Rafa Nadal’s win on the red dust of the Roland-Garros was an entirely appropriate way to bring down the curtain on the 2017 clay court season, and reaffirmed his status of one of the greatest players ever to grace a clay court. But now it’s all about the grass and with Wimbledon but a matter of days away, now is the time, if you’re a gambler, to start thinking about where to put your money.
The first thing to note before making your choice(s) is that only once in the 21st century has the Men’s title been won by a player outside the tournament’s top four seeds – Goran Ivanišević’s unlikely win in 2001 making him the first wildcard and the lowest ranked player ever (no. 124 in the world) to claim the title.
On that basis it’s difficult to look beyond the usual suspects of Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Nadal, yet the fact it has happened at all makes betting on an outsider attractive for punters. And one could argue that this Wimbledon is more open than it’s been for several years.
While Murray, the 2016 champion, remains the world number one and managed a thoroughly decent French Open – he lost only to Stan Wawrinka in a five set semi-final – he’s only now emerging from a dip in form brought on by illness and injury. Key to a successful Wimbledon for him will be reigniting the chemistry with coach with Ivan Lendl, who has not been by his side since January’s Australian Open. The good ship Murray is unquestionably more formidable when Lendl’s no-nonsense approach is there to calm any on-court Murray angst.
That Federer is currently second favourite with Bovado (+275) – only 50 points more generous that Murray (+225) – speaks volumes for the player’s condition, both mental and physical, and at 35-years old he remains the player to beat, especially on his beloved grass. He’s now careful to pick and choose his events and prior to the Stuttgart Open – which was selected specifically as a Wimbledon warm-up – had played in just four tournaments in 2017. Therefore he’ll be fresh, prepared and ready to give SW19 a good run for its money. In a nutshell, he’s not in London to make up the numbers.
The other two big guns, Djokovic and Nadal, remain only a few points behind in the betting and both have something to prove on the manicured lawns of south-west London. Djokovic, after starting the year in fine fettle with a win in the Qatar Open, has had an underwhelming 2017 by his own exacting standards and will be desperate to demonstrate that he still retains the hunger and desire to win a Grand Slam. With Andre Agassi now part of his coaching team, the Serb will be hoping the curve is once again upward.
Nadal on the other hand is on the crest of a clay-induced wave and will be equally desperate to translate his superhuman efforts on the slow clay of Paris to the slicker grass of Wimbledon. Much will depend on Nadal’s fitness – ongoing knees problems make grass a notoriously difficult surface for him now – but a fit and fresh Rafa will be a force to be reckoned with.
The best of the rest is the big-serving Canadian, Milos Raonic who has a game that translates perfectly to grass. If he ‘clicks’ it could be an interesting Wimbledon for him and armed with one of the fastest serves in world tennis he represents a danger to the big four. So too French Open finalist, Stan Wawrinka who, despite having an ordinary record at Wimbledon, has the ability with his devastating one-handed backhand to represent a danger to the top four seeds. But he will need to find a way to smash his current SW19 glass ceiling, which right now is at the quarter-final stage.
For those who fancy this Wimbledon to be the year of the underdog, Austria’s Dominic Thiem, Germany’s Alexander Zverev and Australia’s enfant terrible Nick Kyrgios – if he can control his emotions – represent value at +2500, +2500 and +1400 respectively with Bovada, while Grigor Dimitrov at +1800 also looks a decent bet.
If history, or at least recent history, tells us the men’s winner will come from the top four seeds, it also tells us the women’s tournament has predominantly been the domain of the Williams sisters. Between Serena and Venus, the sisters have won the title twelve times since 2000 or, to put it another way, only five players without the surname Williams have won the women’s title in the 21st century.
But things are about to change. For starters, Serena is due to give birth in early September and will therefore miss the championships and Venus, at 37-years old, is, with the best will in the world, in the twilight of her stellar tennis career. The big question of course is does Venus have one final hurrah in her locker – and given she made the Australian final in January, there’ll be those who fancy her for one final Wimbledon blast.
The scene is set for a new champion to emerge with the world number three, Karolína Plíšková from the Czech Republic emerging as the bookies favourite (+450 with Topbet). Since winning her first WTA title back in 2013 Plíšková has gone on to win eight singles titles on the tour and her accurate serve, forceful groundstrokes and accomplished net play make for a potentially great grass court player. But she needs to overcome her Wimbledon hoodoo; her best result to date being reaching just the second round.
Germany’s Angelique Kerber, last year’s beaten finalist, is another who will be there or thereabouts but having reached three major finals in 2016, 2017 has seen early exits in the Australian and French Opens. Her world number one ranking is still intact, just, but Simona Halep is closing the gap with every passing tournament. The Romanian is a bona fide baseliner whose game is clearly suited to clay but at +1400 with Betonline she represents some value for those looking at outsiders, particularly with a Wimbledon semi-final and quarter-final already on her CV.
Petra Kvitova, the 2014 champion, will be in with a shout – as reflected in her +850 with Betonline – but the big mover in the market is the UK’s Johanna Konta (now down to +700 with the same bookmaker) who with home crowd advantage is starting to catch the eye of the punters and experts.
No longer in the running however is Maria Sharapova who, fresh from her 15 month ban for failing a drugs test, would have been the ‘Hollywood’ choice for those looking for a story. Alas a torn muscle has put paid to her grass court season and the scriptwriters will have to wait until the US Open, if she can acquire a wildcard, at the end of August.
Outright winner: Johanna Konta Odds: +800 (Bovada)
Each-way: Venus Williams Odds: +1400 (Bovada)