The draw for Wimbledon is due on Friday morning but, with anticipation rising, we asked tennis columnist Dan Weston for his pre-draw shortlist for glory at SW19...
"Certainly, on his favourite surface, Federer is the player to beat, and stats accurately reflect this. He leads the ATP Tour for combined service points and return points won, at 110.2%."
Champagne on ice for the next fortnight
Strawberries and cream, champagne and top level grass court tennis.
There is no tennis tournament, or arguably sporting event, comparable to Wimbledon, which gets underway on Monday morning.
For those of us looking at betting and trading options, however, the only champagne we should be considering drinking will be in celebration when our bets are paid out, and there is no better time to start looking at outright options for the coming fortnight than now, a stage of the season where almost all players have competed in grass court warm-up events, and form is rubber-stamped.
However, it's difficult to want to commit too much to players without assessing their draw, and consequently, I'll be back over the weekend to check out the draw and finalise our outright options for this year's event.
Wimbledon conditions likely to be medium-paced for grass
First of all, it's worth discussing the likely conditions that the players will experience in the coming fortnight. It's almost certain that the court speed will be average for a grass venue, with 83.9% of service games held and a mean of 0.64 aces per game achieved in the last three years at SW19, compared to the ATP grass court mean figures of 84.4% and 0.66, respectively, in the same time period.
Having said this, it's worth noting that these figures are hugely in excess of all-surface numbers, and particularly clay courts, where the players have been forced to transition from following the conclusion of the French Open several weeks ago, so players will have had some adjusting to do from a court speed basis.
Nadal lacking grass-court match practice
On this basis, playing warm-up matches on grass seems an entirely logical plan for players, so it's interesting to note that Rafa Nadal has chosen not to do so, withdrawing from Queens last week citing fatigue following his triumph at Roland Garros.
Conversely, Novak Djokovic, who tends to only play grass court exhibition matches in advance of Wimbledon, decided to take a late entry into Eastbourne, and the Serb has just defeated Vasek Pospisil in his opening match on the south coast.
With the grass court season shorter than clay or hard courts, I like to look at a few particular areas when compiling an outright market shortlist, and these areas specific to grass are no injury doubts, reasonable form, strong serve/return data on the relevant surface over the last 24 months, and a solid career record against top 20 opponents on the surface.
I'm more willing to look at records against top 20 opponents currently given the open nature of both the ATP and WTA fields - certainly there are no utterly dominant players in the draw, as both Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams have been in recent years.
Federer boasts the best career record against top 20 players on grass
Those at the forefront of the market, unsurprisingly, have the best records against top 20 opponents on grass. Tournament favourite, Roger Federer, at 3.45, has a 35-12 career record (74.5%) and leads this metric from Rafa Nadal (17-6, 73.9%), Andy Murray (28-11, 71.8%) and Novak Djokovic (17-8, 68.0%). Nadal is currently 5.95/1 with the Exchange, with Murray at 5.85/1 and Djokovic, 7.613/2.
Lower-ranked big servers also with strong records
However, it may be of interest to readers to learn of some unheralded names who have beaten top 20 opponents on grass more than 50% of the time - the big-serving trio of Ivo Karlovic (12-9), Feliciano Lopez (16-15) and Gilles Muller (7-4) all fall into this bracket, and if we are looking at long-shot options, certainly could be considered. Queens champion Lopez, at 130.0129/1, is the shortest-priced option of these players, with Muller at 620.0619/1 and Karlovic even bigger at 880.0879/1.
Of the other players towards the top of the market, Milos Raonic (6-6) and Grigor Dimitrov (5-5), also have non-negative records, but there is a long list of players who have had huge issues against top-20 players on the surface historically.
Cilic and Wawrinka with poor records against top players on grass
Focusing on players priced below 150.0149/1 in the outright market with this poor record, we can discount several players.
Marin Cilic, with a 6-11 record, is one, despite the Croat receiving market support and being backed into a current 24.023/1. Considering his grass data is strong - he has won 73.3% of service points and 34.7% of return points to lie third on tour in this combined metric - but his record against better players is weak, he appears to fit the profile of a flat-track bully. That is unlikely to get the job done against the best players in the world.
Stan Wawrinka, currently available at 42.041/1, is friendless in the market and it is obvious to see why - he is just 1-7 against top 20 players on grass (win over David Goffin, who is absent this year with an ankle injury) and has reached the final of a grass event just once (a 250 event, where he lost to Nicolas Mahut) in his entire career. The Swiss player actually has the opposite dynamic to Cilic, in that he reserves his best tennis for the highest profile matches, but it is impossible to side with Wawrinka here.
Karlovic, Lopez and Muller on our shortlist
Moving onto grass court historical player data, it's worthwhile noting that both Karlovic and Lopez also boast combined service points won percentages of 103.0% or greater in the last two years, better than the likes of Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Gael Monfils and Nick Kyrgios. Muller is a little lower, at 102.0%.
With this in mind, I'm keen to shortlist these players prior to the draw as back-to-lay propositions. A tough draw may scupper us, but Karlovic, Lopez and Muller - all in great form on the surface - are definite options.
Fitness doubts surrounding many other contenders
From an injury and form perspective, there are certainly fitness doubts over the likes of Milos Raonic, Juan Martin Del Potro and Kei Nishikori amongst others, while there has to be at least some question mark around Rafa following his withdrawal from Queens.
Furthermore, the King of Clay is ranked just 17th on the ATP Tour for combined service points won and return points won on grass in the last two years, and can be easily swerved.
Bigger doubts over Murray than Djokovic
World number one Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic lead those with concerns over their form, and of the two, I'm keener to side with Djokovic. He has an excellent record at Wimbledon, winning the title in three of the last six years, his 2017 data is marginally better than the Scotsman's, although both are in huge decline, and Djokovic boasts better grass data in the last two years. At a current 7.613/2, I have a suspicion that Djokovic's price may prove some value.
Murray also has some fitness doubts - he withdrew from his exhibition match at the Hurlingham Club yesterday with another hip issue, and it is far from guaranteed that he is not feeling the after-effects of shingles, which he picked up earlier in the year.
Federer justifiably market favourite for glory
This leaves us with just one player worthy of discussion - tournament favourite Roger Federer. The Swiss legend has been backed into 3.45, as mentioned previously, following his standard, almost yearly, win in Halle last week.
Certainly, on his favourite surface, Federer is the player to beat, and stats accurately reflect this. He leads the ATP Tour for combined service points and return points won across the last two years on grass, at 110.2%, while doubts persist about his ability in longer matches in this best of five set format, I need to point out that he's won four of five deciding fifth sets in the last 12 months.
At the age of 35, Federer certainly isn't getting any younger, and he's far from unbeatable, but he remains the player to beat at SW19 in the next fortnight.
Join Dan on @BetfairExchange during Wimbledon!
Dan will be taking the reins of our Twitter account, @BetfairExchange, during Wimbledon fortnight, live tweeting during key games, updating on news and bringing you his detailed stats analysis.