Ace Tennis Previews: Expert Tennis Tips

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Kerber vs Andreescu

Here we have a match-up of very contrasting styles, for a number of reasons. On one hand, we have a former three-time Grand Slam Champion in Angelique Kerber, who has reached the summit of the WTA before, and is eager to do it again. On the other hand we have one of the up-and-coming stars of the game in 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu, who has put together a very impressive three months of tennis to kick off 2019.

There is no doubt that I am in the same boat as many who have been incredibly impressed with the tennis Andreescu has put together this year. She has stunned many this week on her road to the final, defeating the likes of Cibulkova, Muguruza and Svitolina. For all the positives that have come with her game to start this year, I did get the feeling that her third set the other day against Svitolina did seem remarkably familiar to how the Canadian was looking as the tournament wore on in Auckland to start the year. Multiple times that week, against the likes of Wozniacki, Hsieh and Venus Williams, Andreescu looked to be physically on the absolute brink, as the amount of tennis started to really add up. It finally took a toll on Andreescu that week in the final, when after leading 6-2 against Julia Goerges, she started to struggle more and more physically, falling away dramatically in the third set, which she lost 1-6.

I saw some very similar physical characteristics from Andreescu yesterday against Svitolina, however the key difference being the Canadian was able to fend off 9 of 10 break points she faced in the final set, whilst converting 2 of 3 opportunities of her own. Although she has a day break, with the amount of tennis played this week, plus the level of nervous energy that will be expended both before and during the biggest match of her career to date, it does beg the question: how much will Bianca have left in the tank?

With my own personal doubts about Andreescu’s ability to back up tomorrow at 100%, those doubts are certainly magnified when you consider the calibre of her opponent across the net. Angelique Kerber is a formidable force, and she has put together some very impressive performances against other big strikers of the ball this week. Kerber is coming into the final having defeated Sabalenka, Venus Williams and Bencic in her last 3 matches, which included coming from 1-4* down in the third against my outright selection in Sabalenka. She is moving incredibly well, and her counter-punching style has worked quite well on court this week. She will give nothing to Andreescu for free, meaning the 18 year old will have to try and earn everything in the biggest match of her career to date.

Another little interesting stat, albeit a small sample size, is Andreescu’s record against left handers in the last 12 months. Whilst boasting an impressive 60-16 record across all levels, Andreescu is 3-4 against left handers. Regardless of that stat, I get the feeling that on this slower hardcourt, Kerber should have too much for Andreescu across the three sets. The -2.5 game handicap is an incredibly appealing prospect, and something that could cover in either a straight sets or three set victory for Kerber. Happy to make this a 4 unit selection

BETTING STRATEGY

 BACK – 4 units Kerber -2.5 game handicap

Federer vs Thiem

I think this match will actually be incredibly interesting, albeit not the final everyone was initially expecting when the tournament began (well done to those who found Thiem to make the final here).

Roger Federer has continued on his merry way from his title performance in Dubai, having not dropped a set on the way to the final this year. His Indian Wells record over the years is seriously impressive, and it is hard to find any particular cracks in the armour of Federer currently, especially in the best of 3 set arena.

I think Federer is currently the best player in the game on hardcourt in best-of-3 set tennis. I feel the longer matches are starting to head away from him a little bit, however his best-of-3 set tennis this year has been near flawless. The slower Indian Wells hardcourt doesn’t seem to phase him too much, however in the final he comes up against a player that also prefers the slower court, and has the movement and power to even cause a little bit of trouble tomorrow.

I have had a couple of very nice results on Dominic Thiem the last few rounds, as he has put together some very solid tennis. His first two rounds really built up the confidence, as he needed to play quality tennis to hit through the likes of Thompson and Simon in dominant fashion.

Things really picked up from there for Thiem, who has produced some exceptional tennis in his last two matches (aided by Monfils withdrawing before their quarter final), defeating two big servers in Ivo Karlovic and Milos Raonic.

Things will be a touch slower for Thiem today, however it will be tough for Thiem to keep his unforced errors down in a similar fashion to his last two matches. I do however feel as though he has the movement and power on this type of hardcourt to keep this match quite close. The total is currently sitting at 22.5 games, which I feel is something worth making a small play on when siding with the total going over.

I think the way Thiem and Federer have both played this week, that three sets certainly isn’t out of the question, however at least one tiebreak set may also be enough to push this one over, in what I feel will be a closer match than most suspect.

BETTING STRATEGY

 BACK – 2 units Federer/Thiem over 22.5 total games

Welcome to the preview for ATP Indian Wells.

As mentioned in the WTA preview as well, from a court pace index perspective, Indian Wells falls into one of the slower hardcourts of all the Masters 1000 hardcourts. It should also be remembered that this year’s tournament favourite, Novak Djokovic, was nowhere near 100% at the time of Indian Wells 2018, and the likes of Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios didn’t take their place in the tournament last year.

The 2019 edition sadly will not include the defending champion in the field, with Juan Martin del Potro unable to take his place in the field due to injury. It was an epic final against Roger Federer last year, with Federer unable to convert 3 championship points on his own serve late in the final set, before del Potro broke back, and ultimately prevailed 6-4 6-7 7-6.

Let’s take a look at some of the players that I think have drawn quite well for this years tournament, and who I think may present a decent price from a trading perspective.

If you have any questions regarding any specific players in the draw, feel free to contact me on Twitter (@Ace_Previews)


Novak Djokovic

Whilst he hasn’t drawn particularly well, you obviously need to respect Novak Djokovic in any tournament he plays at the moment. The way he finished off the Australian Open was simply breathtaking. When you consider Federer and Nadal both fall in the other half the draw, that would generally indicate that Djokovic’s draw is quite favourable. Nevertheless, he has found himself with a couple of potential tricky opponents to kick things off this fortnight.

After a second round against Ymer/Fratangelo, Djokovic’s run to the final could look like Kyrgios, Monfils, Thiem and Zverev, and that is just to make the final. It is a bit of a shame that the draw has turned out this way, as I was hoping that Gael Monfils would end up with a favourable draw this week. Nevertheless, Djokovic must be respected on form, however considering his path to the final and the potential obstacles needed to overcome just to reach the final, I am not sure there is any value in his price currently.

Roger Federer

Fresh off claiming his 100th career ATP title, Roger Federer comes into this tournament as second favourite. The number 4 seed finds himself in a decent section of the draw, sharing his quarter with other seeds of Fucsovics, Edmund, Fognini, Cilic, Shapovalov, Pouille and Nishikori. Cilic (if fit) and Nishikori are scheduled to meet each other before either is due to meet Federer, which also works in his advantage. One floating opponent in the section that is unseeded and worth acknowledging is Stan Wawrinka, however on current form Federer should be too good.

I would be quite shocked to see Federer losing this week before the semi final, however I would have my concerns for Federer against either Nadal or Djokovic in these conditions late in the tournament.

Rafael Nadal

I think out of the top 3 players, Nadal has the best draw overall. Projected toughest opponents at each round rests at Donaldson, Schwartzman, Medvedev, Isner, then Federer in a likely semi final. Certainly playing well enough this year to be a great chance here in conditions that do suit him as being a touch slower. I think on current form he would be a fantastic chance against Federer in this conditions as well, and I would mark him as the favourite from the bottom half in terms of odds to reach the final. I think Djokovic may be a touch too good for him, but there is enough value in the current price from an outright perspective to make a play in my opinion. Biggest early threat is Medvedev in my opinion.


