Welcome to Cincinnati! Covid forced this event to be played in New York last year, but we return to Ohio where this tournament was first played in 1899. It is the oldest tennis tournament in the US played in its original city. This is the last big tournament before the US Open and all of the WTA’s best are in are in town for compete for the title Since becoming a Premier 5 event the winners have been a sampling of the very best the WTA has to offer. Starting in 2009 the winners were Jelena Jankovic, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova, Li Na, Victoria Azarenka, Serena Williams back to back years in 2014 & 2015, Karolina Pliskova, Garbiñe Muguruza, Kiki Bertens, Madison Keys, and Victoria Azarenka last year. Who will join them at the end of the week? Let’s dive into the draw, pick a winner, and hopefully find some value in the outright betting markets.
Our #1 seed is Ashleigh Barty. She lost to Tormo in her first match at the Olympics which was her only tennis since Wimbledon. She skipped the North American hard court swing last year, but made the semifinals on these courts in 2019. She is the 2nd favorite to win this event at 5.5 to 1 which makes sense to me, but I don’t see any value at that price in backing her in the outright markets. She has a bye, but might have been better served playing a 1st round match to build a little form. Her 2nd round match will be a qualifier who will have 3 matches under her belt already and the field of qualifiers is strong. From that point forward she is likely too face a top 15 WTA player through the final.
Barty’s 3rd opponent ought to be a woman who is the defending champion, Victoria Azarenka. That was her 2nd title at this event after having won in 2013. The courts here are arguably the quickest in the United States which are great conditions for her game. I am a little concerned that she has to play a qualifier in round 1, but she will be a strong favorite in her first 2 matches and then she faces Barty. The 2 played a 3 set match in Miami that the Australian won, but these should be better conditions for Vika this week. Azarenka is 25 to win the title which is over 4 times higher than Barty despite having the same path from round 3 onward. I have her in the teens, so she will our first outright bet.
Garbiñe Mugurza is our seed at the bottom and not a top 3 favorite in the betting markets for the first time in a while. She looked good at the Olympics on hard courts after a less than exciting clay & grass season. Muguruza can be one of the best players in tennis, but hasn’t done well in the US and Canada on hard courts since winning this event in 2017. She hasn’t one more than 2 matches at one of those events since then. After her bye it’s Sloane Stephens, who is playing good tennis again, the winner of Kasatkina/Krejcikova, and Azarenka or Barty just to win her quarter. At 16 to 1, I’m happy to pass. The return to hard courts could be just what she needs, but I’m not betting on it.
Back to that first round match of Daria Kasatkina against Barbora Krejcikova. Dasha has 2 titles on hard courts, just 2 weeks ago finished 2nd in San Jose, and has generally put up some of the best numbers on hard court of anyone in the WTA. One of the few players who have done better than her is Krejcikova. Barbora has played 27 matches since Rome and only lost 3 of them. She lost to Swiatek who won Rome, to Barty who won Wimbledon, and Bencic who won the gold medal at the Olympics. She has a hard court title during that run and finished second earlier this year in Dubai. I not only like Krejckiova to win this match, but also like her to win the tournament at 33 to 1. She has a winnable path to the quarterfinals and can definitely beat Barty or Azarenka and anyone left in her path.
Elina Svitolina followed up her bronze medal performance in Tokyo with a perplexing 3 set loss to Konta in Montreal. She made the quarterfinals in 2014, the semifinals in 2015, and the quarterfinals again in 2018, but didn’t win more than one match in all of her other appearances. Go back and look and you will see that her wins came against lesser talents or Petra Kvitova, whose struggles here will cover later. The losses are almost all against top 20 players. Svitolina, now Monfils socially, has an high tennis IQ, great fitness, and plays with a high intensity, but lacks the power and physical gifts to beat the better players on tour. She is 50 to 1 which caught my eye, but has to go Sakkari, Alexandrova or Brady, Swiatek or Jabeur, the winner of the quarter 1, and then it’s onto the finals. She might not be favored in a single match she plays. Back her match to match maybe, but don’t get caught chasing a big number right now.
