It’s always good to get Dan Weston on to talk Grand Slam tennis.

Punting Insights You’ll Find
– The critical stats he uses to assess ability and form
– Why he suggests being patient in week one
– The favoured players who have question marks over their form
– His strategy on betting the women’s tournament
– A quick early look at Wimbledon

Dan is the founder of Tennis Ratings which has a stack of good information for tennis fans and especially traders. He is also an expert contributor to the Pinnacle Sports website where he wrote an in-depth French Open preview.

Today’s Guest

Dan Weston

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Podcast Transcript

Dave: Let’s run us through the French Open, and for those that aren’t on top of the form, the Djoker’s an odds-on favourite, but he was just beaten over the weekend.

Dan: Yeah, I think this is the tournament where he’s much more fallible than other Grand Slams. Obviously, that’s evidenced by the fact that he’s yet to win in Paris. He’s odds-on which is justifiable based on his overall yearlong form, but realistically, looking at his clay stats, there’s not a lot to recommend that play, in my opinion.

Dave: So at the price that he is at the moment, which is on odds-on, if you had to take a position would you be backing him or laying him at that price?

Dan: I don’t think there’s a lot to be said for doing much until the second week, really when it’s more of the business end, where the vast majority of favourites are likely to be competing. It’s unlikely that one of Djokovic, Nadal, or Murray, the three main contenders, really, are going to get knocked out in the first week.

We can look at maybe taking a sighter in the first week and then going from there. I don’t think there’s anything to be gained from immediate activity. Certainly, at a shade of odds-on he is looking vulnerable, considering he’s lost twice already on clay this year, and dropped sets against both top-10 and mediocre players, as well.

Dave: All right, and for those that haven’t heard any of these chats before, hold and break stats a player’s a reasonable part of what you do-

Dan: Very much so.

Dave: The percentage of games that they hold, when they’re serving, and the percentage of games that they break.

Dan: The general consensus is that about 120 plus, particularly if you can get up to 125 combined, adding percentage held plus the percentage break, would elevate a player to be world class. Djokovic on hard court, for example, is about 125%. I think he’s touched 126 in the last few months, which is the highest I’ve ever seen him at. That’s pretty much unheard of.

Serena Williams, at her peak in women’s, was actually higher. It’s very, very, very difficult for a player to get higher than that 125 mark. But Djokovic on clay is actually, in his 20 matches in the last 12 months, has dropped down to 116 on clay, which actually rates him as worse than Murray, and also Nadal on 2016 form, so there’s definite scope for opposing Djokovic in that second week at $1.84, I think he is it at the moment with Pinnacle.

Dave: What about Nadal? Can he climb the mountain again?

Dan: Well, obviously he’s got an amazing record here. He’s going to enjoy coming back. He’s played reasonable well this year after obviously a tough year, 2015. I wrote an article for Pinnacle several weeks ago which looks at Nadal’s key points performance, so effectively how frequently he saves break points and how frequently he converts break points on return. I found that in 2015 he under-performed in those key points significantly, but in 2016 he’s turned it round a little. He’s actually slightly over-performed in them.

His current level’s probably about as high as we can expect him to be. I can’t see him kicking on any further, but that could be enough to get him to at least the semiifinals. You know, best of 5 set match against someone of very similar ability, obviously he’s going to have a good chance.

Dave: What about Andy Murray?

Dan: Murray is the real surprise in the market, and his price has gone in significantly. Which is not surprising, really, given that he’s done very well in the warm-up Masters events and beat Djokovic in Rome on Sunday. He’s gone from having no titles on clay until last year, now he’s won on three, including two Masters. He’s gone from about 14s into fives. For me, statistically he’s up there, and he’s going to have a lot of confidence having beaten Djokovic on Sunday, as well. His preparation is pretty ideal.

Dave: How surprised would you be if Roger Federer played well enough to win?

Dan: I think quarterfinals would be a good achievement for him right now. I’m struggling to see him in a best of 5 format on clay, which is his worst surface, patently unfit and not in tune with his normal level, getting to anything past the quarterfinals. His draw will be very very interesting indeed, because there’s going to be some dangerous players, sort of the forty ranked players, who at his current level, won’t be seeded, but could easily give him a tough match in the first couple of rounds.

Federer is very vulnerable, but obviously the market’s priced that in. I think he’s trading about just under 30s at the moment. I’m not expecting him to do much really at all. He’s lost a lot to good but unspectacular opponents in warm-up events as well. Doesn’t really bode that well for him.

Dave: You mentioned fitness problems?

