Fresh from a profitable week in Eastbourne and Mallorca, Andy Schooler brings you his Wimbledon men’s singles preview, which includes 66/1, 150/1 and 250/1 shots.
5pts Novak Djokovic at 17/20 (Betway)
0.5pt e.w. Marin Cilic at 66/1 (General)
0.5pt e.w. John Isner at 150/1 (General)
0.5pt e.w. Sam Querrey at 250/1 (Sky Bet, bet365)
The ‘greatest of all time’ debate seems to be a continual one in men’s tennis but a decisive chapter could be written in it over the coming fortnight at Wimbledon.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC is the odds-on favourite to win Grand Slam title number 20 and thus equal the all-time record currently held by his two greatest rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Victory in south-west London would also see him reach the three-quarters mark on the road to the fabled Grand Slam - winning all four majors in the same year.
Given only Rod Laver (in 1969) has completed this feat in tennis’ Open Era, it could be the tipping point for Djokovic’s GOAT claims.
Frankly, it’s hard to see anyone stopping him.
The Serb was a physical and mental giant at the recent French Open.
He produced one of the best performances of his career to beat Nadal in the semi-finals, notably outlasting him physically in a match which went into a fifth hour.
And even when he fell two sets down in the final against Stefanos Tsitsipas, there was no sense of panic. Once he’d broken the Greek’s serve in the third set, there was really little doubt about the eventual outcome.
Djokovic’s record at the All England Club over the past decade is immense, reading W-W-QF-R3-W-W-RU-SF-W.
To put that into words, he’s won four of the last six tournaments, and reached six of the last nine finals. The quarter-final loss came via injury retirement, while the early exit in 2016 arrived a few weeks after he’d landed the missing title on his CV, the French Open. Essentially he was enduring a rare mental lull.
As was the case with Federer in his heyday, many opponents seem to step onto the court already beaten and with so few as comfortable as Djokovic on the grass, finding one capable of defeating the world number one across the best of five sets looks a tough ask.
In the past, that search would have quickly led to the other members of the now-crumbling ‘Big Four’.
This is the quartet of players responsible for winning the last 17 Wimbledon titles, namely Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Andy Murray.
But this year Nadal’s not here, while both Federer and Murray arrive having played very little tennis since the tour resumed last August following injury issues.
For Federer, that’s just eight matches; Murray only 12 at tour level.
Despite this – and his poor performance against Felix Auger-Aliassime in Halle recently - Federer is widely considered the fourth favourite. It’s because he’s an eight-time winner, one who has played in four of the last six finals.
But, given the current circumstances, he has to be taken on, as does two-time champion Murray.
If those two are dismissed, that means either Djokovic is winning a sixth title here or there’s going to be a first-time winner.
We’ve heard a lot about the next generation of players in recent times and, to be fair, there have been breakthroughs.
Dominic Thiem (out of Wimbledon due to injury) won the US Open last year, while Daniil Medvedev made the final of the Australian Open, Tsitsipas following suit at the French.
But the grass is a much different test and one which has proved uncomfortable for many of the young guns so far.
As second seed, Medevdev is in the opposite half of the draw to Djokovic. He is second favourite too but only this weekend did he make his first grasscourt final.
Of course, finding some form has to be considered a good thing but Medvedev has beaten no-one of real note, indeed he lost a set to Pablo Carreno Busta, a man will no track record on grass. In addition, how wise it’s been to compete in the heat of Mallorca over the past few days has to be open to question given the challenge which now lies ahead.
As for Tsitsipas – seeded to meet Djokovic in the semis – he hasn’t yet managed to play a final on grass (or a match on the surface in 2021), while his 3-3 win-loss record at Wimbledon is far from inspiring. It includes two first-round defeats.
I’m unconvinced by either man at the prices and can say the same about recent Halle finalist Andrey Rublev.
Matteo Berrettini looks the best of that ‘next generation’ but his price plummeted during his run to the Queen’s Club title recently.
He was 40/1 at the start of that week but now is a general 12/1 shot. It’s hard to suggest there’s value left in that price, even given he’s in the bottom half of the draw with Medvedev and Federer.
In this half, I much prefer to look for some big prices and have three suggestions.
First up is MARIN CILIC at 66/1.
The Croatian made the final here in 2017 and has twice won on this surface at Queen’s Club.
In short, he knows how to play on grass and has also been displaying some improved form in recent times.
He captured the warm-up tournament in Stuttgart a couple of weeks ago, losing his serve just twice in five matches, before making the last eight at Queen’s.
Having been handed a late seeding following Thiem’s withdrawal, Cilic has landed in a decent part of the draw where he could meet Medvedev in the last 32 – that’s if the Russian survives an awkward opener against Jan-Lennard Struff, which looks far from guaranteed.
Cilic has also been to three other quarter-finals in SW19 where the conditions will come pretty naturally to him.
He makes the betslip.
I’m also keen on JOHN ISNER at 150/1.
The big-serving American blasted his way to the semis here in 2018 when the courts had been baked by a hot, dry spring and start of the summer.
It’s always hard to know exactly how conditions will play but 2021 has followed a similar pattern so far and the long-term forecast is predicting some early rain to be replaced by a hot and dry second week.
That would suit Isner’s delivery, while his crunching forehand also does plenty of damage with that one-two combination making him a tough opponent here.
Isner used the fast conditions in Madrid last month to his advantage, reaching the quarter-finals. He should have beaten Thiem that day – when this column had him at 200/1 for the title. He also played well at the French Open, taking a set off eventual runner-up Tsitsipas in another tight contest.
A third-round meeting with Berrettini looms but at the prices, all the value looks to be with Isner right now.
Finally, I simply can’t ignore the 250/1 about SAM QUERREY.
He’s delivered this column profit in Mallorca over the past week – sent off at 22/1, at time of writing he’s due to contest the final against Medvedev.
That came after a semi-final run in Stuttgart.
Like Isner, Querrey’s serve is a huge weapon on grass – for all the talk of the surface playing more like hardcourts these days, a big serve still does more damage on the skiddier grass.
Across the grasscourt swing, Querrey has produced 160 aces in eight best-of-three matches so no-one is going to relish facing his serve.
The 33-year-old’s Wimbledon record is also one few players can match.
He famously beat an ailing Andy Murray en route to the 2017 semi-finals, while he was a quarter-finalist the last time this event was staged in 2019 (beat Thiem and Rublev) and also in 2016, the year he stunned Djokovic in the third round.
Over those last five years, Querrey has also won 13 of the 20 tie-breaks he’s played at Wimbledon, a stat which could be significant if it continues in that vein during the 2021 tournament.
Frankly, the 250/1 quotes look disrespectful, while Unibet’s 25/1 about him winning the bottom quarter (he’s in with Medvedev, Federer and Cilic) is a tempting alternative play.
Posted at 0800 BST on 26/06/21
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