Thiem v Djokovic

Whilst it may not be the final many anticipated at the start of the fortnight, we have ended with a match-up that looks to be one that can be quite competitive.

Dominic Thiem is finally earning the recognition of many as an all-round talent after years of being renowned largely for his clay court skill. It won’t be easy for him though, with the most in-form player and best performer in Rod Laver Arena in history will stand across the net in Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic has again looked incredibly impressive on his journey to the final, losing only one set through his six matches for the fortnight.

After dropping a set to Struff in the first round, only an injured Federer catching Novak off-guard early has come close to snatching a set from the Serbian on his quest to an 8th Australian Open title. Whilst he did look a little shaky early in that semi final, he was able to respond well and heap the pressure on Federer late in each set.

Struff was the player along the journey with the most firepower and rounded game (considering Federer fitness), and he was able to give Djokovic some grief at times during their match. The conditions for that match against Struff will be similar to what we will see tonight.

Dominic Thiem overcame an early scare against Alex Bolt, fired a coach, beat Nadal in primetime and has now made his first hardcourt grand slam final. The Austrian has looked incredibly impressive at times, and with each passing year seems to be developing a little more into this hardcourt game.

He is looking a little more comfortable when coming into the net, and overall appears to be more confident in his ability to rally and find an opportunity to pull the trigger, rather than going for too much too soon. This was most evident in the Thiem vs Nadal match-up, with the Austrian winning more longer rallies across the match.

There is a particular type of player that has caused Novak Djokovic more trouble than anyone else over the last couple of years at grand slam level, and that is Stan Wawrinka. It is a match-up style that is one that is most likely to be able to exploit Djokovic.

You need to be able to hit incredibly big off both wings, albeit needing to redline for periods. The slightly slower court in Melbourne also gives a bit more hope to Thiem, as the Austrian as the more powerful player can still hit through the Serbian when everything clicks.

The second important trait is the ability to trust their game in the key moments, and continue to attack even when down break points. We saw that perfectly in set 3 of the semi-final between Thiem and Zverev, with Thiem stepping up and saving set points with some impressive tennis.

It is one thing to be able to have all the tools to challenge Novak Djokovic on hardcourt, and it is another thing entirely for it to all click in the big moment. That is going to be the challenge for Thiem, and the challenge becomes more difficult over best of 5 sets on Rod Laver Arena.

I think there is going to be a sustained period within this match where Thiem will be able to take control of this match, the question will be how long?

As a result of the above, the initial preference was to take the game handicap of +5.5 games, however, I am not seeing odds consistently over $1.80 for that line, so I am inclined to play the head to head price on Thiem for 2 units instead.

We know Thiem has the fitness to play long matches, so that is not a great concern. Even with the question marks, it does seem to be the best value selection. This is Thiem’s best chance at a slam in a final to date. He needs to use that past experience positively today. He is worthy of finding himself in a hardcourt grand slam final, and he has beaten Djokovic before. That will help today.

Whilst this is a big occasion for Thiem, every final from now for Djokovic is massive. He is edging closer to Nadal and Federer in terms of slams won, and as the gap closes, the pressure will build.

Djokovic is a deserving favourite, however, I would have him longer than his current odds. Djokovic is looking to shift the ‘greatest of all time’ discussion further in his direction, and that would be well deserved with another victory tonight. Like players such as Medvedev recently, there just isn’t any value in his current prices on a consistent basis.

This has the potential to be an amazing final, so fingers crossed it delivers. I also don’t mind the total games over for those interested.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – Thiem to defeat Djokovic for 2 units

Muguruza vs Kenin

This looks to be a very fascinating final, and one I didn’t see coming so quickly in 2020. The resurgence of Garbine Muguruza has been exceptional, and she is now up against the semi-final giant killer in Sofia Kenin.

I remarked before the tournament that I felt as though Kenin’s time would come on the biggest stage, however perhaps not yet. Whilst you can say what you like about the strength of the quarter she progressed from in terms of direct opponents faced, she was able to produce one of the upsets of the tournament, crushing the local hope and number 1 seed Ash Barty in the semi final in straight sets.

A lot has been said about the performance of Barty, and the fact she perhaps lost that match rather than Kenin winning it. I disagree with the narrative, and it has ultimately led to Kenin being value today. Whilst she was very fortunate to avoid the likes of Williams and Osaka, she was also able to show that in all the tight moments that occurred through the early rounds, she came out on top. She dug herself out of tricky spots against Zhang, she came back from a set down against Gauff, and won all the key moments against Jabeur, ensuring she limited her unforced errors in those moments. When she found herself down set points in both sets against Barty, she limited her unforced errors, built the pressure within rallies, and then wasn’t afraid to attack when necessary. That is going to be key today. I have said in the past that I prefer to take Kenin when she plays against a bigger striker of the ball, and we get that again today.

This has been an impressive return to form from Muguruza, with the coaching change back to a combination proven to be successful in the past paying dividends early. Muguruza has put together an impressive run after losing her first set of the tournament 0-6. Since then, the Spaniard has only dropped one more set, to Tomljanovic in the second round. She got the better of a couple of big names in Svitolina, Bertens and Pavlyuchenkova on her way out of the quarter, and was largely untroubled along the way. Much like Kenin, the semi final performance was arguably the most impressive of her tournament, defeating Simona Halep 7-6 7-5 in just over two hours. The key in that match was the way Muguruza was able to tackle the second serve of Halep, winning 56% when returning the Romanian’s second serve. That won’t be as clear-cut in terms of a tactic today given Kenin’s second serve in comparison, but this looks to be the toughest stylistic match-up for Muguruza for the tournament in my opinion.

I have not been afraid to admit that my preference when supporting Kenin has been when she opposes a stronger player. Kenin can sometimes be referred to as more of a counter-puncher, however she is still developing her game. Her movement and positioning through her backhand looks to be improving with each passing month, and impressed me against the Barty slice in the semi final. She isn’t afraid to rip the ball on both wings to allow enough spin to utilise angle – as we saw on her match point against Barty. That will be crucial today against Muguruza, with her only real question mark currently her movement out wide and when the ball is hit behind her direction of movement.

Muguruza is the deserving favourite, but I don’t agree with the extent to which the odds imply. If she hits a high percentage of first serves in such a tight, tense moment, it will be hard for Kenin. Once Kenin can neutralise and work her way into rallies, I give her a fantastic chance of winning. Kenin will need to absorb and re-direct. She can do it, it will come down to handling the occasion. As a result, I will keep the staking to 2.5 units on Kenin to win.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – Kenin to defeat Muguruza for 2.5 units

Outright Trading Discussion

The top half of the draw has worked out well, with Thiem and Zverev to meet in the semi-final. It is nice to know at least one will reach the final at a big price, albeit against the best player in the game in Novak Djokovic.

The market currently reflects my thoughts that of the two semi-finalists; Thiem is slightly more likely to be able to defeat Djokovic in the final. The market has kept Thiem safe as a result, as you would likely see Thiem at roughly $4 in the final in my opinion. Given the thoughts above, you are likely to see a lot more movement in the Zverev price were he to win tonight compared to Thiem.

My play below is on Zverev +3.5 games, however, it is worth trying to ensure your overall result come the end of the final is a profitable position (considering other selections as well for the fortnight). Given form and experience, Djokovic will be tough to beat, so I would look to enter the final with a profitable (or at least break-even) position on both finalists.

The market is worth monitoring during the match, as heat could play a role in the match (see below). Remember, the markets for the outright on Betfair do not turn to in-play, so you can adjust your position at various times during the semi-final if you feel appropriate.


Thiem v Zverev

Whilst it is disappointing to think the weather may have an impact on this match, it is certainly worth noting that one player in this match-up handles incredibly hot conditions a little more comfortably than the other. It will be around 40 degrees when these two step on court this evening, so it is something that needs consideration.

I have mentioned a couple of times over the last few months that Dominic Thiem is one of the fittest players on tour, and he displayed that again in the quarter-final by spending over four hours on court against Rafael Nadal. He did a tremendous job of pressuring Nadal in the longer rallies, something we don’t often see from the Spaniard.

Whilst it was an impressive win, there were still some incredibly tight moments throughout the match, including his attempt to serve for the match in the 4th set. He is going to hit big and attack, and as someone supporting him you do need to acknowledge there will be periods where the unforced error rate may rise.

Had the temperature forecast been a touch cooler, it would have potentially swayed my decision in this match towards Alexander Zverev to win this match outright. He has been incredibly impressive this fortnight, with a large feature of his game being his first serve percentage. Generally, when you see a first-serve percentage so high, you wait for it to regress back towards his long-term average.

He has been able to maintain it at an incredibly high level across the tournament, and this was one of the reasons why he was able to produce a brilliant turnaround against Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-final.

Whilst Thiem is the deserving favourite, who I would argue probably matches up better against Novak Djokovic from an outright standpoint, I do think Zverev with the + game handicap is the correct play for tonight. Thiem has been shown throughout this tournament to have lapses, with some moments in each of his last 4 rounds.

With a 3.5 game headstart for Zverev, given his serve and confidence in his game coming off impressive performances against Rublev and Wawrinka, I feel a one-sided or even 6-3 set from Zverev should be enough to cover this handicap.

A tactic Zverev was able to use perfectly against Wawrinka was his forehand down the line within rallies. It has so much spin (almost loopy ball flight), the bounce off the court made it very difficult for Wawrinka to use his one-handed backhand effectively, often needing to use his slice.

I don’t feel as though Thiem will fall for this as much, as he has shown confidence in his ability to run around this kind of shot to hit a forehand. This will open up the court though consistently for Zverev, who I think has displayed the confidence this week to be able to pull the trigger and try and end points off his own racquet more consistently than the last 6-12 months.

I think we are in for a cracking semi-final tonight with these two. There is a lot to play for, and I feel on what I have seen from both players that the +3.5 game handicap seems to be a great starting point in this match. Due to the weather, the stake drops back to two units for this selection.

If you are watching live, do keep an eye on the temperature. If it stays up and Zverev is leading but increasing his unforced error rate, it may be worth a live ML play on Thiem, as he does have the fitness edge.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – Zverev +3.5 for 2 units

Halep v Muguruza

This is one of the more fascinating semi-finals at WTA level we have seen in quite a while, and it has come as a bit of a surprise.

There were question marks around the fitness of Muguruza coming into the Australian Open, as she happened to withdraw from her match in Hobart a couple of days before the main draw.

She does have a habit of pre-match or mid-match retirements in January prior to the Australian Open, so perhaps it was to be expected and is something to note looking ahead to the other grand slams this year and 2021.

