Imagine if every important event in a sport other than tennis – say the PGA Tour — appeared to be rigged for one player at a time. Jordan Spieth would get nothing but short, severe doglegs to out-play clumsy power-hitters on. Bubba Watson would get a cow pasture on which to safely whack wayward long balls. Rory McIlroy would get to design his own stupid course and then complain about it.
The French Open, Australian Open and other Grand Slam events were not invented with only one type of tennis pro in mind. But certain superstars have become so proficient at playing on one surface that the odds on each athlete don’t reflect their ranking so much as the location. They say that golf analysts should ask “who,” “where,” and “why,” but in modern tennis, “where” is everything.
Clay courts, for instance, are Rafael Nadal’s killing fields. El Nino racked up yet another French Open title in early June after beating a helpless Dominic Thiem in 3 straight sets. Looking slightly down the tennis totem pole, Top 10 players like Agnieszka Radwanska have far-outpaced their world ranking when competing on the hard surfaces of the ATP Tour.
And then there’s Roger Federer at Wimbledon. The 36-year-old #1 seed has a staggering record of 91-11 at the All England Club. He has won the event 8 times and made a laugh out of winning in 2017.
Hindsight is 20-20 whenever an athlete gets too old to win again. Yet nobody can see the breakdown coming until it happens. Odds-on 35-year-old favorites still persevere and win often. Age is a time bomb without an exact clock.
Unfortunately for gamblers looking to pick an underdog in London, the aging process might be the only factor that could hold Federer back in ’18. He’s just that actively dominant on grass.
Let’s look at why the Men’s Singles favorite is holding at (+185) odds, and check in with 4 players who could challenge for a miracle upset.
Roger Federer (+185 at Sportsbetting.ag)
The secret to Federer’s utter demolition of the field at Wimbledon is his aggressive shotmaking at sharp angles. Points must be won sooner than later on grass courts. Federer utilizes his backhand to perfection and approaches the net before his counterpart is prepared to defend a volley. Even if an opponent survives his serve, he can end a rapid-fire rally with a dozen kinds of winning shots.
Federer was once criticized for a late-career decision to skip all clay court tournaments. To say that he has proven the haters wrong would be an understatement. Last year, the Swiss Maestro lost not 3, not 2, not 1, but zero, zilch, nada sets at Wimbledon. In baseball terms he pitched a perfect game that lasted multiple weeks. It may have been the greatest tennis performance ever by a player in their mid-30s.
The draw, still upcoming on Friday, will play a crucial role in the movement of betting odds…on the women’s side. On the men’s side, I’m not so sure. Federer can and should beat everyone in the men’s bracket. The only question is which player will rise if the old pro sinks.
Rafael Nadal (+550)
The “King of Clay” has had his ups and downs on grass. Nadal is a marvelous counter-attacker who hustles after every ball, giving him the mold of a quick finesse type of player who could thrive at Wimbledon. Nadal has won twice at All England Club and has only lost 10 Wimbledon matches in his career.
The constant bending and stretching of rallies on grass courts has worn on Nadal’s knees, which are whispered to be bothering him again as London approaches.
Maybe Nadal’s 5.5/1 futures line is out of respect for his total command in other Grand Slam events. He has been skipping tournaments played on grass and even held a preparation session for Wimbledon on a clay surface. Unless he’s playing possum, it might have been more honest to sit this one out as opposed to projecting an air of disinterest.
Novak Djokovic (+550)
Like several other challengers to Federer’s crown, Djokovic has a fine skill-set with which to emerge victorious at Wimbledon, which he has won 3 times. The Joker just doesn’t have the complete package compared to the great grass players of his time.
Djokovic has a lethal backhand and is a shifty player who keeps the ball in play at any cost. His power, endurance and smarts enable the Serbian to beat opponent after opponent in long drawn-out matches. But he’s almost exclusively a baseline tennis player. Grass courts are still a challenging adjustment for Djokovic due to the lower ball bounce and faster speed of play.
Djokovic performed well in the Fever Tree Championships, a good grass-court warm-up for All England Club. But his injury-riddled struggles earlier in the season are well-documented. After making a coaching change, the 31-year-old lost a shocking quarterfinal match in the French Open to Marco Cecchinato. The loss reportedly left Djokovic so dejected that he considered skipping the grass season altogether.
Who really wants to play Federer in the final at Wimbledon? Neither Djokovic or Nadal seem mentally prepared or confident enough to even make it to that point.
Marin Čilić (+600)
Čilić’s game works well on grass courts. The 29-year-old possesses a powerful serve that can give opponents headaches on a fast surface like grass. His groundstrokes allow him to dictate the pace of play. His massive size makes him an imposing presence on the court.
Add an impressive victory over Djokovic in the Fever-Tree final to the resume. Čilić undoubtedly has looked great on natural surfaces throughout his prime.
Čilić lost to Federer at the Australian Open earlier this year and has lost 6 sets in a row to the defending champ on grass.
Andy Murray (+1400)
Here’s where it gets interesting.
Everyone agrees that Andy Murray has the game to potentially upset Federer. Murray is a phenomenal counter-striker and is one of the best defensive players in the game. He is a masterful tactician who can potentially out-think the Swiss legend and speed up the tempo to wear down old legs.
His drop shot and net game are vastly underrated and prove to be quite valuable with the low bounce produced on grass. He’s won at Wimbledon twice and beaten Federer in 31 matches.
Murray may not even play in London, however. Surgery for an awful hip injury went well, along with a year of rehab and rehearsal. Muzz made his long-awaited return to play in the Fever Tree and beat Stan Wawrinka at Eastbourne. All encouraging signs, no doubt. But the grueling grind of Wimbledon is another animal.
At this point, if I had to guess, Murray will play. It would take a fortunate draw to help him wrap up matches quickly and keep his form from suffering as the long tournament wears on.
Wimbledon Men’s Singles Predictions and Futures Pick
Murray would be an excellent upset pick at 14-to-1 payoff odds if only his injury scenario didn’t halve the bettor’s chances of seeing the Scotsman in the tennis tournament at all. Sportsbooks aren’t in the habit of returning wagered sums on futures picks who refuse to play. No more than they paid back bets on Thunder Snow, who refused to run in the Kentucky Derby after making the gate.
Yes, but not for the reason you might think.
Federer is unlikely to repeat the perfect form he held through the money matches at All England Club last season. However, all of the other names topping the betting board are bad gambles.
Murray, thanks to the hip injury. Čilić due to his having proven to be lacking when challenging the champ. Djokovic due to his lack of diverse style and current focus. Nadal because he doesn’t seem to even want to be in London.
That leaves one man standing. My advice? Be happy the odds on Federer are only (+185). The line could be a lot shorter. It’s best to wager on the overwhelming favorite and likely-winner-by-default before the potential payoff shrinks even more.