TENNIS analyst Gavin Mair (@gavinnightmair) returns with his best bets from day one at Wimbledon.
Donna Vekic v Sloane Stephens | Monday 2nd July 2018, 13:00 | BBC
Donna Vekic plays her best tennis on a grass court and last season won the title in Nottingham. This year she made a decent fist of defending her title making it to the semi-finals before losing to Johanna Konta – the same player that Vekic beat in the final 12 months prior.
Despite Vekic’s loss, she is in my opinion, an improved player in 2018 with her movement noticeably better than previous years. Of course she is not as fleet of foot as the elite players but in theory her better court coverage should assist her natural attributes on the grass courts.
For some it may be a surprise to recommend opposing French Open finalist and reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens. However, the American has not played on grass this season and has a track record of big dips in performance after achieving a big result.
Stephens has spoken about her satisfaction with her form in the past 12 months – Wimbledon 2017 was her first tournament after a long injury lay off and since that time she has exceeded the expectations of most commentators by rising the rankings to a lofty number four.
The American likely needs time to recharge her batteries, and therefore it is not too surprising to see her spending a lot of her recent time in Toronto, alongside boyfriend – former Sunderland and Hull striker Jozy Altidore – ather than on the match courts.
Vekic is a player I have thought for a while is overdue a decent run at Wimbledon. Her past draws have unfortunately pitted her against the likes of eventual semi-finalist Konta last year, or Venus Williams the year before.
This year the draw has not been any more kind but Vekic will surely be up for the fight and hopefully she finds an undercooked Stephens on the other side of the net.
Had it not been for a recent lower back injury I would have backed Vekic as a long odds play to win her quarter. She’s 6/4 (Ladbrokes) to win here on Monday.
Aryna Sabalenka v Mihaela Buzarnescu| Monday 2nd July 2018, 16:00 | BBC
Belarusian powerhouse Aryna Sabalenka came very close to landing her biggest career title at the weekend in Eastbourne but was denied by the canny operator Caroline Wozniacki, who took full advantage of Sabalenka’s struggles to see out leads.
Sabalenka’s fine run saw her defeat one top level player after another – Julia Goerges, Elise Mertens, Karolina Pliskova and Agnieszka Radwanska all tasted defeat. The win moves Sabalenka into 32nd in the rankings and 24 in the WTA Race, which should see her secure a seeding in time for the next Grand Slam.
Her opponent Mihaela Buzarnescu has come from nowhere to be seeded at this year’s Wimbledon. The 30-year-old Romanian has never played a main draw match at SW19 but after building her way up the rankings through a series of successes at lower tier events she has definitely earned her plumb position in 2018.
However, I remain sceptical over how good a player Buzarnescu actually is. She has an awkward left handed playing style that worked particularly well throughout the clay season. She has also found a fair few wins on the grass courts recently but mainly against poor grass court players that have a decent ranking such as Kiki Bertens or Timea Babos.
When she has played against a powerful player in the mould of Sabalenka the results have not been too pretty. Buzarnescu won only three games against Jelena Ostapenko, five games against Petra Kvitova and five games against Naomi Osaka.
Furthermore, Sabalenka has won both career meetings against Buzarnescu – the second of which took place a few months ago on the clay courts of Lugano with Buzarnescu routed two and three in the final two sets.
The one concern over this bet is that Sabalenka played 17 sets last week in Eastbourne, which is quite the workout the week before a Grand Slam. However, this is counterbalanced by Buzarnescu who apparently is carrying a knock on her shoulder that necessitates the need for kinesio tape.
Sabalenka will likely run out of steam during this tournament, but hopefully it won’t be on day one and she’s a nice 10/11 (Betfair) to start with a success here.