Muguruza looked to be in all sorts of trouble in her first round match, losing the first set 0-6 to Shelby Rogers. Since then, the Spaniard has only lost one further set, and has looked to have regained confidence in her game.

The heat will be on in Melbourne today, with temperatures far and above what we have seen the rest of the tournament. The big question mark for Muguruza today is the grand slam quality that Muguruza has beaten this week.

The five players have never performed at their best at grand slams (Rogers, Tomljanovic, Svitolina, Bertens and Pavlyuchenkova), and my question is: have we overrated the wins a touch based on name and not recent grand slam performance?

She comes up against a player who has proven to bring her best level on the biggest stage of late, and owns the best performance in a grand slam final over the last 12 months (Wimbledon vs Serena).

She has proven to have the best tactical set-up with Darren Cahill, and looked to be incredibly confident throughout her 6-1 6-1 victory over Anett Kontaveit in the quarter final. She looks to be moving well and there doesn’t seem to be any wrist issue from her fall in round 1.

The reason I highlighted the tactical advantage is that I feel there is an area that Halep can, and will, target in this match.

I remarked during the quarter final between Muguruza and Pavlyuchenkova that Muguruza was not looking confident on her backhand side, especially on balls below her hip height.

As Muguruza hits it so flat, if Halep can use her ability to hit deep off both wings, it will give her a significant advantage today.

The recent experience at the pointy end of grand slams, and the hot conditions favour Halep today in my opinion.

If she can continue to grind and force the issue, then she should be too good today. Happy to play the -2.5 games for 2 units.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – Halep -2.5 for 2 units


Djokovic v Federer

I understand the Federer injury narrative for this match, but I don’t quite believe in it to the extent of others.

The question marks surround the fitness of Federer given the struggles he faced the other day against Tennys Sandgren. Federer could have easily faded away and out of the tournament, however he did a fantastic job of forcing the issue and making Sandgren beat him, opposed to handing him the victory.

He was clearly hampered in the match, and it did bring back some memories of Federer vs Dimitrov at the US Open.

Federer was a little frustrated that day, as he pulled up okay the next day and was frustrated to have not made the next round. We haven’t seen Federer since he strolled off the court on Day 9, and regardless of whether he felt good or poor, I wouldn’t have expected to see him. I think Federer wants the question marks here, and for Novak to be wondering about his level of fitness.

The heat is not Djokovic’s friend, and tonight the temperature will be in excess of 35 degrees when they take to the court. As the night progresses, the humidity will increase.

Whilst Federer didn’t handle it vs Millman at the US Open, this combination of higher temperature and lower humidity has been proven to catch out Djokovic in his career as well.

Due to the question marks around Federer, the head to head price has blown out. I would agree with that.

What I don’t agree with is the price for Federer to win the first set.

Federer will absolutely throw the proverbial kitchen sink at Djokovic in the first set, regardless of how he is feeling. He knows this is his chance, to exert scoreboard pressure on such a hot night. I think Federer will attack knowing its importance, and the $4+ for this first set is value.

Federer did win their last meeting on hardcourt in London, albeit in the Tour Finals, and saw he could go toe-to-toe with him at Wimbledon, going within a point of victory.

There is a risk to this given the injury concerns, however if you factor that into the equation, I still find value in the first set. Federer understands the importance here, and I am happy to make a 2 unit selection on the Swiss to take the first set and catch Novak on the back foot.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – Federer to win the 1st set for 2 units


Barty v Kenin

The heat will be on in Melbourne today, with temperatures far and above what we have seen the rest of the tournament.

Whilst many in Australia are not a fan of Barty playing during the day again in her semi final, it again works to her advantage.

In what will be brutal conditions for tennis (and could potentially see the roof being closed), the pressure will be off Barty a touch with this match not being played in prime time.

The other advantage for Barty today is the experience edge. We saw it work to great effect at Roland Garros, and again today she will face someone less experienced than her deep in a grand slam.

Whilst Sofia Kenin was able to get the job done over Ons Jabeur, there were a few concerns across the match that I think may carry over to tomorrow.

She again was living on the edge at times in terms of her negative energy, and looked to be getting down on herself at times even when winning points.

At the end of the match, Kenin had only 14 winners and 16 unforced errors, and my concern for her is her need to step up and attack in such a high pressure situation.

Barty was incredibly clutch in all the key moments against Kvitova, and she will take a lot of confidence from her efforts down break points in set 1 as well as the tiebreak.

We know the variety that she can provide, and in the hot conditions it may force to Kenin to press for too much too early in rallies.

The experience will be telling today, and I am happy to take Barty at the -4.5 games for 2 units.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – Barty -4.5 for 2 units

Nadal v Thiem

Upset alert.

I have Rafael Nadal as ripe for the picking based on his quarter final with Nick Kyrgios, and we have the perfect opponent for him today in Dominic Thiem.

This will be a rematch of the last two Roland Garros finals. You cast an over their head to head meetings and Thiem is progressively bridging the gap. These two played one of the more memorable matches at the US Open in 2018, playing for nearly 5 hours before Nadal claimed a 5th set tiebreak to progress.

Thiem has come a long way since then and has looked to display a far more consistent brand of tennis overall. After the scare against Bolt, he has recovered well to put in two very solid performances against Fritz and Monfils to progress to the quarter finals. He is doing a great job of picking when to attack in a rally, and is limiting his unforced errors in key moments.

Throughout the first four rounds, there hasn’t been that moment where you have felt that Nadal has displayed that dominance that we have come to expect from him, and I genuinely feel as though his limited pre-season is going to catch up with him a touch tonight.

Dellien, Delbonis and Carreno-Busta is one of the more comfortable first three rounds you could encounter this week, and he wasn’t particularly dominant. He found himself in a couple of tight moments against Kyrgios as well, and didn’t take advantage of them in the way we have come to expect over the years.

I have remarked over the last 12 months that if you can get Nadal into a long match on hardcourt, then you are going to give yourself a really good chance of winning.

He didn’t look anywhere near 100% when he walked off the court after his match with Kyrgios, and against a player like Thiem, who has now beaten him since their last hardcourt battle, and has shown he can go toe-to-toe with Nadal for 5 hours on court if needed, I think this is an incredibly vulnerable position for the Spaniard.

Thiem showed in 2019 at Indian Wells and even at the Tour Finals that he has the game to match it with the best, and I think if Nadal is a touch off 100% here then Thiem has an incredibly large opportunity tonight.

Thiem has the power to hit through Nadal when everything clicks, and that is important on the slower court at night time. I think he is a high value proposition for tonight, and as a result I am happy to place 5 units on the head to head price.

As with plays on the likes of Wawrinka against Medvedev, I am placing a large stake on this match as I feel Thiem is exceptional value at his price. That isn’t to say he wins, however I feel this price is significant value, as on what I have seen recently I would have him as a slight underdog at absolute worst.

Thiem is 11-5 over the last 12 months against Top-10 players. They bring out his best.

Find value.

Attack value.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – Thiem to Win for 5 units


Halep v Kontaveit

Had you seen me discussing any of the upcoming matches on the Periscopes I have been participating in this week, you will know that I am incredibly keen on Halep in this match.

Whilst the value of Halep -2.5 games has come and gone, I do believe there is merit in taking her at the plus money for the -4.5 game handicap. I don’t trust the consistency of Kontaveit, and I think as the pressure builds across the tournament, so too will the errors for Kontaveit.

We saw her struggle to finish things off against Swiatek, and it was the Pole who took control of many rallies in that match, ending with more winners and unforced errors. It isn’t a great sign for Kontaveit, as she will need to pull the trigger to stand a chance today against Halep.

Halep feeds off pace, and on a slower hardcourt this works well for her. She was the better player in all the key moments against Mertens, and the ability to consistently apply pressure in the service games of the Belgian proved the difference.

She wasn’t worried by missed opportunities, and it was the consistency in her game that was the difference.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – Halep -4.5 for 2.5 units

Kenin v Jabeur

This is certainly not the quarter final many, including myself, expected out of a section that included the likes of Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams. To be honest I am happy for these two, getting the chance to really make a name for themselves on the big stage.

Let’s start with Ons Jabeur. It has been a nice run to the quarter final for Jabeur, with wins over Konta, Garcia, Wozniacki and Wang over the last 8 days. She provides a positive inspiration for all those players who end up facing a seeded player early, as you can certainly make the most of their draw if you can topple them.

Jabeur has played some blistering tennis this week, as well as some significant lapses during matches, allowing her opponent back into the match (vs Wozniacki) or giving up a headstart (vs Wang).

I do think the sometimes low-percentage play that can be produced has worked more often than not this week, however the task is about to become a whole lot more difficult for her today against Sofia Kenin.

Kenin has worked her way through the draw quite impressively this week. I made the comment the other day that she still hadn’t entirely sold me on her ability to handle those really tight moments at grand slam level, however her performances in tight moments against Zhang and Gauff over the last two rounds have impressed me.

Kenin could have easily fallen away after serving for and losing that first set against Gauff, yet she recovered quickly, took control of the second set and went on to dominate the third set. For her to respond that way after the only set she dropped for the tournament was impressive.

As mentioned above, I feel the sometimes low percentage tennis from Jabeur in tight moments will be her undoing, and that may be the case today against Kenin.

Kenin has looked rock solid in the majority of her clutch moments this week, and unless Jabeur is able to redline her serve in the highest pressure environment she has encountered on a tennis court, I see Kenin covering the -3.5 games.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – Kenin -3.5 for 3 units


Barty v Kvitova

This match is being played in the middle of the day.

Advantage, Barty.

We saw Kvitova play a flawless match this time last year under the lights at Rod Laver Arena, however the world number 1 Ash Barty certainly took a lot of learnings from that match. Since then, Barty defeated Kvitova in Miami, Beijing and at the world tour finals in Shenzhen. She started to figure out Petra.

Today, I see the same thing occurring.

I was initially reluctant to support Barty in this match-up as I was again going to be a little concerned about the occasion and the conditions and night suiting Kvitova moreso. Instead, the conditions in the middle of the day are preferable for Barty, and the pressure of playing in a Tuesday afternoon with less eyes on the court does appeal.

Kvitova was lucky the other day, and I think a lot of it came down to Sakkari struggling the handle to occasion. It worked in favour of Kvitova, as she was able to up her level and Sakkari was left without a lot of options.

Not a significantly large selection, however I do feel there is value in Barty at the head to head price. Her variety and craft give her options in this match, and the confidence of winning their last three meetings last year will help her today. Look for Barty to progress with a more convincing performance to the one we saw against Riske.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – Barty to Win for 2 units

Medvedev v Wawrinka

When these two met in August at the US Open, Stan Wawrinka was the pre-match favourite.

