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U.S. Open: Will Aging Roger Federer Take Down the Odds-on Favorites?

Us Open Tennis

Sometime not too long ago it would have been laughable to think Roger Federer would nearly be the odds-on favorite going into another U.S. Open at Flushing Meadows. But there he is on the futures board, staring Rafael Nadal and The Joker in the face.

When Federer began declining to play in the French Open, it appeared that the aging giant of the sport was focusing all of his efforts on Wimbledon, where he is still a dominant force. In fact, Federer did not participate in the 2016 French Open or the 2016 U.S. Open.

But wait. Somehow, someway, the 37-year-old cured faulty shots, weathered aching joints, and brought back the world-class form and endurance on hard surfaces that once won him 5 straight U.S. Open titles. He reached the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2016, then won the Grand Slam tournament back-to-back times in ’17 and ’18.

Federer has not won a U.S. Open since he streak ended in 2008. He was dismissed in the Q-finals last time around at Flushing Meadows. His QF loss at Wimbledon ’18 was a major bummer. Is the 20-time Grand Slam champ really as good in New York (at this point in their respective careers) as Nadal, the defending U.S. Open champion, or a rejuvenated Novak Djokovic?

Bookies aren’t so sure. Djokovic and Nadal are BetOnline favorites at (+265) and (+350) odds-to-win respectively. But Federer is nipping at their heels at (+450).

2018 U.S. Open Men’s Singles: The Players

I used an exceptionally-simple format for our Women’s Singles betting preview and came up with what I feel is a very strong pick. So let’s lather, rinse, and repeat.

First we’ll take a concise look at the top 10 favorites on the men’s side of the futures board. Then we’ll reconsider the odds as a whole, and try to find out who’s mispriced in the bettor’s favor.

Djokovic is first up, an athlete who has himself worked through slumps and injuries to get to this point.

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Novak Djokovic (+265 Odds-to-Win U.S. Open at BetOnline)

Is The Joker on his way back? An aggressive and multi-talented baseline player, Djokovic surprised everyone by winning Wimbledon in 2018 after seasons of doubt and inconsistency. If in top form, the Serbian is a force at the U.S. Open, where he won numerous times in his 20s.

But we can’t overlook the real reason Djokovic is flying high on the odds board, can we? He beat Roger Federer in straight sets on the hardcourt of the Cincinnati Masters only a few scant days ago.

Impressive indeed. But remember it was a 3-set match in a regular Tour final. There’s no way Federer was going to sacrifice his body to win with a big one coming up.

Rafael Nadal (+350)

There’s an interesting phenomenon going on with Nadal. If I told you a tennis player had won all 4 Grand Slam events, had also won 3 U.S. Opens (including the most recent one), and had also played in 5 Wimbledon finals, you’d think he or she was a pretty good professional on all surfaces.

But since Nadal is the “King of Clay,” having won the French Open a million times, his accomplishments on grass and hardcourt can be overlooked. Nadal’s famous spinning forehands can work anywhere, and he is after all the defending U.S. Open champion. Djokovic is at shorter odds because of his dominant win over Federer in Cincinnati.

Nadal dominated just about everyone at Wimbledon until losing in the semifinals to – guess who – The Joker. Yet that tournament was on grass, not considered a good barometer for what will happen on the Billie Jean King courts.

Roger Federer (+450)

King Roger has motivation to beat Djokovic in New York. If the Serbinator wins the event and (captain obvious moment) Federer therefore loses it, the younger player will officially be on a hot streak while having closed the Grand Slam victories-gap between the 2 players to 6. The same could be said for Nadal, who surely doesn’t want Djokovic creeping up on his total at this point.

Federer has been up and down in ordinary events, giving off the impression of an old pro who saves himself for the truly big matches. But the men’s field is deep at Flushing Meadows, and summer heat can strike at any point. That would hand the advantage back to the younger favorites.

Alexander Zverev (+900)

A 21-year-old Germany representative, Alexander Zverev is the youngest player in the ATP Top 10. Tall, lanky, and quick, his athleticism allows for a versatile defense. His forehand suffers down the line, however, and the youngster has not been able to get off the ground in Grand Slam events. He is priced too short at (+900), meaning that odds “chips” are being underspent by the house on someone else.

