The first tennis major of the year, the Australian Open, begins play on Sunday (Jan. 15 in North America; Monday morning, Jan. 16, in Melbourne). While the men’s draw appears to be a two-man competition, there may be room for a long-shot on the women’s side. Time to sort out where your money should be going.
Over the last two years, Novak Djokovic (17/10) has won five of eight majors. However, during the second half of last season, Andy Murray (7/4) was the better player, and the Brit is ranked number one in the world heading into the 2017 season. Stan Wawrinka (12/1) has captured a major in each of the last three years, while up-and-comers up Milos Raonic (15/1) and Kei Nishikori (28/1) seem likely to break through at some point.
The old guard, Rafael Nadal (12/1) and Roger Federer (17/1), are decent bets to reach the quarters and semis, but they haven’t had what it takes to win in recent majors, and they’re both a year older now.
At the end of the day, putting money on anyone other than Djokovic or Murray is a bit of a dart throw. Who’s the better value among the top two?
The case for Djokovic almost makes itself. Nole has dominated this tournament, winning the last two, five of the last six, and a record six times overall. The 12-time major winner rarely falters on the big stage, reaching the final in seven of the last eight majors. He’s also 25-11 all time against Murray and took their first meeting this year in Doha.
A five-time runner up in Melbourne, Murray has never been able to capture Australia’s biggest prize. But, after winning at Wimbledon and the Rio Olympics last year, he now has three major titles on his resume (2012 US Open, 2013 Wimbledon) to go along with two gold medals. He ended last season playing the best tennis of his career, winning 25 straight matches and taking over the number one ranking.
With apologies to Wawrinka, who has gotten better as he has aged, he didn’t play well down the stretch last year and isn’t as good as Djokovic or Murray at their best. I don’t want to effectively bet on both of the top two seeds playing poorly. Since the odds on the top two players are virtually the same, I’ll take the guy who has dominated both this particular tournament and their head-to-head rivalry. Djokovic is the play.
It’s been hinted at for a few years, but last season it was undeniable: Serena Williams (29/10) is on the downside of her career. The 21-time major champ has done a great job exploiting a weak era in women’s tennis, but not even a lack of competition allowed her to dominate last year, when she won just one major (versus three in 2015). Williams looked out of shape in her only appearance thus far this year and I don’t expect her results to get much better.
While Angelique Kerber (19/5) earned her first two major titles last season, the 28-year-old is not all that consistent (like almost everyone else on the WTA). She’s more of a place-holder at the top than a dominant force. Garbine Muguruza (7/1) won her first major last year, but retired from an Australian Open warm-up tournament with a thigh injury and didn’t look very impressive before she did. In other words, it is time for some new blood and a price candidate or two.
At 7/1, the U.S. Open runner-up has an opportunity to ascend to the top of the sport. She’s 24 years old, beat Serena in New York last year, and knocked off Kerber in a U.S. Open warm-up in Cincinnati. She has all the tools and just needs to piece them together.
The 22-year-old’s resume is a little light, but I like her value at 40/1 given that she was able to beat Williams at the Olympics. She also played well at the end of last year in Asia. At some point this year, she is going to break through, and then you won’t be getting her at odds this long.
Don’t take too short a price in this wide open tournament. The winner could come from anywhere. If Muguruza’s health wasn’t a question, she would be the play. With her questionable, I’ll take a stab with Pliskova and invest a small bet on Svitolina hoping to start the year with a big score.
Photo Credit: By ataelw (originally posted to Flickr as Djokovic_0001) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
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