Today, he is in excess of $4.

I made the comment late last year that we will rarely find a position in the near future where Daniil Medvedev is going to be a value price, such is the appeal and drive around his name pushing up to challenge the big three. A lot of the hype is justified, however, I cannot have Wawrinka at such a price in grand slam tennis.

I made the comment the other day that Wawrinka was value against John Isner. It was expected that Wawrinka would have felt better after being plagued with stomach issues in the lead-up to his match with Seppi in round 2.

Part of the appeal for him against Isner was the chipping backhand return, a tactic that can neutralise the serve of the opponent and help him find his way into rallies. That will be crucial today against Medvedev, who does have a lot of power in his serve but is a touch more reserved on his groundstrokes.

To be able to challenge Medvedev, you need to be able to generate power off both wins (tick), have tennis smarts to be able to decide when to come into the net and try and finish off points (tick), and a powerful serve that can generate cheap points at times (tick).

After watching Medvedev play Martinez live earlier in the week, I really do feel that Stan has all the tools to be able to challenger the Russian in his current form. Wawrinka will be looking to make a statement here, long the forgotten multiple grand slam champion during the generation of Federer/Djokovic/Nadal. Medvedev hasn’t looked to be at his best level we have seen over the last 6 months, and I do feel he is a touch vulnerable today.

The price is simply too big today for Stan. Medvedev has beaten Tiafoe, Martinez and Popyrin this week, so it will be a step up in opponent in Melbourne. Look for Stan to make a statement with another run to the quarter-finals at the Australian Open.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – Wawrinka to defeat Medvedev for 3 units


Zverev v Rublev

The momentum is building for Alex Zverev this week, and to be honest, it is just nice to see Zverev back on court and seemingly enjoying his tennis again. He has a much tougher test today, with a player undefeated in 2020 standing across the net.

The run of Andrey Rublev continued on Day 5, coming back from a number of tricky situations in his 4-set win over David Goffin. Goffin dominated the first set, served for the second set, and led by a break early in the third set, however, couldn’t close out the match against Rublev.

Rublev improved across the match, ending with 42 winners and 32 unforced errors across the 4 sets. The second serve did present itself as a bit of a liability at times, however, Goffin’s 51 unforced errors helps the Russian get over the line.

I haven’t been ashamed to admit on social media over the week how impressed I have been with the game of Zverev this week. He looks to have the comfort in his game back on court, and remarked after his straight-set win over Verdasco that he is currently having the most fun on court in his career.

He looks to have regained confidence in his serve, and it has translated to the rest of his game. The win over Verdasco was a very complete, well-rounded performance, and I am happy to be supporting him today.

These two met in Shanghai last year, with Zverev getting the job done in straight sets. It was before this impressive run by Rublev, however, it will give Zverev some confidence coming into the match today. Zverev is certainly the fresher player, and based on what I have seen from both players this week, I really like the odds on Zverev. In the evening conditions, I like Zverev to progress.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – Zverev to defeat Rublev for 3.5 units

Barty v Riske

I really rate the game handicap here on Barty, in what I believe will be her statement match for the first week of the Australian Open.

In terms of match-up and night on this surface and in these conditions, it favours Barty in every way. After that first round slip-up, she has looked right at home in the conditions on Rod Laver Arena. As the day progresses into the night session, the court surface can slow a touch. The slower the better for Barty in this instance as she comes up against Alison Riske.

These two have only met on grass to date in their career, so this will be an entirely different match. The key stats to look at from the early rounds are the winners to unforced errors.

In a similar way to Verdasco last night, I would be more inclined to sit up and take notice if the winners to unforced errors ratio was a little more impressive. It hasn’t been impressive from Riske through the early rounds, and I think that is going to be a big issue for today.

Riske isn’t going to provide a particularly new look for Barty tonight. They played at Wimbledon with Barty coming off the French Open title, and the fact the Australian lost that match almost gives me more confidence for today.

Barty is one of the main players on tour that looks to make significant gains from a loss, putting new plans into place for the next times she meets an opponent.

The slice of Barty will be crucial today. She has progressively looked more comfortable with it over the first three rounds, which is incredibly important to her game. It was the reason she struggled against Brady in Brisbane and early on in Adelaide as she just didn’t have the consistency with it we have come to expect over the years.

On a slower surface, it will work very well defensively against Riske, who was more reliant on Goerges errors to turn around their match the other day compared to solid play from Riske.

The game handicap seems the best place to start for this match. Riske is making too many errors against lower quality opposition for me to consider her in any capacity tonight.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – Barty -5 games for 3 units (take -4.5 if available)


Wang v Jabeur

I thought I was going to be sitting here and writing a preview for Wozniacki vs Williams, yet here we are with Wang vs Jabeur.

These two both put in blinding performances in round 3, with two of the biggest wins of the tournament. Whilst they were both impressive in their own way, there was one that stood out far above the other.

Given Serena won their last meeting in August in 42 minutes, and this match was on centre court at the very next grand slam, for Wang to come out and win 6-4 5-7 7-5, committed only 20 unforced errors for the match, and respond by taking that third set after serving for the second, ticked all the boxes for me.

She has shown just how well she is moving, counter-punching and hitting her spots, and I think this is a favourable match-up for Wang today.

It was also an impressive win from Jabeur over Wozniacki the other day, however, I didn’t find it quite as convincing overall. I remarked whilst watching the match live that Jabeur looked to be really down on herself at times when she was in a winning position.

It caused her to redline her game, and push for quite a lot on her serve at times. Although it did pay off against Wozniacki, I felt it was a little too low percentage, and it is something I am happy to oppose today against a technically sound and consistent opponent.

Wang moves well and has the option to be more aggressive if needed. Wozniacki didn’t have that option the other day, and it cost her. The variety Wang has in her game adds another element to this match. Wang won’t be worried by the variety Jabeur displays, which we saw with her winning their meeting a couple of weeks ago in straight sets.

The -3.5 games looks great value, so I am happy to take that handicap for 2.5 units.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – Wang -3.5 for 2.5 units

Kyrgios vs Khachanov

It isn’t often you would consider this to be a great match-up for Nick Kyrgios, yet here we are.

Karen Khachanov spent far longer on court in round 2 than anticipated, needing 4 and a half hours to defeat Mikael Ymer in a 5th set tie break. He was well and truly running on fumes by the end, as a busy January campaign looked to be taking its toll on the Russian. It was not an overly convincing display, and I just didn’t see enough consistency from Khachanov to support him today, especially after such a long match on Day 4.

Nick Kyrgios is slowly coming of age before our eyes. Two years ago Kyrgios would have lost his second round match to Simon, as he wouldn’t have had the ability to steady the ship after dropping the third set. He managed to get the job done in 4 sets, conserving energy in the process. The impressive part of his win over Simon was the patience within rallies. Kyrgios was comfortable to back himself in the long rallies, and was rewarded more often than not.

I am aware that Khachanov got the better of Kyrgios last year in Cincy, however a lot of water has gone under the bridge in the meantime. Kyrgios will have the entire crowd at his back on Melbourne Arena. Khachanov still seems to struggle in these pressure situations, and we saw him struggle with the Serbian crowd during the ATP Cup in Sydney.

Khachanov hasn’t looked comfortable with his serve, and I feel there will be chances for Kyrgios across the match. With a little sting taken on out Khachanov’s legs, I am happy to take the Kyrgios handicap for 2 units.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – 2.5 units Kyrgios -3.5 games vs Khachanov at $1.84


Zverev vs Verdasco

I think we have value again on Alexander Zverev, even if he couldn’t get the job done in covering the handicap the other day against Gerasimov.

I still feel that Zverev is being underrated by bookmakers, and this isn’t the worst match-up for Zverev. His backhand is rock solid, and the looping topspin forehand of Verdasco will work in his favour today.

Outside of that lapse to close out the match, Zverev hasn’t done a lot wrong this week. He is building his form, and were it not for some poor break point conversion early in his 2nd round match, it could have become very one-sided very quickly. He looks to have taken the pressure off himself with some of his press conferences, and he looks to be benefiting as a result.

Fernando Verdasco can be a tricky one to measure up at times, because the gulf between his best and worst tennis is significant. He has looked solid through his first two wins this week, albeit against some out-of-form opposition. Donskoy was poor in round 1, and Basilashvili generated 27 winners to 58 unforced errors for the match, so it certainly wasn’t his best performance either.

Zverev was dominant when these two met late last year, and he looks to have more confidence in his game at this stage. Verdasco is a worthy opponent who brings his best tennis at grand slams, however Zverev at the -3.5 game handicap looks to good to pass up. Worth a 2.5 unit selection today.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – 2.5 units Zverev -3.5 games vs Verdasco


Gulbis vs Monfils

After a lot of thinking and reflecting, I have decided to make a play on this match.

I think the Monfils hand injury is something that he has been able to mask well during the first two rounds of the tournament, purely due to the strength and quality of his opponent. Lu was arguably the easiest first round for any player, given it was his return match after years away from the game with shoulder issues. Here is the upset alert for today in my opinion.

Monfils’ average serve speeds dropped significantly in round 2, and I don’t feel it was all to do with the match-up. The average first serve speed for Monfils was 164km/h, and average second serve speed 157 km/h. At no point for the match did Monfils top 193km/h on serve, which is a concern considering at the US Open his fastest serve against Berrettini was 220 km/h and his average first serve speed was 199km/h. Now he did say it was a tactic to drop the serve speed at times against Karlovic, however that feels more like maintenance overall than tactic, given if you could serve 220km/h against Karlovic, I would imagine you would try it at times.

It is having an impact on his matches, just he played one rusty opponent and one opponent who is 41 with a history of struggling in Melbourne. The fact Monfils was on the brink of a 2 sets to 0 deficit against Karlovic is concerning for me, and against a confidence player who is striking the ball well, things could be very challenging today.

This is by far the best run Ernests Gulbis has put together at the Australian Open, and he had to go through three rounds of qualifying on the way. He has looked impressive through his five matches, only dropping 2 sets along the way. For a player that has come from a wealthy family, to try and make another run at the top level of the sport is really impressive, and I commend him for that. Gulbis isn’t fazed by the situation at hand today, having reached the semi final of Roland Garros in his career. His almost care-free attitude can work in his favour here. If Monfils is having to resort to using his movement as an advantage in the face of less power, then trusting Gulbis at an underdog price doesn’t seem to be the worst play here.

Gulbis is a player over the years that I would never support as a firm to heavy favourite, just due to his ability to be erratic at times. With the confidence of 5 wins under his belt over the last 10 days, I like the Latvian to continue his push today. If Monfils puts up similar numbers today, then the match will be on Ernests racquet and it is worth a play at the underdog price.

