This preview frames the 2018 season and highlights the current form and expectation level for the betting market contenders in the field as well as some long shots worth watching. Both Men’s and Women’s sides are discussed although it should be noted the single game betting will be predominantly ATP until the later rounds of the tournament.
Men’s Singles… Find Your Blue Chip
The first major of 2018 finds the ATP trying to answer three key questions:
- Can anyone stop the greatest two players of all time, Federer and Nadal, from sweeping the Slams again this year?
- Will the young up-and-coming players who showed so much promise last season claim their maiden titles?
- Can dangerous vets Djokovic, Wawrinka and Del Potro (and Murray later in the season) overcome their recent injuries to put another notch on their belts?
We always learn a little about the up-coming season during the Aussie, this is the first major tourney of the year, takes place in the midst of the sweltering Australian summer and it gives us a glimpse of who is in-shape and ready to compete for the early season championships. After a month plus hiatus, we have had a week and a half of competitive play so far this year and it’s somewhat speculative to say which players have the form to get it done until we see a week of best-of-five tennis. In other words, the AO is an extremely tough tournament to win and your best bet from handicapping perspective is to pick a blue chip and ride ’em out.
Past Aussie Open Champs is an Elite 4-man list
So who are the blue chips and which one do I pick?
The One with the Easiest Path
Number 1 seed Rafael Nadal (+450) returned to his former glory in 2017 winning his 10th French Open and his 3rd US Open to give him 16 total slam titles. The glory did not come without a price, however, the season wore down his body and left him injured and exhausted, withdrawing from the Tour Finals in London to end the year. Nadal is still battling serious knee issues and will need to play his way into form to have a shot at the title in Melbourne. Thankfully for Rafa fans, the draw he was given will afford him that exact opportunity. Rafa’s quarter presents minimal challenges and if he can get past the tricky young Croat, Borna Coric in Round 3, he’ll almost certainly have a spot in the semi-finals. Not backing Rafa pre-tourney, not backing Rafa until clay season based on the wear and tear of the final stretch of the ‘17 season.
The One Writing History
Above all else, Roger Federer (+175) is here to win Grand Slams. Federer is the defending champion and odds on favorite for good reason, his game continues to evolve and on his best day he’s the most dangerous player on tour. Despite his 36-years on this earth (making him one of the oldest men in the draw), Federer looks to be in fine health and perfect fitness to make a run this fortnight. Competent challengers have been sprinkled throughout Fed’s quarter and he will be forced to navigate a difficult path if he hopes to reach the semifinals for the 14th time in the last 15 years. His next title will be his 20th, a mark that is unlikely to ever be surpassed (even if Nadal plays another 5 French Opens). While this milestone is obviously important to Roger, should he come up short, he’ll undoubtedly be the overwhelming favorite to repeat in Wimbledon this summer. Holding a small position on Rog at +300 from New Years and will likely up my stakes on the GOAT during Week 2 as we see his form improve.
The One who has been Rejuvenated
The wild card among the favorites is clearly Novak Djokovic (+550). We last saw Nole play meaningful tennis in July at Wimbledon where his lost 2017 season came to an end with shoulder and elbow injuries. It was clearly evident last season that extended rest was very important for the vets Nadal and Federer who used similar breaks to enter 2017 fresh/healthy, met in the Finals of the AO then went on to own the tour. Two years ago Nole was unbeatable and from a fans standpoint, hopes are high the Djoker can regain his peak form and contend for titles in 2018. Court speed and conditions have made Melbourne a killing field for Djokovic over the last several years; Nole has won six titles here (his most of any major) including four of the last six. Cautiously optimistic about his health/form and holding a ticket at +450 based on rest and his past success here. Would have added more at the current price of +550, however Djokovic got a difficult quarter and will likely face AZverev, Thiem and Federer in the second week just to get to the Finals.
