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Serena Williams is a Vegas Favorite to Win the 2018 U.S. Open

US Open

Driven mad by bad luck and misfortune in picking out successful golf and tennis pros in 2018 (thanks a lot, Brooks Koepka, for costing everyone a 28-to-1 payoff on Tiger Woods), I have decided to dive into underground literature to try to find the answers.

Does the online handicapping-column format lead to handicapping mistakes? It’s not easy to say. The written word can be frustratingly hard to write about. I am reminded of something the novelist William Burroughs (who grew up in St. Louis, not far from where Tiger nearly caught himself a Koepka) once said about the written interview format in the days before soundbites allowed for attitude and meaning in a person’s voice to come across clearly to the audience.

“Well, let’s see here now,” the writer would say, pretending to thumb through an encyclopedia or a ledger.

But maybe handicapping events like the U.S. Open tennis tournament is a matter of solving the reverse problem. Instead of too much like ledgers, bloggers’ sports predictions can be based on incomplete analyses. If people don’t read our stuff, then we can’t help them with handicapping, so the necessity to keep things interesting and stylish can lead to valuable bets falling through in the wash.

Nobody can analyze every potential bet. But for the U.S. Open women’s singles bracket, let’s try being a little more scientific. I’ll start with a look at the top 10 potential champions on the futures board, including their odds, where they are physically and psychologically, and how their games stack up to the opposition and the courts in Flushing Meadows.

Then I’ll examine how’s house odds-makers are handicapping the women’s event, and find where the mispriced odds are. At that point, it should be easier to find the best picks.

No Surprise as Serena Tops the Futures Market Again

The most popular women’s tennis player of our era is coming off a finals appearance at one of the wackiest Wimbledons in a while. While Mika may have lost to Angelique Kerber to finish runner-up, the lack of a dominating foe or clarity in the Grand Slam picture has Vegas action surging her way again.

Serena Williams (+500 Odds-to-Win at

Is Serena just getting better and better in Grand Slams in 2018, or has she hit her ceiling? Hopes were high after the 36 year old finished 2nd on the grass at All England Lawn and Tennis Club. But the legendary pro is still getting distracted far too often, losing to Johanna Konta in straight-sets at the 2018 Silicon Valley Classic, then falling to Petra Kvitová in the 2nd round of the Cincinnati Masters.

Williams’ high-velocity shots are a great fit at the U.S. Open, where she has won 6 times including 3 in a row from 2012 to 2014.

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Simona Halep (+600)

Konta is obviously no slouch. She beat 2nd-choice U.S. Open betting favorite Simona Halep in a comeback last season just as the latter was nearing a potential World Ranking of #1. Halep would continue her climb undeterred, however, finally breaking through at a Grand Slam event in 2018. The 26-year-old Romanian lost to Caroline Wozniacki in the Australian Open final, but rebounded with a comeback win of her own in the finals of the French Open.

Halep is a powerful baseline player who can scramble. Her style may prove to be more adaptable to the New York City courts than the lawns of Wimbledon, where she went down in the 3rd round this season.

Angelique Kerber (+650)

Kerber made headlines in her least favorite way last week, losing to the popular Madison Keys in Ohio. But there’s a reason the loss hasn’t budged her odds much. The maturing professional is the reigning Wimbledon champ, and knows how to win at the U.S. Open, having raised the trophy as recently as 2016.

Angelique would likely be neck-and-neck with Serena Williams for shortest Vegas odds, were it not for her becoming only the 2nd Flushing Meadows champion ever to lose in the 1st round of a title defense thanks to a loss to up-and-coming Floridian Naomi Osaka.

Sloane Stephens (+900)

Facing Halep in the French Open final was Sloane Stephens, a highly-ranked and unique American player raised and trained on both coasts. Stephens is the defending U.S. Open champion but her development is far from complete – and that’s a good thing. The 25 year old plays a cool, precise style sometimes called “passive,” letting aggressive opponents slug themselves out with harsh forehands while trying to end points. Meanwhile, Stephens counter-attacks and leaves tired foes trailing on the scoreboard.

Like other contenders throughout history, Stephens is in love with what she can’t have – dominance on the clay courts. 5 of her 6 titles have been won on the hardcourt.

Petra Kvitová (+1200)

There is a lot to like about Kvitová, a 28-year-old Czech professional who has won 2 Wimbledon trophies. Her recent victory over Mika may not have come in a Grand Slam event, but it was on a hard court, which has to be encouraging. Kvitová is a lefty who has an excellent service game and a sneaky down-the-line forehand. She has reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open twice in the last 3 years.

But she’s having a hard time parlaying a resurgent Tour season with big-deal results. The 2-time Lawn and Tennis Club champion is 2-3 in her last 5 individual matches at Grand Slams, and only ventured out of the 1st round in the 2018 French Open.

Garbiñe Muguruza (+1400)

Muguruza has been hampered by cramps, minor injuries, and dissatisfaction that no coach has been able to do more than salve temporarily. The Spanish professional was seeded 3rd at the Australian Open, but lost to an 88th seed in the 2nd round. Her best 2018 Grand Slam showing so far was a semifinal appearance in the French Open. Back problems knocked her out of another tournament.

Her style may simply be better-suited elsewhere than in New York. At the very least, it would be hard to win at Flushing Meadows without a durable frame and plenty of stamina.

Sleepers at (+1600): Svitolina, Pliskova, Bertens, Keys

A group of potential title-winners sit at 16/1 futures odds, each tempting enough, but with caveats.

Elina Svitolina is a nascent pro from Ukraine with a well-rounded baseline game. But she hasn’t been able to translate her power and speed into consistent hardcourt success, and she has only reached the quarterfinals 3 times in Grand Slam events, losing in every match.

Karolína Plíšková is an aggressive player who reached the finals of the U.S. Open in 2016 and the Q-Finals in 2017. She has changed coaches often, leading to uncertainty about her chances in ’18.

Kiki Bertens is a Top 15 Tour professional who has struggled to get past the 1st round at Flushing Meadows. It’s a mystery why her futures betting line is as short as it is.

Finally, I thought Madison Keys was ready to break out earlier this year, and her hardcourt season is not without its successes in ’18. The powerful 23 year old American reached the finals of last year’s U.S. Open and would be shorter than 16/1 odds except that she has failed to beat Serena Williams in any one of the pair’s 3 matches thus far.

Wherever players wind up in the draw, they eventually have to beat the favorite…or someone good enough to upset the favorite.

U.S. Open Women’s Singles: Analysis and Best Picks

Serena’s odds are actually not that short at (+500). Though it’s striking to see a celebrity who is 0-3 in ’18 Grand Slams at the top of the futures board, if there were a true favorite anywhere in the field, she would be listed above Mika regardless of the draw not taking place until this Friday.

Where’s Waldo? While Williams isn’t the worst pick at 5/1 (Serena Williams appears to have at least a 1-in-4-or-5 chance of winning the U.S. Open) it’s clear that her odds would be a little longer were it not for her enduring popularity and charisma. There’s a worthy wager somewhere in the pack whose line would be shorter were it not for the heavy action and marketing.

I’m loving defending champion Sloane Stephens at 9-to-1 payoff odds. Her style is well-suited to hard courts, and she has beaten Serena Williams. Clay court heartbreak aside, Stephens is at that point in her career where “potential” becomes “worldwide star” overnight.

Not saying it will happen this year at Flushing Meadows. But given Stephens’ age and trajectory there is no better chance of it happening any other time than right now.

Take the American Sloane Stephens at (+900) to win the U.S. Open.

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