Bienvenidos a Madrid! Our first big event of the clay season is here, a WTA1000 in Madrid, Spain.
Ashleigh Barty took the last week off after winning the tournament in Stuttgart. That brings her tournament win % for the year up to 50%. She won Yarra Valley, made the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, lost her first match in Adelaide, won Miami, made the quarterfinals in Charleston part 1, and won Stuttgart. Maybe skipping all of 2020 was a good break for her mentally and physically, because she is playing tennis at a level as high as we’ve ever seen from her. Despite a few easy matches early, this is going to be a tough quarter for her. She is 3rd favorite in the betting markets at 6 or 7 to 1. I certainly won’t be betting that number, but let’s put a pin that for a minute.
So, if Barty is the 3rd most expensive price in the outright markets then surely #1 and #2 aren’t in the same quarter? It would be absurd to think either #1 or #2 could even be in the same eighth as Barty, right? WRONG. Iga Swiatek is the favorite or 2nd favorite depending on where you look. She hasn’t played since Miami which makes this her first clay event since winning the 2020 French Open. Swiatek would face Barty in the 3rd round and would apparently be the favorite in that match since she is 5 to 1 to lift the trophy versus Barty’s 6/7 to 1. This boggles the mind, so, circling back to Barty, look to bet her in that match. We have to avoid both in the market to win the tournament, but there should be value on Barty in that match.
All that pricing nonsense at the top of the quarter should offer us value in the bottom half, but that’s not the case. Kiki Bertens who may be in hiding somewhere. Sure, if she magically snaps into a form close to her very best, she could compete for the title on any clay event indoors or at altitude and certainly this event. That’s not going to happen, so even at 30+ to 1, pass. Petra Kvitova has won this tournament a few times, but is only 12 to 1 and would have to advance through this eighth and Barty or Swiatek just to get out of this quarter. Veronika Kudermetova is in fine form having won Charleston part 1 and made the semifinals in Istanbul. She’s 40 to 1, but would have to beat Kvitova and Barty/Swiatek. The quarter is too competitive to attack.
I think someone once said something like, “when one door closes, another one opens,” and that holds true of quarters in tennis draws. The high level of talent in the 1st quarter leaves a great opportunity for Garbiñe Mugurza to start her clay season with semifinal appearance. She did play in Charleston, but that’s more of “clay” than the slow, red clay we see the rest of the season. She will be a strong favorite all the way through this quarter and the outright markets agrees. She is 4th favorite to win the event at 7-8 to 1. That looks like a solid number to me, but not enough value for me to back her. Barty, Swiatek, or Kvitova await in the semifinals and there are a few names in the bottom half that would be favored over her in the final.
Elina Svitolina played well last week before losing to Barty in the semifinals which has been the theme of her career. At some point, in most events she runs into a players more talented than she can overcome with her fitness and intelligence. Such is life again this week. Muguruza, the winner of quarter 1, and a few players in the bottom half will outclass her. To makes thing even worse, every opponent she is likely to face until Garbiñe will engage her in long, physically draining rallies. On top of all that, she’s never made it out of the 2nd round here. At 20sh to 1 I am happy to skip her.
Belinda Bencic or Petra Martic would have been intriguing names in a quarter like this, but both are in poor form this season. They also start with a qualifier who’s had 2-3 matches to get comfortable on the courts and would play each other in the 2nd round. Even at 70 to 1 and 150 to 1 respectively, I can’t even justify a small wager on either.
With all due respect to several players in this quarter, I think we’re on course for a rematch of the semifinals in Suttgart. Last week I was concerned about Simona Halep’s shoulder injury from Miami, but she started the week by winning her first 2 matches by 24 games to 9 games combined. Everything was looking was fine, there were even glimpses of peak Halep, but then she ran into Aryna Sabalenka. Halep lost 6-3 6-2 and that match felt even more lopsided than that score indicates. Stuttgart is indoors which helps Sabalenka’s serve greatly. This week we are playing at altitude which will also help her game although not as much as being indoors. I expect Sabalenka to win this quarter, but at 12-1 there’s just not enough value to bet on her. Halep at 5.5 to 1 looks even worse to me.
Daria Kasatkina had been in great form before releasing a documentary about her career and almost quitting tennis. If she’s focused herself once more, she could frustrate Sabalenka if Aryna is having a bad day, but she’ll be a big underdog from round 3 onward. As enticing as 80 to 1 looks, pass. Elena Rybakina at 90 to 1 also caught my eye, but she’s played poorly this season and doesn’t have any clay wins over a top 40 player. I’m going to watch both and hopefully back them match to match, but I can’t bet them to win the event.
Naomi Osaka enters this event off a long break after her quarterfinal loss in Miami. Clay is her worst surface and she’s had no warm up events to get a feel for the dirt. She made the quarterfinals here in 2019 and is arguably the best player in the WTA, but should we be excited to back her at 9 to 1 to win her first clay tournament in a draw that would require her to win this quarter, beat Halep or Sabalenka, and then beat Barty, Swiatek, or Muguruza to win the final? I’m certainly not excited and you shouldn’t be either.
Good news, this means we finally found some value in the outright betting markets. In fact, there are 2 players that have a better chance the market is pricing. Maria Sakkari has 3 semifinal appearances and an additional quarterfinal in her 6 tournaments this year. She’s a big favorite in round 1. In round 2 she would face Anett Kontaveit or a qualifier. I have her easily favored over any qualifier and worst case, a small favorite over Anett. She then has to beat Osaka, but Sakkari just beat her in Miami 6-0 6-4 and has better numbers on clay, albeit it against a higher average ranked player. She is 40 to 1 to win this event and I will be playing that number.
If Maria can make her way to the quarterfinal I expect her to face Karolina Pliskova. I have written many words about Pliskova’s inability to win grand slams, but has 10 WTA premier level(now WTA500 & WTA1000) titles. Her last title was in January of 2020, but she struggled with her coach last season and is now working with Sascha Bajin. I’ve also written several unkind words about Bajin. He coached Osaka for her first 2 grand slam wins, but followed that with less than impressive stints with Mladenovic and Yastremska. Pliskova won 2 close matches, could have easily bested Barty in the 3rd set Stuttgart last week. Despite my reservations about Bajin, the change has likely done her some good and her draw is very soft until she meets Osaka or Sakkari in the quarterfinals. She would also avoid Jessica Pegula until the final. At 33 to 1, I’m going to hold my nose and place on wager on her to win this tournament.
Quarter 1 – Barty over Kvitova
Quarter 2 – Muguruza over Svitolina
Quarter 3 – Sabalenka over Halep
Quarter 4 – Pliskova over Sakkari
Final – Barty over Sabalenka
RECAP OF WAGERS
0.55U – Pliskova 33 to 1 or better
0.45U – Sakkari 40 to 1 or better
GLOSSARY OF DATA HEADINGS
Avg Rk – This is the average rank of opponent’s faced over that period.
Avg Spread – This is the average games more(or less) the player wins than their opponent. For example, 1.3 means that player averages 1.3 games per match more than their opponent.
Avg Total – This is the average total games in matches this player has played
Hold% – % of total games won on service
Break% – % of total games won on return