Ekaterina Alexandrova meets Jennifer Brady in the best match of round 1. Well, the best match if Brady’s plantar fasciitis has subsided. Jennifer carried the form from a great 2020 into a 2021 making the semifinals at the Grampians Trophy tournament and finished 2nd at the Australian Open. She developed her injury during Rome, withdrew after round 1, and retired in her 3rd match of the French Open. Brady has played just one match since then which was a loss at the Olympics. Alexandrova continue to be immensely talented, but making the semifinals at Gippsland hasn’t won more than 2 matches at a single event. The conditions are great for her game and I do like her in this match, but I’m not counting on her to make a deep run through a talented field like this. Brady is 40 to 1 and Alexandrova is 50 to 1. I’ll keep an eye on both and not be shy to back them match to match, but there’s no reason to wager on them now at those prices.
The first round match that will not be nearly as good as the name’s indicate is Madison Keys against Petra Kvitova. Keys won this event in 2019, but hasn’t done much since then outside of her second place finish in Brisbane last year. She lost to a wildcard ranked over 200 3 & 3 last week. Kvitova is one of the best players on tour when she’s in form, but hasn’t looked herself since winning Doha. She also has a history of struggling in heat and humidity because of her asthma. The weather is expected to be hot and humid this week. Petra is 16 to 1 and Keys is 40 to 1. Don’t bet either number.
There are 2 names I do want to back in the outright markets and the first is Maria Sakkari who is 33 to 1 to win this week. She made the quarterfinals the last 2 times she played this tournament and has one of the more favorable spots in the draw. I think she has a great chance to win this quarter and will be competitive even as an underdog after that. I like this number for someone who avoids Barty & Osaka as long as possible.
The other name I like is Ons Jabeur. She’s 50 to 1 in the outright betting markets and despite here poor finish in the quarterfinals last week, I’m happy to put some money on her at the number. She did get a chance to build some form and acclimate to North America which is important this time of year. She does have to play Swiatek in round 2, but she beat Iga at Wimbledon this year and took a set off her the other time they played in 2019 on hard courts. Her variety and point construction are big advantages every week, but even more so on quicker courts where her serve can be effective. Jabeur played very well making the quarterfinals last year at this event and I think she can do even better this year. Let’s bet on her at a price much better than we usually see on her.
That leaves us Iga Swiatek who is the 4th favorite to win a tournament in which last year she lost to Christina McHale in the first round. She’s a tremendous talent, but has yet to put it together for a week on hard courts the way we have seen her do on clay. She lost in the second round of the Olympics, skipped last week, and does have a bye but her path should then be Jabeur, Kvitova/Kudermetova, and Sakkari/Alexandrova/Brady just to win her quarter. I’m happy to pass on her at 12 to 1.
This quarter is a mess. It’s full of players of could be fatigued, are likely injured, or played poorly last week. We’ll start with Karolina Pliskova who will be playing in the finals in Montreal the Sunday before this tournament starts. She does a bye and the travel shouldn’t be too bad, but you have to wonder if she’ll be fatigued in her first match which might be against a qualifier in good form. Pliskova won this event in 2016 and made the quarterfinals or better twice more which makes sense given how well her serve should do on these courts. She is in one of the softer parts of the draw and has time to travel and recover, but at only 16 to 1 I will pass.
Jessica Pegula lost in the semifinals the Saturday before the first round, lost a set in every match she played last week, and doesn’t have the luxury of a bye. She will also face a qualifier in her first match who could not only be a strong opponent, but will definitely be in good form with 2 wins already. Even at 80 to 1 I can’t back her right now. If she starts the week strong I will back her against bigger names, but I’ll wait and see.
Simona Halep is playing her second match since injuring her back in Rome. Her first match was a 3 set loss to Collins who is playing great tennis, but the concerning part was how Halep faded as the match progressed. Simona has finished 2nd her 3 times, but at 18 to 1 you would be foolish to bet her to win 6 matches in a row. She could certainly make a run, but I need to see her play good tennis and look fit before backing her match to match let alone to win the event.
