This year in which circumstances conspired to make table tennis an international sports betting phenomenon has not been kind so far to bettors who like to wager on the other tennis.
After the Australian Open went off without a hitch in January, the spread of COVID-19 forced the postponement of the French Open to the fall and the all-out cancellation of Wimbledon. That makes the U.S. Open, which begins Monday in a quiet, fan-free USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York — normally the anchor of the Grand Slam calendar — this year’s second major.
For the first time in seven months, since Novak Djokovic and Sofia Kenin hoisted trophies in Melbourne, the world’s best tennis players are converging for a two-week-long major tournament.
Except not all of the world’s best tennis players have elected to participate.
On the men’s side, two of the top three players in the world, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, are sitting this one out. That makes the 2020 U.S. Open the first Grand Slam tourney in more than two decades, since 1999, to feature neither of these all-time greats.
After many thoughts I have decided not to play this year’s US Open. The situation is very complicated worldwide, the COVID-19 cases are increasing, it looks like we still don’t have control of it.
— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) August 4, 2020
Due to a combination of injury and concerns over traveling from countries that have effectively controlled the virus to one that hasn’t, the women’s draw is missing six of the WTA’s top 10 players: Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina, defending champ Bianca Andreescu, Kiki Bertens, and Belinda Bencic.
This makes for a very different U.S. Open than we’re used to seeing, with a very different betting outlook.
Heavy handle on Djokovic
In the men’s tournament missing his two chief rivals, Djokovic is a minus-money favorite, something rarely seen at the outset of a Grand Slam. He was +100 at DraftKings Sportsbook on Friday but moved over the course of the weekend to -125. The 17-time Grand Slam winner is also -125 at FOX Bet and PointsBet, and he’s -135 at FanDuel Sportsbook.
Despite having to lay a steep price on what is essentially a seven-match parlay, Djokovic is the clear wagering choice at DraftKings, as these betting statistics the sportsbook shared Monday morning illustrate:
|PLAYER||ODDS||% OF HANDLE||% OF BETS|
|Alex De Minaur||+8000||1%||1%|
Even with the women’s field thinned, there isn’t nearly as obvious a favorite. At FanDuel, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams are +600 co-favorites, followed by Karolina Pliskova at +1000. FOX Bet also sees Osaka and Williams as co-favorites, at a lower +500. DraftKings has Osaka at +400 and Williams at +550, while PointsBet flips them with Serena +450 and Osaka +550.
(It should go without saying that if you live in a state with legal sports betting, you should search the pricing at every possible site to find whichever one has the best payout on your players of choice. There’s no good excuse, for example, for betting on Australian Open champ Kenin to win in Flushing at +1100 when another book has her at +2100.)
We’ll do it live!
Tabbing an outright winner at the outset of the tournament is just one of countless ways to bet on tennis. Bouncing from sportsbook to sportsbook, bettors will see that they can bet on who will win each quarter of the draw, each individual match, sets within those matches, and even individual games and points, thanks to live betting.
Tennis offers the widest possible range, from the “set it and forget it” approach of putting a few bucks down today on someone to win it all in two weeks, to constantly firing out bets as each match progresses.
DraftKings reports that tennis has the highest percentage of live handle of any sport the book offers, and in terms of historical live handle amounts, the sport ranks third behind only basketball and football.
Those stats are magnified with American bettors during the U.S. Open, which during the “normal” tennis year of 2019 was DraftKings’ top tennis major in terms of handle and number of bets and had the highest percentage of live betting activity.
And there’s something to be said for going match by match, set by set, game by game, or point by point, rather than taking a futures-heavy approach, in a tennis tournament as unpredictable as the 2020 U.S. Open. COVID-related dropouts will happen and will shake up the odds when they do.
It’s going to be a strange fortnight for tennis fans. No umpires asking rowdy New Yorkers to please be quiet, no late-night crowds willing beloved veterans to victory, no stocky bald men covering their face in melting ice cream.
It might be the easiest Grand Slam title Novak Djokovic or Serena Williams will ever win. Or it might be the wildest march to victory for a dark horse that the Open has ever seen.
Photo by Robert Deutsch / USA Today Sports