US Open Men’s Tennis Early Preview
Men’s Tennis is entering an interesting, and potentially awkward, phase. Their nearly decade-long established Big Four is showing some signs of cracking. Some MAJOR signs of cracking. Novak Djokovic has called short one of the worst seasons of his career due to injury and will miss the US Open. Andy Murray has struggled all season, and recently pulled out the Montreal Masters (according to Sky Sports), and is hopeful for being able to return in time for the US Open. Rafa Nadal turned in a scintillating near-perfect French Open to get back on the pedestal as a Major Champion for the first time since 2014 (also the French). He can become the World’s #1 ranked player with a mere semifinal appearance at the US Open… but he hasn’t made it past the fourth round in New York since his 2013 victory at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The US Open has traditionally beguiled Nadal, who not coincidentally has had some issues remaining in top health. The US Open comes at the end of a grueling season. That, and the speed difference of the hard courts is likely a large reason why it has been the most volatile major in terms of unpredictable results. Should Nadal make the semis with the weakened field? Sure. Will he? Recent history says it isn’t terribly likely.
And even the “next tier” of challengers is weakened heading into New York. Stan Wawrinka, who is the reigning US Open Champion and whose game is ideally suited for the hard courts of Arthur Ashe Stadium, has withdrawn from the next two tournaments with a knee injury (according to ESPN.com), and hasn’t won a single match since the French Open, including his stunning opening round upset loss at Wimbledon. Can he get healthy in time to defend his crown? He hasn’t missed a quarterfinal at the US Open in a half decade.
What about some other massive serving second-tier challengers? Milos Raonic? The #6 player in the World will first set his sights on becoming the first Canadian to win the Rogers since 1968, and his game is PERFECT for hard courts (all eight of his ATP titles have been on hardcourts), yet it hasn’t translated to success in New York. He has never advanced past the fourth round and has lost in the second and third rounds in his last two attempts.
Marin Cilic? The Wimbledon finalist and former US Open champ are joining the injury parade, also pulling out of the Rogers Open due to a adductor injury. From there, we are really grasping to find some veteran challengers. Tsonga? Monfils? Juan Martin del Potro, anyone?? (more about him later…)
It would appear the door is wide open for a pair of young guns to FINALLY arrive and take their turn as “Next.” Alex Zverev and Dominic Thiem are the foremost challengers, and maybe this is finally their Major break through, the tournament where a young up-and-comer establishes his place at the main table. There sure have been a lot of hopefuls over the last few years that have never come to full fruition; Bernard Tomic?? Tennis has NEEDED someone to be “Next” for three or four years, and it just hasn’t happened. With all the injuries and age, is this finally the year??
Here are the Current Odds for the Men’s US Open (Courtesy: Bovada.lv)
- Roger Federer +150
- Rafael Nadal +275
- Andy Murray +400
- Stan Wawrinka +1200
- Marin Cilic +1400
- Juan Martin del Potro +2000
- Kei Nishikori +2200
- Dominic Thiem +2500
- Alexander Zverev +2500
- Grigor Dimitrov +3300
- Gael Monfils +5000
- Tomas Berdych +5000
- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga +6600
- Jack Sock +6600
Oh yeah, I forgot about one guy we haven’t talked about yet, Roger Federer.
Amidst all the injuries, all the uncertainty, all the question marks, stands the unlikeliest of constants. In a sport that devours players over 30, the 36-year Roger Federer is turning in one of the best seasons of his G.O.A.T. career. He is a stunning 32-2 in matches in 2017, including wins at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. He sat out the French, so has not lost a match this year in a Major. He won Wimbledon WITHOUT LOSING A SET.
He beat Berdych, Nishikori, Cilic, and Nadal at the Aussie – a really tough path to a title. He beat Nadal and Wawrinka in straight sets at Indian Wells. He beat del Porto and Nadal in Miami (another title), he beat up-and-coming Alex Zverev on his home turf in Germany 6-1, 6-3 to win the Halle Open, and again, he just won Wimbledon WITHOUT DROPPING A SINGLE SET!!
