As U.S. Open nears, big names opting out

By Lew Ford  () 

Tennis has returned in a bubble, and the players have been living at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in New York for the last couple of weeks, preparing for two tournaments over a three-week stretch. The USTA set up the grounds, with seeded players lodging at suites inside Arthur Ashe Stadium and the rest at a nearby hotel. Safety measures include: players allowed only three support-staff on site, social distancing, increased sanitation — and anyone caught leaving the bubble or breaking the rules sent home. So far it has been a success, with no positive COVID-19 tests and the players seemingly happy with accommodations and procedures.

Several players from all over the world have dropped out due to concerns of traveling during a pandemic. Defending champions Rafael Nadal and Bianca Andreescu are staying home. Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka, Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep are among other top players who have skipped the events.

Since the return of pro sports, athletes have had to deal with playing in front of no fans, and each sport has had a different feel. Tennis is an individual sport, and the mental part of the game is critical to success or failure. Fans play an important role and can have a massive effect on results. Packed stadiums can cause players to get nervous and lose focus or give them energy to play at a higher level. It will be fascinating to watch the first night match at the U.S. Open without rowdy crowds cheering the players late into the New York evening. 

The 2020 Open is scheduled for Monday through Sept. 13. It will be a surreal scene.

Novak Djokovic (-135) is the betting favorite on the men’s side after winning the Australian Open in January. It was an eventful shutdown for the world No. 1. Djokovic held a series of exhibitions and then tested positive for COVID-19. This will be the first time in 61 majors that Djokovic will not have Federer or Nadal in the draw. So it is a tremendous opportunity for him to close the gap in career majors on his rivals, but he will have all the pressure on him as he will be expected to win. The only other major winners in the field are former U.S. Open champions Andy Murray and Marin Cilic, and neither is considered a serious threat to win. The rest of the field has the opportunity of a lifetime to take home the title. Can one of the young guns break through?

Serena Williams (+ 500) has been to the finals of four majors since her last win in 2017 but has not won a set in any of those losses. She has to be motivated to win that elusive 24th Grand Slam title. Her results this year have been unimpressive, but she still has the best first-serve winning percentage and one of the top service returns in the game. Will her conditioning at 38 be an issue over two weeks of heat and humidity? The rest of the women’s field is very deep. Little separation exists between the top 10 players and those in the 11-40 range. Naomi Osaka (+ 375) is the betting favorite after opening at + 800. Five different women have won majors since the start of 2019, and there is a strong possibility that trend will continue at the Open. During the first two rounds of the Western-Southern Open, the top two seeds and eight of the top 16 lost.  This typically happens in the early rounds of women’s tennis, and no player can consistently remain on top. Expect the unexpected, and don’t be shocked if a long shot wins.

After watching the first few days of tennis this week, several things will be factors in handicapping next week. The court speeds look a little slow, and the hold percentages in service games are below normal for hardcourts. It looks like the big servers won’t have a huge advantage, which makes the return of serve critical. Two statistics I pay close attention to are first-serve winning percentage and first-serve-return winning percentage. Look for those combined numbers to add up to over 100. Make sure you look at those updated numbers as the players head into the Open after a week of playing on the courts.  

Example: Djokovic’s first-serve win percentage is 74% and his first-serve-return win percentage is 34%. That total of 108% is the best combined percentage on the ATP. Williams tops the WTA with a combined 117%.

Future bets to win:

Daniil Medvedev (N/A)

Milos Raonic (N/A)

Elina Rybakina (+ 3000)

Coco Gauff (+ 3000)

Quarter of draw winners: (Draw/Odds N/A could affect these picks)

Reilly Opelka

David Goffin

Ons Jabeur

Anett Kontaveit

Young players to win early-round matchups (check odds)

Brandon Nakashima, Leylah Fernandez, Sebastian Korda, CiCi Bellis, Emil Ruusuvuori and Robin Montgomery


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