Rest of the Field

I will work through a  list of players that could challenge late in the week with their best tennis, moving from the top of the draw to the bottom.

Nick Kyrgios remains a bit of an enigma, however I am genuinely curious to see how he backs up his Acapulco title. Defending no points this week as he withdrew before the tournament last year. I would watch his second round match before casting any judgement (would imagine he would be a big price vs Djokovic in third round if he made it).

Gael Monfils is another player to keep an eye on, however his draw isn’t the easiest. Starting to play with a bit more consistency than we are used to seeing, and could surprise at a big price. I would imagine he would be underdog in every match from Round 4 onwards, so probably better to wait and see how he starts. Conditions should suit.

I haven’t seen enough from Dominic Thiem this year to trust him just yet, and cannot consider him currently from an outrights perspective. Curious to see how he plays today.

Alexander Zverev has been given an incredibly favourable draw, and personally think his current quote is value. Proven to be able to beat Djokovic (as we saw late last year), he could be the beneficiary of a very favourable draw, so I would expect at least a semi final performance on best form. Worth considering at the price from a trading perspective.

I am happy to overlook Raonic, Tsitsipas, Cilic and Anderson due to a mix of conditions not suiting and form/injury clouds.

Kei Nishikori is one to watch, however I just feel like he will find a couple better than him from an outright perspective this week.

Daniil Medvedev is in my opinion the biggest threat to Nadal reaching at least the semi final, however I don’t feel like he can challenger Nadal in these conditions on current form.


Summary

If you are looking for a pure selection as to who *should* win this tournament, it is very hard to look beyond Djokovic. With potential matches against Kyrgios, Monfils, Thiem, Zverev and Nadal/Federer however leads me to think there isn’t a lot of value in his price for this tournament.

Instead, from a draw standpoint, I think you could do a lot worse than start the tournament with an outright play on Rafael Nadal this week, with a smaller play on Zverev. That way, both halves are covered with players who have a decent road to the semi final.

I would trade out on Zverev for a slight profit at worst if he ultimately met Djokovic in a semi final, and would monitor the progress of Nadal during the week and make a call in the semi final or final as needed. Hopefully they can both progress deep this week.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Rafael Nadal to Win (monitor trading price)

 BACK – Alexander Zverev to Win (monitor trading price)

Welcome to the preview for WTA Indian Wells.

It was a really fascinating tournament last year, with the final 4 of Halep/Osaka/V Williams/Kasatkina battling it out for the title. It was Osaka who would finally stamp her name as one of the top players on tour, defeating Kasatkina 6-3 6-2 in the final, in what turned out to be a pretty defining moment  when you look at the career trajectories of both players.

From a court pace index perspective, Indian Wells falls into one of the slower hardcourts of all the Masters 1000 hardcourts. It is worth noting, and may explain why players such as Kasatkina had a very decent 2018 tournament.

Let’s take a look at some of the players that I think have drawn quite well for this years tournament, and who I think may present a decent price from a trading perspective.

If you have any questions regarding any specific players in the draw, feel free to contact me on Twitter (@Ace_Previews)


Ones to Watch

Aryna Sabalenka

When you look at the four players I have listed in the ones to watch, and note that Sabalenka is the main player to watch from the top half (other 3 from bottom half), then the prices currently available for Sabalenka appear to be pretty decent value.

Her form has gone under the radar to start 2019. She won the title in Shenzhen, albeit unconvincingly, then backed that up with a third round loss at the Australian Open (I think we all remember how well Anisimova played that day). She has played two more tournaments since, losing to the eventual winner of the tournament on both occasions (Bertens and Bencic).

She has proven herself at all levels except Grand Slam level. Her best is good enough to beat almost any player, and I think on form she can match it quite well with all the players in her section of the draw. Her power allows her to hit through counterpunchers quite well, and I feel for her to be beaten this week it would take an elite performance from a player such as Kvitova to send Sabalenka packing and on the way to Miami.

Serena Williams

I think it would take something pretty significant for Serena Williams to not fall into the “Ones to watch” category in a tournament that she is playing, such is her stature in the game. She commands respect, so she deserves acknowledgement in this section. That being said, I am not sure there is enough value in her price as a favourite, considering this draw is incredibly competitive.

We haven’t seen Serena since the Australian Open, and to be the favourite with a potential early draw of Azarenka, Muguruza, Bertens and Stephens, and that is just to get out of the quarter. You will see below that my interest in this quarter lies elsewhere at a bigger price.

Sloane Stephens

The bigger the tournament, the better the Sloane Stephens that steps onto court. That is the general rule, and Stephens generally does save her best tennis to be played on US soil. She must be respected, and looking at her draw it doesn’t seem too bad at all.

Stephens hasn’t played a lot of tennis over the early months, and she did have an uncharacteristic loss in Acapulco last week. However, her Premier and Grand Slam record is worthy of a lot of respect, so you can assume she will bring her best tennis. Slower surface won’t be too much of a concern either, as she is solid on all surfaces with all speeds.

Sloane finds herself in a seeded section with Cibulkova, Wang and Mertens, all of who Stephens should be able to handle. Her biggest threat in her quarter rests with Serena Williams, however I think at the prices on offer from an outright perspective, I think I slightly prefer to look at Sloane from an outright perspective, and perhaps trade out some aspect if Stephens finds herself in a quarter final match-up with Serena.

Simona Halep

Court speed plays into her favour here a touch. I think she has gone past the likes of Kerber, Svitolina and Wozniacki as the dominant counter-puncher in the game. Simona has played some brilliant tennis in the last 12 months, and looking at her section of the draw, it looks to be a pretty favourable one, with Sasnovich, Ostapenko/Kasatkina, Barty/Garcia/Buzarnescu/Svitolina falling in her section. If she brings her best tennis, she should find herself in a semi final at worst. Worth respecting at the price.


Rest of the Field

This ‘Ones to watch’ section could become incredibly long, such is the quality of this field. Players such as Kvitova, Pliskova, Svitolina, Osaka, Barty, Bencic, Keys, Muguruza, Bertens, Sevastova, Wozniacki and Mertens are also in this field, and that list is chances is not an exhaustive list, such is the open nature of this tournament. I think another player that needs to be kept safe is Petra Kvitova, as I mentioned above that I felt she was the biggest threat to Sabalenka in that top half of the draw.

Out of the longer odds players, one to watch may be Donna Vekic, who could surprise with a run to the semi finals, in what may be a bit of a wider open section (if you have the courage to back around Osaka, Pliskova and even Sevastova).


Summary

Looking at the draw, I think from a pure odds perspective, the value lies with Sabalenka in the top half, and Stephens and Halep in the bottom half. It is hard to be too confident with such a wide open tournament with so many live chances, however these three players all represent nice value. If I had to pick, I would go Sabalenka, then Stephens, then Halep in order of value at their respective prices.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Aryna Sabalenka to Win

 BACK – Sloane Stephens to Win

 BACK – Simona Halep to Win


Previous Tournaments

Tsitsipas v Federer

Here we have a rematch of what turned out to be quite an Australian Open duel. It was only just over a month ago that Tsitsipas was able to make a name for himself (outside of those who are keen tennis observers), defeating Federer in 4 sets in a night match in Melbourne.

