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.

Serena falls to Pliskova in Aussie Open quarters

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Karolina Pliskova says her “mind was in the locker room” when she was down 5-1 in the third set of her Australian Open quarterfinal against 23-time major winner Serena Williams.

In one of the most stunning comebacks at the Australian Open, the seventh-seeded Pliskova saved four match points as she rallied to win the last six games to clinch a 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 victory and a semifinal spot against U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka.

“I didn’t have too many chances in the third set. I was a little bit too passive. Obviously mentally down,” Pliskova said. “So I just said, ‘Let’s try this game, on 5-2, maybe I’m going to have couple of chances.’

“She got a bit shaky at the end, so I took my chances, and I won.”

Pliskova’s win over the seven-time Australian Open titlist means there’ll be a first-time women’s champion at Melbourne Park this year.

In the other semifinal, two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova will play Danielle Collins, who had never won a Grand Slam match before this tournament. Kvitova’s best previous run at Melbourne was to the semifinals in 2012.

‘Barbecued chicken’: Tiafoe’s Australia run ended by Nadal

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal is back to feeling healthy. Probably not a coincidence that he’s back in the Australian Open semifinals.

Playing his familiar brand of court-covering, ball-bashing, opponent-frustrating tennis, Nadal claimed 20 of his first 23 service points and saved the only two break chances he faced, ending American Frances Tiafoe’s best Grand Slam run with a dominating 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory Tuesday night.

“I feel lucky to be where I am after all the things I went through,” said Nadal, who quit during his quarterfinal at Melbourne Park a year ago because of a right leg problem, again during his semifinal at the U.S. Open in September because of a painful right knee, and then had offseason surgery on his right ankle.

“Not easy situations,” he said, summing it up.

Nadal, 32, reached his 30th major semifinal and prevented Tiafoe from getting to his first, two days after he turned 21.

“I knew he was going to bring crazy intensity. I knew the ball was going to be jumping. I knew if he got hold of a forehand, it was going to be barbecued chicken,” Tiafoe said. “But point in, point out, I’ve never seen someone so locked in.”

The two hadn’t played each other before, though they did practice together at Roland Garros back in 2014, when Tiafoe was a teen in the junior competition.

Entering this year’s Australian Open, the 39th-ranked Tiafoe had never been past the third round at a major. But he knocked off two-time Slam runner-up Kevin Anderson and 20th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov on the way to the quarterfinals, drawing plenty of attention for his play – and his bare-chested, biceps-slapping celebrations inspired by LeBron James.

As usual, Tiafoe was animated and talkative Tuesday. He lamented missed shots with a self-admonishing “Oh, Frances!” He marked good ones with a shout of “Let’s go!”

But it all came to a screeching halt against Nadal, a 17-time major champion.

Tiafoe, who is from Maryland, was broken the initial time he served in each set, which was all Nadal needed, given how well he handled his own service games. He’s been reluctant to go into detail about a recent tweak he made to his serve, saying it’s “nothing drastic, nothing dramatic.”

He spoke after Tuesday’s win about going for winners on his first forehand following a serve, something he called “very important … at this stage of my career.”

Whatever he’s doing is working. And how. Nadal has won every set he’s played in the tournament, the first time he’s done that en route to the semifinals in Australia since 2009, the only time he won the championship.

“I am playing well,” he said. “I did a lot of things well during the whole week and a half.”

Now Nadal goes up against another opponent much younger than he is, 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas, who upset Roger Federer in the fourth round.

The 14th-seeded Tsitsipas became the first player from Greece to earn a semifinal berth at a major, beating No. 22 Roberto Bautista Agut 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2) earlier Tuesday.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Tsitsipas said about his matchup against Nadal. “I feel all right with my game. I feel like I can do something good against him.”

Asked about all of these kids trying to elbow their way to the top of tennis, Nadal smiled and said: “They can wait a little bit.”