My initial thought was to take Gulbis in the first set, however having further looked into the stats at just how far the speeds have dropped for Monfils compared to the US Open, I am happy to oppose him over the full match.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – 3 units Gulbis to defeat Monfils


Fritz vs Thiem

This fits into the same category as a couple of other plays we have seen over the fortnight.

Whilst I did support Fritz the other day against Anderson, we do need to remember that a key part of that play was opposing the fitness of Anderson. Anderson had looked poor in round 1, had added strapping to his knee and had played a lot of tennis for January having not played since Wimbledon. It is a tough as for him to back up, and he actually did a really good job for the first two and a half sets, before the wheels fell off in a big way and Fritz broke back in the third, and took the last two sets 6-2 6-2.

On paper, that 6-2 6-2 result for Fritz looks to be completely and utterly dominant, however we need to remember that Anderson was going to run out of steam, and that performance there wasn’t an indicator of the match overall. I think the bookmakers have read a little too much into those final two sets, and now we find ourselves in a position where Thiem is only giving a 3.5 game head start in the third round.

Thiem didn’t play too badly against Bolt, he just had to endure the Australian absolutely redlining his game for a period during the match. At no stage in the final two sets did Thiem look in danger, and we know from the past that he can handle 5 set matches, as well as handling backing up two days later. Thiem is one of the players outside the Big 3 you can trust in this capacity. I think the win could have been more one-sided were it not for Thiem’s 7/24 break point conversion, however I think this has again led to a solid line here.

I think the win over Anderson has been overrated for Fritz, and there isn’t value in his price at the head to head or the game handicap. Happy to take Thiem at the -3.5 games for 2 units.

Suggested Bet

 BACK – 2 units Thiem -3.5 games vs Fritz

Schwartzman v Lajovic

I feel we are in a position today where the two wins of Lajovic to kick off the tournament have been a touch underrated, and it has opened up some value on the game handicap.

Marc Polmans was always going to struggle in round 2 against Lajovic. The Australian had to back up 24 hours after playing a gruelling 5 set match against Kukushkin, and sadly he just didn’t have the legs to match Lajovic overall. The Serbian was solid, however the errors that have come from the other end of the court over the last two rounds aren’t going to eventuate today against Diego Schwartzman.

I made a play on this particular match-up a few years ago, with it going deep into a 5th set and Schwartzman unable to cover. It was the first round that year, and there was some rust evident in the game of Diego. Today, with Schwartzman putting together a very solid body of work over the month of January, I can safely assume that rust is not present.

You look at the matches on hardcourt where Lajovic has struggled most, and they are against some of the better movers in the game. He lost to Bautista-Agut in the ATP Cup, as well as Paire, who I would label as underrated in terms of court coverage. Between them, Polmans and Edmund were able to produce 38 winners and 63 unforced errors through their 6 sets, so it certainly hasn’t been the strongest of opposition to start this tournament.

While Schwartzman also has had a gifted draw, I have been impressed largely with his first serve return, as well as his ability to look solid on his own serve overall. Lajovic doesn’t have the biggest serve on tour, so Diego should be able to generate a high percentage of returns into play, and work from there.

Schwartzman at the -4.5 game handicap looks a fantastic prospect to kick off Day 5, and I am happy to play it for 3 units.

 BACK – Schwartzman -4.5 for 3 units


Fucsovics v Paul

I think the level of tennis and body of work of Tommy Paul may catch up with him today, against a player who seems unphased by the next generation opponents he has faced this week.

Marton Fucsovics has managed his way through to the third round with wins over Denis Shapovalov and Jannik Sinner, for the loss of only 1 set. The Hungarian has looked very solid in both wins, however it appears he simply handled the windy conditions on Day 3 far better than Sinner.

Having watched him live on Day 1, it is certainly the most focussed I have seen him on court in some time. When he brings his best tennis, he can certainly match it with most players.

I do have a slight question mark around Tommy Paul backing up today. After 2 hours 40 minutes on court on Day 2 vs Mayer, and 4 hours 20 minutes on court on Day 3 vs Dimitrov. For a player that has at times struggled in gruelling best of 3 set matches over the years, I am curious to see just how far the conditioning of Paul has come.

The logical selection today is Fucsovics to progress. He has the experience, and I feel the slower hardcourt is an advantage. I am comfortable playing the head to head price for 2.5 units. If Fucsovics matches his output from the first two rounds, he wins.

 BACK – Fusovics to Win for 2.5 units


Bautistsa Agut v Cilic

In a similar fashion to my selection opposing Kevin Anderson yesterday, I am just not sold on the overall conditioning of Marin Cilic coming off an extended injury layoff.

Cilic wasn’t overly convincing throughout his time in the ATP Cup, and he has backed that up again in the early rounds. Moutet was poor in round 1, with Cilic using his experience to progress. Cilic at a level near his best should have been able to handle Benoit Paire comfortably on Day 3.

Cilic led by a set and served for set 2, before somehow ending up needing a 5th set tie break to get over the line. For perspective, Paire was coming off a full week in Auckland last week, as well as a 5 set match against Stebe in round 1.

The tightness in the game of Cilic at times is going to be the big change here. He hasn’t spent enough time on court over the last 6 months to feel as confident in those positions as perhaps years gone by.

You know what you are going to get from Roberto Bautista Agut, and that is maintaining a consistent level across the duration of the match.

The Spaniard remains undefeated in 2020 and has the form and the fitness edge in this match-up today. After a little slip-up in set 1 against Mmoh on Day 3, RBA was ruthless through the final three sets.

I love the -4.5 game handicap for RBA today. His consistency is something that is going to seriously hamper Cilic in his current form. The more he can turn this into a grind, the better for the Spaniard.

Unless Cilic can put an exceptionally high percentage of first serves into play, I like RBA to put the clamps on this match and ensure it stays on his terms for long enough.

 BACK – Bautista-Agut -4.5 for 2.5 units


Wozniacki v Jabeur

The Wozniacki train has not yet arrived at its final destination, and I don’t see it happening today either.

There is a reason why it generally takes a big name to knock someone off and send them on their way to retirement. It is a big deal, and almost adds a bit of pressure to the person standing across the net. I think that played a role for Yastremska on Day 3, as the Ukrainian was unable to capitalise on leading positions in each set against Wozniacki.

Over the years I have supported Jabeur on more occasions than I have opposed. I really do like her variety against the more one-dimensional power hitters. Her use of slice and ability to change the direction of rallies with confidence is appealing in a number of match-ups.

That is not the case today.

Slice won’t work against Wozniacki, as she is in it for the long grind. Wozniacki is going to force the issue over and over against for Jabeur and turn this into a fitness battle, for which Wozniacki will have the significant edge. If Jabeur can win today it will be a huge step for her and her 2020, however on this surface and in these conditions, I just do not see it happening.

The -4 game handicap looks very generous today. I am happy to make a play on Wozniacki to progress, and I feel this handicap could cover in a 2 set or a 3 set match in several instances. I would also take -4.5 games.

 BACK – Wozniacki -4 for 2.5 units

Zverev vs Gerasimov

Whilst it was not the most emphatic victory in round 1 from Alex Zverev, I did notice that things have certainly improved in his game compared to the display we saw at the ATP Cup earlier this month. Whilst the narrative around Zverev being poor at grand slams remains, I don’t see that as being enough of a reason to have him at only -5.5 games, with Gerasimov coming off a 5-set match with Casper Ruud.

The weather in Melbourne is poor today, which may lead to the roof being shut for this match. Regardless of the conditions, the handicap looks a solid prospect for Zverev. On the slower hard court, I thought he did a fantastic job in the clutch moments against Cecchinato in the first round, winning 6-4 7-6 6-3. He committed only 28 unforced errors for the match, and looked to back himself in some of the longer, more grinding rallies that eventuated.

Egor Gerasimov was able to generate one of the upsets of the first round, defeating Ruud 6-3 7-6 1-6 4-6 7-6 in just over 3 and a half hours on court. The match was one of the latest on court on Tuesday, as organisers tried to cram as many matches into the day due to rain on Monday. Whilst he did look solid overall, he was only able to break the serve of Ruud three times across the 5 sets, with his serve not the strongest you will ever encounter on a slow hardcourt. Stepping up in opponent quality, serve quality and overall exposure (playing on Rod Laver Arena), I think he may find things a lot more difficult today.

The -5.5 game handicap looks solid here for Zverev to win comfortably on the main court. Happy to play this for 3 units.

 BACK – Zverev -5.5 games vs Gerasimov for 3 units


Isner vs Tabilo

Tabilo was able to more than double his career prizemoney from his first round win alone at the Australian Open. For those who have been following me for a while, you will know I played Tabilo a couple of times in the middle of last year on clay on the Challenger circuit. The step up today is significant.

Tabilo had never played in a grand slam main draw before Tuesday, let alone played a 5 set match in any capacity. After a gruelling win against Galan Riveros in an atmosphere that felt like the Davis Cup of old, Tabilo has a significant increase in opponent quality today in John Isner. This will be the first opponent he has faced that is in the Top-100.

If Tabilo had a more prominent serve then you could perhaps make a case for the +5.5, however even John Isner should be able to give himself a number of opportunities to break here. Isner looked solid on serve coming from a set down against Monteiro, and this looks to be a very favourable draw for the American.

Whilst the courts aren’t overly fast, I don’t see this as a problem for Isner. It allows the ball to sit up for him a bit, and will allow him to get more returns into play off the serve of Tabilo.

 BACK – Isner -5.5 games for 2 units


Ymer vs Khachanov

Mikael Ymer just doesn’t seem to be commanding the respect that he deserves at this stage of his career. He has burst into the Top 100 and more importantly started to deliver a very consistent product week in and week out. His losses this year have come to Bedene in Doha and Hurkacz in Auckland, which isn’t the worst form line overall. He was ruthless in round 1, defeating Uchiyama6-4 6-1 6-2, and didn’t lose serve for the match behind 28 winners and 22 unforced errors. His movement will be key today, as extending rallies against a low-confidence Khachanov will be one the key performance areas for the match.

Khachanov was in no way convincing in round 1, needing 4 sets to defeat Vilella Martinez 4-6 6-4 7-6 6-3. He broke Martinez only twice for the match, which is a little disappointing considering the hardcourt skill and experience of his opponent. I was looking to see if he could generate a commanding win to boost his confidence after a lacklustre ATP Cup and Auckland appearance, however, we didn’t see it the other day.

