Fantasy Tennis 1/31: Is Serena the Real Deal?

Australian Tennis is in full gear, with several notable men and women’s leadup events to the Australian Open. Tonight’s player pool is massive, and Draftkings has created a solid $25k GPP to make delving into it worthwhile. There are a mess of players to go through, but I’ll present you with some of my favorite picks to help you begin navigating the slate.

During the brief offseason, I have invented some brand new metrics to add to my player evaluation arsenal, including a match win% model! You will definitely want to check them out via our subscriber’s only chat room, but you will at least get a taste of my new offerings in my articles. Be sure to leave a comment or tweet @GiantOctopus4 if you have any questions. As always, contact @DFSDatalytics or shoot us an email at dfsdatalytics2@gmail.com for a free trial to access our premium chat with plenty of exclusive info from spreadsheets that you won’t find on my articles!

Format: Player Name (Draftkings Salary, Draftkings American Betting Odds as of publication)

Serena Williams ($10,400, -625)

The days of Serena always being a slam dunk fantasy play might be over, but she’s always going to have fantasy appeal with her rare skill set. There are very few WTA players out there with a solid serve ratio, and Serena has a very strong return game to boot. Even with her diminished skills overall, the ability to score fantasy points from both sides of the net should never be underestimated.

On top of that, there might be some value in her -625 odds of victory. Gavrilova might have some fitness edge due to her first round match and some practice exhibitions over the break. However Serena is far and away the better player of the two and can roll Gavrilova over if she is even remotely in form. I could easily see Serena priced as a -1000 favorite here, and that combined with her excellent skill set for fantasy make her my choice for expensive play of the slate.

Ricardas Berankis ($9,400, -335)

I’m not going to try and convince you that Berankis is some kind of stud. He isn’t, and his underlying numbers via total points won are almost completely in line with his world ranking of 72. However, tennis is all about the matchups, and boy, Berankis has a heck of a soft first round draw in Sumit Nagal.

Nagal is a 23 year old from India. Ranked 138th in the world, he mostly plays in challenger level events with only the occasional main draw ATP appearance. He’s actually not even that bad on clay, but he is not even close to a threat on hard courts. Aside from a couple of surprising upsets over Gombos and Klahn, Nagal has not done a whole lot on the surface. His record vs. decent challenger level players (ranked 100-200) is a mere 9-18 for his career, and it’s hard to imagine him faring much better against the capable if not unexciting Berankis. Even at a price point of $9,400, Berankis still boasts some respectable safety and upside for his price range. 

Tsvetana Pironkova ($8,700, -240)

I don’t know about you guys, but I am drinking all of the Pironkova Kool-Aid right now. Yeah, she’s 33. Yeah, she’s only played like 13 matches since her return to tennis in 2020. The important thing as she has played consistently great and continued to play great during her first round shellacking over Samsonova last night. I am not sure if she will be able to keep this up over the course of the year, but as of now she is sneakily the #21 in the world via Universal Tennis Rating.

Vekic enters basically on the exact opposite of the spectrum. She’s historically been a fairly capable player. However, post covid play gave her fits and she put up some surprisingly weak fall results. I think Vekic will rebound over time and prove to still be worthy of the tour level, but her shot against Pironkova right now is not great. She is in poor form, going against someone that is in great form and has the benefit of very recent match play. Vekic, rumored to be a victim of a strict, roombound quarantine, could actually end up performing even worse than she should on paper as a result. 

At a price point like this, Pironkova is arguably a core play, while Vekic should probably be avoided.

Norbert Gombos ($8,300,-200)

Gombos is in one of those spots that really made me do a double take. In my model, he has a near 90% chance of taking the victory of Purcell, which absurdly exceeds the odds implied at his -200 price point. That is nuts, but I think that says more about the apparent talent gap between these two players than anything else.

