Wimbledon 2017: Do not write off Azarenka on pregnancy return

Victoria Azarenka has a lot of upside at a big price...
Victoria Azarenka has a lot of upside at a big price...

With possibly the most open WTA Grand Slam in recent memory in prospect, our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, looks to continue his red-hot WTA form from the French Open by taking a pre-draw look at the players worth shortlisting for glory...

"The Belarussian has huge upside at this price given her superb career grass court record (35-14), and her career combined serve/return points won percentage of 108.2% would rank her third in the current two-year WTA list."

Replicating our French Open form the aim for Wimbledon

The French Open was a huge success for us, particularly from a WTA perspective, where we managed 11 consecutive winners, and were only denied an event clean-sweep by Jelena Ostapenko defeating Timea Bacsinszky, who suffered an injury in the first set of their semi-final.

I'm certainly keen to continue in this vein of form, although it will be very tough to replicate - I was told that by someone on Twitter that the odds were around 2,000/1 for the 11 consecutive winners - and we start our Wimbledon campaign with the pre-draw preview, with the final warm-up event in Eastbourne under way, albeit rain-delayed.


Kvitova and Pliskova vie for market favouritism

After her victory in Birmingham last week, Petra Kvitova is the marginal outright favourite for the Wimbledon ladies singles title, at a current 6.05/1, shading favouritism from Karolina Pliskova, at 6.25/1.

Certainly, both ladies should benefit from the pace of Wimbledon - although my metrics graded it at medium-paced for grass, it's significantly quicker than other surfaces, and it's worth mentioning that Kvitova leads the way for service points won percentage (67.0%) on grass in the last two years, with Pliskova fifth, behind Angelique Kerber, Madison Keys and Coco Vandeweghe.


Big-servers likely to thrive at SW19

Immediately, this gives decent insight into which type of players are suited by grass - big servers - and the likes of Kvitova and Pliskova are able to hold serve around 80% of the time on grass, a figure actually in excess of the ATP all-surface mean.

As with the ATP, I want to look at some specific areas to identify our shortlist - 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.

However, there are only 11 players currently priced below 100.099/1 on the Exchange on the ATP, but the WTA field contains exactly double this number, at 22 players. Therefore, it follows that our shortlist will be more plentiful than the ATP, particularly when my research demonstrated that there were numerous players in the WTA who had solid records against top 20 players on the surface.


Numerous players with good grass data but poor record against better opponents

Of those outsiders with a solid sample of data in this area, we can certainly discount Julia Goerges (2-7), Tsvetana Pironkova (5-8), Lucie Safarova (3-7), Alison Riske (1-12), and from a smaller sample, Johanna Konta (2-4), Svetlana Kuznetsova (1-4), and Anastasia Sevastova (0-3).

It's a shame that the likes of Goerges, Pironkova and Riske in particular can have a line drawn through them - they have excellent recent records on the surface, but with this metric showing weakness, it would seem to be fair to consider them flat-track bullies, rather akin to Marin Cilic in the ATP.

While Venus Williams managed to get to the Australian Open final without facing a top-25 opponent in January, this should be thought of as the exception to the rule - a player will need to have a high enough potential level to defeat a top player, and probably several of them, to go deep in the event.


Vandeweghe among many with fitness doubts

I'm also cautious about Coco Vandeweghe, despite her two-year grass court service points won and return points won percentage being fourth on the WTA Tour, with the American big-server quitting her match against Garbine Muguruza last week in Birmingham at one set all, with a twisted ankle and foot blisters.

Similarly, there are fitness doubts around Timea Bacsinszky and Caroline Wozniacki, and form and fitness issues for the likes of Agnieszka Radwanska, Madison Keys and Belinda Bencic.

With all these players struck from our thoughts, we can start to concentrate our focus on the players worthy of inclusion on our shortlist.


Kerber and Halep strong statistical options

Quite surprisingly, Angelique Kerber leads the way statistically on grass in the last two years, and last year's runner-up may be a touch under-rated at a current 20.019/1.

The German, still somehow world number one, has just toughed out a three-set win against Krystina Pliskova at Eastbourne, and a good showing on the south coast can give her confidence. Depending on how the out-of-form German fares this week, she can be considered on our shortlist.

French Open runner-up Simona Halep 19.018/1 is another who we can add - she has a tour-leading 47.6% of return points won on grass in the last two years, and is third behind Kerber and Kvitova for the combined serve and return points won.

My main issue with the Romanian is whether she can mentally get over the brutal defeat to Jelena Ostapenko in Paris, but these odds based on her numbers and strong recent form on clay are an insult to her. I'll be keeping an eye on her data from Eastbourne.


Grass-court specialists available at big prices

Other players I am not keen to jettison at this juncture are Sabine Lisicki 120.0119/1, a grass-court natural who showed a good level in Mallorca last week on her return to tour from injury, and the improving Kristina Mladenovic, although she looks a touch short at 30.029/1.

Also worthy of consideration are Magdalena Rybarikova, another grass-court specialist who has won six of 11 matches against top-20 opponents on the surface, CiCi Bellis, Ash Barty 50.049/1, a player with huge potential and upside, and top-ten grass stats in the last two years, and probably to the surprise of some, Victoria Azarenka at 40.039/1.


Azarenka has massive upside at a huge price

The Belarussian has massive upside at this price given her superb career grass court record (35-14), and her career combined serve/return points won percentage of 108.2% would rank her third in the current two-year WTA list. While Azarenka's level in Mallorca last week following her return to tour from pregnancy was mediocre, she will no doubt benefit from the time on court, and I'll be keeping an eye on her draw on Friday morning.

Certainly, the draw is critical - Lisicki, Rybarikova, Bellis, Barty and Azarenka are all unseeded - and this quintet could receive brutal draws, but in advance of Friday, they form our shortlist, along with Kerber and Halep.

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.

Get a Free £/€20 Exchange Bet

  • Join Now - Open account using promo code VAL225
  • Bet - Place a £/€20 Bet on the Exchange
  • Earn We'll Refund You £/€20 If the Bet Loses

T&Cs apply.

Discover the latest articles