That night in Melbourne, Tsitsipas prevailed 6-7 7-6 7-5 7-6. The key difference for the match was certainly break point conversion, with Tsitsipas converting 1 of his 3 opportunities, and Federer converting none of his 12 opportunities. It was a bit of a perfect storm for Federer that night, as I don’t feel his body is as suited to best of 5 set tennis anymore.

Why I say it was a bit of a perfect storm, it is more to do with the fact that Federer was unable to convert some early opportunities on the Tsitsipas serve, which built up the level of frustration that night, which resulted in a large amount of nervous energy spent, and as the match wore on, so did the unforced errors from the racquet of Federer. It was uncharacteristic of Federer given his form of the last 12-18 months, however pressure can do funny things to the best players.

As we move to Dubai and the final here, I look at the form of both players coming into the final, as well as the accumulated fatigue from Tsitsipas (noting his full week last week on indoor hard). I think if there is ever a chance for Federer to exact revenge on Tsitsipas, this may well be the opportunity, in what is also quite a big match.

After shaking off some rust in the early rounds against Kohlschreiber and Verdasco, Federer slowly built his form up over the course of the week, culminating in a 6-2 6-2 whitewash of Borna Coric overnight. It was exactly what Federer needed, especially when you consider Tsitsipas had just spent 3 hours on court with Monfils, ending in a third set tiebreak.

Federer is normally one who will learn from his prior mistakes, but is also a player who will be able to pick up some pointers from other recent opponents of Tsitsipas, such as Monfils. Look for Federer to keep the ball short and low onto the backhand of Tsitsipas, which will more often than not lead to a slice for Stefanos. This play should see Federer approach the net more comofrtably, in conditions I think suit him tonight.

I am happy to make a 4 unit selection on Federer to cover the -2.5 game handicap.

BETTING STRATEGY

 BACK – 4 units Federer -2.5 game handicap

Kvitova vs Bencic

I still have their meeting from the Australian Open fresh in my mind for this match. Straight after the 6-1 6-4 whitewash, Bencic took to Instragram to write “When Petra is on fire, she’s on fire”, acknowledging how helpless she felt on court against Kvitova. Bencic can be quite self deprecating at times (almost to a fault), however this sign of outward praise to her opponent showed just how much respect she has for Kvitova, and just how hard she found it on the other side of the net. Bencic was in pretty good form then, and slightly better form now with a string of comebacks over the last couple of rounds, but you have to ask just how much will change from that previous meeting?

Petra Kvitova wasn’t exactly fresh going into that match with Bencic in January. She had come off a full week of tennis where she claimed the Sydney title (Bencic had a long week too, reaching a semi final in Hobart), and was absolutely ruthless in the early rounds of the Australian Open. With the conditions in Dubai perhaps slightly more favourable for Kvitova, it makes you wonder how much Bencic can turn this around?

The Swiss has put together a very solid week of tennis. After wins against Hradecka and Voegele, she has gone on to record 3 set victories over Sabalenka, Halep and Svitolina. She saved 6 match points against Sabalenka, and came from a set down against Halep, and a 3-5 third set deficit against Svitolina in the Semi Final. She has almost looked better at times when under the pump and in losing positions, however has found a way in each occasion.

Petra Kvitova has been solid without being convincing this week, however I do like her to lift her performance coming off her win from a set down against Hsieh. The bigger the opponent has struck the ball this week, the better the performance from Kvitova. She can sometimes struggle for patches against players that can serve big and hit spots for periods of a match (ie. Brady in set 2 on Wednesday), however I don’t think Bencic’s first serve packs a big enough punch to fall into this category.

I am comfortable making a 2 unit play on this match going under 21.5 total games. I was tossing up this and Kvitova -4.5 games, however I am happy to settle on this option. I think Petra should be too good, and will take her career finals record at all levels to 34-11.

BETTING STRATEGY

 BACK – 2 units Total Games Under 21.5

Welcome to my early preview for WTA Dubai. As a Premier Mandatory event, we get to see the best of the best in action, with very few players missing. In fact, of the top 20 players, the only ones we are missing are Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki, Serena Williams, Ash Barty and Madison Keys.

With a stacked field, there will be so many quality matches that will take place in the coming week. The weather conditions look to be sitting in the low to mid 20 degrees, with not too much wind or rain about. Perfect conditions for tennis, and the players will have no excuses.

I thought I would glance over the top 20 players in the field, as well as make a comment on some of the other players in the field that have managed to play themselves into a bit of form.

The 2018 version of WTA Dubai saw Elina Svitolina take home the title, defeating Daria Kasatkina in the final, 6-4 6-0. It wasn’t smooth sailing for the Russian on her way to reaching the final, with some quality encounters with the likes of Muguruza (amazing second set tiebreak, ended 13-11 with Kasatkina saving MPs) and Konta. There weren’t a great number of upsets, with 5 of the top 6 players reaching the quarter finals, and 3 of the top 6 reaching the semi-finals.

I will start with the players that in my opinion have displayed the best form so far in 2019 and work my way down.

If you have any questions regarding any specific players in the draw, feel free to contact me on Twitter (@Ace_Previews)


It seems only fair to start with the current world number 1, Naomi Osaka. Fresh off her Australian Open win, I felt herself and Sascha Bajin were on the road to becoming an unstoppable combination, until things fell apart very quickly. Not long after the AO, they unfollowed each other on their social medias, and Osaka finally announced they had split, with no specific reason given for the change of heart. I think his absence will be felt by Osaka in the short term.

All you need to do is look at the way Bajin was able to re-direct Osaka at times during tight moments in on-court coaching to understand the significance of the partnership. I think I would rather have my money elsewhere, due to the relative unknowns that come with this tournament.

Petra Kvitova is the key player to watch in my opinion. The Australian Open Runner-up has put together a very impressive body of work in 2019, with a 13-3 record, and some excuses for a couple of those as well. With the weather schedule to be cooler for most of the week, with limited humidity, the courts should play into the hands of Kvitova quite well. I feel that if Kvitova can bring her absolute best tennis on any given day, she can beat anyone on tour. The big question is: will she?

Simona Halep is a player you certainly must respect. In completed matches in Dubai, Halep holds a 10-2 record, having claimed the title in 2015. She is in the very early stages with her new coach, however her performances at the Australian Open, Fed Cup and this week in Doha warrant respect. Things are starting to click again on court for Halep, and that can spell trouble for her opponents. One to watch this week.

Elina Svitolina comes back here as the back to back defending champion after her impressive 2017 and 2018 campaign. She is currently playing in Doha, where it is slightly hard to get a read on her form as her draw (Ostapenko and Muchova) on the way to the semi final has been quite favourable.

She isn’t my top selection this week on form, however if she manages to find herself in the other half of the draw to Kvitova/Sabalenka, she might be worth a nibble from a trading perspective.  Based on her schedule, she may be in for a long week in Doha currently, which would be great for her, but not great for Dubai.