Dan: Yeah, he’s had some knee surgery, which caused him to miss about three months. He came back in April and he’s played a couple of events since, and he hasn’t pulled up any trees whatsoever. He’s lost to Tsonga and Thiem. This week he plays Zverev, who I was actually quite disappointed in, because I thought Zverev might be able to knock him out in the first round, but he did so in the second round instead, in Rome.

His preparation’s far from ideal, and he’s going to need probably a really easy draw to ease himself into the tournament to have any chance of getting his level up to where he might like to be.

Dave: We had in the Australian Open, Stan Wawrinka as a surprise winner, but then he won the French Open last year, as well. What do you expect him to do this year?

Dan: I’m not a Wawrinka fan, on the whole. I think he’s overrated. I think even his most ardent fan would agree that he’s a very, very inconsistent player. On his day, he could trouble the best, but on his worst, he could lose to like 100 ranked players. He’s flattered to deceive.

He hasn’t made past the quarterfinals of any events since February. His hold-break stats are okay. Clay is probably his favourite surface. Slow clay, probably is his ultimate favourite service. But I think that he’s going to struggle to defend his title. I think if he can get to the semi-finals that would probably be a reasonable achievement for Stan.

Dave: You said slow clay is his favourite surface. Where does Roland-Garros fit in?

Dan: It’s not really hugely slow, but not really hugely fast, either. About average, from memory, I’ll just call up some stats quickly to get that.

Dave: And those stats, what do you base those on?

Dan: It’ll be to do with mean service hold and break percentages. I usually use last three-year figures and then compare them to the clay mean for the ATP or WTA or whatever’s relevant.

Last three years on clay ATP tours, it’s 76.2% for service holds and 76.5% for French Open, so there’s very little difference in service hold percentages over three years from the French Open to the mean.

Madrid, for example, the warm-up Masters in Madrid a few weeks ago. That was very fast conditions, and historically is also the case. Some of the clay events in July a lot of them are on quite slow surfaces.

Dave: And that’s based purely on the whole percentage though, there’s a direct correlation between that and the speed of the court?

Dan: Yeah, you can bear a lot of comparisons between the service hold for the venue and comparing that to the mean. You can also the same with aces per game as well, which is 0.37 in the French Open and 0.36 on clay in the ATP tour over three years, so again, it’s showing a tiny, tiny, tiny bit quicker than average, but very little worth factoring in there, just treating it as an average clay court would serve you fine.

Dave: Another player I want to talk about, then, is not that well-known to the general sporting public, obviously to tennis fans he would be: Kei Nishikori. Do you think he’s suited by Roland-Garros?

Dan: Clay’s probably his strongest surface. He’s a really good player and I like him a lot Kei. He just doesn’t really seem to kick on at the right times. Obviously he missed that great opportunity of winning a Slam against Cilic in the US Open a couple of years back. He’s just too injury-prone and inconsistent, and struggles against the top 5-level players. It’s difficult to see him certainly beating two top-5 players to win the title.

Dave: Is there anyone else outside of those players who you think is a strong chance, or a realistic winning chance?

Dan: Traditionally, top players win Grand Slams. It’s all very well having a romantic notion whereby you back someone at 300 or 400 to one and they claim the title, because that doesn’t really ever happen often at all, if ever really, in men’s tennis. Cilic is probably the one that stands out, there, but I don’t think he was close to those odds.

It’s a tough one. These sort of outsider players, I think getting to the quarters or semi-finals would be a decent achievement for them. Certainly you’ve got the likes of Thiem, who’s played really, really well on clay in 2016, but statistically still isn’t really fantastic here, sort of a tendency to do it the hard way sometimes, which has an impact on his stats. For example, going three sets against mediocre players is quite common for him.

Kyrgios, obviously, from an Australian standpoint, is going to be the player of main interest, particularly given the fact that Tomic is obviously woeful on clay. He’s priced around 16. I wouldn’t look to venture at those prices, but if Kyrgios takes his key points, which has been quite symptomatic in his career so far, he’d have a chance against anybody if he serves well.

A big server’s always going to be a big threat, but the problem with a big server’s they play a lot more games per match, and longer matches on the whole, which accumulates fatigue, and then that gets them tired for the second week, which is a problem with their playing style. The likes of Isner, Raonic, they could be a threat against a player on an individual day, but over the course of a tournament’s going to find it hard to sustain that level.

Dave: Tell us more about Kyrgios then, because this time last year there was plenty of hype where we’re from, down under, that he was going to be the future world number one. You poured a little bit of cold water on that at the time, saying his stats, and I supposed the progression of similar players don’t back that up. Where is he right now, do you think?

