Andy Murray begins his French Open campaign on Tuesday and in theory, he should have a relatively straightforward passage through to the second round.
Lying in wait for the 25-year-old is unheralded Japanese player Tatsuma Ito, a man who is ranked 64 places lower than him and is competing in the main draw at Roland Garros for the first time.
The bwin odds compilers are in no doubt whatsoever that Murray will advance, pricing him at a miserly 1/100, with Ito on offer at a whopping 14/1.
And in truth, it would be a major surprise if the world number four failed to win, but no-one’s getting rich by backing him at that ludicrously short price.
So, as is always the key question in such one-sided two-horse races of this nature, where can the value be found?
The first place to look is Murray to win in straight sets, but considering his inconsistent form this season, that makes no appeal either at 17/100.
But fear not, tennis betting fans: I have spotted a rather intriguing trend in Murray’s first-round matches at grand slams which could unearth a couple of real gems here.
The world number four has occasionally been labelled a slow starter during his career and a closer look at some relevant statistics appears to back up that claim.
In the table below, which details his opening matches at the last eight majors, you can see that Murray has a habit of making hard work of first sets against eminently beatable opponents.
[table id=56 /]
He has lost three of those eight first sets and while it would be a brave man who backs Ito to make that four from nine at odds of 15/2, the recurring theme is as good a guide as any for how to beat the bookies here.
For instance, consider for a moment that none of them featured fewer than nine games; amazingly, under nine games to be played in the first set of the Murray v Ito clash is at 87/100.
If you’re looking for a banker, ignore this price and instead steam into the 4/5 that says Ito manages to win more than two games in the opener, as all of Murray’s last eight first-round grand slam opponents have done.
A score of 6-3 or 6-4 in either player’s favour – which has been the case in six of those eight sets outlined in the table – also looks an infinitely superior investment at 27/20, while 11 games or more must be worth a small stab too at 23/4.
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Of course, Murray may prove me wrong and blow his latest opponent away in the early stages, but he’s hardly ever displayed such dominance at Roland Garros.
His form on the red stuff this season has been unconvincing, with quarter-final exits in Barcelona and Monte Carlo at the hands of Milos Raonic and Tomas Berydch respectively followed by a last-16 defeat to Richard Gasquet in Rome.
On top of that, Ito’s recent exploits make for encouraging reading. His world ranking is at an all-time high of 68 and he arrives in Paris match-tight, having won two Challenger titles and reached one other final since March.
The Japanese also performed respectably at last week’s World Team Championship clay-court event in Dusseldorf, recording a notable three-set win over former top-ten star Radek Stepanek, who is still ranked as high as 26.
Despite irritating the hell out of most people I know with my insistence on watching tennis for hours on end, I can’t claim to know a huge amount about Ito’s game. But if he can beat the wily Czech veteran, he is clearly no mug.
His recent successes will make him full of confidence and with nothing to lose against Murray, he can go for the jugular early on – and surely do enough to win at least three games in that first set.
Ito to win three or more games in the first set @ 4/5
First set in Murray v Ito to contain nine or ten games @ 27/20
First set in Murray v Ito to contain 11 or more games @ 23/4
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