In the penultimate warm-up event before the fourth and final major of the year; the US Open, most of the world’s very best tennis players on both the WTA and ATP tours head to the USA for the prestigious Cincinnati Masters.
Andy Murray will be looking to continue the momentum that saw him win last week’s Canadian Masters event, where he despatched the likes of Gilles Muller, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Kei Nishikori before defeating Novak Djokovic 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in the final.
The 29-year-old Scot has a bye into the last 32 of the tournament and so won’t mount his challenge until later in the week, but his pre-tournament price of 5.5 looks great value.
Djokovic is, naturally, the number one seed as arguably the best hard court player of all time, and he will be looking to dust off the cobwebs in time for the US Open in a fortnight. He only dropped one set on his way to that Canadian Masters final, and will be looking to go one better in Cincinnati this week. His outright price of 2.25 is too short for consideration however.
Kei Nishikori, who would have been the fourth seed, has had to withdraw from the tournament with a hip injury, and so that leaves Roger Federer as the only other genuine title contender. This will be his first hard court appearance since the start of the season, where he won two tournaments in Brisbane and Dubai respectively. His odds of 6.00 are tempting, although the Swiss ace may show signs of rust on this change of surface.
Serena Williams was a surprise semi-final loser in the WTA’s Canadian Masters, losing to the precociously-talented Belinda Bencic 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 in that last four encounter. Bencic is priced at a very tempting 41.00 for this event, although her tough first-round draw against the 11th seed Angelique Kerber counts against her.
Instead, Williams is the one to watch, and her pre-tournament price of 2.25 represents good value for a player who will be determined to go all the way on home soil.
The Romanian Simona Halep looked in good form last week, and fired her way into the final with consummate ease. That encounter with Bencic went into a third and final set, but Halep would eventually retire with a leg injury. That could well count against her with the quick turnaround here, and so she cannot be backed with any confidence.
With Maria Sharapova undergoing problems with her serve and Petra Kvitova lacking form, it is perhaps Victoria Azarenka who represents the biggest danger to Williams’ title hopes. She has done so well to recover from a career-threatening injury, and despite an early exit in Canada she looks somewhere back to her best form. Her price of 9.00 is certainly tempting enough.
By: Craig Simpkin