Dan: He’s doing okay. He’s definitely kicked on since we spoke last year about him. I think he’s got a lot more to work on, as well. His hold-break percentage is around the 107 mark at the moment. Again, that’s solid but unspectacular, and far from elite level. However, when you look at his stats, particularly on return, he converts a lot more break points than he’s expected to based on his return points won percentage. He’s also has a good 12-month tiebreak record of 19-9, which is pretty strong.

It’s quite difficult to replicate a tiebreak record long-term, because of variance. Tiebreak records tend to settle around where a player should be. If he can certainly maintain those sort of stats he could do well, but it’s difficult to maintain key point stats over the course of a career. John Isner’s probably one of the few people who’s actually managed to do that.

Dave: You mentioned Tomic before. He’s had plenty of negative publicity just for not trying, basically, and then being such an arrogant schmuck in press conferences. You’re heavily involved in the tennis scene, tennis industry. Do people even care, or is he just a bit of a loose cannon?

Dan: That’s a tough one. I think conditions are a big factor for Tomic, because he excels on fast courts. Obviously, he has quite a strong record in the pre-Aussie Open warm-up events in Australia in January. I don’t necessarily think that’s anything to do with enjoying playing in his home country. I think it’s just that the quick courts suit him better than a lot of other tournaments. Also, he sometimes makes the effort for like 250s at altitude, as well, which is clear to me that he’s conscious of the fact that he wants to play on as many fast courts as possible, and clay just doesn’t suit him at all, because it’s obviously the slowest surface out of the four main surfaces on tour.

I think that with a more positive mindset, he could achieve more on clay, but I’m not sure that he’s got that. He almost needs to be like a reverse Ferrer, where Ferrer started more as a clay courter and then worked his way into being kind of an all courter. Whereas Tomic is like an out-and-out fast hard courter, and he needs to become a little bit more rounded, because certainly it’s going to be very hard for him to break the top 10, because there’s not enough fast hard courts on tour for him to excel at, to get enough ranking points to achieve that.

Dave: What about on the women’s side? I don’t want to spend too much time on it, but is there a particular player that you want to watch closely, or is it pretty much the similar types that seem to go around quite often?

Dan: A lot of them are all much of a muchness, really.

Women’s players, I just generally look at players who have a decent record against top-5, top-10 players, because they’re going to end up having to play two or three of them to win a tournament. That causes issues for the likes of Radwanska and, perhaps a bit lower down the likes of Suarez Navarro, and Errani, and also a bit further up, Halep-Sharapova’s not playing this year. Halep has a woeful record against Sharapova and Serena Williams. Considering she’s always going to have to play one of them in most tournaments, it’s going to be difficult for her to win a Slam.

Women, for me, it’s all about on a given day. The play is just so inconsistent. It’s difficult to really favour an outsider. Perhaps there’s a couple of young players who might be able to do well. Madison Keys had a nice result in the warm-up event last week, did well. Bencic maybe hasn’t kicked on as much as she might like this year, but she’s got a good record against top-10 players and has immense potential as well.

A real outsider who has some nice stats, I like Daria Kasatkina as well. I think she’s won the junior French Open before, and her clay stats are really nice. Maybe this year’s come a bit too soon for her, but she’s definitely a player to keep an eye on this year, and obviously in the future as well.

Dave: We’re a little over a month away from Wimbledon. Is it too early to get your thoughts on a player to watch, possibly undervalued, on the men’s side and the women’s side, for Wimbledon?

Dan: The outright odds, really haven’t formed massively yet, but it’s a real horses for courses thing. For example, Tomic would perform a lot better on the fast grass of Wimbledon than he obviously would at the French Open.

I want to look more at the big server type players in Wimbledon, because it’s going to very hard to break them, and also some of the top-15, -20 players who are better on serve than return, and maybe even Kyrgios does fall into that bracket as well. So looking at serve-orientated players.

In the women’s, Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens possibly wins that bracket, maybe even Safarova, although she doesn’t have much of a track record on grass and certainly isn’t in any sort of form whatsoever, really. Looking at more serve-orientated players will be a good way to go at Wimbledon, at obviously in the grass warm-up events, as well. Particularly like Queen’s, which I think is the fastest court on tour. It’s really, really fast.

Dave: Okay. Thanks for your time, Dan. If people want more stats, more information, in play, pretty much whatever, they can visit your site?

Dan: Yeah, it’s www.tennisratings.co.uk, or you can drop me an email at tennistrades@gmail.com and I’ll get back to you straightaway.

Dave: Sounds good. Hopefully I’ll be in London town again later this year for the Matchbook Conference and we can catch up.

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