by Chris, the Impaler - 06/27/2005
After she won the ladies singles title at the French Open in May, Justine Henin-Hardenne told a press conference, "Impossible is nothing." Perhaps the Greek Eleni Daniilidou was inspired by her words before they met in their first round match at Wimbledon.
Punters betting favorites on the first round at Wimbledon took a bath. But how does Wimbledon betting handle compare to the handle bet on major sports events in the United States? The short answer is that in this country Wimbledon betting is definitely small fry in comparison to marquee sports events like the Super Bowl, March Madness, World Series, Belmont Stakes and NBA Finals.
However, unlike baseball, football and basketball, in the United States, players on the tennis tour do not have an off-season. In fact, missing ATP and WTA tournaments around the world means risking your world ranking. Unlike the "big three," tennis has four major events spread throughout the year. All the "Slams" are created equal, but as George Orwell might have said, "some Slams are more equal than others" with Wimbledon as the acknowledged granddaddy of them all.
And while most American focused on the NBA Finals last week as the Detroit Pistons pushed the San Antonio Spurs to a seventh and deciding game, tennis players, fans and punters celebrated the greatest tennis fortnight in the world, and the third "Grand Slam" on the Open circuit, with rousing upsets as both French Open winners lost in the early rounds.
Talk about your bracket busters.
Last week, in the second round, French Open men's singles winner Rafael Nadal was a $10,000 favorite over qualifier Gilles Muller. Nadal was eliminated at Wimbledon two days after French Open women's champion Justine Henin-Hardenne (odds on favorite to win the Ladies Championship 3/1) and a $50,000 ML loser was shocked in the first round by Eleni Daniilidou of Greece, 7-6 (10-8), 2-6, 7-5. Of course these were both exceptional clay court players playing on grass - a totally different game than on clay.
Also upset at Wimbledon in the first week this year were Englishman Tim Henman, who failed to make it into the second week of the tournament for the first time since 1995.
Henman lost to Dmitry Tursunov 3-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 8-6. And while the Brits love their Henman, an upset win by the Scotsman Andrew Murray, an 18-year-old (ranked 312th) and last Brit in the tournament, male or female, beat No. 14-seeded Radek Stepanek 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
In tennis these were some huge upsets, but at Wimbledon upsets are the rule rather than the exception. Think NCAA first round braketology and Manhattan stunning Florida; Bucknell's improbable win over Kansas or Vermont surprising Syracuse.
Still, laying a future wager or head-to-head match on Wimbledon is as popular across the pond as say the Premiership League, British Politics and Cricket. Since there are legal books on almost every street corner in London, it is easy to put a fiver on Henman to win on your lunch break.
In the United States, Wimbledon is concurrent with the NBA Finals and Major League Baseball. Even though Wimbledon is one of the four grand slams and boasts some of the best competition in tennis, it is relatively minor in this country compared to daily action in Major League Baseball and the NBA Finals.
By contrast, in 2004, betting on the Super Bowl in Las Vegas hit a staggering $81.2 million in action. When Smarty Jones ran for the Triple Crown at Belmont new wagering records were established in 2004: The total handle topped $114,887,594 and on-track handle reached $14,461,402; millions more than will be bet on the entire Wimbledon fortnight. Oregon based Youbet reported that it handled $4.2 million nationally in phone wagers for the Kentucky Derby a couple of weeks ago.
During March Madness last year, Vegas shops took in between $80-90 million. However, these numbers do not include what is bet privately and what is bet offshore which some books estimate to be as high as 3.5 billion around the world.
More money was lost on a meaningless basket on April 3, 2004 at the end of the UCONN - DUKE game than will be likely bet in this country at Wimbledon on the Ladies Singles Championship. UCONN was a 2.5-point chalk but Duke had the lead with 3:28 in regulation. UCONN mounted a comeback with an 11-0 run to take the lead 78-75. UCONN was up by four points with 3 seconds to go in the game. With one second left, Chris Duhon buried a trey and Duke lost by 1 point. It is estimated that $30 million changed hands on that shot.
Wimbledon betting will never reach the astronomic proportions of the Super Bowl, NCAA Tournament, the World Series, or the NBA Finals; punters in the United States would do well to realize that "impossible is nothing" when it comes to the value of head-to-head match-ups in tennis.