Angelique Kerber is another player you must respect, however just doesn’t seem to have that confidence in her ability to finish off points at the moment. She can be found wanting against some of the bigger hitters of the ball (i.e. Collins at the Australian Open), and in this field I get the feeling she may find a couple better.

Karolina Pliskova is another player who I think will be very suited to the courts and conditions in Dubai this week. She holds a 6-6 record overall in Dubai, with one run to the semi-final. On her Aus Open run she needs to be respected here, however it is hard to gauge her tennis as she pulled out of Doha this week with a viral illness. I’d rather not be on her as a starting point, and monitor the situation moving forward throughout the week if necessary.

Aryna Sabalenka is a player who has made giant strides in the last 12 months at every level except Grand Slam. You do need to respect her, with her losses this year coming to Kvitova (backing up to Sydney after winning the title in Shenzhen), Anisimova (who couldn’t do a thing wrong that day) and Bertens. Must be respected dropping back to Premier Mandatory Level (I was keen to oppose at the Australian Open) and will be one of my selections this week given the conditions.

Kiki Bertens just hasn’t had everything click for her to start 2019. A couple of uncharacteristic losses plagued January, before she was able to take the St Petersburg title a couple of weeks ago. I feel there are better options in this field given form and conditions, however I wouldn’t find myself actively opposing her in the early rounds either.

Julia Goerges is a player you always must respect in the early rounds, however in a field like this, I feel she will always find one or two better. Her absolute best tennis can match anyone, however the consistency and ability to maintain that best level against the best remains an issue. One to watch based on the draw.

Elise Mertens just hasn’t displayed the form you would want to consider her in any capacity for an outright selection. She may present as good value in a specific head to head, however she would need a significant uptick in her current form to be considered a good outright chance this week.

Caroline Wozniacki just hasn’t got enough tennis under her belt to be able to trust her here – I think at her stage of career with her unfortunate diagnosis of RA, she will be up against it. Needs to be respected, as her best tennis can still beat anyone, however it is just difficult to know if we will see it. Not going out of my way to oppose her, and at the same time not going out of my way to support her.


Of the rest of the players in the draw, there doesn’t appear to be too many players that are a decent chance of pulling away and taking the title. You could perhaps make a case for Vekic, or even a Tomljanovic/Pavlyuchenkova type could spring a decent run, but I doubt given the strength of the field they will be the last one standing this week. A player like Yastremska, if she were to make the main draw, is also a player to watch.


Summary

Of the players listed, the four main players I will be keeping an eye on as the draw is released are:

  • Petra Kvitova
  • Aryna Sabalenka
  • Elina Svitolina
  • Simona Halep

There is a mix of two of the bigger power hitters, and two of the better counterpunching players in women’s tennis. Dubai has been quick in the past, however that doesn’t phase Svitolina and Halep as their court movement and presence is exceptional. The Svitolina selection comes more from the fact she is a confidence player and winning this title the last 2 years instils quite a bit of confidence.

If I had to pick one player – Kvitova. There are so many live chances however and feel that a player such as Halep will present as value as well.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Petra Kvitova to Win

 BACK – Simona Halep to Win

Unfortunately the two selections from Brisbane were unable to make the final, with Alex De Minaur beaten by a resurgent Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Quarter Finals, and Kyle Edmund struggling from the offset, pulling out of this weeks tournament in Sydney as well citing a knee injury.

Onto Sydney, where there is a very decent field in play for a tournament the week before a Grand Slam. You need to be very careful with such tournaments, as a few players would rather have a bit of a break leading into the Australian Open, whereas others cannot pass up the opportunity for a potential title, regardless of what week of the year it occurs.

2018 saw a Qualifier meet a Special Exempt in the final, as Daniil Medvedev defeat Alex De Minaur in the final. In a sign of just how much can change in 12 months on the ATP tour, Medvedev is the number 2 seed this week and De Minaur is seeded 5th. The 2018 field was far weaker, with Ramos, Muller, Schwartzman and Fognini the top 4 seeds.

The field looks to open up in a couple of sections, which may lead to a bit of value being found. There is a mix of players who have either played a lot of tennis this week, or played a lot of tennis in Sydney in 2018 and then went on to struggle at the Australian Open. Here are the top players in each section, plus some comments on others of interest.

If you have any questions regarding any specific players in the draw, feel free to contact me on Twitter (@Ace_Previews)


Top Half

Stefanos Tsitsipas: Beneficiary of the round 1 bye as top seed. Should be able to progress very deep in the tournament, as his best tennis is well and above the best of the majority of those in the top half of the draw. Can struggle against players who tend to keep the ball low as well at times. The question is, with a full week of tennis in the books at the Hopman Cup: how much tennis does he want to play this week? A question of talent vs motivation.

Andreas Seppi: I would imagine won’t have too many tournaments this year as a seed, so he would be looking to take advantage of this opportunity to the best of his ability. Whilst his best performances on hardcourt have come on indoor, he has shown some of his best tennis over the last couple of years on Australian soil. He won a very competitive Canberra Challenger title the week before the Australian Open last year, before going on to make the 4th round in Melbourne. Defending those points will be crucial this year, and I would imagine any opportunity to bank ranking points will be attacked. Gets Chardy in the first round coming off a long week in Brisbane, which should help springboard his week. Will struggle most against Tsitsipas, Simon and Klizan in his section.

Diego Schwartzman: was able to make his way through to the 4th round of the Australian Open last year, however he only managed 9 further hardcourt wins for the rest of the year. Whilst I completely admire his playing style, I just cannot have him in this field considering his early season form over the last couple of years. Like Seppi, Schwartzman does have some serious points to defend in January, but I think his absolute limit in this field, even with his section swamped with qualifiers, is the Semi Final at an absolute stretch.

Lucas Pouille: didn’t set the world on fire in Perth as a part of the Hopman Cup, in a similar way to how he probably considers 2018 to be disappointing overall. By the end of February, Pouille had won the tournament in Montpellier (def Gasquet), made the final in Marseille (lost to Khachanov) and then in Dubai (lost to Bautista Agut), however went 14-17 on hardcourt for the rest of the year. I would need to see things turn around before confidently siding with him in an outright market.

Best of the Rest in Top Half: When you look at the unseeded players in the top half, the initial name you gravitate towards is Martin Klizan. His best tennis is absolutely blistering, and he generally builds in form and confidence as a tournament progresses. The issue with that is he can be susceptible to an early exit, and his first opponent in Popyrin is no slouch at all, and plays better feeding off pace from his opponents. If he plays well in round 1, I would consider him for a small outright stake.


Bottom Half

Marton Fucsovics: has travelled from Doha, where he lost in the second round to Novak Djokovic in a tight 3 set match. It did start to get away from him late (lost third set 1-6), and I am not sure the travel from Doha to Sydney is going to help his cause either. Fucsovics made a couple of ATP Quarter Finals (Vienna and Beijing) in 2018, however I just haven’t seen enough on hardcourt over the last 12-18 months to consider him a threat for the overall title.

Gilles Simon: is a really intriguing prospect for the title this week. I would completely ignore his first round flop here last year against Jared Donaldson for a couple of reasons. The first being that Simon had barely hopped off the plan after winning the title in Pune, India, the week before, and the second one being he travelled to Australia in 2018 without his coaching team. Based on his draw this week, he should be finding himself in Sydney at the weekend. Has the game style to trouble most match-ups, and at this stage of his career, I would imagine he would be very keen to take advantage of such a draw.

