The Women’s Sony Ericsson Open moves to the forefront of tennis betting markets this week as the Williams sisters return to action. Predictably, sports betting exchanges have it Serena’s tournament to win or lose. Find out what our verdict is complete with our tennis free picks.

All in on Serena

Immediately, the complexion of the tennis betting markets change with the advent of the Williams sisters, namely Serena Williams, widely accepted as the greatest female player of all time. Last week’s Indian Wells was held a wide-open affair in the absence of the siblings. And so it proved to be with Flavia Pennetta claiming the crown, marking the biggest title victory in her career.  

The Sony Ericsson Open is expected to be different – fall more to plan than Indian Wells, so to speak. This doesn’t mean there won’t be surprises or upsets along the way rather that the top favourites – with a caveat: for the most part – would punch at their weight class.

What do the odds makers say about Serena's chances in the Sony Ericsson Open?Serena Williams leads the charge in Key Biscane at fancied odds of +110 to win outright at Bet365, which in her case is good tennis betting value. After all, the American starlet and World No.1 player is the defending champion and six-time champion in Miami. Last year, she beat Maria Sharapova in a three-set final.

The season got off to an auspicious start for Serena with a victory in Brisbane beating Petkovic, Cibulkova, Sharapova and Azarenka en route to her 58th overall career title. Since then however she’s tapered off a bit. Earlier than expected losses in both Melbourne and Dubai to players she typically dominates  – Ivanovic in the R16 Australian Open and Cornet in Dubai quarterfinals – have raised question marks in tennis betting circles. They even offer up hope and belief to some of her threats in Miami this week, a tangible reason to fancy their chances against her. That they’ve not come at the price of her standard market estimation however is telling. Clearly, despite her recent waffles, she’s expected to lift her form back to its lofty standards.

Serena’s quarter is stacked with some decent threats in Yaroslava Shvedova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Samantha Stosur (+10000) and Ekaterina Makarova (+15000), to name a few, while top threat Angelique Kerber looms dangerously as a potential quarterfinal opponent at +3300 to win the tournament outright. But as each of their hefty price tags would indicate they are long shots for the title, let alone to beat Serena should the occasion to do so present itself. Simply put, they are too inconsistent.

Maria Sharapova falls into the same half of the draw as Serena Williams and as the runner-up last year she presents an intriguing prospect. That said her early exit in Indian Wells has seen her stock diminish this week to +1000 futures odds across most tennis odds platforms. Her shoulder injury is still a question mark and her draw is no picnic with Flavia Pennetta (+3300), Petra Kvitova (+4000) and Ana Ivanovic (+4000) all looming on the horizon. Still, Sharapova is a competitor and proven champion, second only to Serena when it comes to intensity and heart. Never discount the Russian starlet.

Li Na enters the Sony Ericsson Open betting markets as the second favourite to win outright at +500. The Australian Open champion came very close to backing up her Grand Slam success with another major title in Indian Wells only to fall to Flavia Penneta in the penultimate round, an upset that upset many of her backers, especially as it really was her title to win or lose at that juncture of the tournament.

In any event, good form makes her smart money in Miami. On the flipside, she does have a tricky draw to negotiate, beginning with big hitting Kleybanova followed by a potential third round against American hopeful Madison Keys or Slovak veteran Daniela Hantuchova. Further down the draw, she could face Sloane Stephens, who is flush off a quarterfinal appearance in Indian Wells, and is dubbed as a dangerous floater at +3300 futures betting odds at Bet365, not to mention in form Jankovic in the quarters (+2000).

Simona Halep rings in as the third favourite to win the title at +800 tennis-betting futures, largely down to her commendable rise through the ranks and her semi-final finish in the Californian desert (lost to Radwanska). But in spite of all she’s accomplished last year and at the start of this season, Halep cuts a soft favourite in Miami and she will be hard pressed to negotiate a similar run. Mark these words: she won’t go so far in Miami, let alone win the title.

Let’s look at Halep’s season so far closely, just for the sake of underlining the above last statement. In reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals, she went through three players ranked outside of the top 100. There was a ‘notable’ victory was over eighth seed Jankovic in three sets, albeit an injured Jankovic that wasn’t able to win a game in the third set. Her title- winning run in Doha was a solid. She did beat three top ten threats but as far as “threats” go she couldn’t have asked for a better triplet than that of Errani, Radwanska and Kerber. Errani is slowly fading and losing confidence while Radwanska and Kerber both match up well against Halep and don’t have the weapons to blow her off the court. Finally, in Indian Wells, Halep, once again, came up against questionable opponents in No.47 Nara, inconsistent No.28 Safarova, inexperienced young gun No.19 Eugenie Bouchard and qualifier Casey Dellacqua before losing to Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals.

By contrast, this week her quarter is riddled with big hitters such as Venus Williams, Andrea Petkovic and Dominika Cibulkova in the early rounds, players whose power can give her lots of difficulty. Dubai champion Venus Williams (listed at +1600) is a potential third round opponent and looms most dangerous with home ground advantage, good form and one of the biggest serves in the women’s game. Should Halep get past any of these obstacles (and that is a big if), down the stretch she could face  Eugenie Bouchard or Agnieszka Radwanska, amongst several others, not to mention any one of the many standout options of the Li Na quarter in the semis.

Tennis Betting Verdict: Undoubtedly, this is Serena’s tournament to win or lose and one has to like her tennis odds to win it all. As such, she is our top tennis free pick at her attractive +110 price tag. Li Na and Maria Sharapova are good prospects but they could become victims of their own draws for different reasons: the former might be knackered after Indian Wells and the latter has injury concerns. Simona Halep meanwhile presents the least striking pose of the top four favourites because her draw looks insurmountable at the moment; getting past Venus Williams her biggest test. Best outside tennis picks – Jankovic (+2000) and Stephens (+3300)  to emerge into finals.

Tennis Free Picks: Serena Williams at +110