I wish I would have gotten on Federer two weeks ago while his odds were still hovering around +300, but with the withdrawal of Djokovic and injury concerns with Murray, Cilic and Wawrinka and the historical late-season struggled from Nadal have absolutely shriveled Federer’s payout. At +150, it is hard to say there is GREAT value, though I also concede it is hard to pick someone who is going to beat Roger, assuming he remains healthy in the lead-up to New York.
The clear-cut favorite status of Federer makes for two opposing, yet valid, approaches to betting on the US Open. The lack of really strong traditional competitors could make one more willing to pull the trigger on Roger, even at slim odds, OR you can take the vantage point, that with so many of the top challengers injured or weakened, if someone, ANYONE, can knock off the GOAT, then there is some tremendous value lurking deeper on the odds board.
Here are My Three Favorite Value Plays:
#1. Juan Martin del Potro +2000
It seems almost ridiculous; the guy who won WAY back in 2009 and who is now ranked #32 in the World, being a formidable challenger at the 2017 US Open. But talent has never been his problem, health has – and right now he seems to be one of the only top players of his generation enjoying good health. The 28-year old Argentinian extended his 13 straight matches winning streak at the Citi Open and appears to be in good form entering the heart of hard court season – always his most formidable surface.
He has some nice wins this season, beating Kei Nishikori, Grigor Dimitrov, and Sam Querry. Health is always a concern with del Potro, but when healthy, he is capable of jumping up and surprising his way to a tournament championship like he did in New York in 2009 and his surprising Silver Medal in the 2016 Olympics.
#2. Dominic Thiem +2500
It is a toss-up between him and the younger Zverev, Alexander, for the current title of “who is going to be the next big thing in men’s tennis.” I’ll take Thiem. He has shown some serious chops this season, improving his World Ranking to #7. He had a golden opportunity slip away, losing in five sets in the Round of 16 at Wimbledon to Tomas Berdych, but the strong Wimbledon performance on the heels of a semifinal in Paris has the tennis world squarely on notice.
He owns wins this season over Djokovic (French), Rafa Nadal (on clay at the Italia), Sam Querrey, Andy Murray, Gael Monfils and his contemporary, Alexander Zverev. The 23-year old Austrian has the ability to beat just about anyone on tour when he is playing well. He is also younger and fitter than the worn-down and battered field. Can he be mentally strong enough to last seven matches?? If so, and if he can avoid an early match with Federer, he could finally be the young breakthrough tennis has been anticipating for three or four years.
#3. Jack Sock +6600
USA! USA! Yup. I get the jingoistic homerism of taking Sock as a punt play, but New York has a history of dragging American hopefuls a round or two further than they have any business reaching. Sock is the best candidate for the hometown bump in 2017. Sure, Sam Querrey is riding high after a thrilling semifinal run at Wimbledon, and John Isner is the highest ranked American and has the massive, explosive serving power that fares well on hard courts. But Sock is the best all-around American tennis player right now, and his fourth round (Round of 16) run last year should give him a little more confidence entering 2017.
He is starting to develop and evolve as a tennis player. Very quietly, at the age of 24, he is starting to approach some of the promise bestowed upon him when he was Andy Roddick’s fellow Nebraskan acolyte for their “passing of the torch” US Open match back in 2010. After never advancing past the third round of a Masters 1000 Series event from 2010 to early 2016, he has advanced to the quarterfinals or better in four of his last six, including a semifinal at the Indian Wells Masters.
Can he take one more precious step forward on the biggest American stage of all? If he can get through the first week, the New York evening crowds will be electric under the lights, and might just lift him through another match or two. It’s a punt play at +6600, but my favorite long shot on the board.
** The draw for the US Open will be released Aug 26th, with the main draw commencing on Aug 28th. Qualifying Rounds will be played Aug 22nd-25th