U.S. Open betting preview: Federer leads Nadal atop men’s odds for tournament

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The price on Roger Federer is rising even as his high-profile peers keep dropping out of the U.S. Open.

Federer, who took last week off to rest a stiff back in hope of giving himself a shot at going 3-for-3 in Grand Slams in 2017, is listed at +175 to be the men’s outright winner on the odds to win the U.S. Open at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Top-seeded Rafael Nadal is second favorite at +300, followed by highly touted 20-year-old Alexander Zverev (+450). There seems to be a “but” with each of the top three, since the two legends are operating below peak capability while Zverev has yet to make a Grand Slam quarter-final.

Federer has won both Grand Slams he’s entered in 2017 (the Australian Open in January and Wimbledon in July) but has certainly not been immune to the wear and tear that has forced other top players such as Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka to either withdraw from the U.S. Open or shut down for the rest of the season. That might be why the odds on Federer have actually moved up from +125 in recent days.

Federer’s quarter of the draw also has opponents such as the volatile Nick Kyrgios (+1600), Juan Martin del Potro (+2500) and Sam Querrey lurking (+12500).

Nadal is not in top form. The Spaniard is the top seed thanks to his overall body of work this calendar year, but recently had a streak of three tournaments in a row where he departed prior to the semifinals. The biggest threat in his quarter of the draw is Bulgarian star Grigor Dimitrov (+1600).

It is plausible that a breakthrough from Zverev might top out at being a semifinalist, which would be a major stepping-stone. His quarter of the draw was to include Murray, but former champion Cilic has fallen heir to that spot. Cilic, who won this tournament in 2014, is the sole former Grand Slam champion in the bottom half of the men’s draw.

Women’s tennis has more of anyone-on-any-day vibe with Serena Williams taking time off to have a child. Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza (+600 on the US Open odds), Petra Kvitova (+1400), Venus Williams (+1400) and Caroline Wozniacki (+1600) are all in the same quarter of the draw and  the toll of getting to the semifinal could leave the survivor too taxed for the final two matches.

Muguruza certainly has the championship pedigree and it’s justifiable taking her if one believes the tournament will play out in a very chalky way at sports betting sites.

Karolina Pliskova (+700) appears to have an easier ride through her quarter of the draw and is one of the most consistent players on the WTA Tour. There is also a strong case for Johanna Konta (+800) of Great Britain, who’s been to the Round of 16 at Flushing Meadow for two consecutive years.

With Simona Halep (+900), there’s always the question of whether her defensive style can hold up against stronger players or it’s merely enough to get her into the semifinal and finals.

Not unlike Zverev, promising Elina Svitolina (+1000) might need to make it into a Grand Slam quarter-final before a major title is truly attainable.

Rybakina, Sabalenka to meet in Australian Open women’s final

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Mike Frey/USA TODAY Sports
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MELBOURNE, Australia — What all seemed so different, so daunting, even, about trying to win a Grand Slam title to Elena Rybakina a little more than six months ago is now coming rather naturally.

And if she can win one more match, she will add a championship at the Australian Open to the one she collected at Wimbledon.

Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan, reached her second final in a span of three major tournaments by beating Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (4), 6-3 at Melbourne Park on Thursday, signaling a rapid rise toward the top of tennis.

“Everything was new at Wimbledon,” Rybakina said after hitting nine aces in the semifinals to raise her tournament-leading total to 44. “Now I more or less understand what to expect.”

That could come in handy Saturday, when she will face No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. Sabalenka reached her first Grand Slam title match at age 24 by beating unseeded Magda Linette 7-6 (1), 6-2 in Thursday’s second semifinal.

Sabalenka improved to 10-0 in 2023, winning all 20 sets she has contested this season.

More importantly, the victory over Linette gave Sabalenka her first taste of success in a Slam semi after going 0-3 at that stage until now, losing each previous attempt by a 6-4 score in the third set.

Rybakina and Sabalenka employ a somewhat similar brand of tennis, relying on big serves and big hitting at the baseline. Sabalenka is far less cautious, though, and her penchant for high-risk, high-reward play was evident against Linette, who had never before been past the third round in 29 appearances at majors.

