by Chris, the Impaler - 08/26/2005
On Monday, despite not playing (due to injury) in the US Open Series WTA event in Toronto, Maria Sharapova became the No. 1 ranked woman on the WTA. Tennis' 18-year-old femme fatale surged ahead of Lindsey Davenport, however, due to her poor showing in US Open Series tournaments Sharapova won't qualify for the bonus money offered by the US Open this year. Sharapova, although No. 1 in the world isn't even the women's favorite to win the US Open this year, while the women's US Open Series odds have point's leader Clijsters at 2/1 to win it all.
In 2005, the man and woman who finish first in US Open Series play will compete for double prize money at the US Open-meaning a potential $2.2 million payday at the end of the Flushing fortnight. Second- and third-place finishers will receive an additional 50 percent and 25 percent, respectively, of what they otherwise would have won at the Open.
To sweeten the already tasty $1.1 million winner's pot at this year's US Open, the US Open Series has initiated 'US Open Bonus Challenge' that links tennis players with the most wins in US Open Series tournaments to the money they earn at the US Open. Have the lines-makers adjusted the US Open odds in this year's tournament to include the US Open Series "bonus challenge?"
I doubt it. Rather it is no coincidence that the favored players to win the US Open are actually the players who have been playing the best tennis on the hard courts of the US Open Series tour. Since the US Open is also on hard court the Open Series has been a great tour for tuning-up their groundstrokes as the players head into the Open. And tune up they have! With 200 players, ten tournaments and $2.2 million on the line, the US Open Series has been a success as a tour, as well as for television and wagering this year. This is great news for tennis and the tennis wagerarti as we continue onto Slam season where the winner of the 2005 US Open has the potential of earning $2.2 million, in the US Open Series inaugural 'Bonus Challenge.'
While the bonus challenge is a nice hook to get the marquee players playing on their tour, it does not affect the betting odds on the players at the US Open. Essentially, the 'bonus challenge' gives the bookmakers more information as to how the marquee players play against one another since it is assumed players will gravitate to the US Open Series tournaments now. However, gamblers looking for an edge should note that the 'bonus challenge' does not add incentive to win for most players this year since a significant portion of the marquee players are not on the US Open Series leader board and don't have a chance at doubling their money. This means they'll have to play for the boring 'old school' reasons.
For instance, Andy Roddick (120 points in US Open Series tennis and current points leader) overtook Andre Agassi and clinched the US Open Series title when Roddick fell to Federer on the hard courts of Cincinnati 3-6, 5-7, last weekend. Federer's win moved his ranking on the US Open Series tour board into fourth place behind Roddick with 100 points. Does this mean that Federer is playing worse than Roddick since he came in fourth in US Open series play? Not at all, it just means Federer has played in fewer US Open Series tournaments this year.
If Roddick loses in the quarterfinals (he won't) at the US Open normally he would earn 135K for his effort, but as the US Open Series winner he is eligible to win double that money which doubles his payout to 270K! Roddick's US Open odds are 7/1 and are not predicated on his 120 points in US Open series play, but overall play on the ATP as well. If Agassi as the second place point's leader wins the US Open this year he will get the $1.1 million plus 50% or $550,000.
Here's the rub. This cash bonus incentive only kicks in if you are a top ranked "US Open Series" winner. Top ranked ATP players like Lindsey Davenport and Justine Henin-Hardenne are not even on the board in the US Open Series this year, but are both potential threats to win the US Open as well. This means that if Henin-Hardenne wins the Women's final this year she would not be eligible for the bonus.
For the women, Kim Clijsters has dominated US Open Series play and should be considered the favorite to win the US Open this year. Her 225 points eclipses her closest opponent, Mary Pierce (100 points) by 125 points. The third is Ai Sugiyama, hardly the favorite to win the US Open this year. So on the women's side the competition is sparse if non-existent. With her win in Toronto was her third US Open series title this season as Clijsters easily clinched the US Open Series for the women. She also has been playing some great tennis after overcoming a leg injury earlier this year. In fact, Clijsters has been installed at the 2/1 favorite according to US Open odds.
