2017 Grass Season Preview: Murray the man to beat
Following Rafa Nadal's win at the French Open, the tennis calendar moves into the grass court season. Our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, looks at the unique tendencies of the surface...
"Of the top players in the world, it’s no surprise to see Murray and Federer at the forefront of Wimbledon betting, with both having superb records on grass. Murray has lost just once in 23 matches on the surface in the past two years, with Federer’s 21-4 record almost as impressive."
Murray and Federer favourites for Wimbledon title
After watching the King of Clay humble Stan Wawrinka in today's men's singles final at the French Open, our attention turns to grass, and with Nadal now having claimed 10 titles at Roland Garros, it's worth noting that compared to his clay record, where he has also claimed an incredible 53 titles, the Spaniard struggles. Nadal has won a mere four titles in his entire career on grass, with his last triumph at Wimbledon being in 2010.
With this in mind, the grass court season should be very open indeed, with Andy Murray, at [3.95] and Roger Federer [4.0] being the current favourites for the men's title at Wimbledon, while Karolina Pliskova [7.4] is the current ladies favourite.
Court speed a major difference on grass
For those who are unaware, grass is by some distance the quickest surface on tour, and with clay the slowest, it will be tough for some players to adjust to the pace of the courts.
Certainly, there is a strong tendency for serve orientated players to do well on grass, while most clay courters do not benefit from conditions.
This phenomenon is completely logical, given the fact that serve orientated players benefit from the extra pace on their serves, with some preferring a serve/volley style, whereas clay courters do not have enough long rallies where to assert their advantage.
Huge benefits for strong servers on grass
Numbers also illustrate the difference in pace from clay to grass. Looking at 2016 clay data in the ATP, 76.4% of service games were held, with 0.37 aces per game achieved. However, on grass last year, these figures rocketed to 84.0% holds, and 0.63 aces per game.
There were also 0.21 tiebreaks per set on grass, compared to 0.16 on clay, and on the quicker grass venues, particularly in the UK, there may be some mileage in betting on tiebreaks with certain match-ups.
WTA characteristics were similarly profound, with grass holds rising to 69.8% from 62.6% on clay, and there were 0.30 aces per game as opposed to 0.20 on the dirt - quite incredibly, the WTA grass aces per game average was not far off the ATP clay mean.
Stuttgart expected to be the quickest venue this week
In the coming week, we have events in Stuttgart and Hertogenbosch (ATP) and WTA action also in Hertogenbosch, as well as Nottingham. Assessing the historical data, Stuttgart looks to be a little quicker than the average grass venue, while the other events look to be a touch slower - however, I'll profile these in more detail in this week's coming tournament preview.
Murray and Federer with superb grass court records
With grass court conditions covered, I want to look at which players tend to thrive or struggle on grass. As I mentioned previously, serve orientated players tend to perform much better than clay courters on the surface, and considering this, I wanted to discuss some players whose records on grass are vastly superior compared to on other surfaces.
Of the top players in the world, it's no surprise to see Murray and Federer at the forefront of Wimbledon betting, with both having superb records on grass. Murray has lost just once in 23 matches on the surface in the past two years, with Federer's 21-4 record almost as impressive. Novak Djokovic doesn't tend to play warm-up events on the surface, but is 9-1 at Wimbledon alone in this time period.
Wawrinka, Nadal and Thiem all with improvement needed
However, Stan Wawrinka (6-4 in the last two years on grass) and Nadal (8-4 in the last three years) do not have nearly as impressive records, while young prospect Dominic Thiem has plenty of work to do as well, with just a 9-6 record in 2015 and 2016 combined on the surface, breaking opponents just 15.7% of the time.
Furthermore, there are a number of lower-ranked players who consistently over-perform their ranking on the surface. Certainly, Gilles Muller, the out of form Bernard Tomic, Feliciano Lopez, Nicolas Mahut, Adrian Mannarino and even Rajeev Ram, who has a stunning record in Newport, all spring to mind on the ATP Tour.
Konta likely to improve after poor clay season
In the WTA, I expect Johanna Konta to overcome a predictably woeful clay season on a surface much more consistent with her strengths, while the likes of Coco Vandeweghe, Alison Riske, Tsvetana Pironkova, Camila Giorgi and this week's Surbiton ITF winner Magdalena Rybarikova have solid records on the surface throughout the years and are all in action in the coming week.
With the clay season, particularly in the WTA, being very open indeed, I expect similar on grass, but on a surface with such differing characteristics to others, understanding the likely conditions and which players will thrive on it will be critical. Bettors and traders alike would do very well to identify surface-specific player information in the coming few weeks in their quest for profits.
Follow Dan on Twitter @TennisRatings