Six months into the year, Rafael Nadal is now halfway to a calendar slam after winning two of the four majors in the Australian Open and the French Open.
Last year was the year of Novak Djokovic, as he chased the calendar slam and the golden slam (winning all four majors plus the Olympic gold) but neither came to fruition. This year has been the year of Nadal and I can’t say many if any saw it coming after he took more than five months off last year to recover from injury. Alas, he is here and with two majors down, it is unclear whether Nadal will even make an appearance at Wimbledon.
As we move from clay to grass, there are things you need to know to help you become a better sports bettor. Two entirely different surfaces that showcase two entirely different skill sets. Here’s the gist of what you need to know for ATP grass season.
Unlike clay, the ball moves at a faster pace with a lower bounce. This is why you see players with a big serve excel on this surface. The players that also have a strong serve and volley game do well, in addition to those that can either play at the net or have a wicked slice game. Clay is about long rallies but grass is about shorter points.
This year has been a wild one in terms of player availability. It started with Djokovic being unable to play in the Australian Open due to his vaccination status. He is on the Wimbledon entry list and is now tied with Federer and two behind Nadal (22) for the most grand slam titles. Plus, Djoker will lose his No. 1 status and move to World No. 3 starting next week, with Daniil Medvedev moving back to No. 1 for the second time this year and Germany’s Alexander Zverev moving to No. 2.
Russians aren’t on the Wimbledon list after the tournament committee banned them from participating. The men’s players you will not be seeing in ATP’s third major but could still see in earlier grass events include Medvedev (No. 2), Andrey Rublev (No. 8), Karen Khachanov (No. 23), Aslan Karatsev (No. 40) and Ilya Ivashka (No. 49).
The World No. 3 is another player we won’t be seeing for a while. Zverev will be out for the unseeable future after tearing ‘several ligaments' in his foot during his semifinal French Open match against Nadal. The German is definitely a top server on tour, ranking fifth in 2021 on grass for first serve percentage points won. This comes right before Zverev will make the move to No. 2 in the rankings, a first in his career.
Part of the Big Three, Federer holds an 87% win record on grass, 19 grass titles and eight titles at Wimbledon (most in the open era), which is two more than Djokovic. His last trip to a Wimbledon final was in 2019, which also happened to be the longest final in Wimbledon history. If you have five hours to spare, I highly recommend watching. Although it was a loss to Djoker, it was (for me) the greatest match of the last decade if not of all time. Federer hasn’t played since last year’s Wimbledon and won’t return until at least the Laver Cup in September.
Who to bet this grass court season
Grass-court tennis is about having a big game and keeping opponents off rhythm. That being said, these are the players to target this season.
Novak Djokovic -115
Carlos Alcaraz +450
Rafael Nadal +600
Matteo Berrettini +900
Stefanos Tsitsipas +1000
In the Wimbledon futures market, if you can find a Djokovic to win at even odds or better, that is definitely worth a grab.
Took Novak Djokovic +110 to win. @YahooSportsbook
— Pamela Maldonado (@pamelam35) June 3, 2022
If we’re talking about the best on grass of all time, I would put Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Djoker in the top three. If we’re talking about the best on grass right now, it's Djokovic. He has a 102-18 (85%) win/loss record on grass, with seven grass titles — six of those were won at Wimbledon, including last year’s returning event after the 2020 tournament was canceled due to the pandemic. In a season of big servers, Djokovic is the one man that neutralizes the serving weapon.
By being the best returner on tour (and arguably of all time), Djokovic can keep a big serve tamed with his counter-striking ability. Entering this grass season, he may even have a chip on his shoulder with how things have gone for him this year after having missed the Australian Open, losing to Nadal in disappointing fashion at Roland Garros, now two behind from the slam title record and no longer being World No. 1. This is Djoker’s season to build on his legacy.
Last season, Cilic ranked inside the top 20 on grass for first-serve win percentage, averaging 15 aces per match. In terms of win percentage, Cilic’s best surface is grass with a 71.3 win rate, though just three of his 20 titles have been won on grass. One, however, was the 2021 Stuttgart event, an ATP 250 tournament where he defeated notables like Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger Aliassime. Cilic is entering grass off a deep run in the French Open, losing to Roland Garros finalist Casper Ruud in the semifinal. Now he’s on a more familiar surface with some rhythm and momentum. If he can extend on some of that, with a favorable draw, he could be a dark horse for Wimbledon. He's made at least the quarters on four occasions, including the 2017 final losing to Federer.
The 21-year-old has definitely grown into his own. Since the start of last year’s grass season, Auger has reached at least the quarterfinal in 14 events, including a quarterfinal loss to Italy’s Matteo Berrettini in 2021 Wimbledon and a semifinal loss to Medvedev in the 2021 U.S. Open. This year, however, Auger nearly picked off Australian Open finalist Medvedev, forcing a thrilling five-set match before losing 6-4 in the fifth; defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in Rotterdam, breaking his 0-8 losing streak in finals to earn his first tour title; and more recently, he was only the third player in Nadal’s 115-match history to push Nadal to five sets at Roland Garros. Auger comes with less experience on grass, with only an 18-6 win/loss record, but he’s top 10 in serve rating on grass and has a solid baseline game to compliment.
I’m weary of putting the Italian on the list simply because he’s returning from injury after three months away, not having played since March. We saw Nadal take a break and return to go on a 20-0 win streak, however, so I’m not discounting Berrettini here entirely. But Nadal is an entirely different beast.
The 2021 season was a good one for him, though, as he won Queen’s Club for his second grass title and then followed that up with an appearance in the Wimbledon final, losing to Djokovic in four sets. If he returns to full health and competes at a high level, Berrettini can absolutely contend. He's ranked fourth on tour for grass serves and he could be a threat with his powerful forehand. They don’t call him "The Hammer" for nothing.
Hurkacz will be looking to build on his 2021 semifinal run at Wimbledon. The 6-foot-5 Polish player defeated Federer in straight sets in the quarterfinal, winning the third set, 6-0. Granted, it was only Federer’s fifth tournament back (second on grass) after a year-long stint away. But it is still something to marvel at because the last time Federer lost in straight sets at Wimbledon was 2002 and never, not once, had Federer been bageled at Wimbledon and he did so at the hands of Hurkacz. Hubie has since reached at least the quarterfinal in seven events, both on hard and clay, making him a threat on a surface more suitable to his game.
It’s grass season, baby! It's only a month long, so don’t miss the short season. Blink and you might miss some betting opportunities.