The One who is Ready to Make “The Leap”
If one player took the intermediate steps necessary to launch his name into the slam title conversation in 2018, it was Grigor Dimitrov (+1000). After years of failing to live up to expectations, Dimitrov put together an impressive campaign in 2017, making his first slam semifinal (AO), winning his first Masters title (Cincy) and capping it off with a Tour Finals championship giving him a career high ranking of World No. 3. Grigor still lacks some consistency and outside of last years Aussie has been a disappointment in best-of-five play (which is surprising given his fitness level). That said, he has the tools, the focus, the pedigree and the draw to afford him a legitimate shot at this years Aussie Title. It’s rare for players to win their first ever slam here but we’ve seen both Nole and Stan Wawrinka pull it off in the last 10 years. Grigor has a very winnable quarter and if chalk rules in Melbourne, we’ll see Dimitrov with a shot to avenge his 2017 semifinal loss to Rafa Nadal in this years top half semi. Worth a sniff at 10/1 but expecting Dimitrov to take the next step, make the Final and come up short against the likes of Federer or Djokovic.
What if I want to back a long shot?
The remaining field has value but it’s unlikely to find a winner outside of the blue chips. Some of the names worth knowing…
Alexander Zverev is the rising star on tour and will likely be World No. 1 before 2020, however he lacks the experience in best of five tennis to be a serious threat to win seven matches in this fortnight.
Australia’s best hope in the Men’s draw is mercurial Nick Kyrgios who has the talent and tools to be the next great tennis star but the physical and mental fitness to disappoint in every major.
Argentinian veteran Juan Martin Del Potro had a dreadful start to the 2017 season but finished relatively strong (including an incredible upset of Federer in the USO). He appears to have carried his fitness/form into 2018 and looks to have a last push in him for a second slam title before hanging it up, however he’s in the section of death and will likely fall to a vengeful Fed in the QFs.
Kevin Anderson, the USO Finalist may have another magical run in him with a particularly easy path to the QFs.
American’s typically fair very poorly in the AO so wouldn’t stake much hope in Sock, Isner or Sam Querrey.
Among the long, long shots, noted match fixer (alegedly) Alexandr Dolgopolov and young talent Borna Coric are both playing well and fall in the section of the draw that seems most likely to open up (if Nadal w.d due to injury); holding lotto tickets at 400/1 and 500/1, respectively in case something breaks in their favor.
The Men’s Singles draw in the Aussie Open plays out similarly every year, we have some wild upsets in Round 1, a few more in Round 2, and then chalk city the rest of the way so not the best opportunity to find value in the futures market unfortunately.
The opposite is true of the Women’s draw…
Women’s Singles… Catch Fire and Hoist the Cup
There are no fewer than 25 women in the field of 128 with legitimate shots to win a slam title over the next fortnight. Women’s tennis won 2017 by a landslide putting forth some phenomenal major action and introducing the world to a slew of new-comers to fill the void left by Serena Williams. Players with a shot have various skill sets and strengths making the matches in the 2nd week outstanding to handicap and find winners. Currently sitting on three future positions from January 4th (after we got to gauge how fit the players were) and already captured significant value with the withdrawal of Serena Williams. The current positions in no particular order are:
- 1u on Caroline Wozniacki at 12/1, loved that she finished 2017 with wins in Tokyo and Singapore, opened 2018 with a Final in Auckland and looks perfectly fit for the conditions
- 1u on Elina Svitolina at 16/1, Svits fan here, her focus and fitness look idea for her to finally break through at the major level
- 0.5u on Angelique Kerber at 20/1, her form so far in 2018 is reminiscent of her spectacular 2016 season where she was the premier player on tour and the Aussie Open champ
Missed the boat (at least missed the best prices in the future market) on several other women who have legitimate shots including Ashleigh Barty, Julia Görges and the sleeping giant Maria Sharapova. Will be keeping a careful eye on all three of these women to potentially add to the mix as the draw unfolds.
As good as Garbiñe Muguruza is her form looks way off to start the year, Venus Williams may have difficulty with the conditions and we have yet to see slam-level mental toughness from Karolína Plíšková, Caroline Garcia or Johanna Konta, all good reasons to avoid in futures and pools.
Simona Halep looks likely to finally break through in 2018 but the court speed will probably undo her at some point in Week 2. CoCo Vandeweghe may bash her way into another semi-final but lacks the shot-making ability to beat the best in the field when the going gets tough.
We haven’t seen enough consistency from either Jeļena Ostapenko or Sloane Stephens after winning their maiden titles in 2017 to consider them true threats in Melbourne.
Opportunity abounds to make single match wagers as the players reveal their form on the women’s side so watch carefully in Week 1 and let’s have an outstanding Aussie Open and an ever better 2018!