The Bonus Challenge discriminates against those who do not play US Open Series tournaments, naturally. They are looking out for their own interests, while rewarding those who play the US Open series and by not exactly punishing those who do not play in their tournaments. Essentially a guarantee that no one from the outside will fall into bonus money, while offering the biggest single purse in individual sports (poker players hold your tongue) to the players that do.
More to the point, tennis' popularity is surging and everyone is looking to capitalize. Why not? The USTA and ESPN announced that the US Open Series featuring both men's and women's tournaments was up 32 percent over the first week of ESPN's 2004 coverage. The overall program's ratings climbed by 33 percent. Numbers like that can't be ignored. It won't be long before all players will play the US Open Series tour. Remember to win in US Open Series tennis the best of three sets is all that is required, while the US Open is a murderous best of five sets.
A look at total tennis viewers only reinforces the point that tennis' popularity is surging. ESPN2's broadcast of the men's Mercedes-Benz Cup was up 85 percent compared to 2004, with the Sunday finale attracting 631,000 viewers; 427,000 more viewers as compared to 2004 semifinal. Not only do the players have a shot at doubling their money, but will also enjoy national audiences that lacked in the past.
"For the players, it's obviously a no-lose situation when there's more money at the US Open," Davenport responded to the US Open Series bonus challenge. "I'm looking to play a lot of tournaments and hopefully do well enough to win it again. I'd love to get another chance for the extra million-dollar prize."
But the chance won't come this year for Davenport and many other top ranked marquee players on both sides of the gender since they are not on top of US Open Series leader board going into the US Open this year. The fact that Davenport is 12/1 to win the Women's US Open has nothing do with her standings in US Open Series, but rather in the law of diminishing returns-literally.
Men's US Open OddsThere has not been a repeat US Open champ since 1997-98 when Australian Patrick Rafter captured the singles titles at back to back US Open's. This year Roger Federer defends his title as he tries to win his second Grand Slam this year. We will most likely see a rematch of the Cincinnati Open (and Wimbledon Gentlemen's Final) with Andy Roddick playing against Roger Federer with the same result.
In our US Open Bonus Challenge edition we'll not only look at who is likely to win the US Open on the men's and women's sides, but also we will look at how these players rate on the US Open Bonus Challenge. Meaning, will anyone really have a shot at the $2.2 million. Short answer: sure, if your name is Roddick or Clijsters.
Roger Federer (1/1.3 US Open odds) has been number one on the ATP for an astounding 81 consecutive weeks but you won't find him near the points leader of the US Open Series. There was a slight chink in the Swiss armor at Cincinnati as Federer survived a semi-final scare against Robert Ginepri. Now Federer looks to continue his dominance in all things tennis. I wouldn't bet against the defending champ, and this is a great price. However, it won't be easy at times since there are several cannons capable of winning the US Open this year. However, if you can lay less than two dollars on Federer you should consider this one of the best deals in sports investment this year. Projected Exit: Champion.
Field (3/1 US Open odds) A Dead money bet if I have ever seen one. Perhaps even deader money than the Impaler playing in the WPT at the Bike this weekend against the Legends of Poker. The field line is set to separate you from your bankroll. Field does not mean Federer, Nadal, or Roddick so how can this wager cash?
Andy Roddick (7/1 US Open odds), the winner of the US Open Series and the No. 3 ranked player in the world, has accumulated 120 points so far this year in the US Open Series, but was forced to withdraw from the 2005 Mercedes-Benz Cup presented by Countrywide due to soreness in his right knee. It did not look like Roddick suffered too much from his injury in the final against Federer. Despite his loss to Federer he won the US Open Series this year and looks to double his money at the US Open and capture his second US Open in three years, but that will be difficult indeed. In 2003, Roddick beat Ferrero in straight sets. Since Roddick is eligible for the $2.2 million bonus package, Roddick might have the added incentive when he meets Federer in the finals. However, the main problem with laying 7-1 is that you have to absolutely believe that Federer can be beaten in a Grand Slam final. Federer has never lost a Grand Slam final. The bad news is that Roddick won't win in Flushing; the good news is that as point's leader he'll double his runner up prize. Projected Exit: Finals Runner-up.
