Net Talk: A hard task
Our Andy Schooler looks at summer hardcourt trends and searches for potential US Open winners in his latest column.
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This week kicks off a massive five-week period for the cream of the ATP and WTA, one which takes in big events in Canada and Cincinnati before culminating in the final Grand Slam tournament of the season, the US Open.
In this column, and with that US Open in mind, I’m going to take a look at a few trends to consider during this period and then come up with some ante-post suggestions for Flushing Meadows.
I’ll start with the men.
The events in Canada (Toronto or Montreal - the cities alternate as hosts each year) and Cincinnati have been played in consecitve weeks since 1997.
That makes the double a difficult thing to achieve. Indeed, it has been done just three times in the 17-year period – by Pat Rafter in 1998, Andy Roddick in 2003 and Rafael Nadal last season.
It is also worth noting that on each occasion the Masters double has been achieved, that player has also gone on to win the US Open. That suggests momentum, not fatigue, plays a key role at this time of year.
Our betting partners Sky Bet are currently betting on the chances of the double and treble being achieved this year and they make the double 11/4 to be completed by any player; the treble 8/1. Novak Djokovic is rated the only man to have a serious chance – he’s offered at 7/2 and 9/1 in the respective markets.
Roger Federer is 22/1 for the Masters double and Andy Murray 35/1.
Next up, how important is Masters success to US Open glory in this period of the season?
Well, more often than not the US Open champion warmed up for his title success by winning at least one of the preceding Masters events.
History is only slightly in favour of the need for warm-up success though. In nine of the 17 years, the US Open winner claimed a Masters title. In the other eight, Masters success was not achieved.
Finally, which of the two big tune-ups is most important as a form line?
The stats suggest the Canadian one, which has always been the first of the two back-to-back tournaments since the calendar change was made in 1997.
It has been won by the eventual US Open champion on seven occasions in the following 17 years; Cincinnati’s champion has only gone on to win in New York five times.
One final trend for you – the Wimbledon-US Open double has been achieved in six of those 17 years, on four occasions by Roger Federer.
This year’s Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic is currently a fairly hot favourite to win in New York. He is one of the other two to have completed the double in question, doing so in 2011.
Djokovic is clearly the man the bookies fear at present and after his impressive Wimbledon campaign, it’s easy to see why. He also bossed the hardcourt events in the US earlier in the season, doing the Indian Wells-Miami double, which like its summer counterpart, is a tough one to pull off.
The Serb is currently a best price of 6/4 to win the US Open. Unless he wins both Masters events, it’s hard to see that shortening up too much.
The same cannot be said for the other contenders, whose prices will contract quickly if they produce strong performances over the next fortnight.
So whose prices do I like the look of now?
Roger Federer, who you will see I fancy in Toronto this week, is a player I can see going off shorter than 8/1.
Federer was very impressive at Wimbledon and it took a fine performance from Djokovic to edge him out in a tight, thrilling final.
If he keeps serving well on the fast hardcourts that he’ll encounter over the next month or so, I can see him contending in New York again.
Certainly I can’t see why anyone would want to back Rafael Nadal at a shorter price than Federer right now, the Spaniard having his wrist in a cast as I write. He’s already pulled out of Toronto and Cinicinnati and has to be a major doubt to line up in New York. Even if he does, it’s hard to see him being competitive against the very best immediately, although admittedly that didn’t seem to trouble him when he returned from a long-term injury 18 months ago.
Milos Raonic and John Isner are others who might be a decent back-to-lay bet right now.
Both men love the hardcourt surface under their feet and should go well in the Masters events.
Raonic has already bedded in on the DecoTurf by winning in Wahsington and his deadly serve will be a real weapon in the coming weeks on what are regarded as some of the fastest courts on the tour these days.
He made a real breakthrough by reaching the semis at Wimbledon and should feel even more at home on this surface. A good fortnight and he’ll be shorter than his current 33/1 price.
Similar things can be said of Isner, who has long been known to perform well at this time of year. Indeed all his best results have tended to come in North America.
He’s available to back at 150/1 right now, another price which could easily shorten.
However, there are reasons why Isner is such a price – first of all lengthy matches have sapped his stamina in the past, especially in the humidty of New York in summer, where he has a disappointing record for a player who has produced much on hardcourts.
Just one quarter-final appearance at Flushing Meadows is poor but for those who, like me, just have that inkling that one year he’ll go deep in New York, then I can’t put you off taking a small piece of 150/1.
On the women’s side, the trends are less relevant, largely because of changes made to the WTA schedule over the years.
