That’s right, tennis is BACK, and Draftkings is diving right into it with a nice $5,000 price to first for their Abu Dhabi and Antalya 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.
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Format: Player Name (Draftkings Salary, Draftkings American Betting Odds as of publication)
Jennifer Brady ($10,000, -500)
One thing is immediately obvious about this slate: it is STACKED with elite plays. Not only do we have some serious talent entering both tournaments, but we also have a decent share of weaker opponents for them to feast on in the early rounds. This has resulted in a couple eye-popping money line odds for two players in particular: Coco Gauff and Sofia Kenin. You will probably want to work them in your lineups (though Coco’s double fault woes are always a downside), but there is also some serious upside in the tier below them.
No one player exudes upside in that range as much as Jennifer Brady does. She is built for fantasy. With her ace to double fault ratio of nearly 3 from last year, Brady is a rare WTA talent that actually gains fantasy points from her service game on a regular basis. She is also just an insanely strong competitor in general. While she didn’t manage to take home a slam, her numbers on the year were that of a slam contender: an elite 17-4 record and 1.18 dominance ratio against opponents ranked 10-100.
Considering Brady’s talent level, the fact that she’s a mere -500 favorite would suggest she’s playing an at least decent competitor. However, looking at Zidansek, I hesitate to say she really received one. A career clay specialist, Zidansek did even worse than usual on the hard courts. Her numbers for the year came up to a measly 2-7 record and .88 DR, which is even more incredible considering one of her only wins came off of the (previously) out-of-sorts Azarenka back in March. Unless Zidansek has seriously figured something out, this is almost as soft of a matchup as Brady could have asked for.
Brady’s amazing serve and Zidansek’s exploitable service game (58% career hold rate) means Brady has serious value on both sides of the court, and the talent gap here means Brady will almost certainly win. My model is especially hawkish on this matchup, giving Brady a ridiculous 98% chance of victory. Whether that number is too high or not (it probably is), it does illustrate just how favorably this spot lines up for Jen Brady.
Elise Mertens ($9,500, -335)
If you have read my articles before, you have probably noticed I love touting Mertens. There’s a reason for that: she’s really good. She hasn’t really broken into the top ranks yet due to cratering against top talent (1-7 record against top 20 players in 2020). But, aside from that, all she has done is absolutely obliterate anybody else she’s faced to the tune of a 33-6 and 1.27 DR.
Incidentally, her upcoming opponent would fit in the latter category. Ranked 52 in the world, Cornet is practically the embodiment of a good-but-not-great WTA tour level player. She went 5-6 with a .92 DR against ranked 10-100 competitors. That level of play will likely not cut it against the dangerous Elise Mertens, and my favoritism towards Mertens leads me to believe her true odds of victory are a little closer to my model’s 90% than oddsmakers’ 77%. I love the chances of Mertens’ excellent return game (break % of 42 in 2020) putting a quick end to Cornet and her attackable serve (60.2% career hold rate).
Andrea Arnaboldi ($6,300, +160)
Arnaboldi is a career challenger level player that I normally wouldn’t even consider rostering against a player ranked as high as Basilashvili. However, Basilashvili is an extraordinary exception. His performance in 2020 was a complete disaster for the former world #16: a miserable 3-7 record and .83 DR. He hasn’t won a match since March. Heck, since August, he’s only won a single SET, and needed to face a lower ranked lucky loser in order to do so. If Basilashvili hasn’t since turned things around during the break, there is plenty of reason to think that Arnaboldi can pull an upset.
Jiri Vesely ($6,100, +175)
I do not think there is any value in this money line. Indeed, my model assigns nearly the exact same chances of victory for Vesely as Draftkings Sportsbook does. However, Vesely possesses some serious value in his serve game. If he can repeat his 18.9% ace rate on hard courts from last year, Vesely easily possesses one of the best floor and median outcomes on the slate’s pool of underdogs.
Jessica Pegula ($5,800, +200)
Jessica Pegula is getting so little respect from oddsmakers for this match that I hesitate to really call Pegula an underdog, but here we are. Pegula has quietly been a really solid performer on tour the past year. Her combination of a low profile and high talent level has made her a seemingly perennial premier underdog play. It seems that trend will continue in 2021, as Pegula looks to build on her impressive 8-5, 1.06 DR performance from last year.
Svitolina is a great tennis player coming off a surprisingly terrible year on hard surfaces despite some excellent clay court play. Her 4-7 record and .91 DR can only be described as a disappointment, even when we account for some well above average opponent strength. This has resulted in certain models being much lower on Svitolina than the general public. Universal Tennis Rating currently rates her at 12.66, which includes Svitolina’s superb clay results and is still lower than Pegula’s current mark of 12.73. My model is even less forgiving of Svitolina’s recent performance, giving her a lower than 30% shot of victory this match. Overall, there’s certainly a chance that Svitolina rebounds and gives Pegula serious problems, but it’s hard to overlook Pegula’s excellent upset narrative and potential value in this spot. She’s easily my favorite upset pick for this slate.