Ymer’s movement and ability to mask his shot direction are going to be crucial here. Khachanov’s recent losses to Millman and Lajovic were able to show just how you can benefit from extending rallies and trying to break down the forehand of the Russian. From what I have seen recently, I cannot justify this price on Khachanov at all. I think there is value in both the game handicap and the head to head price, however slightly more in the outright market.

 BACK – Ymer to defeat Khachanov for 2.5 units


Collins vs Putintseva

For those who were following in Brisbane – here we go again.

After travelling to Brisbane to witness this beatdown live a couple of weeks ago, I am inclined to back myself in again today at a significantly better price for Putintseva.

The courts in Brisbane are a lot faster than Melbourne. As a result, the groundstrokes that were incredibly effective in Brisbane just won’t quite have the same pop today, which allows Putintseva back into the picture.

This time two weeks ago Putintseva opened as a slight favourite for the match. At the time I perceived that to be value. Whilst she did lose 1-6 0-6, I feel there may have been an overreaction to that result in the odds for today.

Collins has had one of the busier schedules to start the year. She was in Hawaii in late December, travelled to Brisbane where she made the quarter-final, before heading to Adelaide and reaching the semi-final, losing to Barty in a final set tie break. She looked incredibly scratchy in her first-round win over Diatchenko, taking that match 6-1 3-6 6-4, winning the last three games of the match.

Putintseva delivered one of the more dominant results of the first round, knocking off Hsieh 6-1 6-2. She looked brilliant on return of serve, winning 53% of 1st serve return points and 56% on the second serve, whilst only dropping serve once for the match. She will have taken a lot of confidence from that win, as Hsieh is one of the trickier opponents to face on the women’s circuit.

In damp, heavy conditions, Putintseva shouldn’t be in excess of $2.80. I wonder if the preceding fortnight caught up with Collins a touch in round 1, and I feel the price on Putintseva to win today is value.

 BACK – Putintseva to defeat Collins for 2 units

Schwartzman v Davidovich Fokina

This match has the makings of one-way traffic based on what we saw yesterday.

There aren’t many players you’d rather avoid if you were playing 24 hours after a 5 set match than Diego Schwartzman, so I do feel a little sorry for Davidovich Fokina. I was on him yesterday, but based on his performance and this match-up today, there isn’t any appeal to his price or handicap.

I made the comment before round 1 that Schwartzman was decent value at the game handicap against Lloyd Harris, however it was a worrying handicap as one slip-up from Diego would cause trouble in terms of covering.

We saw a very consistent performance, exactly what I hoped to see. 71% of points won on first serve, 66% of points won on second serve, and 45% of receiving points won. The pressure was there from the start, and I look forward to seeing the pressure again today.

Davidovich Fokina was lucky to progress yesterday, coming from 2 sets to 1 down to defeat Gombos. He didn’t have a lot of pop on his serve, winning 61% of first serve points and 60% on his second serve.

Against a player like Schwartzman that is going to be a problem, especially if Diego can get on top early. Constant pressure and weary legs from 3 hours on court yesterday is going to be a terrible combination.

Happy to take Schwartzman at the -7.5 game handicap. If he can get on top early, he could break the spirit of the tired Davidovich Fokina. Worth a 2.5 unit selection.

 BACK – Schwartzman -7.5 for 2 units


Fognini v Thompson

Considering the circumstances, this looks to be a nice price on Jordan Thompson to deliver an upset in front of the home crowd.

For those who may not have seen Fognini/Opelka end up in a final set match tiebreak, it was certainly a sight to behold. What also took place in that match was an injury to Fabio Fognini.

The Italian hurt his index and middle finger on his right hand when he punched his racquet out of frustration, remarking in the post-match that he was struggling to bend his finger. Given his is right handed, it will certainly be playing on his mind on court today.

Jordan Thompson put together a very impressive performance in round 1, coming from down an early break of serve to end up winning in straight sets over Bublik. It was just what was needed for Thompson, as he is backing up again just over 24 hours later to play Fognini.

Fitness shouldn’t be an issue, and Fognini with a little injury concern and the entire crowd against him is something I am happy to oppose.

Melbourne has never been a happy hunting ground for Fognini, and I think Thompson has the consistency and fitness to continue to ask the question of Fognini. If he plays like he did yesterday, then $2.35 to win looks good value.

 BACK – Thompson to Win for 2 units


Tsitsipas v Kolschreiber

Whilst Tsitsipas was impressive against Caruso in round 1, this match-up looks to be a significantly greater challenger in Kohlschreiber in round 2.

Kohlschreiber certainly carried over his Canberra-but-really-Bendigo form into the Australian Open, with an impressive straight set win over Giron, winning 7-5 6-1 6-2. The German hit his spots incredibly well on serve, and looks to have built up a lot more confidence than we saw from him late in 2019.

Winning 46% of receiving points across three sets against Giron is solid, and if he can maintain that consistency I think he is more than capable to pressuring Tsitsipas over the best-of-5 set format. Whilst he isn’t known for playing in the heat, hopefully the setup in Melbourne Arena is far more favourable for Kohlschreiber than the exposure on an outside court.

Kohlschreiber will be comfortable with the conditions on Melbourne Arena, having had his match on day 1 transferred to the court given the rain delays. He was on the court at the same time as Tsitsipas, who bullied Caruso 6-0 6-2 6-3 in just over 100 minutes. Tsitsipas was solid behind his first serve, ending the match with 27 winners and 16 unforced errors.

When you consider the hype around Tsitsipas to start the year, it should be noted that he now has wins over Caruso and Zverev and losses to Shapovalov and Kyrgios. He isn’t setting the world on fire, however the experienced Kohlschreiber has the ability to cause some frustration for Tsitsipas.

He is still riding a very fine line with his emotions on the court, and given how well Kohlschreiber played late in Bendigo and in round 1, the prices look too large for the German.

Both the head to head price and the total on this match look to be a little off. Happy to make a 1.5 unit selection on the total surpassing 34.5 games, and 1 unit on Kohlschreiber to cause the upset.

 BACK – Over 34.5 for 1.5 units

 BACK – Kohlschreiber to Win for 1 unit


McNally v Zhang

Whilst a lot was said post match about how poor Sloane Stephens was late in her match against Shuai Zhang, we do need to remember that Stephens did put herself in a position to serve for the match, ending up falling 2 points short.

Caty McNally looks far more suited on court in matches where her opponent is able to generate a lot of pace, so this looks to be a very nice spot to take the American teenager. Both players go from night session on stadium courts on Monday to participating on court 14 today.

The courts are a little more exposed out there, and I think there is a bit more variety in the game of McNally to be able to handle these conditions as well.

Zhang has certainly started the year with a schedule on the heavier side. After crashing to Bondarenko in Shenzhen, she then travelled down to Hobart, where she made the final, losing to a weary Rybakina.

It looked early in round one that she may pay for the heavier schedule, with Stephens running away with the first set comfortably. After digging in during set 2, Zhang was able to break Stephens serving for the match, before running away with things in the third set (won 16 of the first 17 points).

Caty McNally looked experienced beyond her years on Monday, racing to a 6-1 lead in the blink of an eye over Sam Stosur on the second biggest court at the Australian Open. She didn’t look phased by the situation, and you have to wonder if that match against Serena Williams at the US Open is one of the reasons why she looked so settled on the big stage.

She won 71% of points behind her first serve, and saved 11/12 break points faced. After Stosur fought back in set 2 to get things back on serve, it was the American who was more composed at the end, breaking to snatch victory in front of the Australian crowd.

I am happy to make a play on McNally at the game handicap today. The +3.5 games look to be very generous given her form, and I consider her to be a high chance of the upset today as well. The American is starting to be noticed, and a solid performance here will do her wonders.

 BACK – McNally +3.5 for 2.5 units

Griekspoor v Fritz

Fritz would want to significantly improve his level on the rest of January, because this looks to be a danger game for the American without a significant lift in form.

Greikspoor looked great during his qualifying run, defeating Garcia-Lopez, Hijikata and Musetti all in straight sets. He was tested at times in each match, however the response in those moments from the Dutch world number 175 was fantastic.

This is unfamiliar territory for Griekspoor in a grand slam hardcourt main draw, however I do think he has the ability to keep it close.

Fritz looked to be incredibly low in confidence in the ATP Cup, with the only win coming against Durasovic. That was backed up losses to Khachanov and Travaglia. He then went to Adelaide, losing to Bublik in straight sets.

Whilst I don’t expect Griekspoor to win, I do see this match being a little closer than the odds suggest. Unless Fritz significantly ups his level, then Griekspoor should win a set based on his level in qualifying. The total of 35.5 looks a touch low, and I am happy to make a 1 unit selection.

 BACK – Over 35.5 Games for 1 unit


Linette v Rus

There has been a bit of a drift on the price of Linette over the last 24 hours and I cannot find anything to justify it in my opinion. Linette had a very impressive second half of 2019, which included reaching the final in Seoul, as well as victories over the likes of Alexandova, Watson, Ahn, Flipkens and Giorgi amongst others.

With that late run of form she has been able to make her way into the Top 50, and gets a relatively favourable match-up in round 1 today against Rus.

I cannot find any particular recent hardcourt form that sways me towards taking Rus at the +3.5 game handicap today. Her loss to McHale in Hobart qualifying was poor, giving up 19 break point opportunities for the match. Most of the form on hardcourt over the last 12 months has come at ITF level, so a top 50 player such as Linette is quite a step up.

Linette has a solid serve, which is important when looking to play – game handicaps in WTA. The -3.5 games looks solid, and happy to play that for 1.5 units.

 BACK – Linette -3.5 for 1.5 units


Davidovich Fokina v Gombos

If this match were to be played on a faster hardcourt, I would be more inclined to leave this match alone. Instead, I feel the slightly slower conditions actually favour Davidovich Fokina today. The Spaniard has unfortunately lost two tight 3 set matches to kick off 2019 against M Ymer and Edmund, however he does look to be building his game nicely.

The outdoor hardcourt Challenger title to finish the year last year was a nice breakthrough for the Spaniard as he looks to create a larger buffer between himself and the cutoff for the top 100.

Norbert Gombos certainly had one of the more friendlier draws through qualifying, defeating Ficovich, Marcora and Krstin. All three players aren’t renowned for their outdoor hardcourt prowess, so today will be a touch more difficult.

His three opponents had a combined winners to unforced errors differential of -45, meaning unforced errors were plentiful from across the net in qualifying. This won’t be the case today.

Davidovich Fokina shouldn’t be too phased by the slightly slower conditions given his form displayed across all surfaces, and in my opinion he should be a heavier favourite. Happy to take him at the head to head price.