Alex De Minaur: came of age at ATP Sydney 2018, going on a dream run to reach the final (lost to Medvedev). He did comment after the tournament that the toll that effort put on his body did impact his ability to be at his best in Round 1 in Melbourne, where he lost to Tomas Berdych. His biggest struggles at present come against the bigger, mobile hitters of the ball (Cilic/Tsonga etc) as they are able to attack his second serve in particular to good effect. Curious to see how he goes this week.

Daniil Medvedev: is still in Brisbane at the time of writing this article, with the Russian putting together a very solid week of tennis. His draw wasn’t comfortable, with a second round win over Andy Murray and a Quarter Final win over Milos Raonic, where he looked very good in key moments. He again performed well in some tricky situations in his first set against Tsonga, however he did waste a number of opportunities to break. I think Medvedev uses the likes of Zverev/Shapovalov/Khachanov as a bit of a foil (whether he likes it or not), and people can forget just how good he can be at times. He has put together some very impressive performances pre-Slam, winning the week before the Australian Open and US Open in 2018. Considering he has gone the distance in Brisbane this week, I would be very surprised to see him back up from a humid week and blitz the field again so close to the start of a Grand Slam. I think reaching the final in Brisbane has reduced his chances of a good result in Sydney, however that is a positive in the long run (big couple of weeks ahead).

Of the rest in the bottom half of the draw, I would say John Millman has the best chance of impacting late in the tournament. He looked to be hitting the ball quite well in Brisbane, and should thrive in front of the home crowd, as will the rest of the Australians. Other potentials from the bottom half include Sam Querrey at his best level, as if he is serving well he can cause quite a bit of trouble. On his late 2018 form however, I would rather look elsewhere in the outright market.


Summary

Whilst a little bit on the risky side, I am happy to play around the favourites of Medvedev, Tsitsipas and De Minaur for reasons I mentioned above. My focus turns to Gilles Simon as the main value selection, with Martin Klizan as more of a longshot. I would wait until after Klizan’s round 1 match to consider a small play. I think Simon’s two biggest threats in the section are Medvedev and De Minaur, who would meet before facing the Frenchman, and should also have one eye on next week.

I would have a small go at anything over $12.50 for Simon, as it can be difficult with so many variables in play the week before a Grand Slam to tackle anything too confidently.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Gilles Simon at $12.50 or more.

It was a case of so close but yet so far in Brisbane, with Naomi Osaka playing some solid tennis until her semi final against Lesia Tsurenko. In her post-match media conference, Osaka admitted that she didn’t have the right attitude on court, and will learn from the situation moving forward.

It does give me concerns around her ability to handle the pressure in Melbourne as a Grand Slam Champion, so it will be interesting to see how she handles things in the coming weeks.

Onto Sydney, with a very loaded field to contest for the APIA International. This year will see some cooler conditions than 2018, where Angelique Kerber managed to get the better of Ash Barty in the final.

If you have any questions about any specific players, please get in touch on Twitter (@Ace_Previews).


Top Half

Simona Halep: Top seed, however doesn’t normally make a habit of playing the week before a Grand Slam. Her last tournament played the week before a Grand Slam was in Eastbourne in 2017 prior to Wimbledon, where she lost to Wozniacki in the Quarter Final.

It is a really interesting decision by Halep to switch up a schedule that seemed to work so well last year (made the Australian Open Final). She is starting the year without a coach, with Darren Cahill stepping away from the full time grind of the tennis coaching tour.

She needs to be respected this week as the number 1 seed, however with a tricky quarter and the Australian Open around the corner, it will be interesting to see what type of tennis is delivered this week.

Karolina Pliskova: At the time of writing, Pliskova has just wrapped up the Brisbane title with her third 3-setter of the week, coming from a set and 3-5 down to take the title over Lesia Tsurenko. Although these players are scheduled to meet again in Round 1 in Sydney, I would be shocked to see Tsurenko take part considering her ankle injury early in the third set of the final.

In a similar fashion to some of the other players who have put in big first weeks on tour, I would be quite surprised to see Pliskova feature late in this tournament.

After reaching the Semi Final in Brisbane last year, Pliskova took the next week off to focus on the Australian Open. She did the same in 2017 after claiming the Brisbane title, so it will be interesting to see if she heads down to Sydney in the knowledge of her first round opponent suffering with an injury. I would expect her to withdraw from the tournament.

Sloane Stephens: Backing Sloane Stephens the week before a Grand Slam is generally asking for trouble. You only need to look at Nurnberg last year, where she lost to Putintseva in Round 1 in one of the more disinterested performances you’ll see. She won 3 games here in her first round last year against Giorgi, and you have to go back to Eastbourne in 2015 to find a semi final appearance the week before Wimbledon.

It is generally not her week, and even with a relatively friendly draw I wouldn’t foresee this being her week either. Lives for the bigger tournaments.

Kiki Bertens: Lost a tight three set match to Donna Vekic in Brisbane, who is playing some of the best tennis of her career. I think in what shapes to be quite a tricky week, herself or Gavrilova could spring a surprise out of this section. Has the power and the shotmaking, and beats the best players on her best 2018 form, so this isn’t beyond her this week.

Best of the Rest: Of those capable of surprising in the week before a Grand Slam include Daria Gavrilova, Ash Barty, Elise Mertens, Garbine Muguruza and Anett Kontaveit. Of that list, Barty is the most appealing, however I think her odds are a touch too short overall considering her potential road to the final.

I think Gavrilova has the best chance of surprising at long odds, and could make her way to a potential quarter final at least from a trading perspective, as she shares a 4-player section with Sloane Stephens and two qualifiers.


Bottom Half

Daria Kasatkina: Surrounded by qualifiers in her section, however that didn’t help her at all in Brisbane, where she lost in 3 sets to hometown favourite Kimberly Birrell. Looked a touch off in Brisbane, and has never really set the world on fire in Australia for one reason or another. Whilst her best would challenge most, I am still waiting to see her become more aggressive with her stroke play in key moments.

Anastasija Sevastova: Looked the goods early in Brisbane, and looked the better player in her Quarter Final with Osaka, before falling away dramatically in sets 2 and 3. She has a friendly draw, and at her best should at least be making the Semi Final here if she brings her best effort. It isn’t just a friendly draw, it is a very friendly draw, and she would want to take advantage. Can match it with everyone except Kerber in her half on current form.

Petra Kvitova: Whilst her comeback and 3 hour win against Collins was admirable, it absolutely ruined Kvitova’s chances against Kontaveit approximately 18 hours later. Her legs looked heavy, and it felt as though she needs some more match fitness early in the season before trusting from an outright perspective.

She will enjoy the cooler conditions compared to last year, as heat and humidity don’t go hand in hand with Kvitova’s best tennis. That being said, she does have positive memories of Sydney, having won the title in 2015 as well as reaching the Semi Final in 2012 and 2014. I need to see more before backing with confidence in an outright market.

Angelique Kerber: The player to beat in opinion. Her tennis at the Hopman Cup was very solid, and it looks like she will be one of the players to beat in a number of big tournaments in 2019. I think the bottom half may come down to Kerber vs Sevastova, where I think Kerber may have a little too much late tournament experience. She won the title in 2018, then went on to perform well at the Australian Open, so I think we can expect a solid turnout from the German in this field.