Rafael Nadal (9/1 US Open odds) captured his first ever hard court Master Series by defeating Andre Agassi 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 in the finals of the Rogers Cup in Montreal, Canada. However, Nadal struggled on the way to his third Masters Series title out of six this year. Nadal is tied with Switzerland's Roger Federer as a three-time 2005 Masters Series champion. Nadal reached the final in Miami, but bowed out to Federer in three close sets. While Nadal has proven that his should be ranked in the top five, hard court is not his best surface and if he faces Roddick or Federer in his draw, he'll end up losing a close match. Projected Exit: Semi-Finals.
Lleyton Hewitt (13/1 US Open odds) There have been a dearth of singles titles from the Cannon from down under. He won the US Open in 2001, and last year Hewitt returned to the US Open finals and lost in straight sets to Federer. In Cincinnati he lost in the Semi-Finals to Roddick in straight sets and he seems like he is having trouble closing out top-tier opponents while beating lesser foes. Unfortunately, the US Open is demanding and perhaps Hewitt has lost a step, in either case he has been beaten already this year by Safin, Roddick and Federer and I don't see that changing anytime soon for the blond Australian. Projected Exit: Semi-Finals.
Marat Safin (31/1 US Open odds) has already won a slam this year when he beat Hewitt at the Australian Open. Perhaps much more impressive was hi semi-final round when he played to the brink of exhaustion against the Swiss Missile Roger Federer and won the grueling five set battle! However, the Australian Open hangover was rough as he lost in the round of 16 to Tommy Robredo at the French Open an in the round of 32 at Wimbledon, clay and grass surfaces respectively. At the US Open he returns to the hard courts - a surface that is well suited to his mad-Russian style of play. However, Safin looked positively anemic at Cincinnati when he lost in straight sets to Robby Ginepri in the quarterfinals. He'll need to be more consistent as the US Open. Projected Exit: Quarterfinals.
Andre Agassi (26/1 US Open odds) A sentimental favorite, but unfortunately, he is dead money this year. With his best playing days behind him, Agassi is looking for one more Grand Slam before he retires, but that might prove elusive. Agassi is still recovering from some nagging injuries that showed in Montreal a few weeks ago, but you can never really count out Agassi. However, recently his play has shown some wear and tear, as he has not made a Grand Slam final this year. The 26/1 odds show that the linesmen still respect his play, but realistically Agassi should be 50/1 this year at the Open. Projected Exit: Fourth Round
Women's 2005 US Open OddsWhen Venus Williams won Wimbledon earlier this year, did she put women's tennis on notice that the Williams' are back to regain the mantle of dominating women's tennis? Not likely, the rest of the ladies have caught up to the Williams stranglehold on women's tennis, and now the Williams' can no longer take for granted the talent and skills that put them so far ahead of the women on the WTA. Certainly, they have what it takes to win another Grand Slam this year, however, with the punishing tennis that Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Lindsey Davenport and Maria Sharapova have displayed this year, returning to the finals will require that both Williams (especially Serena) be in better shape and stronger mentally. However, far and away the woman playing the best tennis of her life right now is US Open Series winner Kim Clijsters - which is obviously why she is the favorite this year.
Kim Clijsters (2/1 US Open odds) Far and away one of the most prolific US Open Series players is installed as a well-deserved favorite. She tops the leader board with 125 with Mary Pierce in second place with 100 points. So Clijsters is playing her best tennis on the US Open Series and has the bonus incentive if she can get by a minefield of talent to the finals. We think she can and will. $2.2 million is eating a cold dish if you ask me. It wouldn't surprise me to see a rematch of the 2003 Finale with a different result. In 2003, Henin-Hardenne crushed Clijsters 7-5, 6-1. Projected Exit: Champion.
