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Now, I know what you all must be thinking.
“Outkick must reallllllllyyyyy be struggling for some post-Super Bowl content if they’re having someone write about tennis.”
While that’s an understandable line of thought, allow me to explain why that’s not the case.
Many sports fans (present company excluded) regard the Australian Open as an undesired, yet unavoidable two-week traffic jam in the ESPN programming schedule. However, as efforts to legalize gambling are successfully duplicated across the country, these same fans will soon become aware of the immense opportunity that the game presents for their wallets.
With more than 400 men’s and women’s events spread throughout the course of an 11-month professional season, pro tennis provides an endless supply of betting opportunities for those adventurous enough, and patient enough, to dive in.
What makes tennis so enticing to informed gamblers around the world? The sport’s format endears itself quite nicely to various kinds of betting. As an individual sport, each tennis match provides opportunities to capitalize on different moneyline plays, set and game spreads, over/under bets on total games/sets per match, chances for live betting, and so much more. Books also provide chances for the ambitious to place futures wagers guessing a tournament’s eventual quarterfinalists, semifinalists, finalists, and champion.
There’s also a volume element that appeals to tennis gamblers. Struggle with your morning bets? Don’t worry. You’ve got an entire afternoon of matches to win it all back! In fact, as recently as last Monday, 286 total professional matches were played in a single day. So yeah, you can afford to get one or two wrong and still be well-positioned to turn a profit on any given day.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, when compared to other sports, it’s actually kind of easy to figure out who is going to win a tennis match. Truth be told, far more often than not, the higher ranked player in tennis wins. In fact, since 2006, only eight different men (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Del Potro, Wawrinka, Cilic, Thiem) have won a Grand Slam title.
While the women’s game has become more unpredictable of late, moneyline wagers on players like Serena Williams, Simona Halep, and Naomi Osaka will almost always pay dividends early in an event. Additionally, while the occasional bad judgment will occur, referees VERY rarely play a role in determining the outcome of a match. Though the presence of officials has never deterred gamblers before, it certainly feels better knowing you will not be cheated out of a result in this sport.
With all of that said, sporting fans still hungover from their Super Bowl prop bet losses should rest a bit easier knowing they’ll be able to make it all back over the next two weeks. With play now officially underway at the 2021 Australian Open, the tournament’s schedule features more than 100 matches over the next three days, and will provide limitless opportunities for gamblers looking to dip their toes, and perhaps their wallets, into the action.
Here are my favorite plays for Tuesday night’s/Wednesday morning’s matches. To hear more about the logic behind these picks, tune into my daily Cracked Racquets GSP: Ace of the Day segment, a series singularly focused on negotiating the many wagering opportunities happening every day in the sport. Also, if you’re interested in hearing recaps of each day’s Australian Open results, or feel inspired to start following tennis more closely, tune into our Cracked Racquets “The Mini-Break Podcast” wherever you listen to your podcasts. With that in mind, my picks are as follows:
Tuesday’s Picks (Odds via FanDuel Sportsbook)
Do I love -113 odds on a two-moneyline parlay? I do not.
However, early in Grand Slam events, moneylines are typically lopsided towards the higher-ranked, top-seeded players. Tomorrow for instance, locks to win such as women’s #2 Simona Halep (-800) and #10 Serena Williams (-2000), as well as men’s #3 seed Dominic Thiem (-2500) and #6 seed Alex Zverev (-1800), all carry moneylines that, even when parlayed together, yield little bang for their buck.
That being said, in a Ruusuvuori/Sabalenka parlay, I believe one finds the perfect nexus of certainty of victory, and just enticing enough odds, to send the pick in.
Though she lost early to an in-form Kaia Kanepi just one week ago, few players have matched Aryna Sabalenka’s success since the start of 2020. She finished the 2020 WTA season tied for the most titles (3), and 2nd in victories (30) on tour. She’s 24-6 overall since the tour resumed play last August and has won 16 of her last 17 matches (all on hard courts). As an added bonus, she defeated her opponent tomorrow, Darya Kasatkina, just five months ago in Paris by a comfortable score of 76 60.
