Gary Boswell has cast his eye across this year's women's draw for the US Open and picked out a few players worth backing at long odds...
"My final portfolio pick is the Brit Johanna Konta. It comes with a slight tinge of nervousness. Can we really hope to have a player at last that can break into the final of a slam? The mindset - as usual with the Brits - is the problem."
There have been four 'outsiders' winning the Men's Grand Slams in the last 11 years. Two of those came at Flushing Meadows, with Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic both recording wins. Then there's Stan Wawrinka's two wins of course. The rest of the 39 slams have been shared between the Big Four (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic).
In the same time-frame, with the Big Four in women's tennis being just a Big One (Serena Williams), there have been 11 genuine outsiders winning, with Flavia Pennetta's win last year at Flushing Meadows being perhaps the biggest of the lot. Women's tennis is where it's at when looking for a big-priced outsider to win and that one-a-year average over the past 11 years could mean we are due another one next fortnight, having had three favourites win the first three slams of the year.
That is, unless we just saw it, of course. Monica Puig's win in Rio was up there with the biggest of big shocks. Perhaps her 6-1 6-1 defeat of Garbine Muguruza was the catalyst. A completely unexpected win for me and to back that up with semi-final and final wins over Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber was nothing short of sensational. It was only her second win on the tour and at 22, in such a big match, her composure and relentless hitting accuracy was mighty impressive. There was not one smidgen of a wobble across the finishing line as she took that third set 6-1 against the single most effective and consistent player on the circuit this year.
Angelique Kerber is justifiably world number two now after three big finals in 2016 - her slam breakthrough year - and the fact that she has chance to go to the world number one spot with a good show at Flushing Meadows makes her a value bet at [11.0] in the outrights even if not quite fitting our 'find the outsider' bill. I'll stay with Monica Puig on that. Her [47.0] on the Exchange is a difficult price to evaluate as of course there must be doubt over whether she could possibly follow that performance up, but as the mindset was so strong in Rio, I think she is a must include in the portfolio in case she turns out to be a member of the new women's Big Four, if we include Kerber and Garbine Muguruza.
That all assumes that Serena stays around in the Big Four and at [2.68] to lay at The Meadow, she's the usual oppose to fund the attempt to find a longshot winner. She could win again of course - three slam finals this year means she is still very much in the mix but I've seen the cracks for a while now. Tough games in consecutive days now beyond her and the defeat to Elina Svitolina in Rio looked the work of tired legs. It has been a long hard year, and she wouldn't be my 6/4 favourite for the next fortnight.
Stay with the new young things. Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova - who won this week at the New Western - are obvious possibles but short enough in the betting and I prefer the Latvian Jelena Ostapenko at around [401.0]. She's only 19 and still raw but now that Puig has showed the way, I fancy Ostapenko's tough mindset will see her breakthrough in the not-too-distant future. This event might be a tad early but keep her on your 'to follow' list. I saw her despatch Kvitova on grass at Birmingham this year and that win had 'future champion' written all over it.
My other long, longshot comes from the other end of the age spectrum. Roberta Vinci is 33-years-old now and her chance may perhaps have passed with last year's final. But her price is as big as [501.0] in some quarters and may come up larger on the Exchange in the days ahead with her current form not being great. Pennetta showed that the Italians now carry that enormous belief into the slams following Francesca Schiavone's 2010 win at the French Open. And this Flushing Meadows hard court is Vinci's surface. [501.0] will look a fabulous back-to-lay price if she has a good first week in the early rounds.
My final portfolio pick is the Brit Johanna Konta. It comes with a slight tinge of nervousness. Can we really hope to have a player at last that can break into the final of a slam? The mindset - as usual with the Brits - is the problem. Magnificent one day in Rio against Svetlana Kuznetsova, all at sea the next against Kerber. And although 2016 has been her breakthrough year with the semi-final achievement in Melbourne a serious UK women's tennis highlight of the past 20 years, you worry that her imperious serve-dominated game does seem to come completely unstuck against the top drawer returners. [51.0] might be short but the talent is definitely there and hard court is her surface too, so I can hardly postulate that she needs to learn to back herself more if I am not going to do same. She could win here if she manages to eliminate the inconsistency.
3pt LAY on Serena Williams at anything under [2.7]
0.5pt BACK on Angelique Kerber at around [11.0]
0.5pt BACK on Monica Puig at around [46.0]
0.5pt BACK on Johanna Konta at around [51.0]
0.5pt BACK on Jelena Ostapenko at around [401.0]
0.5pt BACK on Roberta Vinci at around [501.0]