Bienvenidos a Guadalajara! The WTA Finals are back for the first time since 2019 and back in North America for the first time since 2005. The 8 players who earned the most rankings points this season get the privilege to play in front of a Porsche in a round robin event with a $1.68M prize for the winner. Round robin formats are fun, because it guarantees each player more than one match in the same event. Normally a loss ends their week, but in a round robin format they have a chance to recover from a loss and still succeed.
The 8 players are broken into 2 groups and everyone in each group players one another once. That means 3 matches for each player. The top 2 players from each group make the semifinals with is a 4 player bracket. The top player from each group faces the 2nd place finished in the other group. There are various tiebreakers, but 3-0 guarantees the top spot in your group and 2-1 generally locks you into a top 2 spot. As the tournament progresses, be sure to check each player’s standing. Some years a few players have no chance of making a top 2 spot before their 3rd match even starts.
There is another interesting angle to this event, it is one of the few events on the WTA tour played at a higher elevation. Monterrey, Nur-Sultan, Lausanne, and Anning(not played since 2019) are all between 1,000 and 2,000 feet above sea level. Madrid is 2,600+ feet above sea level, Courmayeur 4,000+, Guadalajara(this event) is 5,100+, and Bogota at 8,600+ feet above sea level. The thinner air, especially at the latter events, makes it harder for less fit players and players who have had less time to adapt. You should also see a pickup in power for all players in the thinner air. You’ll see some data on how these women have played in those conditions, but a few caveats. Outside of Madrid, these are generally smaller tournaments which may not attract the best players and can offer a questionable level of effort when those types of players do come. Combined, the 8 WTA finalists have played just 6 matches at 5,000+ feet above sea level and 41 matches at 1,000+ since 2017 so be careful with those small sample sizes.
With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at each group, who might make the semifinals, win the WTA finals, and hopefully find some value in the betting markets.
Barbora Krejcikova enters this event on her first 3 match losing streak since 2019. She has had one of the best seasons of anyone on tour, but may have lost of little of that momentum. Losses to Paula Badosa in Indian Wells, Angelique Kerber at the Billie Jean King Cup, and Belinda Bencic also at the BJK cup are not the worst things in the world, but it’s definitely not good. She has to fly 20+ hours to try to break that losing streak in her first matches ever at this elevation against a woman who has lost only 1 set in her last 10 matches. Needless to say, this is less than ideal. She is arguably the best player in this group, but tennis is often about your current form and level of comfort on the courts. As mentioned, there is nothing nice to say about Barbora’s recent performance and is only 5.5 to 1 to win the finals. Oh, and she’s also playing in the doubles finals event which means she’s likely to play a match every day and possibly event 2 in the same day. That could help build form, so keep an eye on her match to match. It also means she might get blown out in her first match and bail on the singles event to focus on doubles. There is no value at all in 5.5 to 1 and tread lightly before considering her in matches.
Having played just 2 matches in as many months, it’s hard to tell what level of tennis to expect from Karolina Pliskova. She’s won a lot of matches this year, but hasn’t won an event since Brisbane in January of 2020 almost 2 years ago. Pliskova has won only 3 matches in her 7 against top 20 opponents. She is one of the few players with experience in the format having played in the last 4 WTA finals which were played in Singapore or Shenzhen. She’s only 7-8 in those matches, but has made the final four 3 times. Pliskova is 7 to 1 to win this year’s finals and might be able to use her power & strong serve in the thin air, but there’s not value in that number before seeing her play at least 1 match.
Garbiñe Muguruza has played great tennis all season and won an event in North America, Chicago 2, in late September. This is just her 3rd appearance in the WTA finals since 2014 and she’s yet to make it past the round robin stage. In her favor are 2 titles in Monterrey in 2018 and 2019, but that’s at a much lower elevation and that was a few years ago. She is the highest priced player in the betting markets at 8 to 1 to win this event which might be appealing, but in a group of women who have each bested her in their last few meetings I can’t justify that wager. She could certainly make out of this group with the doubt about the first 2 players we covered, but I would need at least 10 to 1 to bet on her to make it out of this group AND then win 2 matches in a row.
Remember when I mentioned that someone has lost only 1 set in her last 10 matches? Well, Anett Kontaveit accomplished that feat and has won 26 of her last 28 matches. She lost just 7 sets over those 28 matches. That incredibly impressive finish to the season shot her up the rankings and into this event. At 4.5 to 1 she is the 2nd favorite to win this tournament which makes a lot of sense, but I’m not ready to bet on her to win against a field of this quality let alone as the 2nd favorite. Kontaveit has beaten several good players and a few women in this tournament, but this price looks like an overreaction to the best 3 months of tennis in her life. I won’t hesitate to back her in individual matches, but there’s not any value in 4.5 to 1 to me.