 BACK – Davidovich Fokina to Win


Bondarenko v Rodionova

Bondarenko looks to be underpriced again, as I think a little too much may have been read into the double bagel received by Rodionova in Adelaide.

It has been a busy couple of weeks for Arina Rodionova. After finishing 2019 on a high by winning the AO Wildcard Playoff, she then commenced 2020 with a pretty busy schedule across Auckland and Adelaide. After being one point away from qualifying for the main draw in Auckland (lost to Minnen in third set tiebreak), Rodionova then travelled to Adelaide.

After producing wins over Suarez Navarro, Potapova and Stephens, Rodionova was overpowered by Vondrousova, in what was her best match since her return from injury. I don’t think Rodionova will be too ashamed given the three wins in Adelaide and her opportunity in the main draw today.

Rodionova will not give up too many cheap points throughout this match, and Bondarenko is going to find things difficult as a result. I mentioned earlier in the year that Bondarenko’s win over Zhang was a touch overrated given Zhang converted 0/8 break point opportunities to Bondarenko’s 1/1.

Since then Bondarenko backed it up with a straight-set loss to Kristyna Pliskova, before heading to Melbourne.

I haven’t seen enough from Bondarenko to justify favouritism today. Happy to take the Australian to win for 1.5 units.

 BACK – Rodionova to Win for 1.5 units

Edmund v Lajovic

I think a little bit too much may have been read into the ATP Cup form of Dusan Lajovic, as I was expecting this line to sit in the ballpark of -4.5 games for Kyle Edmund.

The Brit did have a 2019 to forget, however, we did see signs of improvement over the Davis Cup to cap off the year. He looked solid in Auckland with wins over Davidovich Fokina and Seppi, and although he didn’t beat John Isner, he was able to generate 9 break point opportunities across the match.

Moving back to an opponent that isn’t as proficient on hardcourt should suit, at what is a generous handicap.

Whilst Lajovic was impressive at times during the ATP Cup, this is a step up in the grand slam cauldron. He could push the likes of Paire and Khachanov thanks to the opposition struggling to handle the pressure of the situation on multiple occasions. I would imagine that knowing the best hardcourt player in Novak Djokovic was on your team would help ease the nerves a touch.

Transitioning back to the individual arena, and I think Lajovic will be a touch outmatched by Edmund. If the Brit can bring a similar level to that of his recent outings, I like him to cover the -2.5 game handicap.

 BACK – Edmund -2.5 for 2 units


Barrere v Safwat

Whilst Safwat was certainly very impressive throughout qualifying, this is a massive step up for him to the best-of-5 set format against a very competent hard courter in Gregoire Barrere.

Whilst Barrere has shown over the last couple of weeks that he does still struggle a touch against some of the bigger servers on the tour. Whilst he has posted wins over the likes of Caruso, Harris, Monteiro and Munar, he struggled to handle the big serves of Chardy and Querrey, losing to both in 3 sets.

That shouldn’t be so much of a problem today against Safwat. His serve isn’t the most powerful on tour, and given Barrere’s consistency off both wings, I like him to handle the best-of-5 format far more comfortably today.

I think the step-up in opponent will be too much for Safwat. It is a great story; however, I think he will be defeated relatively comfortably on Monday.

 BACK – Barrere -5.5 for 2 units


Nishioka v Djere

This looks to be a really nice match-up for Nishioka, as I don’t see Djere having the power or the weapons to be a significant threat to Nishioka on this type of hard court.

We last saw Djere in Adelaide, where he lost a tight first set to Lloyd Harris before falling away in the second set. He is 5-13 on hardcourt since the start of 2019, and 1-9 against top 70 players, with a number of those losses one-sided. Up against the quick-moving Nishioka looks to be a very difficult task.

Were this match to be taking place on a warmer day, I could somewhat see the appeal in Djere. Nishioka is too fast and too consistent for the Serbian on this type of hardcourt. I am not too fussed with the retirement of Nishioka in Bendigo, as I saw more than enough from him across the ATP Cup to find him value today. It sounded like it was a minor foot complain in Bendigo, with Nishioka unfazed on it impacting him in Melbourne.

If the injury were legitimate, he would pull out before the match given the new rules around playing to ability. I am not too worried, and instead, find the price of the game handicap to be very nice value today.

 BACK – Nishioka -4.5 games for 2 units


Sinner v Purcell

As impressive as the qualifying run was of Max Purcell, especially the 0-4 third set comeback against Mager, this match today against one of the best young players in the game is going to be a completely different story.

Had Purcell found himself in that position 12 months ago against Mager, there is no way he would have been able to come back and win that match. His work with Nathan Healy is starting to pay off in singles, and he has rewarded for his efforts with a spot in the main draw.

He did seem to play with a touch more freedom in the final round against Kovalik, however he did face three players more suited to clay across the week.

Jannik Sinner is priming himself for a big 2020. It is very rare that a young Italian talent would receive a wildcard into the ATP Auckland event to kick off the year, however this did occur with Sinner.

He showed late in 2019 that he is starting to be able to match it with the top players for patches (def Monfils, Kohlschreiber), before defeating everyone in his path at the NextGen finals. He doesn’t have a significant weakness, and the lack of experience at grand slams is my only concern for the Italian.

Luckily for Sinner, he does have more experience than Purcell. Whilst the Australian does have the crowd, he will also be experiencing the main draw cauldron for the first time.

I don’t think Purcell has the game to match Sinner across the best of 5 set setup of the Australian Open. I am happy to take the Italian at the game handicap.

 BACK – Sinner -6.5 for 2 units

Welcome to the preview for the men’s portion of the Australian Open. We are sure to have a fascinating fortnight of tennis, with the next generation of tennis talent slowly but surely bridging the gap to the best players of the last decade.

Last year we saw Novak Djokovic build in form over the fortnight, culminating with a dominant semi final win over Lucas Pouille and finishing the job with a straight set win over Rafael Nadal to cap off the tournament.

There are several big names missing from the draw this year, including Alex De Minaur, Kei Nishikori, Lucas Pouille, Juan Martin Del Potro and Andy Murray.

Let’s break the draw down into quarters before coming together to summarise.

Quarter 1

I must say when Rafael Nadal struggled in the Australian Open final 12 months ago, I did have my doubts regarding his ability to win grand slams outside of Paris. He proved me to be wrong last year, winning in Flushing Meadows by the slimmest of margins. Nadal hasn’t been overly convincing in the ATP Cup in my opinion, and for him to succeed this fortnight will rely on a dominant start to the tournament. Nadal cannot spend any longer on court than is necessary. Shouldn’t drop too many games in round 1, however things will be tough from the third round onwards. Has the advantage of sitting on the opposite side of the draw to Djokovic and Federer, however Kyrgios and Thiem potentially wait in this quarter alone.

Pablo Carreno-Busta has shown glimpse of his best tennis on hardcourt over the last 12 months. He was dealt a harsh blow here last year, losing a match tiebreak to Nishikori that saw PCB throw his bag across the court in disgust. Whilst I did consider him from an outright perspective in Adelaide, I just don’t think he has shown enough to be considered for an outright perspective in a grand slam now. Too many threats in his quarter.

The crowds are starting to warm to Nick Kyrgios; however, I am sure that will change once Kyrgios loses a match. Such is the nature of grand slam tennis, 127 of 128 players will finish their tournament with a loss. This is arguably the best draw Kyrgios has had in a grand slam for quite a while. Whilst I think it would be fantastic for his belief and confidence to make a deep run this fortnight, I do worry about his fitness and ability to back up for seven best-of-5 set matches. I think I would rather play Kyrgios in specific matchups rather than an outright. Needs to start strong.

Karen Khachanov just hasn’t shown enough resolve in the tight moments to be considering him for an outright. Have trusted him time and time again in the past, only to be disappointed. Again, I would prefer him in specific matchups in a similar way to Kyrgios.

If you want to be a part of the lottery, take a shot at Gael Monfils. A wrist injury was causing him grief at the ATP Cup, and the summer heat that *can* arrive during the Australian Open does not help Monfils’ chances here. Prefer others from an outright perspective in this section.

Felix Auger-Aliassime has shown in Adelaide that he has found his game again, and what a good time for it to turn up. He seems to have confidence in his movement and shot selection, and it all started to click again after a disappointing ATP Cup by his standards. Has a qualifier first, then Duckworth/Bedene. Has the dynamic ability to challenge a Monfils, and on his day could seriously challenge most names in this section of the draw. The sample size from Adelaide is small, but can we trust that he has found his form again?

Taylor Fritz just hasn’t shown enough across the month of January to consider from an outright capacity. He was poor during the ATP and didn’t show anything that made me consider him in an outright capacity for the upcoming fortnight. Too many players currently playing better than the American.

Dominic Thiem is a bit of an unknown to an extent in this part of the draw. He was unwell in Melbourne in 2019 and will look to boost his overall ranking points with a solid performance this coming fortnight. He has all the shots, and on many occasions in 2019 he showed that he can match it with the best on hardcourt (see Indian Wells). Will have a decent start and should be a very heavy favourite in each of the first three rounds (unless Kevin Anderson can lift his form). Is the type of player that could really build into the fortnight if everything is able to click.

The two main unseeded players (prior to placement of qualifiers) that stand out are Kevin Anderson and Vasek Pospisil. Whilst neither will win the tournament, they do need to be respected if they can deliver something close to their best tennis.

Quarter 2

You must respect the game of Daniil Medvedev, although he has one of the more difficult first round draws of any top seed. The Russian has drawn Frances Tiafoe, who is defending points from a quarter final appearance last year. I do worry for the Russian if temperatures start to heat up, as we saw him cramp against Dellien in their match at the US Open last year. Not afraid to play the villain with the crowd, Medvedev came within a whisker of the US Open title last year. Needs to be respected, however odds look a touch short to back. Big chance if the weather isn’t too hot.

Whilst I would love to see it, I just don’t feel Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is in the grand slam outright discussion anymore. Has a very tough first round against Popyrin, however I would be fascinated to see a potential third round meeting between himself and Medvedev on the big stage. Loves Melbourne, however like a few others I would prefer to play him in individual matches.

Put simply, I don’t think John Isner is playing well enough to feature in outright discussions.

Another who can match the best players with their best tennis is Stan Wawrinka. The big question is can he sustain that level for 7 matches? Tough little section of the draw, and he doesn’t appeal to me from an outright standpoint. Prefer to support in particular head-to-head match-ups.

David Goffin played one of the matches of his life at the ATP Cup, defeating Rafael Nadal in their quarter final meeting. It will give the Belgian a lot of confidence heading into the Australian Open, and he will need it with a tricky part of the draw. Still just lacks that weapon that he can draw on when necessary, and considering he is surrounded by big strikers of the ball, it is hard to make a case for him. Another who isn’t fond of the heat.

