a price which will shorten if she justifies new-found favouritism in the French capital over the next seven days.

However, it should be remembered that it is now 10 years since the Russian won her only title in SW19 and since then she's been to just the one final, losing to Petra Kvitova in 2011.

Sky Bet's 14/1 quote about Victoria Azarenka is worth mentioning, just for the fact that it is considerably bigger than any other firm at this point.

Clearly they feel Azarenka has little chance of being fully fit for the tournament - she has not played since early March due to a foot injury - but she is as short as 4/1 in places.

Moving further down the list, you find the player I like the look of at 25/1 (29s if you want win-only) - Agnieszka Radwanska.

The Pole's last two visits to the All England Club have resulted in a semi-final appearance (she lost 9-7 in the final set to Sabine Lisicki last season) and a runners-up finish (Serena beat her in three sets in the 2012 final).

That's solid grasscourt form and there are plenty of the top players around her in the betting who simply aren't at home on this surface.

Radwanska, who has won the title at Eastbourne in the past, is a remarkably consistent player, who usually gives you a run for your money.

She's only lost before the quarter-finals three times this season and at the big tournaments she has performed particularly well - she was a semi-finalist at the Australian Open and made the final in Indian Wells where she was hindered by injury.

I spoke to her before the French Open and she was already looking forward to setting foot on the grass (the clay being her weakest sufrace).

Sure to be seeded in the top four, Radwanska simply shouldn't be 25/1 as we speak and is worth backing each-way.

Stat of the week

Roger Federer's run of consecutive quarter-finals at the French Open ended at nine when he lost to Ernests Gulbis on Sunday. It was his earliest defeat at Roland Garros since he was beaten in round three by Gustavo Kuerten in 2004. Federer remains tied on 41 with Jimmy Connors for Grand Slam quarter-final appearances.

What you may have missed

Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka has joined the field for next week's Aegon Championships at Queen's Club.

This week in tennis

All week - The French Open continues with the women's final on Saturday and the men's on Sunday.

Tuesday - The ITF's World Champions Dinner takes place in Paris where Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams will receive their world champion awards for 2013. Meanwhile, doubles greats Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge will receive the ITF's highest accolade, the Philippe Chatrier Award.

Wednesday - The draw for the 2015 Fed Cup World Groups takes place in Paris.

Twitter

If you are interested in great tennis moments of years gone by, a new Twitter feed - @HistoryOfTennis - may be of interest to you.

As ever, please follow me - @NetTalkTennis - and the website's feed - @SportingLife - if you don't already.


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