Tomorrow marks a major shift in the tennis landscape as US Open play ends and clay season begins in full throttle in preparation for Roland Garros. Once again, surface preferences are a major consideration for player selection. A good portion of these players have historically underperformed on clay or have not played a match on the surface since last May. Both of these easily overlooked factors may help us find value in both betting odds and Draftkings salary.
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Format: (Draftkings Salary, American Betting Odds as of publication)
Elise Mertens ($10,700, -580)
Mertens is a true top 10 talent in the WTA. Her 22-8 record and 1.27 dominance ratio vs. rank 10-100 opponents leaves her firmly behind the likes of Halep and Osaka, but are about as good as it gets outside of that group. While her US Open run deprived her of some recent clay court clay, she looked excellent on the surface in mid-August, where only Halep was able to put an end to her finals run. Her return-leaning game has historically worked as well on clay as it has on hard, and it is great for providing additional breakpoint opportunities and thus point ceilings for fantasy.
Her opponent, Hsieh, is a veteran with some name value. However, she is not in a good spot to bring a competitive match to Mertens. She has not played a match since February, she has a 2-8 record and .86 DR for the year, and her game has historically played better on hard courts than on clay. Anything can happen when a player has that much off time to make adjustments (look at Pironkova!), but I will happily bet on Mertens dominating Hsieh throughout this match, even at this elevated price. Mertens is my favorite salary sink on the slate.
Jannik Sinner ($9,900, -320)
The 19-year-old youngster Sinner has a lot of promise but is still only a face in the crowd as far as ATP play is concerned (7-11 record and 1.01 DR with my usual constraints). He also has not performed well on clay at all in his short career, which makes it a little puzzling that he is a -320 favorite until we consider his opponent.
Benoit Paire is having a very bad summer. After struggling through the exhibition season, he participated in Cincinnati only to struggle mightily and withdraw due to Covid. That was only a few weeks ago, which leaves his overall form and preparation highly in question even if he has recovered from his illness by now. This means Paire’s floor is absurdly low and a Sinner blowout is not out of the question here.
That being said, there are some pitfalls for Sinner here. He is a mediocre clay courter, and facing a lucky loser instead of Paire could jeopardize his fantasy production. Also, Paire himself is not too bad of a player if he shows up with anything resembling his average game. He has a 12-10 record and .96 DR for the year and is neutral on clay, which would normally match up well against Sinner. Overall, I cannot recommend Sinner as a core play, but there is enough upside here against a struggling Paire that he should not be ignored for GPP play.
Hubert Hurkacz ($8,600, -135)
Normally I do not love matching up against Daniel Evans unless the odds seem great or he is facing a Nadal caliber player. He is a solid opponent on hard, but I will happily make an exception when he is playing on clay. He has largely avoided the surface throughout his career, and has an uninspiring 4-8 record and .98 DR to show for it. Meanwhile, Hurkacz’s career 8-9 record and 1.00 DR on clay are actually a little better than his hard court numbers. Hurkacz also has the benefit of a couple tune-up matches on clay leading up to this matchup, while Daniel Evans will be making a difficult transition from fast New York courts. Evans is arguably the better player overall, but Hurkacz’s both recent familiarity and long-term comfort on the surface make him a solid candidate to win this match at a close to even price point.
Donna Vekic ($7,500, -105)
Vekic is hardly the best WTA player right now, but her yearly numbers (9-12, .98 DR) are only marginally worse than Anisimova’s (5-6, 1.00 DR), and she has historically been much more comfortable on clay than her opponent. (She has actually performed a bit better on clay than hard courts historically, and Anisimova has done the exact opposite.) Considering Anisimova is only playing about average right now, Vekic’s even odds and low salary seem like a bargain.
Taylor Fritz ($8,100, -120)
Fritz is coming onto the clay cold, while his opponent Travaglia played several rounds in a clay challenger just last week. That and Tavaglia’s slightly favorable clay preference put him in play, but Fritz is still a quality midrange play as the more talented player and with a strong service game to boost his fantasy production.
Jelena Ostapenko ($7,700, -120)
I cannot really back Ostapenko too much here since she has not played at all since some exhibitions in July. However, her clay splits are extremely favorable compared to Linette’s, who performs much better on hard. The line here is right considering Ostapenko’s potential rust, but there is some serious upside in fantasy here if Ostapenko shows up with her best stuff. Just be wary of her elevated double fault rate, which will be a major issue if she does not finish off Linette quickly.
Jasmine Paolini ($6,200, +180)
Paolini is a much less accomplished player than Sevastova, but Sevastova has underperformed the past year (2-8, .85 DR) and Paolini (5-10, .92 DR) is entering this matchup with the benefit of a couple warm up matches in Istanbul. She has a path to victory here even if Sevastova has been a very solid clay courter in the past.
Alexander Bublik ($5,700, +260)
This is a Cilic fade more than anything, since his recent performances (5-9, .99 DR against rank 10-100 opponents) have been uninspiring. Bublik is actually fairly bad on clay, but at this cheap of a price, he’s a worthy salary saver against an overrated Cilic.