Best of the Rest: I think the first name outside the seeds to stand out is Aryna Savalenka, who is playing some inspired tennis since midway through 2018. I would be quite surprised if she were to make her way through the field this week after a long week to claim the Shenzhen title to start 2019. Sabalenka looked very sluggish at times across the week, however lifted when needed.


Summary

This draw is loaded with quality, but that presents a very tricky prospect of trying to pick out a winner the week before a Grand Slam. From a pure value and trading standpoint, it may be worth a play on Gavrilova at a big price, with a look to trade out for a profit after a potential quarter final appearance (like her little section with Stephens and 2 qualifiers).

The main selection comes from the bottom half, as you know what type of performance you are going to get from a player such as Kerber, so I have to side with her this week.

If you want a long-shot floating qualifier to cause some trouble, I would look no further than Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Daria Gavrilova (Lay off Stake if she reaches the QF)

 BACK – Ekaterina Alexandrova

 BACK – Angelique Kerber

ATP Brisbane Final Preview

Not before 19:00, Pat Rafter Arena

Whilst it was nice to see the resurgence of some familiar faces this week such as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the Brisbane final will end up featuring two of the players who hit some really solid form late in 2018, with Daniil Medvedev and Kei Nishikori set for a re-match of the 2018 Tokyo final (Medvedev won in straight sets). Let’s have a look at the road to the final for both players.

Daniil Medvedev

Medvedev had to make his way through three very solid players on his way to the final, however you get the feeling it may have been more difficult for him against these three 5-10 years ago. The Russian was very strong late in set 1 against Andy Murray, and he was able to capitalise quite well on the match rust of the Brit, racing to a 4-0 lead in the second set. It wasn’t Murray at his best, as he did struggle a bit to back up from his match the day before, so I wouldn’t read too much into the match.

Whilst Medvedev was very good on break point saves against Milos Raonic, it is not the same Canadian we have come to know over the last couple of years. I cannot recall the last time Raonic dropped serve from 40/0 deep in a final set, however that did happen on Friday. Medvedev was able to save all 8 break point opportunities on serve, and his flatter style of hitting was advantageous against the Canadian.

Another player Medvedev matched up well against was his semi final opponent in Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. As Medvedev is able to hit the ball quite flat off both wings, the Russian didn’t give Tsonga anywhere near as many opportunities to run around and attack with his forehand. He kept the pressure on in key moments, and Tsonga faltered from 6-4 up in the first set tiebreak. Another solid performance from the Russian, however Tsonga was nowhere near the level of his match with De Minaur, and it cost him the victory.

Kei Nishikori

It is hard to come up with any negative to describe the run to the final of Nishikori. After his first round bye, he was clinical against Denis Kudla (7-5 6-2, 0 break points faced). His consistency and solid form was on full display on Thursday night as he dispatched Grigor Dimitrov 7-5 7-5. Kei did have a lapse early in set 3, falling down *0-3, however looked the far better player the rest of the way.

The off-season break seems to have done wonders, with another clinical semi final performance as well. Jeremy Chardy’s forehand unfortunately didn’t turn up for the semi-final, and Nishikori’s consistency off both wings drove him into the ground.

Summary

I have been really impressed with the consistency of performance from Kei Nishikori this week. The off-season appears to have worked wonders for him, as he looks refreshed and the fittest I have seen him on court for some time. It felt like the late 2018 form could be attributed to fatigue, having wrapped up his 2017 season in August due to injury. It also looks like he may have done a bit more lower body strength work in his time off, and it looks to have paid dividends early.

Whilst Medvedev matched up relatively well against his other 3 opponents, I don’t think today will be so friendly. Whilst Medvedev was able to beat Nishikori in Tokyo late last year, Nishikori wasn’t in the shape he is currently displaying, and I feel the transition to outdoor also favours the Japanese World Number 9. You can put question marks against all three of Medvedev’s opponents this week in one way or another, and this completely different match-up against one of the cleanest strikers of the ball on tour is something else entirely.

Look for Nishikori to push Medvedev out wide and utilise the open court as much as possible. The goal is to keep Medvedev moving and force him to go for low percentage shots. If he makes them, then well done to him, but I would rather back Nishikori in this situation at the odds available.

I think we are getting a great value price for Nishikori to win the title, and I am comfortable making a 3 unit selection.

BETTING STRATEGY

 BACK – 3 units Nishikori to defeat Medvedev

WTA Brisbane Final Preview

Not before 17:00, Pat Rafter Arena

In what has been quite an up-and-down week of tennis, we finally come to the women’s final of the Brisbane International. For those who love big hitting and clean striking of the ball, this will certainly be a match to watch. Let’s have a quick look at both players and their roads to the final this week.

Lesia Tsurenko

Tsurenko has put together a very solid body of work to start 2019, making the final with four consecutive straight sets victories. Round 1 she was absolutely clinical against Mihaela Buzarnescu, winning 6-0 6-2, with 80% of first and 71% of second serves won (58/85 points won overall). Losing only 9 points on serve to a player as powerful as Buzarnescu is very impressive, and it helped set the tone for the rest of the week.

Surprisingly, one of the opponents that Tsurenko had most difficulty with this week was Kimberley Birrell, with the Ukrainian winning only 62% of first serve and 57% of second serves. This match was won on return however, with Tsurenko able to break the Australian 5 times on the way to a 6-4 6-3 victory.

Anett Kontaveit had probably the best chance of knocking off Tsurenko, as she had the chance to serve for the first set in their Quarter Final on Friday night. Kontaveit waivered slightly, and Tsurenko capitalised by taking the first set 7-5, before skipping out to an early break lead in the second set. Her first serve was again dominant, hitting the mark 72% of the time and winning 78% of those points. Kontaveit was clearly frustrated with the variety behind Tsurenko’s first serve, and struggled to return consistently throughout.

Whilst it was very clear that Naomi Osaka wasn’t at her best mentally, Lesia still did a fantastic job of finishing the match off against the US Open Champion. The tactics on serve were very clear from Tsurenko, and she did a fantastic job again, landing 75% of serves in play and winning 80% of the time. Her tactics were perfect, and her court movement to start the year has been exceptional.

Karolina Pliskova

I wouldn’t say it has been the most dominant week of tennis that I have ever seen from Karolina Pliskova. It started with a tight 3 set win over Yulia Putintseva 4-6 6-3 6-4. Her second serve presented some issues, winning only 12 of 28, however the weaker serve of Putintseva ended up the difference on the day.

Whilst the scoreboard against Marie Bouzkova seemed one-sided at 7-5 6-2, the match was hanging in the balance early. Break point conversion was key for Pliskova, as she was able to convert 5 of 6 BP opportunities. When you combine that with winning 77% of points behind her first serve, you are generally going to have a positive outcome.

It was a night session quarter final against Tomljanovic, and a 6-1 1-6 6-1 result in favour of the Czech. Pliskova had a serious drop-off in set 2, before turning things around in set 3. Her serve numbers were solid, winning 75% behind the first serve, as well as winning 46% of points on return for the match.