Cincinnati only became a top-tier event in 2009 at which point it came ahead of the Canadian tournament in the WTA calendar.
What can be said is that the back-to-back double has yet to completed since the changes of 2009.
Sky Bet make Serena Williams 11/2 to do the double this year, while she’s 12/1 to win in Montreal, Cincinnati and at the US Open. Having won in Stanford last week, she's facing the prospect of playing five weeks out of six.
In two of the five years we can study, the US Open champion has also won one of the warm-up tournaments.
So what of ante-post bets?
Regular readers will know my thoughts on Eugenie Bouchard being a Grand Slam champion in waiting.
A player who has reached the semi-finals or better at the first three Slams of the season, Bouchard is now just 10/1 to win in New York. There may still be a bit of value in that price – it will shorten if she shines on home soil in Montreal over the next seven days.
I also feel Victoria Azarenka could easily be cut from her current 11/1 price over the next fortnight.
The Belarusian has finished runner-up in New York in each of the two years and simply loves the hardcourts.
The obvious problem is she’s only just back from injury. However, there were signs of the rust being shaken off in Stanford last week where a narrow defeat to Venus Williams was no disgrace.
If she can get a few matches under her belt over the next two weeks, I feel Azarenka can contend in New York given her propensity for the terrain.
Talking of Venus, she is worth considering at 80/1 given the strength of her current form.
The American was the only player to lay a glove on Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon and I know I’m not the only judge who feels had she edged the Czech in that one instead of going down 7-5 in the third, she could well have gone on to win a remarkable sixth title in SW19.
She backed that up with her win over Azarenka last week before falling to Andrea Petkovic in the quarter-finals, again going down 7-5 in the decider.
Finally, a mention for a player who has the proven ability to cause a shock or two at the majors, Ekaterina Makarova.
One of my Twitter followers has been particularly keen on Makaraova of late and it’s not difficult to see why.
She crushed Agnieszka Radwanska at Wimbledon and beat Venus at this year’s Australian Open.
Serena is another Grand Slam scalp on her CV, while last year Radwanska and Sabine Lisicki were among her victims as she reached the last eight in New York.
Elsewhere this season she’s beaten the likes of Jelena Jankovic and Sara Errani and is already been a semi-finalist in the US Open Series - in Washington over the past week.
At 200/1 she won’t be the worst bet in the world for the US Open.
Here’s another link to my preview of this week’s ATP Rogers Cup where Roger Federer looks worthy of support.
All those hardcourt season specials mentioned in my main article can be found on the Sky Bet website.
Stat of the week
This week is Serena Williams’ 200th on top of the world rankings. Steffi Graf is the all-time record-holder with 377 weeks in top spot - so just another three and a bit years for Serena to stay there in order to catch her up! Martina Navratilova (332), Chris Evert (260) and Martina Hingis (209) are the others still ahead of Williams on the list.
What you may have missed
US Open warm-up victories went to Milos Raonic and Svetlana Kuznetsova in Washington and Serena Williams in Stanford. Meanwhile, David Goffin claimed the title at the final claycourt event of the ATP season in Kitzbuhel.
Li Na was ruled out of the US Open due to a knee injury.
Rafael Nadal pulled out of the Masters 1000 events in Toronto an Cincinnati, throwing major doubts over his US Open participation.
Sabine Lisicki set a new women’s serve-speed record of 131mph during the WTA event in Stanford.
And finally something you may be interested in - the ticket ballot for Wimbledon 2015 opened last Friday. Details of how to apply can be found on the official tournament website.
This week in tennis
All week – The latest ATP Masters 1000 event takes place in Toronto, while the WTA also play in Canada in Montreal. Top-class fields have gathered for both tournaments.
Monday to Saturday – The World Junior Tennis Finals take place in Prostejov, Czech Republic. It is essentially the Davis and Fed Cup for 14-and-under players. Great Britain has failed to qualify for both the boys’ and girls’ events.
Sunday – A men’s US Open wild card will be handed out when the USTA’s Wild Card Challenge reaches its conclusion in Aptos, California. One American player will have done enough on the USTA’s Pro Circuit over the past few weeks to book his place at Flushing Meadows.
It's easy to get confused when it comes to this week's tournaments. The ATP Rogers Cup (@rogerscupto) takes place in Toronto, the WTA Rogers Cup (@CoupeRogers) is in Montreal.
As ever, please follow me - @NetTalkTennis – and the website’s feed - @SportingLife – if you don’t already.
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- There will be no Net Talk column next week.