I would have preferred that Andrey Rublev lost his semi final in Adelaide, to give him a chance of having some rest in the lead-up to his first-round match against Chris O’Connell. Has the movement and the aggressive shot making to match it with most on tour, however, to win the tournament he would need to play 4 full weeks of tennis in a row. Not sure I see that happening. One to monitor in particular matches.

If he brings his best, Nikoloz Basilashvili can cause an upset or two. Winning the tournament however is a different story entirely. Cannot have in the outrights.

I want to forgive Alexander Zverev for his performances in the ATP Cup, as he was adjusting to changes in his eyesight after some off-season surgery. He didn’t take much of a break, having played a handful of exhibitions with Roger Federer. He has a *very* friendly draw for the first week. Either loses to Cecchinato or makes a solid run in this section in my opinion. If he looks good in round 1, I will consider an outright selection.

A couple of the names in this section to be defending a chunk of ranking points are Tiafoe and Popyrin. Both have horror first rounds, however a win for either would allow them to take over the draws of a seed. Another to keep an eye on is Miomir Kecmanovic, who is looking to take the next step with his game in 2020.

Quarter 3

Matteo Berrettini hasn’t played enough tennis recently for my liking. We saw at the US Open just how well he can perform on the hardcourt, however I do feel as though he hasn’t had enough time on court recently to be a major threat. Finished the year poorly, including disappointing Davis Cup results. He will take a lot of confidence from the US Open semi-final; however, I just don’t feel he has the fitness base to be a threat in the grand slam arena, having only played a Kooyong Exhibition.

I don’t think Borna Coric is quite at a level to be able to have decent conversations about his ability to feature in a grand slam outright. Prefer others in this section.

Guido Pella will not win the Australian Open. Outlandish, I know.

Can you trust Fabio Fognini to win 7 matches of best-of-5 set tennis in a row on hardcourt? No, not really.

One player to keep an eye on for the fortnight is Denis Shapovalov. More than held his own against a slate of quality opposition in the ATP Cup, including his narrow third set loss to Novak Djokovic. The work he has done with Mikhail Youzhny has worked wonders, with the Canadian able to utilise the backhand slice a touch more, as well as come into the net when necessary. Can still have trouble with the high backhand slice return off a kick serve, however Shapovalov at his peak can match anyone on tour in my opinion. If he dominates through round 1 and 2, my interest in him will increase. Watch this space.

With the blisters that are reported to be on his hand, Grigor Dimitrov doesn’t have a great deal of appeal in the outright markets now. Whilst I would argue he is more difficult to beat across the longer format; he just hasn’t shown enough to consider in the outright markets for the fortnight. May take him at a big price in particular matches, however the outright doesn’t appeal currently.

One of the surprise packets of 2019 was Hubert Hurkacz. Prior to losing to Benoit Paire in Auckland, he was on a scintillating run. I prefer to take him in particular matchups as well, given the quality of this section. The improvement he has made in the last 12 months has been exceptional, however I don’t think we are quite ready to talk about him in grand slam outright conversations.

I don’t *think* Roger Federer can win the tournament, especially if he meets Novak in the semi-final. Federer has started to struggle during longer matches, so just like Nadal he needs to spend as little time on court as possible in the first week, as he will need to be as close as possible to 100% in the back end of the tournament. Whilst I won’t be actively opposing Federer, this does feel like it may be his last chance at a grand slam on hardcourt for his career. Federer will benefit from the cooler conditions forecast, and should be able to make his way out of this quarter if fit.

Of the unseeded players in this section, keep an eye on Jannik Sinner, one of the best up-and-coming talents the game has seen in quite some time. He has a tough draw; however, his talent is there for everyone to see. Those who didn’t know about him prior to the NextGen Finals certainly learnt his name when he blew Alex De Minaur off the court in the final. We will be talking about him in outright discussions sooner rather than later. From an Australian standpoint, John Millman has a tough draw, however he does find an extra leg in front of the vocal Australian crowd. He may represent value in some head to head matches.

Quarter 4

Stefanos Tsitsipas is going to be in this outright conversation for years to come. Whilst he hasn’t quite got a hold of his emotions to the point necessary to be a consistent force deep in slams, everything is slowly but surely coming together for Tsitsipas. The ATP Finals victory will have given him a lot of confidence; however, he did look to be struggling a touch throughout the ATP Cup. Whether that was struggles with his own game or struggles dealing with the fact his team was 0-1 before he took to the floor, I’m not sure, but it wasn’t the same Tsitsipas as the end of 2019. Having beaten Federer, Djokovic and Nadal in 2019, he has shown the ability to match it with the best. I still think best-of-3 suits him better, however he needs to be respected given his 9-8 record vs Top 10 players last year. That record drops to 1-3 vs Top 10 players at grand slam level for his career, so there is room for improvement.

I am not sure that Milos Raonic has spent enough time on court recently to consider him to go deep in this tournament. His first couple of rounds will give him the platform to build into the fortnight, however a third-round meeting vs Tsitsipas and fourth round meeting with Bautista-Agut are probably a little too much for him at this stage. Needs to be respected given his ability to serve so well, however I don’t think he is currently in the outright discussion.

Another player that has all the physical talent in the world is Benoit Paire. Having watched his struggles serving out matches at the ATP Cup, and the fact he is going deep in Auckland this week, I just don’t feel the Australian Open is set up for him to perform well. He struggles to keep his emotions in check over 3 sets, so 5 sets for up to 7 matches in a row is asking for trouble. Worth watching, as could spring an upset this week, however unlikely to make a deep run on past grand slam form.

Roberto Bautista Agut is as honest as the day is long. After suffering multiple family tragedies over the last 9 months, it was incredible to see just how well the Spaniard has been able to play when stepping on court. His ATP Cup form was brutal, winning each of his singles matches for the tournament. He is in a great spot in the draw, not meeting Djokovic until the quarter final. I have him pegged to face Tsitsipas in Round 4, and I make that to be a fascinating match. RBA won’t give you a win easily, you will need to earn it. Anyone who beats him this week is playing well. One to watch.

Diego Sebastian Schwartzman has never found the going here particularly enjoyable, however he has experienced some horror draws over the years. Absolutely gets the most out of his body, however it is difficult to see him making a deep run in this draw. Was up-and-down at the ATP Cup, and is slightly reliant on opposition playing poorly for periods. He can turn it into a grind, however given the other names in this section I don’t see him in the second week without a significant lift in form.

Dusan Lajovic was able to show his talent and grit in the ATP Cup, however he looks to be a little outmatched in this section. Will be watching him closely on clay in 2020, however this looks a bit steep for the Serbian.

Daniel Evans certainly hasn’t been given a friendly draw, as the seeded player closest to Novak Djokovic. His win in Sydney over De Minaur was impressive, however he remains just a step below the top 20 players. Over best-of-5 I cannot see him beating Novak Djokovic, meaning there isn’t a lot of value in him from an outright perspective.

Last but certainly not least, Novak Djokovic. A very heavy favourite to raise the trophy, and deservedly so. Most players struggle to beat Djokovic over the best of 3 set format, so it only becomes more difficult when the match extends out to 5 sets. Very short, and I think from an injury history standpoint, it is tough to get excited over this price. Was a touch longer in Flushing Meadows, only to retire against Wawrinka. He is made for the big stage, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the final. For a fortnight of work however, that price is too short in my opinion.

There is one unseeded former grand slam champion in this section, and his name is Marin Cilic. Based on his ATP Cup form however, I don’t foresee him having a major impact deep into this slam. There just isn’t enough recent form to confidently side with the Croatian.

Summary

As the next generation of players starts to bridge the gap, it becomes a little more difficult to find a winner in these big fields. On form, if you are in the bottom half, you will likely need to beat Novak Djokovic at some point just to reach the final. As a result, the top section of the draw looks like the way to attack some trading options throughout the tournament.

In the first quarter, I am happy to play around Nadal a touch and side with Thiem to make a run. I would rather watch him play round one before jumping in, however his draw is quite friendly to kick off proceedings and is worth considering in this quarter. The other seeded players he may meet before the quarter final are Fritz/Auger-Aliassime/Monfils, and I would fancy Thiem in each of those matchups. The fact that he would only need to face one of Nadal/PCB/Kyrgios/Khachanov helps as well. If he plays to his top level, then he is worth watching.

The second quarter is also quite fascinating. I think Medvedev is a touch too short, however I am going to respect him in this quarter by playing in the bottom part. If Alexander Zverev has improved since the ATP Cup thanks to some changes with his eyes, then he may just be able to take advantage of his draw. Had you asked me 2 weeks ago if I would consider a trading play on Zverev I would have laughed, however this is a nice draw, especially with Rublev using up some energy over in Adelaide this week.

I personally don’t see too much pre-tournament value in the third quarter. You can make a case for Denis Shapovalov; however, he has a very tricky second round vs Sinner to contend with early. Whilst it is a challenging quarter, it is hard to look past Federer.

Much like the third quarter, the final quarter doesn’t seem to have a lot of value thanks to Djokovic. If there was any player in this section that could match it with Novak for periods, then it is Tsitsipas and RBA. I think there is more value in the price of the Spaniard, and it has been hard to fault his form of late. May be worth a trading option in this quarter, before re-assessing if meeting Tsitsipas or Djokovic.

To summarise – again it looks to be Novak’s tournament to lose, however he is far too short. If you are looking for value that doesn’t need to face Djokovic or Federer, I would look to the top half. There is a great opportunity there for Medvedev and Thiem if they want to take it, although there doesn’t seem to be as much value in the price on Medvedev. Thiem is more tested in warmer conditions, and at the bigger price he does appeal.

I may provide additional information to this preview across the fortnight, as things could change after the first couple of rounds

Selections

Novak Djokovic – No value in current price

Medvedev – Monitor price after round 1

Quarter 3 – Federer to win quarter

Trading Selections

 BACK-To-LAY – Dominic Thiem

 BACK-To-LAY – Alexander Zverev

 BACK-To-LAY – Roberto Bautista Agut

Welcome to the preview for the WTA Australia Open. Things are starting to get incredibly tight at the top of women’s tennis, with a few players worthy of discussing in this outright preview. Last year saw one of the more fascinating finals in recent history, with Naomi Osaka overcoming a meltdown late in the second set, defeating Petra Kvitova for the title.

This year sees the Australian Ash Barty come into the main draw as the world number 1 and top seed. The pressure will be on the Australian, with the hopes of the nation resting on her shoulders.