On that occasion, Sabalenka dominated with her return of serve. She won over 50% of the return points on Kasatkina’s first serve, and a whopping 88.2% of points on her second serve. Even if you aren’t familiar with tennis, I think we can all agree that winning 88.2% of anything is pretty damn good.
Sabalenka also did not serve particularly well in that September matchup (won only 59.5% of her first serve points, was broken 4 times), but has since won 71.6% of her first serve points during her recent run of success. Kasatkina’s also only 12-22 against Top 10 players during her career, and has not defeated a Top 10 opponent since May 2018.
With the courts in Melbourne reportedly playing faster this year, there’s no reason to think Sabalenka won’t duplicate her prior success against Kasatkina tomorrow. According to FanDuel Sportsbook, she enters as a -350 favorite to win the match. Not great odds, but just intriguing enough to throw her into a parlay. Enter Emil Ruusuvuori.
After back-to-back 50 win seasons in 2018 and 2019 (albeit at the “minor league” levels of tennis), 21-year-old Emil Ruusuvuori appears primed to break into the Top 50 of the rankings during the 2021 season. 21-14 overall in his last 52 weeks of competition, Ruusuvuori reached his first career ATP-level semifinal back in October (again, to the unacquainted, this is a very good thing!!), and currently sits at a career-high of #82 in the rankings.
He also earned the 2nd Top 20 win of his career on Monday, defeating #10 seed Gael Monfils in a five-set thriller. He won 67.6% of his first serve points, and managed to break the serve of Monfils six total times during the match. Though he’s only 14-15 in ATP-level matches, his victory Monday brings him to 13-11 overall on hard courts for his career.
Though that number appears unremarkable, when compared to that of his opponent Pedro Martinez Portero, one might mistake him for a grizzled veteran. By winning his match yesterday against Yoshihito Nishioka, Martinez Portero reached the 2nd round of a hard court event for only the 2nd time in his career. Though quite successful on clay in his last 52 weeks, the 23-year-old has played only 8 career ATP-level hard court matches (including qualifying), and carries a 3-5 record overall in those battles.
In terms of how their game styles matchup, while tennis lacks the statistics needed to properly quantify Ruusuvuori’s power advantage over PMP, take my word when I say that Ruusuvuori has one. Additionally, PMP lacks the weapons needed to expose Ruusuvuori’s biggest weakness (his movement), making the matchup all the better for the young Finnish star.
Again, -113 isn’t exactly the ideal two-match moneyline parlay odds. However, let’s throw 4 units on a Sabalenka/Rusuuvuori parlay and try to kickoff our two weeks in Australia in the proper fashion.
Half of the name of the game in tennis is serving, and the taller you are, the better your serve typically is. There’s a reason that the average height of a men’s Top 100 player continues to increase, and that guys like John Isner and Ivo Karlovic continue to have success well into their 30s. If your opponent can’t break your serve, a pathway to success will continue to exist for you.
Of course, the taller you are, the more compromised other aspects of your game become. A game of intricate movements, tennis undeniably becomes more challenging when you’ve got daddy-long legs to drag around the court. The end-result for those players burdened with great height: you play a bunch of tiebreakers!!
At 6’6, Jiri Vesely meets all of the criteria mentioned above. He’s won on average over 70% of his first-serve points throughout his career, and carries a career hold-percentage of 80.9% (again for the layman, this is a very good number). He’s also played at least one tiebreaker in both 5 of his last 8, and 20 of his last 36 ATP-level matches.
Though his opponent tomorrow, Pablo Carreno Busta, will almost certainly win their match, Vesely’s played too well of late, and possesses too big of a serve, to not extend at least one set to a tiebreaker. Given his numbers throughout his career, and to make things a little more interesting, let’s throw an additional 1 unit on the over of .5 tiebreakers in the Vesely/PCB match at +115.
And with that, let Tuesday night’s matches begin!!
Alex Gruskin is the Editor-In-Chief of Cracked Racquets and host of the “Ace of the Day” segment on the Great Shot Podcast – a Tennis Channel Podcast – which breaks down daily tennis prop bets, picks and parlays.