The Empire Slate: Serena’s U.S. Open Run Creates Liability For Sportsbooks

The Mets hold firm in a key series while the Yankees' downward spiral continues
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“The Empire Slate” is a weekly look at betting angles and trends involving New York sports.

To the casual tennis fan, Serena Williams beating Annet Kontaveit in the second round of the U.S. Open was far from mind-blowing.

After all, Kontaveit might be No. 2 in the world, but she doesn’t have 23 Grand Slam singles titles on her resumé and she certainly doesn’t have the name recognition of the better of the two legendary Williams sisters. That’s why Wednesday’s upset in Serena’s final Grand Slam event before her expected retirement cost the sportsbooks dearly. It could be just the start of a major liability.

The match at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows was a dangerous confluence for the operators, where the rooting interest of the public clashes with the logic of the odds. Williams, 40, entered Wednesday’s match as roughly a +200 underdog at most books, but she was widely supported by bettors.

Williams opened as a +5000 longshot to win her seventh U.S. Open, but two victories in two rounds have shot her all the way up to +1400. Only six women have shorter odds at DraftKings: Iga Swiatek (+225), Cori Gauff (+900), Ludmilla Samsonova (+900), Caroline García (+900), Aryna Sabalenka (+1200), and Jessica Pegula (+1200).

More trouble brewing?

It could get even dicier for the mobile sportsbooks if Williams’ march continues. She next plays Australian Ajla Tomljanovic at 6 p.m. Friday in the third round.

“The futures position is ugly,” Westgate SuperBook Executive Director John Murray told ESPN. “Liabilities can add up in a hurry at big numbers. The betting always picks up in the late rounds, and the interest around Serena will skyrocket if she keeps winning.”

Books have reported better-than-usual action on this Open given that it might be Williams’ final run. Caesars Sportsbook offered index betting in which people could bet on how many rounds she would last in the tournament, an offering not typically available for tennis tourneys.

At Caesars, Williams has taken the highest percentage of bets (25%) to win the Open and the highest percentage of dollars (20%), while at DraftKings she garnered the most bets (26.1%), but the second-most money (12.6%) after Swiatek (45.4%).

Meanwhile, next door…

The Mets just secured a two-game split with the Dodgers with a thrilling 2-1 win Wednesday night in what could easily be a preview of the National League Championship Series. The Dodgers and Mets have the two best records in the senior circuit.

All that tennis and baseball excitement led to a bit of a cluster-up in Queens:

Wednesday’s win featured more brilliant pitching by Jacob deGrom, an amazing catch by Brandon Nimmo, and live trumpet playing by Trumpet Man, followed by Edwin Díaz’s 29th save. How could the Mets lose?

Wednesday’s win was crucial, and not just because it proved the Mets can beat the NL’s best team. Their seven-game lead over the Braves on Aug. 10 has been slowly eroding, down to three now, with 31 games left. They are a consensus -500 to win the division, with the Braves’ number set at +375 and the Phillies, who trail by 10, at +20000.

The Mets are on the cusp of passing the slumping Yankees as the third choice to win it all, behind the Dodgers and Houston Astros. In fact, the two New York teams are virtually tied. The Mets’ best price among the nine legal sportsbooks in New York is +500 at Caesars Sportsbook and PointsBet. The Yankees’ best odds are +500 at DraftKings.

Bronx bummers

The Slate generally has been nonplussed by the Yankees’ August swoon, pointing out their still-sizable division lead (now down to six games) and their massive (and crucial) edge for a first-round playoff bye. But the length of this slump is becoming concerning, to say the least.

They just finished August with their seventh-worst record (.375) all time in the month and worst since 1989. Their pace since the All-Star break (.385) is the fourth worst in franchise history after 1908, 1912 and 1973. So, yeah, it’s a big deal.

Should Yankees fans be concerned it’s all coming crashing down? Well, perhaps they are the second coming of the ‘64 Phillies, who blew a 6.5-game lead in less than two weeks, but converting odds to probability still gives reason for optimism.

The Yankees’ AL East odds of -2000 are the equivalent of a 95.2% chance to win the division. Their World Series odds imply a 16.7% chance of winning it all, pretty good for a team losing two of every three games since mid-season.

Older Yankees fans will recall that miserable Phillies summer of ‘64, because the team that caught them — the St. Louis Cardinals — went on to beat Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard, Whitey Ford, and the rest of a great Yankees team in the World Series.

Photo: Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY

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