Serena Williams leads odds to win women’s draw at Wimbledon

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Serena Williams has a seeding, but scarcely enough court time since her return to tennis to justify being a betting favorite for the world’s biggest tournament.

Having seven Wimbledon singles titles, though, creates a certain benefit of the doubt, so Williams is a +450 favorite on the 2018 Wimbledon odds for the women’s draw at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Williams has played in only four tournaments since rejoining the WTA Tour after having her first child late in 2017, which includes retiring during a match at the French Open last month. Until the 25th-seeded Williams reprises her vintage form, it might be best to fade her in pre-tournament futures.

The attention on Williams might help drive up the price on two-time winner Petra Kvitova (+600). The left-hander has a WTA-most five titles this season. A hamstring injury has prevented Kvitova from completing the Eastbourne tournament (the final grass-court tune-up before Wimbledon), so bettors will have to decide whether they can assume the risk of backing a player who’s nursing an injured muscle that will have to hold up during a fortnight of tennis during the height of the British summer.

The Williams sisters are the only players to win the women’s title back-to-back in the last two decades. Defending champion Gabine Muguruza (+800) has shown a spark of late with a semifinal run at the French Open, but has a reputation for inconsistency that makes her a chancy play.

Several of the big names high up on the tennis odds for this event carry red flags. Karolina Pliskova (+900) has never gone past the second round at Wimbledon, while Maria Sharapova (+900) has not had any competitive action on grass this season.

Angelique Kerber (+1000) is two years removed from being a Wimbledon finalist in 2016, but the two-time Grand Slam champion has not had any promising results during the grass-court tournaments that lead up to Wimbledon.

World No. 1 Simona Halep (+1800), coming off of her first Grand Slam title at the French Open, doesn’t play as well on grass as she does on other surfaces, due in part to not being overpowering. However, it’s not often that a top player is also be a darkhorse on the odds to win Wimbledon and having a Slam to her name might do wonders for her confidence.

Head-to-head matchups offer betting value as well, so it bears noting that Daria Kasatkina (+5000) has knocked off nearly every big name on the tour at one point or another this season.

Wimbledon begins at the All England Club on Monday, with the women’s final scheduled for July 14, followed by the men’s final on July 15.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Osaka opens clay campaign by beating Hsieh in Stuttgart

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STUTTGART, Germany — Top-ranked Naomi Osaka opened her clay-court season by beating Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan 6-4, 6-3, on Thursday to reach the Porsche Grand Prix quarterfinals.

Osaka hit 22 winners and converted three of her six break points to seal the win in 1 hour, 24 minutes and set up a meeting with Donna Vekic of Croatia.

After saving two break points early, it was an unusually smooth victory for Osaka over Hsieh. She needed three sets to get past the Taiwanese veteran en route to her Australian Open victory and then lost to her at the Miami Open last month.

“I felt like this surface is more suited for me (than Hsieh),” Osaka said. “I was sort of in my plan. So, I just felt like I executed what I was trying to do.”

Two-time Stuttgart champion Angelique Kerber also advanced by beating fellow German Andrea Petkovic 6-2, 6-4. The fifth-seeded Kerber saved two break points to hold for 2-2 in the first set and then reeled off the next four games to take control. She then earned a decisive break for 4-3 in the second before closing out the win with her fourth match point.

Kerber will face sixth-seeded Kiki Bertens, who served 20 aces to rally for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Belinda Bencic.

No. 7 Anastasija Sevastova also advanced by beating former champion Laura Siegemund of Germany 6-4, 6-3 to set up a quarterfinal against Petra Kvitova, who advanced on Wednesday.

Vekic dispatched Russia’s Daria Kasatkina, 6-1, 7-5, earlier on Thursday.

Nadal rallies to beat Mayer in Barcelona Open

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BARCELONA, Spain – Rafael Nadal recovered from a slow start to defeat Leonard Mayer 6-7 (7), 6-4, 6-2 and advance to the third round of the Barcelona Open on Wednesday, keeping alive his streak of never losing consecutive matches on clay.

The second-ranked Nadal was coming off defeat to Fabio Fognini in the semifinals of the Monte Carlo Open.

An 11-time champion in Barcelona, Nadal will next play fellow Spaniard David Ferrer. The 37-year-old Ferrer, who is playing in Barcelona for the last time, defeated Lucas Pouille 6-3, 6-1 in his second-round match.

The top-seeded Nadal squandered two set points after exchanging breaks late in the first set. He rebounded quickly by breaking Mayer’s serve in the first game of the second set, then cruised to victory against the 63rd-ranked Argentine.

Fognini won’t be able to add to his Monte Carlo win after withdrawing from the Barcelona tournament because of a hamstring injury. He was replaced by 104th-ranked Roberto Carballes Baena, who opened with a 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-2 win over Nicola Kuhn.

Seventh-seeded Daniil Medvedev reached the third round by defeating Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-3, 2-6, 6-1, while American Mackenzie McDonald advanced with a 6-3, 6-2 win over 11th-seeded Gilles Simon.