Sabalenka finished with a whopping 33-9 edge in winners, but also compiled more unforced errors – including a trio that led to a break at love by Linette in the opening game.

The key to both semifinals turned out to be a first-set tiebreaker. Azarenka lost the mark on her strokes, for the most part, making things smoother for Rybakina, while Sabalenka raced to a 6-0 lead in hers. It wasn’t the case that each and every shot Sabalenka hit landed right on a line, but it must have seemed that way to Linette.

“In the tiebreaker, I really found my rhythm,” Sabalenka said. “Started trusting myself. Started going for my shots.”

Rybakina’s win over Azarenka, the champion at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013, added to what already was an impressive run through a string of top opponents. She also beat No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 17 Jelena Ostapenko – both owners of major titles – and 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins.

“For sure, they’re very experienced players,” said Rybakina, whose parents and sister have been in town throughout the Australian Open. “I knew that I have to focus on every point.”

She delivered serves at up to 117 mph (189 kph) and stinging groundstrokes that she used to close points seemingly at will on Thursday. Her performance was particularly noteworthy against a returner and defender as established on hard courts as Azarenka, a former No. 1 and a three-time runner-up at the U.S. Open.

“Kind of hard to digest,” Azarenka said. “Obviously, I had quite a few chances that I gave myself.”

Rybakina is just 23, 10 years younger than Azarenka, and the future sure looks bright at the moment.

Rybakina might be seeded just 22nd in Melbourne, and ranked just 25th, but those numbers are rather misleading and not indicative at all of her talent and form. She did not get the usual bump from her title last July at Wimbledon, where zero rankings points were awarded after the All England Club banned players from Russia and Belarus because of the invasion of Ukraine.

Rybakina was born in Moscow; she switched to Kazakhstan in 2018, when that country offered to fund her tennis career.

It was breezy and chilly at Rod Laver Arena from the start of Rybakina vs. Azarenka, with the temperature dipping below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).

That had a role in the way the first set was as much of a seesaw as can be, with each player seeming to gain the upper hand – and then ceding it just as quickly. Both found the conditions slowed down the tennis balls.

“Kind of misjudged a lot of balls,” Azarenka said.

Rybakina encountered similar issues and her occasional inconsistency was encapsulated by the very first game. She began, inauspiciously enough, with a double-fault, before holding with the help of three aces.

Azarenka nosed ahead by breaking for a 3-2 lead on a leaping, full-extension volley winner with both women at the net. Rybakina, though, broke right back, and then once more to go up 5-3.

Azarenka saved a set point at 5-3 with a terrific down-the-line forehand passing shot, wound up taking the game with a backhand she accented with a shout of “Let’s go!”

A mistake-filled tiebreaker ended with Azarenka pushing a forehand wide to cap an 11-shot exchange, and the set belonged to Rybakina. She broke at love for a 2-1 lead in the second, and while they competed for another 25 minutes, the outcome was never really much in doubt.

Sure, Rybakina again faltered for a bit while trying to serve out the victory at 5-2. No one expected Azarenka to go quietly. But one last break, aided by a double-fault from Azarenka, allowed Rybakina to take another step toward another trophy.

“Ready,” she said, “to give everything I have left.”

Paul, McDonald on US Davis Cup team; Nainkin interim captain

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Mike Frey/USA TODAY Sports
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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul and the player who eliminated Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park, Mackenzie McDonald, are among the players picked by interim captain David Nainkin for the U.S. Davis Cup team’s matches at Uzbekistan next week.

Nainkin’s appointment was announced Friday, three weeks after Mardy Fish’s tenure as captain ended.

Nainkin has been with the U.S. Tennis Association since 2004. He will be assisted against Uzbekistan by Dean Goldfine, who coached 20-year-old Ben Shelton during his quarterfinal run at the Australian Open.

Paul beat Shelton in that round before losing to Novak Djokovic on Friday night.

The other members of the U.S. roster are Denis Kudla, Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek. Kudla replaces Jenson Brooksby on the team.

The matches will be played on indoor hard courts on Feb. 3-4.