When Wimbledon arrives next month, there will no doubt be the usual wise cracks who, despite only watching the game for two weeks every year, lament the ‘shocking state of British tennis’ and predict a raft of early exits for the home hopefuls.
In fairness, that has often been the case at SW19 in recent years. But if any of those people are reading this article, I’ve got some great news for you: there’s a chance to apply your theory a few weeks early with the upcoming first-round action at the French Open.
With Elena Baltacha already biting the dust at the hands of Sam Stosur, the trio of Anne Keothavong, Laura Robson and Heather Watson are next in the firing line at Roland Garros.
Anyone who follows tennis all year round will know that these four actually represent the strongest crop of British women we have had for many years, as evidenced by their superb performance in the recent Fed Cup under the watchful eye of Judy Murray.
Baltacha and Keothavong have worked tirelessly to make the most of their talents and are now fully established and deserved members of the top 100, while hopes are particularly high for promising teenagers Robson and Watson.
However, the trio taking to the court on days two and three in Paris all face tough assignments, so my question to the ‘experts’ is this: how about backing up the withering anti-patriotic verdict with a cheeky treble on their opponents?
Robson, who is only in the main draw by virtue of being a lucky loser, looks to be in most danger as she takes on Anabel Medina Garrigues, who is priced as a strong 11/50 favourite, on Monday.
The Spaniard, ranked 31 in the world, eased to a 6-2, 6-3 success when they met at last year’s US Open and should have more than enough to prevail again on a surface which suits her far more than it does Robson.
For all her considerable talents, the former junior Wimbledon champion is not the greatest mover on the red stuff and this is perhaps why she is as long as 15/4 to defeat a player with ten WTA Tour-level clay-court titles to her name.
Meanwhile, Keothavong is priced as a 33/20 outsider to beat Melinda Czink on Tuesday, which, upon initial inspection of the relevant statistics, seems peculiar for two main reasons.
The Briton actually came out on top when they met just last month in Copenhagen, while she also boasts a better world ranking than the Hungarian left-hander (81 to 109).
However, Czink is in decent form, having recently returned to the world’s top 120 for the first time in over a year, and is another clay-court specialist with eight career ITF titles on the surface.
Factor in Keothavong’s horrendous record at Roland Garros – losing in the first round in each of the last three years and failing to get through qualifying in five of the previous six – and the smart money may well be on Czink at 21/50.
Finally, we come to Watson, who did superbly to battle her way through qualifying but is rated as a 31/20 underdog for her clash with Elena Vesnina, which is also scheduled for Tuesday.
The Guernsey youngster is a plucky competitor and certainly has the solidity from the back of the court on her day to be the one to bust the treble.
But she will be making her French Open debut and it could well be that overcoming the former world number 22 proves a bridge too far following the rigours of the qualifying process.
Vesnina also has the benefit of knowing that she won their only previous meeting in straight sets two years ago at the Family Circle Cup – a prestigious clay-court event she also reached the final of in 2011.
The Russian is available at 9/20, which means backing her alongside Medina Garrigues and Czink provides tempting-looking treble odds of 151/100 (pick your selections here).
A free £25 bet is available for anyone registering with bwin and using it on this treble would provide winnings of £62.80 if Robson, Keothavong and Watson all fall at the first hurdle in Paris.
I would take no enjoyment from such a scenario, of course, but those non-believers in the British contingent would at least be able to thank me if they cash in on it….
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