Pliskova again found herself with some moments of uneasiness in the semi final, but was able to progress past Donna Vekic 6-3 6-4. Her high percentage first serve was the difference maker again, getting 70% of first serves in play and winning those points 74% of the time. Vekic struggled on serve, dropping in 7 double faults and winning only 36% of points on her second serve. Pliskova did give Vekic a couple of opportunities to get back into the match late, however Vekic was unable to convert.

Summary

At the odds that are currently available, I am very keen to make a play on Tsurenko to lift the trophy in Brisbane. It has been very hard to fault her form this week, and she has look switched on from point one in each match. Whilst their past meetings range from 2009-2017, Pliskova leads 3-2 overall, with Tsurenko winning both hardcourt meetings in 2011 and 2015.

For those who have been following my service, I mentioned prior to the Tomljanovic match that I felt that mobilie big hitting players are one style that is currently best placed to topple Pliskova. I think the most impressive part about Tsurenko’s week has been her court movement – she seems to be moving very well defensively compared to a lot of her tennis in 2018. She looks to be trusting her body a bit more, and moving with confidence is a big step forward in my opinion. She has had two matches back to back now against other big hitters (Kontaveit and Osaka), so she should have no trouble adjusting to the pace of Pliskova. I would be happy to take any price above  ~$2.40 here for Tsurenko to tart the year off with a title.

BETTING STRATEGY

 BACK – 2 units Tsurenko to defeat Pliskova

The 2019 ATP season is kicking off this week, with tennis taking place in Brisbane, Doha and Pune. This week, my focus is ATP Brisbane.

There is always an element of caution with the first week of the season, as there is not a lot of exposed form for players as they have not played in a couple of months. Some have actively flaunted their November/December training exploits all over social media, whereas others have been toiling away in private, looking to gain an edge to start the year.

Last year we saw a far weaker field than 2019, with the following players as the top 8 seeds:

  • Grigor Dimitrov (lost in SF)
  • Andy Murray (withdrew pre-tournament)
  •  Nick Kyrgios (champion)
  • Milos Raonic (lost in 2nd round, had 1st round bye)
  • Gilles Muller (lost in first round)
  • Diego Schwartzman (lost in first round)
  • Damir Dzumhur (lost in first round)
  • Mischa Zverev (lost in second round)

It is common to see some slightly stronger fields two weeks out from a Grand Slam, as many players are wary that they want to get matches under their belt, without necessarily entering the Australian Open with an element of fatigue. It can be approached differently by different players, so tread carefully, especially in round 1 and 2.

I am splitting the draw in half here, and both halves look to be very competitive with 13 top-50 players scheduled to take part.


TOP HALF

Rafael Nadal started to show signs of hardcourt tennis catching up with him in 2018. He was scheduled to play 12 hardcourt tournaments for the year, yet withdrew from 9 of them. Of the remaining 3, he won one (Toronto) and retired in two (Aus Open and US Open). You have to go back to Doha in 2013 to find the last time that Nadal commenced his year with a title in week 1, as it has not been a happy hunting ground of late.

He has completed a solid chunk of his pre-season at the Rafael Nadal academy in Spain, where temperatures differ somewhat compared to a Brisbane summer. There are some reports around that Nadal is hoping to be 100% fit for the Australian Open, so it is hard to gauge just how fit he is for Brisbane. His performance against Kevin Anderson in their Dubai exhibition was worrying, as was his subsequent withdrawal from his second match.

Andy Murray made a very cautious return to tennis in 2018, looking to ease his way back into the grind of professional tennis. Although he did not play a lot of tennis, he needs to be respected here – his 5 losses in 2018 came to Kyrgios on grass, Edmund on grass,  Pouille in 3 sets, and Verdasco twice (once at US Open best of 5 sets coming off not a lot of tennis). Wins over Goffin, Edmund and Wawrinka also occurred within his return.

You could tell just how cautiously he was approaching 2018 with his withdrawal from Wimbledon, as well as his match against De Minaur after a late finish against Copil the night before in Washington. He reported on Friday that he still does have some pain in that hip, but he needs to play matches to see how it feels backing up day after day. I do not think he is ready for a full week of competitive tennis in these conditions with tennis consecutive days – if he wins, then his return is well ahead of schedule.

Others in this section include Alex De Minaur, who you know is going to bring his absolute best tennis in front of the supportive home crowd. I think of the top 8 players in this tournament, De Minaur has managed to snaffle the best draw of all. Nadal has pulled out of his second exhibition in Dubai with knee soreness, and I would imaging could think of better things to do than grind down De Minaur on an Australian hardcourt so soon before a Grand Slam.

You know what whilst he has not quite made his mark at Grand Slam level just yet, Danlil Medvedev is sitting in this draw ready to pounce. With his Sydney title from last year he is looking to defend as many points as possible early in the season. I like the Russian to feature prominently, however his draw is far more difficult than the top section of De Minaur/Nadal, with a potential match with Andy Murray looming in round 2.

Another relative unknown coming into the start of 2019 is just how Milos Raonic is going to attack the season. Injury wrecked his 2018, and until he appears to have total confidence in his body, it is hard to tip him with a great deal of confidence.

When you consider Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is also sitting in this half coming back from an injury interrupted year, there are a couple of question marks that require attention.


BOTTOM HALF

After calling it quits on the 2017 season in August due to injury, it was great to see Kei Nishikori back playing some of his best tennis late last year. After skipping the Australian Open, Nishikori settled in to the season with a couple of Challenger appearances, before finishing the year back in the top 10 with no points to defend in the next couple of weeks.

Nishikori was able to grab wins over Cilic, Federer, Zverev, Dimitrov, Anderson and Thiem in 2018. Nishikori has reached the final in Brisbane in 2017 (looked injured towards end of the match), and at his current price on the Exchange looks to be a touch short for my liking.

Kyle Edmund did exceptionally well to finish the season in the top 15, largely helped by his Semi Final appearance at the Australian Open, his Quarter Final in Brisbane (rolled his ankle against Dimitrov), and reaching the final in Marrakech and claiming the title in Antwerp late in the year.

Considering the middle part of his year was ruined by tonsillitis, I have high hopes that Edmund may be able to take another step forward with his consistency this year. His start in January is going to be incredibly important, as he has a lot of points to defend between now and the Australian Open. One to watch for mine as he has the game to match it with Kyrgios and Nishikori, the biggest threats in this half in my opinion.

The draw does not get any weaker when you consider that Nick Kyrgios is the lowest seed, looking to defend his 2017 title. You cannot help but consider him a massive chance again this year, especially if you trust his improved mindset towards tennis. I think we should be able to tell early in the week what his mindset looks like for Brisbane, and fingers crossed for his sake that he can bring a level similar to 2017.

Also in this half are Grigor Dimitrov, who won here in 2017, and Ryan Harrison, the runner-up from 2018. Both have tough draws and will need to lift on their late 2018 form to feature late in the week.


SUMMARY

No matter how you look at it, this field is solid. I have highlighted 1 player from the top half and 2 players from the bottom half that appeal in my opinion.

Considering how Nadal looked in his exhibition loss to Anderson, and his reported pain experienced during the match, I think the top half really opens up for Alex De Minaur. I think Nadal will either withdraw as he did last year, or De Minaur will present a really difficult match-up for him in front of the home Australian crowd in their projected Quarter Final.