I will start by breaking down each quarter, discussing seeded players and any unseeded players of note.

Quarter 1

Ash Barty will have a lot of pressure on her going into this week. After a tough start to the year in Brisbane, it felt as though she started to find some rhythm in the doubles prior to coming to Adelaide. Things still haven’t been overly convincing in Adelaide; however, she has managed to find her way through to the final. This looks to be a very tough draw, so I do wonder if her odds are a little short considering the draw and the extra pressure as number 1 at your home slam will likely weigh on her mind a touch. It will be interesting to see how she starts in round 1 against an experienced competitor in Tsurenko.

Elena Rybakina is a player that continues to prove me wrong. Her ascension to the top 30 in the last 12 months has been nothing short of remarkable. She made me look silly multiple times in Hobart this week, with the Kazakh now reaching a final in Shenzhen and winning Hobart in the opening fortnight of the season. Will she have enough in the tank to push on in Melbourne? Minimal points to defend given she was playing ITF tournaments a year ago. Her best can match it with most on tour, it is about consistency in these big tournaments. If she had taken the week off instead of playing Hobart, I would be more intrigued from an Australian Open standpoint. I am sure she isn’t complaining though.

Alison Riske mentioned in Brisbane that she was almost a little anxious to get 2020 started, as she didn’t want to lose any of the significant momentum she was able to gain in the latter half of 2019. The difference between her best and worst tennis is significant, and I do wonder if this draw is perhaps a touch too difficult to consider her from an outright standpoint. Will monitor in certain spots.

Petra Martic hasn’t shown me enough on hardcourt consistently to consider for an outright. She may be capable of an upset or two, however I wouldn’t be taking her for a trading position.

Madison Keys is one of the great unknowns, given the significant gulf between her best and worst tennis. I was impressed with her ability to progress to the final in Brisbane, and I think this is quite a friendly draw overall given she is surrounded by very big ball strikers. I do worry when she faces players with variety and slice, which is why I am a touch concerned about her first-round match with Kasatkina. If she looks good in round 1, then I anticipate she will find herself in the second week of the tournament.

The way Maria Sakkari has struggled to finish off her matches in Brisbane and Adelaide from commanding positions is a little concerning. Don’t quite feel as though she is at the level to be able to push to top players deep in a grand slam. That time may come.

Ekaterina Alexandrova is one to watch. Given her serve, power, and movement, most of the matches she plays will ultimately rest on her racquet and what she is able to produce. She was completely and utterly dominant in Shenzhen, and that win over Rybakina in the final now stacks up incredibly well. Whilst she has made significant improvements over the last 12 months, I do feel she is slightly unproven at grand slam level. In a quarter boasting Keys, Kvitova and Barty, this may still be a little tough.

Petra Kvitova showed some impressive form to give off the season in Brisbane and made the wise decision to bypass the tournament in Adelaide to ensure she was ready to go in Melbourne. Played brilliantly here last year, reaching the final. The cooler conditions forecast will also help her, as she is one that has struggled with heat and humidity in the past. Will be a tough opponent for anyone in the draw, however I feel she may not be value when you consider the strength of this quarter, let alone the entire draw.

Quarter 2

Naomi Osaka is back and defending her title from 12 months ago. The Japanese world number 3 will be looking to get off to a strong start in Melbourne, after reaching the semi finals in Brisbane last week. The draw looks to be quite tough for Osaka, with Marie Bouzkova in the first round one of the more dangerous floaters. Osaka did comment that she does think about ranking points sometimes, and that a loss in the first round of the tournament would mean she could potentially drop out of the Top 10. She is still finding her way with a new coaching team, however if she finds herself in the second week, she will be tough to beat. Cannot afford an early slip up in this deep field.

Barbora Strycova is on the retirement farewell tour, and from what I saw in Brisbane it may not be wise spending too much time discussing her as an outright pick for this tournament. One to watch in the doubles.

I am not even sure where to begin with Sloane Stephens. Having won a grand slam, we know what her best tennis looks like. The losses to Samsonova in Brisbane and Rodionova in Adelaide don’t fill me with any confidence whatsoever. If she can find a way through her opening couple of rounds, I may make a further comment on her in an outright perspective, however it is hard to envisage on exposed form.

Sofia Kenin is a tricky player to place in terms of her level against the rest of the Top 20. I think there will be a time in the future where she will be contending for a grand slam, however I don’t see it happening this year. I am just not sure if she can sustain the level required for long enough against the best players day after day. Her time will come.

Johanna Konta is a tricky one to place as well. She has gone deep in grand slams however just hasn’t been shown to have the tenacity required to take control of the tournament. Playing a lighter schedule will help her, however her draw is incredibly difficult.

Dayana Yastremska is one of the more intriguing prospects on the tour. She has the power to hit almost any other player off the court, as we have seen on a few occasions in Adelaide this week. I think the lack of on-court coaching will not help here, with one of the best coaches in the game currently in her corner. Again, we may be a year or two early on her being a certified threat in singles at a grand slam, however she is improving at a rapid rate.

For all the positives about the game of Qiang Wang, I just worry that she will find herself out-hit on a consistent basis in this section of the draw. A very honest and technically sound player, it will take a good performance to beat her, and I think she will receive that from Serena Williams in the third round.

Serena Williams was on a mission in Auckland, and all signs point to her contending again this year. Was in a commanding position last year before rolling her ankle, and given she was able to break the shackles and finally win a tournament since her return to the tour, she looks primed for a big run again this year. I don’t see myself opposing her in any capacity early, however Potapova is an interesting first match-up.

The main unseeded players to watch include Coco Gauff, Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams. Whilst I don’t consider any to be an outright threat, they are worth monitoring this week (note Williams and Gauff meet in round 1)

Quarter 3

Belinda Bencic has made her way into the Top 10, and now she needs to make hay while the sun shines. She was disappointing in both Shenzhen and Adelaide, so I do wonder how she will go this coming fortnight. Bencic has shown that she can match it with the best players on tour, however, has the tendency to falling into the trap of playing down to her opposition at times. Needs to be on from the start, however I don’t see value in her outright price currently.

Anett Kontaveit hasn’t shown the temperament late in big matches for me to consider her in an outright capacity. Could make the second week, however she would need a lot to go right.

Donna Vekic received one of the more dangerous floaters in round 1 in wildcard Maria Sharapova. Much like Kontaveit, I consider her on the tier below the top names in the game, and I would be surprised if she were to make a deep run this fortnight.

Aryna Sabalenka has done herself a favour by not spending too much time on court over the last fortnight. She is yet to find that consistency at Grand Slam level to be considered a consistent threat, however this does look to be quite a favourable draw for her. Her serving has looked a touch better to start the year, however the question remains whether it will hold up in the late stages of a slam. Perhaps a solid trading option given her draw.

Elise Mertens has reached the semi final here two years ago and knows what it takes to make a deep run at a grand slam. She came the closest to knocking off Bianca Andreescu at the US Open, and her overall form leading into this tournament is sound. She has a relatively friendly draw until the 4th round, so she is worth keeping an eye on from a trading perspective.

Karolina Muchova falls into a similar category as Vekic and Kontaveit in that I just haven’t seen enough from them to consider for an outright.

Danielle Collins has put together a phenomenal fortnight of tennis. There were concerns regarding a potential niggle in her loss to Barty, however she has shown that on her day she is very hard to stop. She is just the type of player that could blow Simona Halep off the court with power, so the draw isn’t necessarily the worst for her. Defending a lot of points this week.

Simona Halep will bring the commitment from start to finish, however there are some solid tennis players around in this section. Given Collins and Sabalenka can hit her off the court, she will need to be a little lucky. Odds for her in the outright market look just right.

Quarter 4

I keep getting drawn in by Elina Svitolina at grand slams, and she just doesn’t seem to be able to get over the line. In a similar way to Halep, Svitolina can be vulnerable at times against the power players. Will need a lot to go right this fortnight based on what she delivered in Brisbane a couple of weeks ago.

I thought Anastasija Sevastova had a chance to really push towards the top of the women’s game a couple of years ago, however things seem to have regressed a touch. With a solid serve and some decent variety, she can be a tough opponent. In a similar way to Martic, I just don’t see her stamping her authority on matches late in a grand slam. I would prefer to take her in specific matchups.

One of the unknowns in the draw is Amanda Anisimova. After enduring terrible family tragedy late last year, it will be interesting to see how long it takes her to recapture her form. She burst onto the grand slam scene here last year with a dominant win over Petra Kvitova and backed it up with a semi final run at Roland Garros. Primed for a solid outing here, she looks to have a pretty decent draw. I would like her chances against Bertens and Pliskova, and she has the power to hit through Svitolina. One to watch.

Kiki Bertens is sitting in that so-close-but-yet-so-far portion of the WTA rankings. She can match it with the best players for periods, however she just hasn’t been able to get over the line in several close matches. I think I prefer others at the price in this part of the draw.

Marketa Vondrousova is one tournament into her comeback from wrist surgery, and I would be shocked to see her make a deep run.

Angelique Kerber is fighting a niggling hamstring complaint, which will cause her a lot of issues in Melbourne. Her court coverage is crucial to her game, so on that news I cannot have her in the outright market. I will watch and wait and see how she looks on the court before making judgement.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has put together some very solid runs at the Australian Open over the years, however her recent form does worry me a touch. She did challenge Barty in Adelaide, however given the strength of some of the opponents in this section I think I will sit it out.

I have said this a couple of times over the years, but there is another fantastic opportunity in front of Karolina Pliskova this year. This looks to be a winnable quarter for her, and I think her biggest threat on top form is Anisimova. If she doesn’t capitalise this year, she may not have many more opportunities moving forward. She needs to maintain her level and not drop unnecessary sets, as she can tighten up in third sets

Summary

I think there is value in the price on Serena Williams. Whilst she is the favourite, she isn’t the heavy favourite that we have come to expect in previous years. She has broken the title drought in Auckland and was playing well here last year until the ankle injury. I don’t see myself opposing her against anyone in that top half. I think the pressure will show on Barty and Osaka, however I am happy to re-visit this at any potential meetings in week 2.

In the bottom half, I like Pliskova from the bottom quarter to make a run, as well as Sabalenka and Mertens from the third quarter. If Anisimova starts strongly, I may consider adding her to the list, however I want to see her get a match under her belt first.

Outright Selections

 BACK – Serena Williams

 BACK – Karolina Pliskova (last chance)

Trading Selections

 BACK-To-LAY – Elise Mertens (lay off if facing Sabalenka)

 BACK-To-LAY – Aryna Sabalenka

 BACK-To-LAY – Amanda Anisimova (if strong in round 1)


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