Henin-Hardenne (3/1 US Open odds) the former WTA No. 1 came off an injury plagued 2004 and entered 2005 ranked No. 40 when she played the ATP in Miami when she lost to Maria Sharapova. She followed up with a straight set win in Charleston over Dementieva and moved up the rankings to 22. In Warsaw, she beat last year's US Open Women's Champ Svetlana Kuznetsova in three sets and moved up again to a No. 15 ranking. She won again in Berlin over Pedrova and once again put ladies tennis on notice that the old Henin-Hardenne was back to reclaim her spot top seeded terminator. She beat Mary Pierce to claim her first Grand Slam of the year with the French Open singles title and moved up to No. 7 in the world rankings. However, despite a first round upset loss at Wimbledon, she moved up to No. 5 in the world. Her nest match at Toronto she lost in the finals to Kim Clijsters to move her record in 2005 to 31-3. Henin-Hardenne is looking to return to win her second open in three years, however, this time if she meets Clijsters in a rematch, take the Belgian to win! Projected Exit: Runner Up.
S/V Williams (8/1 US Open odds) Special Victims Williams? No, but it has been three years since Serena beat Venus in the US Open finals. Considering the sisters' dominance here between 1999-2003, it is a surprise we have seen them. The Williams' sisters are both installed at 8/1, much where we have seen their odds in the Slams over the last year. Certainly it was thrilling for Venus to get revenge for sister Serena when she trounced Sharapova at the Ladies Finals at Wimbledon. An example of the hard court being bluer (are thanks in order to Boise State Broncos?) Serena is generally the better of the two on the hard courts. We'll see what type of shape Serena comes into this Open. Venus is playing excellent tennis but on the hard courts we have to give the edge to their opponents. Serena is not ranked in US Open Series play and Venus is ranked 9th with 35 points meaning that the sisters will not get a taste of bonus money this year. Projected Exit: Semi-Finals.
Maria Sharapova (5/1 US Open odds) just moved into No. 1 on the WTA but is tied for twentieth place with 12 points on the US Open Series points so if she wins the US Open she will not get a morsel of the bonus challenge and will have to settle for the $1.1 million purse. Sharapova has been installed at 5-1 to win the title, and initially you have to like her odds to win on the hard court if she doesn't have to meet the Williams' or the Belgian's. However, looking at her record in Grand Slam play this year, we see why the No. 1 women's player is not the favorite. Following her semi-final and quarterfinal losses at the Australian Open and French Open respectively, she lost in the semi-finals at Wimbledon (as defending Champ) to Venus Williams. If she is ahead of her opponents then she usually wins, however, as we saw in Grand Slam play, when she gets behind her opponents she becomes a bit mentally unstable and has been unable to pull the mental fortitude to overcome a crucial service break or two. At Wimbledon, she had not lost a break of serve until she met Venus and once Sharapova was broken she all but fell apart. She'll need to stay ahead of her opponents if she does not want another early exit at the US Open. Projected Exit: Semi-Finals.
Lindsey Davenport (12/1 US Open odds) Believe it or not, Davenport's last US Open singles title was in 1998 when she beat Martina Hingis in 1998. After the lengthy Wimbledon final's loss to Venus Williams this year, Davenport has had a difficult July to say the least. As defending champion and top seed at Stanford she retired in 2r match against Groenefeld due to low back strain. She was also forced to miss scheduled trip to San Diego and Los Angeles where she was also defending champion at both events. Davenport Reached third career final at Wimbledon as No.1 seed, losing to No.14 seed V.Williams in championship match, 46 76(4) 97; match (2 hours, 45 min.) on the way to her Wimbledon final she had defeated No.15 seed Clijsters (who was injured if you remember), No.5 Kuznetsova (2004 US Open defending champ) and No.3 seed Mauresmo. However, with lingering injuries and a boatload of questions, we don't see the tall Davenport going deeply into the brackets this year. Projected Exit: Third Round.
Svetlana Kuznetsova (26/1 US Open odds) the defending women's US Open champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova is in a dead tie with five others for a lock on 16th place so bettors don't have to worry that the bonus challenge will affect her play one way or another. However, the odds do suggest that it is doubtful we'll see the Russian for the finals at Center Court as Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters have already beaten her this year. Exit: Quarterfinals.
The US Open series is offering an exciting challenge to the players by saying, if you play on our tour and do well (top three spots) and then play in the US Open and finish in the money; we'll double your money. While the "US Open Series Bonus Challenge" might affect the motivations of the four likely finalists who play on the US Open Series Tour, the bonus challenge does not affect the future odds on players in this Grand Slam, but will definitely influence how the marquee players view US Open Series tournaments next year; as a must play.