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Betting on Living Legends Tennis Players

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With the Australian Open, the first of the 2018 Grand Slam events not far away, it’s fascinating to note that the players who most observers expect to dominate the big tournaments are the same names that have been at the top of the game for more than a decade, namely Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams. Federer is the current favorite for the Australian Open with a best price of 3-1, with Nadal second favorite at 7-2, while Serena Williams is the bookies’ favorite for the women’s title at a best price of 9-2.

That these three are at the head of the early markets in the first Slam of the year is no surprise given their dominance for so many years of the world’s biggest tournaments. With a combined total of 58 Grand Slam singles titles between them (Federer 19, Nadal 16, Williams 23), plus the fact that all three won Grand Slams in 2017 despite being aged in their thirties, (Federer took out the Australia Open and Wimbledon, Nadal won the US Open, while Williams won the Australian Open), it is hard to argue against all three having a very good chance of coming out on top again in 2018.

Betting on the living legends

While some maintain that having these living legends still dominating the game is good for tennis, the fact that there are so few up-and-comers who look to have realistic chances of winning the major tournaments does pose some problems for those who like to take a punt on the Grand Slams. As can be seen from the survey of the outright winner odds at the upcoming Australian Open above, you can rarely get good value when backing any of these three to win a tournament, let alone any given match.

Therefore, while an outright bet on a tennis legend might not give you especially enticing odds, by making use of sites offering in-play tennis betting you might be able to steal an advantage. For instance, rather than betting on Federer winning a match, you might be better off having an in-play bet on him taking out a tie-break. In 2017, his record in tie-breaks was 17-5 (77%), so you might get some slightly better bet value when this arises. Another good value bet could be if Rafael Nadal drops the first set, as when he does so he still goes on to win the match over 40% of the time.

For those who like to take a punt on something a little more exotic, you might want to take an in-play bet on Serena Williams losing the first set in a match. For instance, when she won the French Open in 2015, Williams actually lost the first set three times on her way to taking the title, so betting on her dropping the first and then going on to win might be one of the best value bets you can get on this modern great.

How do they stay at the top for so long?

What’s fascinating about these living legends, particularly Federer and Williams, is how they have been able to stay at the top of their games aged well into their mid-thirties (both will turn 37 in 2018). Other greats of the game, like Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, were unable to match this sort of longevity — Borg retired aged twenty-six, while McEnroe’s last Grand Slam came in 1984 when he was only 25.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Grand Slams were regularly won by teenagers, like Boris Becker at Wimbledon in 1985 (aged 17), Michael Chang at the French Open in 1989 (aged 17), Stefan Edberg who won Wimbledon aged 19 in 1988, and Pete Sampras who won the first of his five US Open titles aged 19 in 1990. However, a player of this age winning a grand Slam in today’s environment seems increasingly unlikely.

Marat Safin recently said that he thought age was going to catch up with Federer and Nadal, but also that these senior players’ dominance of the game was in part down to modern players developing later than they did in previous eras. In his view, younger pros aren’t as hungry as they once were, as evidenced by how few youngsters now win ATP tournaments, let alone Grand Slams, and this is what has enabled Federer, Nadal and Williams to stay at the top for so long.

Another factor that may contribute to these leading players’ longevity is how they manage their schedules. Increasingly, Federer has shown himself to be selective about the tournaments in which he plays, and is prepared to forgo ranking points in order to maintain maximum fitness. This is why he has perhaps proven to be more durable than the younger Nadal, who recently had to pull out of the ATP Finals due to a knee injury.

Serena Williams faces a whole new challenge in this regard, having given birth to her first child in September of 2017. Observers have noted how other leading women players have faced significant challenges in regaining their form and desire after becoming mothers, and so this may well lead to her becoming increasingly selective as to which tournaments she plays in, to keep both the hunger and to maintain the physical condition she needs to win in Grand Slams.

However, in the end it can also be argued that Federer, Nadal and Williams are all very aware of their legacies and their place in the record books. The drive and hunger that got them to the top in the first place may well be what fires them to guard their place in the history of the game, and will also keep them going in their pursuit of further greatness.

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