The US Open is upon us and I'm immensely looking forward to the tournament!
Sadly outright positions for myself are out of the question here as I'm going to America myself first thing on Monday and won't be able to access Betfair over there to trade my positions. However - that won't stop me from posting my thoughts on that angle though...
I've seen many people on Twitter and other media advocating the underdog's chances in this tournament and trying to pick a winner away from the 3 current elite players. I'd say that was a blend of optimism and wishful thinking as the hard court stats for Djokovic, Nadal and Murray are streets ahead of any other player. Indeed, Nadal is now 16-0 on hard courts in 2013 and can be viewed as a serious competitor for this title with Djokovic and Murray.
Based on last years service stats, I'm not reading too much into court speed. Last year there were 79.1% of service games held which is 0.4% above the current 78.7% average, so there's very little in it. Favourites are favoured at Grand Slams (Wimbledon 2013 was definitely a statistical anomaly rather than a trend in my opinion). My sample shows 76% of favourites have won here which is exactly the Grand Slam average - and is also the third highest in ATP tournaments in the year behind Wimbledon and Doha. So we need to be very careful when selecting underdogs in the men's tournament in the next fortnight - there's no doubt that the necessity to win 5 sets puts things hugely in favour of the 'better' player and is something that sets the men's tournament apart from the women - but often the bookmakers still price women's favourites like it is a 5 set match (e.g. too short)!
Regarding the outright market, Rafael Nadal has been backed into slight favourtism at 3.05. Novak Djokovic is slightly behind him at 3.30 and defending champion Andy Murray priced at 5.4. Perhaps this is a touch of value on the Scotsman with there really being little to choose between the three players statistically. Nadal has the easier draw with Djokovic and Murray having to face each other, and probably Nadal in the final too. Laying Djokovic at 3.35 can definitely be considered. He hasn't been in superb form lately and neither Nadal nor Murray will be overawed by the Serb. He also faces one of the stronger 'second tier players' in the quarter finals potentially, Juan Martin Del Potro. I'm not convinced the Argentine, winner here in 2009, can overcome Djokovic in the best of 5 sets but even if he pushes Djokovic to 5 sets the accumulated fatigue won't help him against Murray in a potential semi-final.
Some people are talking about back-to-lay positions on John Isner, Jerzy Janowicz or Milos Raonic. They're available at 85, 90 and 110 respectively but I can't recommend any of those. The problem with backing a 'big server' in Grand Slams is they are much more likely to play 5 set matches more often, and more games generally even if they don't. Therefore they will be less fresh than their opponents in the latter stages. It's worth noting that in the last 10 years here, only one 'big server' - Andy Roddick - has made the final. And he had a career opponent break percentage of 20.2% - a number that those three can only dream of.
Furthermore, a non top 10 seed hasn't made the final in that time either. So to advocate a huge underdog taking the title makes no logical sense to me, based on stats and trends.
Looking at the quarters of the draw, it's clear to see that the third quarter is the weakest part of the draw. It's very open with Richard Gasquet, Dmitry Tursunov, Feliciano Lopez, Ernests Gulbis, David Ferrer, Janowicz and Raonic all capable of beating each other. The out of form Janko Tipsarevic cannot be considered but on his day would also be a threat. Out of that bracket the stats make Gulbis and Gasquet the picks - the Frenchman is currently available at 350 and having held 84.2% and broken 26.2% on hard courts in the past year. That gives him a similar combined sum to Ferrer (78.6% and 31.5%) so Gasquet is clearly much better value. The enigmatic Latvian, Gulbis, has won 14 of 19 hard court matches in the last 12 months holding 84.8% and breaking 24.3%. I'm happy to have Gulbis (at 190) and Gasquet (350) as my picks in this quarter.
In the fourth quarter, things are much less open. Nadal is clearly the player to beat and I can't see anyone doing so. Kei Nishikori will be effectively facing a better version of himself and Roger Federer is out of form and clearly isn't close to being the player he was. He hasn't made the last 3 finals here and I can't see that changing this year. His breaking of opponents has really dropped off on hard courts in 2013 with it being just 23% (not much above the 21.3% ATP average) and with his career hard court opponent break on hard court being 29.2% you can really see how his level has dropped.
He could even be vulnerable to an exit against Nishikori. The talented Japanese player is on the verge of breaking into the top 10 and beat Federer on the clay of Madrid in May. Nishikori is available at 940 and that's also worth a back to lay in my opinion.
Back to lay the following players:-
Ernests Gulbis (190)
Richard Gasquet (350)
Kei Nishikori (940)
Lay Novak Djokovic at 3.35.
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