Considering the draw, I think De Minaur is a decent price – I would imagine he would start close to favourite against anyone in the Semi Final, so I think anything over $8 for him to win looks very decent.

In the bottom section, I think whoever wins the projected meeting between Kyrgios and Edmund should be a very good chance of making their way through to the final. It is hard to fault the form of both on Australian soil, and I would like their chances against either Nishikori/Dimitrov in a potential Semi Final.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Alex De Minaur to win for 1 unit

 BACK – Kyle Edmund to win (bet for stake back if meets Kyrgios in Quarter Final) for 0.75 units

With the weather forecast not looking as brutal in Brisbane in comparison to the Australian Open and other tournaments last year, hopefully there will be fewer retirements and it may be easier to find a bit of value amongst the draw. Forecasts suggest that the temperature should sit in the high 20’s, with humidity sitting around 60% – Not the worst weather for tennis by any means.

With the draw now complete, I have split my preview into the top and bottom half in the hunt for value on the Exchange.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch on Twitter (@Ace_Previews).


TOP HALF

Elina Svitolina had quite an indifferent 2018 by her lofty standards. Her year started well in Brisbane last year, trailed off significantly in the middle before winning the WTA Finals to cap off 2018. The world number 7 comes up against a far stronger field than 2018 in my opinion, and will need to be at her absolute best to defend as many ranking points as possible.

My worry with Svitolina is how she manages those above average strikers of the ball who can redline for periods (the Pliskova/Osaka types), so her draw isn’t too bad considering the above. It looks as though she has spent the last month in the gym from a conditioning standpoint, so I’ll be keeping an eye on how she commences her season.

Sloane Stephens brings her best tennis in the biggest moments, as shown by her superior Grand Slam and WTA Premier records over the last 12-18 months. That being said, Australia hasn’t been her favourite country by way of performance. I am not sure if it is due to how she manages her training loads across the off-season, or a general dislike of the conditions, but she just hasn’t clicked on the Australian hardcourt over the last couple of years.

I am happy to put down Stephens’ loss in the first round of the Australian Open last year to a mixture of a very good opponent (Zhang), combined with the pressure of backing up off winning the previous Grand Slam that took place at Flushing Meadows in 2016. This is a tough draw overall, and I’d like to see how she is on court before backing.

Elise Mertens will look to take another massive step in 2019. Her game is slightly overmatched on hardcourt against players such as Osaka and Kvitova, however I really like the way she has approached her last two Australian seasons (winning title in Hobart in 2017 and 2018).

An Australian Open semi finalist last year, keep an eye on the ultra-consistent Mertens over the next month. For this week, I think she finds herself in a very difficult section of the draw, and I prefer others at current odds.

Karolina Pliskova started to regain some of her best tennis late in 2018, and at her best she can be a very difficult prospect. I was really impressed with some of her tennis in Japan post-US Open Open, and has looked comfortable on court in Brisbane. I prefer others at the price considering the draw and the nature of this top half.

Kiki Bertens surprised a lot of people in 2018 with her consistency across all services. She needs to be respected in specific match-ups, but I think I like too many others ahead of her, including her first round match-up in Elise Mertens.


BOTTOM HALF

Naomi Osaka was able to break through for her first Grand Slam at the 2018 US Open, and now the big question is: how does she manage as the hunted instead of the hunter? Osaka is one of a select few who is almost unbeatable when they play their best tennis, and some of her best tennis came in the latter part of 2018.

Osaka is clearly clicking with coach Sashca Bajin, and it will be fascinating to see how starts 2019. Osaka’s Australian form over the last 2 years has been hit and miss. She is defending no points this week as she didn’t play until Hobart in 2018 (lost in 1st round), before making the 4th round in Melbourne (lost to Halep).

Sloane Stephens really struggled to back up her US Open win in similar circumstances last year, so it will be interesting to see how Osaka handles the pressure leading into a Grand Slam. Personally, I think she has been given a very nice draw, and I would be very surprised if she wasn’t still in Brisbane on the weekend.

Anastasija Sevastova is back again, defending her semi final points from 2018. She is a player that needs to be respected, however I just haven’t seen enough late tournament form and composure on hardcourt to consider her in an outright capacity. Instead, I will keep an eye on her for specific match-ups across the week.

Another player who has never really seemed to find her best tennis in Australia to start the year is Petra Kvitova, who lost in the 2nd round in Sydney and the first round at the Australian Open in 2018. In fact, you need to go back to Sydney in 2015 for the Czech’s best tennis being delivered in Australia (won Sydney title).

All in all, it is great to have Kvitova back on the tour considering the severity of the hand injury suffered during a home invasion and attack on her Czech residence in late 2016. I think Kvitova benefits most from the slightly cooler forecast conditions this week, however her Australian form over the last couple of years doesn’t stand out.

When she is playing her absolute best tennis, she can be unstoppable for bursts of a match. With her draw I’d anticipate at least a quarter final showing, however her odds appear a touch too short for my liking for the outright.

Daria Kasatkina is making a name for herself as one of the best retreivers in the game, however I do still question her tactics and game style in particular situations. If she had displayed some more consistent aggression in stroke-play across matches, I would probably be supporting her in both Brisbane and Melbourne.

Instead, her style of play finds herself reliant on her opponent not playing their best for patches. I am still wary that her second serve is below average, and can leave her vulnerable. I won’t be backing her this week, but I am very interested to see what tennis she can deliver from a tactical standpoint.

Prior to her ankle injury in August, Mihaela Buzarnescu was putting together an incredibly impressive 2018 season. Sitting comfortably within the top 30, the Romanian has all the shots to be a serious threat at her best.

I think the odds for her this week are slightly inflated due to her poor finish to the year after her injury. It looks as though she has been in Brisbane preparing for a few days now, and will benefit from the slightly cooler conditions this year.

When you back Buzarnescu you do need to be prepared for a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, however her talent is undeniable and at the longer odds she seems a solid prospect in what I perceive to be the weaker lower half.

Of the rest of the players scattered amongst the draw, their absolute best tennis could cause trouble, although I need to see how they start their campaigns first and foremost before supporting.

There is no point making major guesses the first week of a very long season. This list of players includes Suarez Navarro, Kontaveit, Tsurenko, Siniakova, Vekic, Collins, Gavrilova, Konta, Mladenovic, Stosur and Putintseva. As I said, it is a very tough draw.


SUMMARY

I think the best plan of attack for this field is to be quite cautious. As I said in the introduction, up to 16 players could be considered genuine chances when you look at this field in the first week of the year.

As I feel the top half of the draw is a bit more of a lottery, I have decided to focus on two players in the bottom half.

Winning form is good form, and with one of the nicer draws of the top names I am happy to side with Naomi Osaka to win the tournament.

Outside of Osaka, the other price that appeals is that of Mihaela Buzarnescu, who is more than capable of a solid run through some of the other big hitters in her section.

I think there are enough question marks around others in the bottom half to make small plays on both, and if I see a trading opportunity during the week I will keep you posted on Twitter.

Betting Strategy

 BACK – Naomi Osaka to win for 1 unit

 BACK – Mihaela Buzarnescu to win for 0.3 units


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