I will admit that Gombos can in fact lose this match. Things happen. He lost a few months ago to the aforementioned Nagal, who is probably even worse on hard courts than Purcell is. However, Gombos is pretty good. Much like Berankis, he does not possess a flashy ranking, but he is a true tour-level player much in the same vein of Berankis. Nothing about Purcell’s profile suggests the 22-year-old is at that level yet. He is a putrid 1-11 versus top 100 opponents  on hard courts for his career, and his results against lower ranking guys don’t hint at a turnaround in that category anytime soon. 

Gombos is a face in the crowd at the tour level and Purcell is a face in the crowd at the challenger level. Gombos has a real opportunity to demonstrate the difference between those levels, and at a salary of only $8,300. His price vs. odds will make him very popular, but potential excess value here far exceeds any possible worries about ownership. 

Kevin Anderson ($8,100, -220)

This is definitely a spot to go ahead and pay the Kevin Anderson tax. What is the Kevin Anderson tax? To go ahead and play Anderson even though he’s always going to be chalky and he’s always going to be a flight risk. The post-lock withdrawal nightmare has happened before, but I think even with that being a possibility, Anderson is an obvious core play.

He’s got the serve value. He’s capable of hitting the 10+ ace bonus, and his ace-df ratio means he’s probably due for some additional value on his serve as well. He’s also very generously priced as a $8,100 as a -220 favorite. Those factors alone already make him very very good. However, what if I were to tell you he might be even a better play than that?

Kevin Anderson has been quietly very good the past year. After his humiliating loss to Jason Jung back in February, Anderson has yet to drop a match to a player outside the top 10 on hard courts. He went 1-5 against top 10 players and 4-0 against players in the 15-92 range, which actually comes out to a pretty solid season. He matches up against Feliciano Lopez, who at 39 years of age, still has a pretty solid serve but not a whole lot else going on. He’s probably worth a flier due to that serve and due to the possibility of a Kevin Anderson surprise withdrawal, but the median prognosis is that Lopez is totally outmatched here. He’s a borderline tour level guy at best at this point of his career, while Anderson has been surprisingly good while he has still been on the court. That’s quite an apparent gap in ability, and if you can stomach the possibility of a withdrawal or retirement, Anderson is easily the top value on the slate.

Li Tu ($7,800, -200)

I’m gonna keep this relatively short and just say that no, this line isn’t a mistake. Li Tu is unranked, and he is still deservedly a favorite in this matchup over Sousa. Tu is not by any means great, but he at least looked like something resembling a hard court player during his recent stretch of exhibitions against low ranked players in the UTR Pro Match Series. Pedro Sousa might have the worst hard court resume out of anybody that’s cracked the ATP top 100. He only has 2 hard court wins on the hard courts ever against top 200 players, and those were both over 7 years ago. (He has none against top 100 opponents.)

I expect Pedro Sousa to collect his paycheck and bow out. He’s not too bad on clay but there’s no reason to experiment with him on hard courts. 

Value Plays

Bernard Tomic ($7,200, +120) 

“Affectionately” referred to as the tank engine, Tomic’s form and motivation have been topics of discussion for years. I don’t expect that to change, but he did well enough to qualify for the Australian Open, still has a decent service ratio, and he draws a fairly soft matchup against Marc Polmans. It’s not pretty, but that’s all you can ask for at this price.

Blake Mott ($6,400, +190)

Albert Ramos, another clay specialist, is bad enough on hard that I wonder if he should ever be priced as this strong of a favorite on a hard court match. I think that is a legitimate question, and I don’t mind taking on a challenger level guy in Mott to find out. This is a dream matchup, and will be a rare shot for Mott to overcome an opponent ranked in the top 100. Overall, I think Ramos is still a slight favorite here, but Mott is very much a live dog.

Andrea Petkovic ($5,500, +310)

Svitolina looked to be in reasonable form in Abu Dhabi, but her overall performance since 2020 on hard has not lived up to her lofty ranking. She definitely feels like the favorite, but combine her reputation with Petkovic’s more recent match play and she looks to be a little overrated here. That makes Petkovic one of the most intriguing punts on the board.

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