Although she is neither fatigued nor injured as far as I know, Elise Mertens continues to be unable to beat the top players in the WTA. She did win Gippsland and finish 2nd in Istanbul, but both were diluted fields considering Osaka withdrew before they could play. Elise faces that level of talent as early as round 2, so we can’t bet her at 33 to 1 to win the tournament. Back her match to match if you like, but don’t invest in her winning that many matches in a field of this caliber.
We backed Paula Badosa last week and she lost to Rebecca Marino, the 220th ranked wild card, up a set in the 2nd round. She’s 40 to 1 this week, but the faster courts aren’t as good for her game and she’ll be an underdog from round 2 through the finals. I may back her in individual matches, but certainly not to win the title at that number.
Aryna Sabalenka could and should rip through this field with her game on these quick courts. She made the semifinals in 2018, but only made the 3rd round in 2019. Sabalenka is 38-13 in 2021 with 2 titles and a 2nd place finish and is a threat to win any event, but her aggressive style often catches up to her as it did in the semifinals last week when she double faulted 5 times, only got her first serve in 55% of the time, and offered Pliskova 8 chances to break in her 2 set loss. I love how Sabalenka plays, but her style may have too little margin for error to 5+ consecutive matches against a strong field like we have this week. She is 7.5 to 1 and as fun it may seem, it’s not a number with any value.
The closest I got to placing an outright in this quarter was on Elena Rybakina at 25 to 1. I’m not as worried about her loss last week to Samsonova as I am with the losses we’ve seen from her late in tournaments this year. She’s made a few quarterfinals or better the last 2 months, but hasn’t been able to win past that point. Rybakina has faced good players in those losses, but had chances to win each match and couldn’t close. She could beat Sabalenka in round 2 and storm through this quarter, but I would need a bigger number to bet on her do that and win 2 more matches.
It finally happened. After winning 12 consecutive matches and 2 titles across 2 surfaces somebody beat Danielle Collins. She had emergency surgery in April for endometriosis that was causing debilitating pain. Collins has looked better each week since and has been peaking for the last 3 weeks. She is 28 to 1 to win her 3rd title in 4 events, but has lost in her first match both times she’s played this event in her career and will have to face Osaka as early as the quarterfinals. I wouldn’t call you foolish for backing her, but it’s not a big enough number for me.
Bianca Andreescu will be playing in Cincinnati for the first time after a less than impressive title defense in her home country last week. Losing to Jabeur in 3 isn’t the worst thing in the world, but the 3rd set looked even worse than the breadstick would indicate. She is 16 to 1 to lift the trophy is pretty close the 12-14 to 1 we saw last week. That’s not nearly a big enough adjustment before even considering she could have to beat all 3 of the top betting favorites. Hopefully last week was just working through some rust and not the effects of covid which she tested positive for in May in Rome. We’ve seen athletes struggle with their fitness for weeks if not months after recovering from covid.
With all due respect to a few other women, there is really only 1 other name worth mention in this quarter and that is Naomi Osaka. She is the favorite this week at 4.5 to 1. Osaka hasn’t lost in her last two appearances in Cincinnati, but also didn’t win the tournament. She retired in the quarterfinals in 2019 and withdrew before the final last year. She won 2 matches and lost to the silver medalist, Vondrousova, in Tokyo. We saw her play good tennis at points, but overall it wasn’t very heartening. Despite that she is still the best player on hard courts when she’s playing good tennis. Naomi has a bye and then will be a strong favorite until the quarterfinals, but will be favored in that match and every match afterwards. She’s my pick to win the tournament, but I won’t be backing her at that number given how little tennis she’s played recently. Unless someone like Barty or Sabalenka lose in their first matches, this number shouldn’t move too quickly. With that in mind I will wait a match or two and maybe back her then, but definitely not now.
Quarter 1 – Krejcikova over Azarenka
Quarter 2 – Sakkari over Jabeur
Quarter 3 – Sabalenka over Pliskova
Quarter 4 – Osaka over Collins
Final – Osaka over Krecikova
RECAP OF WAGERS
0.71U – Azarenka 25 to 1 or better
0.54U – Krejcikova 33 to 1 or better
0.51U – Sakkari 35 to 1 or better
0.36U – Jabeur 50 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