With the tournament starting Monday evening, Dan Weston returns and rubber-stamps his outright thoughts for the women's competition...
"Pliskova has the best hard court combined hold/break stats this year out of all the players in quarter three (114%) and has a relatively straightforward first few matches here."
Williams with history on her side against Sharapova
The undoubted highlight of the women's singles draw was the scheduled opening round meeting between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.
While both players are fitness doubts and it is difficult to make a strong case that they are currently at peak level, it's certainly one that the neutral will be hugely looking forward to. History would suggest Sharapova will find matters difficult, having won just two of their 21 head-to-head meetings, but this is a real marquee clash for an opening round of a Grand Slam tournament.
Barty the first real test for Serena
Williams' task in quarter four gets markedly easier following this, with her first real test likely to come against Ashleigh Barty in a potential quarter-final.
As I mentioned earlier on in the week, the veteran former world number one still leads the hard court charts for combined hold/break percentages this year, but Barty is only several percentage points behind, and with Williams having fitness doubts, it's far from guaranteed that she will be favourite in a one-off match against the Australian, who won the French Open several months ago.
Despite this, Serena is still the market favourite to lift the trophy, with her price at [6.8] at the time of writing with Barty standing at fourth favourite at [11.5].
This might have something to do with Barty possibly having to face Angelique Kerber in round four as well, but I also suspect Williams' price is rather reputation-driven as well.
Osaka a slight favourite to win quarter one
Top seed Naomi Osaka is positioned at the top of the draw, leading quarter one, and the Japanese player, who stands outside the top 10 this year when looking at combined hold/break percentages on hard court this year, can ease herself into the tournament with potential meetings against Anna Blinkova and Magda Linette.
Clashes against Belinda Bencic and Kiki Bertens await if she is to make the semi-finals, at least.
Both Bencic and Bertens are rated lower by that metric than Osaka, so it looks reasonable that Osaka is slight favourite to come out of quarter one. Aryna Sabalenka, who has another marquee round one meeting against fellow Belarussian, Victoria Azarenka, statistically looks like another threat in this bracket.
Andreescu far from overrated in quarter two
Quarter two has a fascinating mix of high profile players who have struggled a little this year. On the Exchange, Simona Halep is the [3.5] favourite to win the quarter and make the semi-finals, but her hard court numbers this year (107% combined hold/break percentage) have been uninspiring and make her ripe for opposition in this market.
With the quarter also containing injury doubts in Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova, as well as Sloane Stephens, who hasn't shown much level of late, my pick here is Bianca Andreescu, who has accumulated a stunning record on hard court this year (117% combined) and who has reached four hard court finals this year - including winning two Premier Mandatory events in Toronto several weeks ago, and also in likely similar conditions to here at Indian Wells in March. We can get 9/2 with the Sportsbook on the Canadian 19 year old to win quarter two and I think she's by far the best contender to come out of this bracket.
Pliskova looking like a clear favourite in quarter three
Finally, in quarter three, all eyes should be on Karolina Pliskova. Yes, the Czech doesn't have the best record in Grand Slams, making just three semi-finals in her career, but two were on hard court and her only Slam final was here, in 2016.
Pliskova has the best hard court combined hold/break stats this year out of all the players in quarter three (114%) and has a relatively straightforward first few matches here, with Caroline Garcia and Jo Konta in the third and fourth round not nearly as much of a threat as they would be on grass, and both of those players haven't shown a high level in recent weeks - they could quite conceivably be eliminated prior to a potential clash with Pliskova, in any case.
Pliskova is available at [4.1] to win quarter three, and this can be considered along with the [14.5] outright price. On balance, I probably prefer the quarter price - surely one of Williams, Osaka or Barty will thrive to become loved by the market - so this, along with Andreescu, are our advance outright picks for this year's US Open.
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Back Bianca Andreescu at 9/2 to win Quarter Two
Back Karolina Pliskova at [4.1] to win Quarter Three