Chichén Itzá Group
Aryna Sabalenka has had a great season by any measure other than the incredibly high bar set for her before this year. She is 44-16 across all surfaces in 2021 with 3 finals appearances and 2 titles, but “only” made 2 semifinals in the 4 Grand Slam events. It’s wild to think of that as a disappointment, but she was expected to at least make a Grand Slam final if not win one. I think it would have been a tall task to beat Bart in the Wimbledon final, but her loss to Leylah Annie Fernandez in the US Open semifinals was a letdown to say the least. With all due respect to the Suttgart event, a 32 player field with 4 byes(aka only 28 players), which is a WTA1000, this is Sabalenka’s last chance to win a big event in 2021. Sabalenka tested positive for covid before Indian Wells, but did play 2 matches in Moscow and has said to have to ill effects. A small part of me wonders how that goes at 5,100+ feet above sea level. At 4 to 1, she’s the favorite to win this event. That makes sense, she’s is arguably the most talented player in the tournament and will be the favorite in most, if not all of her matches. I just can’t justify a wager at such a small price in this format. You’ll likely be able to better match to match anyway.
Any list of the most fits players in the WTA likely starts with Maria Sakkari. She’s had a fine season, but her 2nd place finish in Ostrava was her first final appearance since 2019. Sakkari is likely outclassed here based on talent, but she’s been much better against the top talent this year. Admittedly some of those wins were against bigger names in down years, but she has won 8 of her last 10 matches over players ranked in the top 20. 2 of those wins were against Swiatek who is in this group and 1 was against Pliskova who is in the other group. Her fitness not only at elevation, but this late in this season should be a serious advantage for her. I can make a case that she wins this event and even one in which her opponents play mistake free tennis, but continuing the sad theme of not liking outright prices I can’t bet on her winning this event more than 12.5% of the time. That’s breakeven probability of her current price at 7 to win. If they played the event 8 times and you bet the same amount on her to win at 7 to 1 each time, you would need her to win it at least once to not lose money. I can’t get her above 10% chance of winning no matter how hard I try, so I must advise you pass.
I couldn’t help but smile when I saw Paula Badosa had made the WTA finals. She started the season ranked 70th, won 3 or more matches in 9 tournaments, and won 2 tournaments. 1 of those titles was in Indian Wells when we last saw her play tennis competitively. Paula beat Swiatek at the Olympics, Sabalenka in Cincinnati, and Krejcikova in Indian Wells. Badosa is a young, fit player on an upward trajectory, but I think the market made a mistake pricing her in this event. She is tied for 3rd favorite to win the event and is the 2nd favorite to win this group. I could make a case she is the 4th best player in this group. So, at 5.5 to 1, I’m happy to pass on her despite how much I like her and would love her to win. I won’t hesitate to bet her in individual matches against anyone in this field, but the current pricing offers no value at this moment.
Similar to Sabalenka, Iga Swiatek had such lofty expectations that one could stuff like, “she ONLY won 2 tournaments and her best finish in a Grand Slam event was JUST a quarterfinal to Sakkari 3 & 4.” In a tour full of women who have failed to back up their maiden Grand Slam trophy with a strong season, Iga enters this event with 35 wins in 48 matches with 2 titles on different surfaces. Swiatek is the reason I am so perplexed by the Badosa’s position as 2nd favorite to win the group. To be fair, Badosa beat her at the Olympics and Sakkari beat her in Ostrava & Roland Garros which isn’t great, but I’m actually excited the market might be overreacting to this. The Olympics are not marquee event, neither is Ostrava, and both were tough travel spots for Iga. The loss at the French Open ended a 10 match win streak and nothing is worse than facing Sakkari when fatigued. I’m happy to wager arguably the most talented played in the tournament at 6 to 1 win it all and 2.5 to 1 to win this group. I expect her to favored in all but her match against Sabalenka and even then, she’ll be a small underdog at worst. There’s value in each of those numbers and they will be our only bets before the tournament starts.
Semifinals – Kontaveit over Badosa and Swiatek over Pliskova
Final – Swiatek over Kontaveit
RECAP OF WAGERS
1U – Swiatek to win the WTA Finals at 6 to 1 or better
1U – Swiatek to win the Chichén Itzá Group at 2.5 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