TENNIS analyst Gavin Mair (@gavinnightmair) returns to highlight his favourite fancies from the women's side of the US Open.
US Open | 31st August – 13th September 2020 | Amazon Prime
The US Open starts on Monday, hot on the heels of an informative ‘Premier 5’ level tour event held at the same venue.
Without any tennis tour over the past six months there were a lot of unknowns heading into last week – and to be fair there are still some – about the level of the various players that have chosen to compete in New York.
Given the ongoing pandemic there is unsurprisingly a weakened field for this year’s Open, with five of the top 10 world ranked players choosing not to travel whilst defending champion Bianca Andreescu has declared herself injured.
The Premier 5 event showed conditions to be quick and most likely suiting players that choose to play aggressive tennis. Last week some players demonstrated a lack of match sharpness, whilst others look to have more serious form concerns.
One such player is Serena Williams, who was last week priced at 5/2 to be US Open champion but has now drifted out to 5/1. In recent seasons the 38-year-old has started to look her age, but she now looks decisively past her sell by date. Her movement is non-existent and she should have lost to Arantxa Rus – a player better known for grinding lower tier clay events – but for a choke from the Dutchwoman.
Williams is now priced at 11/2 but even if you offered me an extra zero at the end of the price I still wouldn’t take it!
I believe there is some value to be had at bigger prices given that no player is starting the US Open with the optimum preparation.
A player I proposed backing in last week’s WLB article was Karolina Pliskova, who will start this tournament as the number one seed. Pliskova was a little bit undercooked last week losing to Veronika Kudermetova – a difficult match up for her in what was her first serious competitive match in several months.
I still believe that Pliskova is one of the players to beat, for the same reasons outlined in my previous write-up. Her playing style is not overly complicated and she tends to start seasons strongly – having successful campaigns in Australia in four of the past five years. She tends to beat the players that she should, and is generally only vulnerable to the biggest talents on the tour.
The 2016 US Open finalist has scored a favourable draw, with only potential 3rd round opponent, Lexington champion Jennifer Brady, looking like an obvious difficult hurdle.
When you consider that the other market frontrunner Naomi Osaka is priced at half the outright price of Pliskova, it is fair to say that there is value on a Pliskova victory at 11/1.
The second quarter is where Naomi Osaka has landed, and I believe that she is a fair favourite to win in New York. What I dispute however is that she is a value price to win. At 5/1 she is far less appealing than when I successfully backed her at 33/1 in 2018.
Osaka showed some good form at the Premier 5 event last week, but also showed in her match against Anett Kontaveit that she can have off days. The Japanese eventually woke up from a set and break down, but her performance reminded me of a mental no-show at the Australian Open this year when she lost tamely to Cori Gauff.
The Japanese player – who identifies as a shy, extrovert by nature – has made headlines this week for refusing to take the court for her semi-final match in protest of the latest police shooting in the US.
Furthermore, Osaka was revealed last week to be the highest paid female athlete in the world, and also features on the cover of this month’s Wall Street Journal magazine. I think there is a chance that pressure and expectation can play a negative factor in her chances this coming fortnight.
There is an alternative player to Osaka in Quarter 2 that I rate very highly called Elena Rybakina. The Kazakh was in the midst of an incredible breakout season when the coronavirus halted the tennis tour. Her game is naturally huge without needing to take unnecessary risks, and if she can find her level in New York she may prove the unstoppable force that she was on course to becoming at the start of the year.
At 40/1 she looks a very appealing price.
This is the quarter of Serena Williams, who I will be avoiding this tournament. She has the fortune of a soft draw, but I give most players a chance to defeat her on current form.
In seeking an alternative the two highest profile seeded players are 2017 runner-up Madison Keys and 2020 Australian Open finalist Garbine Muguruza.
Keys is a player that reminds me of former male player James Blake. Both can be unplayable on their day with an all out attack approach to the game, but more often than that strategy fails to deliver success in tennis. Last week Keys lost in her first round to Ons Jabeur, and was barely competitive. I don’t envision her with the same reliability that I do Pliskova, and can’t stretch my imagination far enough to see her as US Open champion this year.
Muguruza chose not to play the Premier 5 event last week, and only travelled to New York on the 25th August giving her less preparation time than other top players. Her form is an unknown, and although she’s been impressive this season I don’t know if she still playing at that standard.
In what is a weak third quarter I believe a non-seeded player could be well placed to have a good run, and my pick is a player that I would not have given much of a chance prior to the restart of the tour.
Jill Teichmann has had some success in recent years on clay, but had never shown much on hard surfaces. At Lexington two weeks ago the lefty was much improved demonstrating a way to make her topspin forehand a tool to dictate points, in addition to her already decent retrieving skills.
In her current form she will be a difficult opponent to beat and I could see her surviving through the draw until the semi-finals. She is a big price to win Quarter 3.
Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin is the top seed from the fourth quarter and she will be difficult to beat if she finds some form. For a player that depends a lot on being solid from the baseline, her game was very loose last week.
You can’t completely write off the chances of the mentally robust American, but I don’t fancy her on courts that appear so fast as she is regularly blown away by power hitting opponents.
This could be a competitive quarter where Jo Konta is not without a chance. The Brit looked in good rhythm at the Premier 5 event, not once facing a breakpoint before the quarterfinals. My concern with her is that she gets completely stressed out in the latter stages of Grand Slams.
I don’t like what I’ve seen from fifth seeded Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka since the resumption of the tour. The Minsk-based player revealed she is encountering sleepless nights due to civil unrest in her homeland. She is not playing smart tennis at the moment, with her hazardous approach better suited to a roulette table than a tennis court.
I quite like the chances of Ons Jabeur to do well in the US Open. The flamboyant Tunisian is another player that was having a breakout season and she has the game to beat any player. She has every shot in the book, and you never know what you will see next. I believe if she finds the best focus she could stun the field.