WTA Prague & WTA Lexington Day 1 Tips: Fernandez value to stun Stephens

WTA Tour action continues on Tuesday with 20 first-round matches taking place between Prague and Lexington. Our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, looks at some of the value on the schedule...

Early start in Prague after delays yesterday

There was a weather-driven early end to proceedings in Prague with only one match able to take place in the main draw in Prague, and Kristyna Pliskova's match with Linda Fruhvirtova being paused midway through the opening set. Given this, action starts shortly, at 900 UK time, with the tournament organisers keen to get back on track with the schedule - an earlier start than yesterday.

From a time perspective, it's worth noting that WTA matches are likely to continue through to the early hours of the morning for European viewers with the card getting underway at 1600 UK time in Lexington for the remainder of the first round matches there. With Prague starting first, I'll look at some of the interesting matches there before discussing several in Lexington.

Rus and Tormo likely to prefer slower conditions

There wasn't much in the way of value in Prague with several spots which my model highlighted being able to be questioned by court speed in particular. Firstly, Aranxta Rus looked reasonable as a heavy underdog at 4.30 against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova but the Netherlands player has consistently struggled with the step up to the WTA Tour from lower-level ITF events, where she has thrived. This wouldn't necessarily be an issue for a player aged in their earlier twenties, but at 29 years of age this is generally more of a concern.

Opponent Pavlyuchenkova has mediocre underlying clay data in the last three years and a positive tiebreak record has helped her generate a win-loss record of over 50% in this time frame. However, the quicker conditions anticipated in Prague compared to last week in Palermo is likely to suit the Russian player - she's quite strong indoors, for example - making this match a leave-alone for me.

This was also the case in the Sara Sorribes Tormo versus Barbora Strycova clash, with my model quite liking the Spanish clay courter Tormo at 2.20, but with the court speed likely to benefit the home player Strycova. If this match was played last week in Palermo (with slower conditions) with similar prices, my view would be much more likely to be different.

We also see top seed and resounding tournament favourite Simona Halep start her campaign. Even against a tricky first-round opponent in Polona Hercog, and in quicker clay conditions which may not be to her liking, it would still be a shock if Halep fell at the first hurdle.

Anisimova versus Bellis clash intrigues

Moving on to Lexington, there are some fascinating matches taking place. Earlier in the schedule, Serena Williams starts her tournament with a meeting with fellow American Bernarda Pera, and Williams is a justified heavy favourite, currently trading at 1.25 on the Exchange, while another all-American clash between two high potential young prospects, Amanda Anisimova and CiCi Bellis, intrigues.

Earlier in her career, Bellis was far ahead of the age curve (she was ranked 35 having just turned 18) and appeared to be destined for a career in and around the top ten. However, injuries have caused her delays in that progression and she's currently ranked outside the top 300, while Anisimova has taken over at a similar rank at a similar age. This probably has some influence on the market - Anismova is favourite at 1.45 - and this line looks a little short to me. If Bellis can get back to her best, and perhaps lockdown may have been a good leveller in this respect, this would be an even-money match.

Fernandez capable of underdog victory

However, I'm looking at another young prospect in our quest for value today. Qualifier Leylah Anne Fernandez is on a rapid upward curve, with already-strong WTA Tour level data, in conjunction with stunning numbers in qualifiers and in ITFs. Tonight, Fernandez faces Sloane Stephens who is obviously a far bigger name - she won the US Open in 2017 and made the final of the French Open in 2018 - but the higher-profile American player has really struggled before lockdown. From August 2019 onwards, Stephens is 5-11 in main tour matches and has poor underlying data from those as well.

It's probably Stephens' reputation which is influencing the market here and I like the current 1.96 price on Fernandez here, with both players at that line. I think even money is also likely in the run-up to the match.

In other matches, I'm interested to see whether Yulia Putintseva can give Ajla Tomljanovic a run for her money - I think she can - while there is also interest in a match between two illustrious names in Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka. Numbers from both players in recent times suggest both are far from their peak levels, and the winner is likely to face Serena Williams in the second round.

American Tennis Player Serena Williams

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