Juan Martin del Potro (+1400)

A powerful Argentine who won the U.S. Open in 2009, del Potro would seem to have the perfect game for Flushing Meadows – pushing his opponents deeper into the baseline with tricky forehands before picking them apart to set up winners. But he has been hampered by injuries that have slowed down his backhands and forced compromises in shot-making.

Marin Cilic (+1800)

Cilic got himself married this year, but the domesticity doesn’t seem to be a distraction at all. The Croatian reached his 3rd Grand Slam final in the 2018 Australian Open (he won the U.S. Open in 2018) but his year was highlighted by a dramatic win over The Joker at Queens Club.

Cilic’s long reach, patient defense, and offensive cunning are all on-display in that lone rally. His only downside is having been in poor form for the past pair of U.S. Opens, losing in the 3rd round of each. Does the Australian Open brilliance indicate that Cilic could be the toast of New York again in ’18?

Andy Murray (+2500)

Murray has returned from hip surgery after not playing in any of the year’s first 3 Grand Slam events. His all-around style and fast serves have kept him in contention as consistently as any player in the world, as evidenced by Murray going from 2008 to 2017 with at least a semifinal appearance in a Grand Slam. The 31 year old won the U.S. Open in 2012.

It’s anyone’s guess how quickly Murray will get back to top form. He wept on the court after an emotional and draining match against Marius Copil at the Washington Open. Noteworthy: Murray won.

Potential U.S. Open Sleepers: Wawrinka, Dimitrov, Anderson

Stan Wawrinka is a player of note at (+2800) odds-to-win. The Swiss 33-year-old won the 2016 U.S. Open with a terrific 4-set victory over Djokovic.

Grigor Dimitrov (+3300) is the best men’s singles player to ever hail from Bulgaria. He has reached as high as 3rd in ATP ranking but has never reached the quarterfinals of a U.S. Open.

Kevin Anderson (+3300) is the man who beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon, but again, grass court results mean little when handicapping the U.S. Open. More to the point, Anderson reached the finals of last season’s Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows before losing to Nadal in straight sets.

2018 U.S. Open: Handicapping the Men’s Singles Tournament

Most of the underdogs and sleepers are problematic for one reason or another.

I can’t see Andy Murray weeping his way through a winning streak. His endurance has suffered in rehab, though his passion for the sport remains unparalleled. Meanwhile, Anderson can’t beat Nadal head-to-head, and Dimitrov forgets how to grip a racket at this tournament.

But I’m not huge on the favorites either. Federer’s Wimbledon collapse, while not directly comparable to hardcourt play, did show that Father Time is always gazing down during the final years of his competitive career.

Nadal won’t necessarily reach the semifinals this time, let alone defend the title. Djokovic’s payoff line is meager, and his trajectory back to prominence may not be peaking yet.

Cilic’s odds-to-win might be a little less long if Zverev wasn’t hogging all of the coin with his sex-symbol social media buzz. People like to bet on handsome athletes.

But hey, look at Cilic. He’s not a bad looking sort.

Before this handicap begins to drift into uncomfortable waters, rest assured I’m not bringing up the Croatian pro just to make awkward jokes or even to bring up Croatia’s run at the World Cup. I believe that if Marin Cilic is on top of his form, he’s got the game to win this tournament again.

U.S. Open Prediction and Futures Winner

Good handicapping is about comparing odds to chances. But it’s also about experiencing “artificial hindsight” before the event takes place that you’ll be looking back on.

Sloane Stephens doesn’t look like a back-to-back U.S. Open champion type of player right about now. But her trajectory is such that another consecutive win would be no real surprise after it occurs.

It’s the same with Marin Cilic on the men’s side. He’s looked outstanding in big matches on hard surfaces, and combined with a skillful, at-times relaxed style that lends itself to grueling tournaments, there’s a good chunk of factors going in the 18-to-1 underdog’s favor.

And going in the bettor’s favor is the mucho-payoff if the pick is a winner.

Take underdog Marin Cilic to win the U.S. Open (+1800).

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