Coming off a dramatic Wimbledon fortnight, we can either (a) enjoy reminiscing about the historic performance we just saw from Roger Federer, (b) scarf the leftover strawberries and cream and then take a break from tennis for a while, or (c) start looking ahead to the final slam of the season and set the odds on that. Guess which one I’m going to do?
If you said a gluttonous combination of (b) and (c), you win … an empty half-and-half container.
Obviously the big story of Wimbledon was Federer cruising to his 19th slam title at age 36, winning every match in straight sets and reaping the benefits of taking time off in 2016. There was a lot else going on in the tournament, however, from Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic struggling with injuries and form, Sam Querrey knocking off a top player for what feels like the nineteenth time, and some young players making deep runs while others floundered. The tournament was one of the most fun, interesting fortnights in recent history, and set the stage for more intrigue at the US Open (Aug. 28 – Sep. 10).
The US Open and Wimbledon both take place on fairly quick surfaces: grass and hard court are more comparable than grass and clay, for example. For that reason, and because there isn’t a lot of time between the two tournaments, we can see a lot of what’s to come in New York. Players like Roger Federer, Marin Cilic, and Alexander Zverev, who showed good form at SW19, can probably be counted on to perform. Players who struggled, like Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, and Nick Kyrgios, have the odds stacked against them.
If you want an even better preview of the US Open, some of the best players in the draw are playing in the Coupe Rogers (or Rogers Cup) in Montreal, and the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati. Those tournaments serve as a warm-up to the US Open and often give a good idea of who’s going to be competitive at Flushing Meadows. In seven of the last ten years, at least one of the finalists at the US Open has played in the finals of one of these two tournaments. Keep your eye on those results, as casual bettors too often neglect them and miss critical developments.
But, for now, we can only look at the existing results to set the odds on the tournament, as a whole, and some interesting tangential propositions.
Roger Federer’s dream season continues. However you feel about a 36-year-old man ceaselessly and ruthlessly dunking on the entire tennis world while a generation of young talent waits impatiently in the wings, his dominance in 2017 has been superlative. His run through the Australian Open and dramatic final with Rafael Nadal showed that the Roger Federer who was diminished by injuries in years past had fully recovered and was ready to win the biggest tournaments again. Federer’s form has persisted throughout the season; his decision to skip the French Open and focus on Wimbledon appeared to pay dividends, and should he remain healthy, he’ll be a frightening opponent at Flushing Meadows.
Federer’s won the US Open five times, all of them in the years that most recognise as his prime. He made the final in 2015, withdrew from the tournament in 2016, and has made five semi-finals or finals since his last win in 2008. With a depleted (or even absent) Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, 2017 presents maybe the best opportunity Federer has had to win the US Open since 2008, and his status as overall favorite reflects that.
If it weren’t for the resurgence of Roger Federer, we’d all be talking about what a season Rafael Nadal has had. After a wrist injury forced Nadal to skip Wimbledon in 2016 and arguably limited his powers for the rest of the season, Nadal began 2017 by storming to the Australian Open final, defeating tough opponents along the way. Nadal’s performance at the French Open was one of the most impressive of his career, dropping only 35 games and at no point looking anything other than completely in control. Even the final, against the notoriously wily Stan Wawrinka, never felt like anything more than a formality.
Nadal flagged at Wimbledon, a tournament he has always struggled with (despite winning twice) and fell in a bizarre five-set match to Gilles Muller. Nadal is ostensibly healthy and deserving of his place near the top of the betting sheets. He’s also a threat to take over the no. 1 ranking, just 285 points behind Andy Murray and defending 180 fewer (meaning that advancing even one round further than the Scotsman in the tournament could propel Nadal to the top spot).
Andy Murray has had a tough term as world no. 1. Since securing the top world ranking at the end of 2016, and subsequently being knighted in the offseason, the only tournament Murray has won is the Dubai Duty Free Masters. After the tragic Grenfell tower fire, Murray pledged to donate his winnings at Queen’s, a tournament he has won five times, but fell in the first round, raising a not insignificant but not spectacular $15,223. He’s only 285 points ahead of Rafael Nadal for the no. 1 ranking, and 1205 points ahead of Roger Federer. With a hard-court circuit as disappointing as the rest of his season, Murray could see his world ranking slip.
Struggling with a hip injury, Murray is probably more focused on getting back to full strength than winning a tournament that is only a few weeks away or maintaining an arbitrary world ranking. Disappointing as it may be, Andy Murray’s reign at the top of the rankings sheet might be one of the least impressive in memory.
After a string of disappointing results, starting in Australia and culminating with a loss to David Goffin in the quarter-finals of the Monte Carlo Masters, Novak Djokovic decided to part ways with the entirety of his training and coaching staff, and hire Andre Agassi as his new coach. Since then he’s made the quarterfinals of the French Open, won the Wimbledon warm-up tournament at Eastbourne, and retired (with an elbow injury) from his quarter-final match against Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon proper. Djokovic had not lost a set until that match, and complained that his elbow pain had only been increasing in intensity throughout the tournament.
Novak has been very up-and-down this year, and if his elbow injury persists, he may not participate in the US Open. He’s been known to be a little … theatrical about injuries, but not to the point of dropping out of slams. If he’s being genuine about the extent of his injuries, he’ll probably need more than six weeks before he can play top-level tennis and five-set matches again. His line is set at 11/2, but that’s all name recognition. This Novak Djokovic is in a much more precarious situation than the Novak Djokovic you’d feel comfortable betting on at 11/2.
The flamboyant Australian is one of the many young players who seem obviously, clearly, certainly talented enough to win the biggest tournaments, yet have never found their opportunity to do so. Kyrgios is one of the most visibly talented players on tour; at his best, his playing style is a marriage of acrobatic skill and aggressive shotmaking. It’s because of this that he’s listed at 25/1, and has been expected to win a slam for some time, but maybe it’s time to cool down on Kyrgios. He hasn’t made it to the quarterfinals of a slam since the Australian Open in 2015, his injury woes have persisted far more than you’d like for a player of his age, and he’s not ranked inside the top sixty. In short: I’d love to be the bookmaker taking bets on Kyrgios at 25/1, despite my affection for his playing style.
Younger brother of Mischa Zverev, Alexander Zverev has carved out a name for himself as one of the tour’s most exciting and promising young players. After winning his first Masters 1000 tournament at the Italian Open this year, Zverev made the fourth round at Wimbledon, losing only to previous runner-up Milos Raonic and defeating all his prior opponents in straight sets. Zverev has only been on tour since 2014, and since then he has won two ATP titles and become the youngest player to make the top 20 since Novak Djokovic. Of the young players listed here, Zverev probably has the best chance of winning a slam, as his performances are improving and, critically, consistent. Zverev is continuing to rise, and it’s becoming a matter of which slam will be his first, and when.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have split Wimbledon and the French Open for the fifth time in their career, and have the Australian Open, too. Three times in their careers they’ve combined to win every slam in a calendar year, and it’s plausible, almost likely, that 2017 could be the fourth.
On another note, Federer talked at a Wimbledon press conference about how all the most dominant players on tour were currently over thirty, a fact that’s fun for him and his friends but maybe not great for the future of tennis.
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