Following last week's resumption of the WTA Tour in Palermo, there are two new tournaments taking place in the upcoming week. Our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, previews the events...
"Martic looks the safer pick of the two, and is slightly the more serve-orientated player. Her opening several rounds look reasonably kind, and I think she's a solid selection at the current [8.2]."
Ferro wins first tournament after tour resumption
Perhaps Fiona Ferro will be the subject of a few quiz questions over the next few years, with the Frenchwoman lifting the trophy in Palermo yesterday to become the first player to win a main tour event since tennis was suspended at the start of March. Two further players have the opportunity to join her in celebrating a strong start to post-lockdown Tennis in the coming week.
There are two events taking place, with the clay courters largely travelling over from Sicily to Prague, in the Czech Republic, for a further clay event, while the first hard court tournament since the tour resumes will take place in Lexington, USA.
Quicker conditions anticipated in Prague
The dynamics of the two clay events from last week to this are likely to be rather different. In Palermo, we saw an event with pretty low court speed (the service points won figure was several percentage points below the WTA clay court mean), but in Prague, historically conditions have been quicker, and quicker than the average clay court. Further backing up this assertion is the players who have recently made the final, with a number of big-servers making this list, including home players Petra Kvitova, Lucie Safarova, Lucie Hradecka, both Pliskova sisters and Karolina Muchova.
It would appear that the more return-orientated clay-courters may not derive benefit from the conditions, which could be a problem for the tournament favourite Simona Halep. While there's little doubt that the Romanian is the most accomplished clay-courter in the field, these might be quite tricky conditions for her. Halep is the top seed, and tops the draw in the first quarter, but finding some opposition to take her on from the bottom half of the draw makes some sense. The outright market on the Exchange is still forming, but Halep is currently trading at [2.56].
Martic can benefit from quicker conditions
The main players worth considering, based on both ability and conditions, look like being Elise Mertens and Petra Martic, with several other players such as Camila Giorgi and Daria Kasatkina possible threats should they have a good week. The bottom half of the draw, though, looks a little weaker than the top half, and either Mertens or Martic appear worth dialling in on. Martic is [8.2] on the Exchange, with Mertens further back at [12.0]. Given general market prices, I think Mertens has the potential to trade around the [14.0] to [15.0] mark prior to her opening match.
Both players were in action last week in Palermo, with Mertens being beaten by Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the first round, while Martic beat her in the quarter-finals before losing in the semi-final. On clay from 2018 onwards, Martic has a clear statistical edge (around a 3% advantage in combined service/return points won percentage) but if we go a bit further back in time, Mertens actually has better three-year numbers on the surface, but was thrashed twice by Halep on clay in 2018, in Madrid (in quick conditions as well) as well as at the French Open.
Martic looks the safer pick of the two, and is slightly the more serve-orientated player so conditions should suit. Her opening several rounds look reasonably kind, and I think she's a solid selection at the current [8.2].
Serena the player to beat in Lexington
Over in Lexington, Serena Williams heads the market at just short of [4.5]. It's a new hard court event, so it's impossible to be able to assess the court speed in advance, but I'll be discussing this throughout the week in the daily previews when I have enough data to consider.
Williams' main competitor appears to be Aryna Sabalenka, who is at [5.5], and there are several young players next in the outright market, with Amanda Anisimova at [10.00] and Cori Gauff looking pretty short-priced at [11.50]. Serena's path to the latter stages could have been easier, however, with either sister Venus or Victoria Azarenka scheduled to meet her in the second round, before a potential meeting with Sloane Stephens in the quarter-finals. At this stage of their careers, however, all of these three big names haven't exhibited strong data compared to their peak levels.
Second seed Sabalenka is in the bottom quarter, and given that she's drawn to play Gauff in round two, I'm surprised to see so much market support for Gauff. Another high potential young player, Caty McNally, is also in this bracket.
Konta capable of getting through quarter three
Continuing in the bottom half of the draw, quarter three looks weak, with Johanna Konta the obvious big name. According to media reports, the Brit has travelled from Chicago on road to avoid air travel prior to travelling by car to New York, and she also has a new coach, with Maria Sharapova's former coach, Thomas Hogstedt, joining up and replacing Dimitri Zavialoff. Konta should be motivated for a positive start to the resumption of the tour, and is priced at [17.0] for the title, which makes her one of the more interesting prospects a little further down the outright list.
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Back Petra Martic at [8.2] to win WTA Prague