While America rallies around Serena Williams, sportsbooks hold their breath

Not everyone is rooting for Serena Williams to finish her storied career with a U.S. Open championship — at least if they’re thinking with their wallets in mind instead of their hearts.

Despite being arguably one of the greatest athletes of her time, Williams entered the 2022 U.S. Open a heavy underdog. At roughly 50-to-1 odds depending on the sportsbook, a $5 bet on Williams would return $250 in winnings.

The long odds are typical for the 413th-ranked tennis player in the world. But that player isn’t normally as famous as Williams. Williams' attractive odds and the hype around the tournament likely being the last of her career is putting unusual pressure on some sportsbooks that would have to pay out an unordinary amount of winners if Williams wins the tournament.

“As of today, Serena Williams has the largest liability in the US Open outright winner market and is the top overall selection in the market by handle and bet count,” a FanDuel Sportsbook spokesperson told Yahoo Finance.

Serena Williams during her match against Anett Kontaveit during the US Open Tennis Championship 2022 on August 31 in New York City. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
Serena Williams during her match against Anett Kontaveit during the US Open Tennis Championship 2022 on August 31 in New York City. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

FanDuel has already seen an increase in the Williams betting market less than 24 hours after her last victory. Since midnight, 77% of the handle bet on the outright winner of the women's singles tournament has been placed on Williams. And some betting operators don't think it will stop there.

“We have seen strong interest in Serena to win the U.S. Open and expect our liability will continue to grow on Serena as she advances in the tournament," BetMGM VP of Trading Jason Scott said.

Thirty-four percent of the overall money wagered at FanDuel (FLTR.L) on a player to win the women’s singles titles has been put on Williams. The next closest player, Iga Swiatek, has just 13% of the handle on her. Other sportsbooks are seeing similar results too. Williams owns 25% of the handle at Caesars Sportsbooks (CZR) and 24% of the handle at BetMGM (MGM).

Draftkings Sportsbook (DKNG) has seen similar interest. Williams' second round match was the most bet US Open event for the book thus far, Draftkings Director of Sportsbook Operations Johnny Avello told Yahoo Finance. He noted Williams winning is a "significant hazard" for the sportsbook and that liability will continue to grow if Williams run continues.

The significant interest in betting on a long-odds for a player like Williams is abnormal. Typically, a large portion of the betting in a tournament falls on a player that's viewed as a true competitor for the championship. At PointsBet (PBTHF), another betting platform that currently operates in 12 states, Swiatek leads the futures market in bet count (31%) and handle (32%).

“It's rare when someone considered the best to ever play starts a tournament with such long odds, something they never would have gotten in their prime.” Craig Mucklow, Caesars Sportsbook vice president of trading, said. “This is a great story and the longer the run continues, the more action we'll see backing Serena. People want to be part of her story. If she pulls it off, it will be one of the greatest sports achievements of all-time.”

Josh is a reporter and producer for Yahoo Finance.

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