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Andy Schooler’s complete betting guide to this year’s Australian Open now includes his preview of Sunday’s men’s singles final between Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic.

Men’s Final

“I don’t think I have experienced too many matches like this where my opponent just goes for every single shot. He was unbelievable, and in some stages it was just incredible that he was just literally smacking the ball as hard as he could and it was going in.”

Those were the words of Novak Djokovic shortly after he last played (and lost to) Dominic Thiem at the ATP Finals in November.

At least he should be well primed for what is to come on Sunday for Thiem can be expected to adopt similar tactics in the Australian Open final on a court which has become Djokovic’s home from home, the Rod Laver Arena.

Not yet tested?

Chasing an eighth Melbourne title, Djokovic has dropped only one set so far this tournament (in the first round) with the human backboard proving too much for all those put in front of him.

Yet there’s also a sense that he hasn’t truly been tested yet.

Of the seeds he’s played, Diego Schwartzman – a Djokovic lite – was never likely to trouble the Serb, while Milos Raonic predictably crumbled as his miserable record of Djokovic continued. Despite having held serve in his first four matches, the Canadian offered up no fewer than 16 break-point chances.

Then in Thursday’s semi-final was Roger Federer, whose movement to certain balls was hindered by a groin injury. Even then, the Swiss caused a lot of early trouble and should have won the first set.

In short, there has to be a chance the 1/4 favourite is undercooked.

Troublesome Thiem

That may not matter for he is capable of raising his level, but in Thiem (3/1) he faces an opponent who has enjoyed as much success against him of late as anybody.

The Austrian has won four of their last five meetings and while most have been on his favoured clay, that November win in London may prove particularly significant here given it was his first hardcourt victory over the world number two.

Thiem’s power off the ground – and how well he uses it – will be key to his chances.

His forehand is one of the shots of the modern game, while the backhand down the line is a shot which has regularly troubled Djokovic in previous meetings.

Breach the defences

As already pointed out, he can crush the ball and his ability to hit low over the net means he can take time away from his opponent and ultimately punch holes in that famous Djokovic defence – something very few on the tour manage to do with any regularity.

Clearly execution will be key. Playing lights-out over a best-of-five match is extremely difficult and he’s likely to come under pressure at some point.

Thiem has won 79 per cent of points behind his first serve but that figure seems likely to drop against a returner of Djokovic’s quality. Alex Zverev was on the wrong end of many a fearsome groundstroke but he still managed to create 14 break points.

That is one concern for potential Thiem backers and those doubts over his ability to play so well, so consistently (probably for three hours) is enough to put me off backing the underdog to win the title.

Go long

However, I do feel he’s more than capable of taking at least a set and really stretching the defending champion.

Over 37.5 games is my market of choice in which to get with Thiem – you’ll get 8/11 about this final going long.

I’m also happy to take a chance on the outsider taking the first set at 2/1.

I believe his tactics from the get-go will be to hammer the ball and try to replicate the success he enjoyed at The O2.

That was certainly the case in another memorable hardcourt battle he had at the 2018 US Open against Rafael Nadal. On that occasion the rattled Spaniard lost the first set 6-0. For the record, a repeat here is an 80/1 chance.

Federer went for his shots early and served well in the semis against Djokovic to provide Thiem with some sort of template. I’ll back the Austrian to do something similar but this time get over the line.

“It’s not really open and feels like indoors,” she said.

“I won a couple of titles indoors too, so the conditions are perfect for me.

“There’s no wind, no sun, so I can really hit it full power and the ball’s not going to go really anywhere.”

 

Tricky for Pliskova

It won’t be like that in Melbourne where the big-serving Czech is yet to even make the final, her best effort being the semis 12 months ago. In terms of the Slams overall, Pliskova remains without a title with just the one final on her record – at the 2016 US Open.

Some will feel she’s in a great position to break that duck given her favourable draw but having seen her disappoint too often at this level, I’m not enthused enough by a quote of 10/1.

While the draw has kept her away from a lot of the biggest names, her path still looks a little rocky.

Kiki Mladenovic, Coco Vandeweghe and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is by no means an easy first week. Auckland finalist Jessica Pegula is another in that little section.

 

Sweet 16s

I much prefer turning to the bigger prices and I’ll start with Aryna Sabalenka at 16/1.

I remember tipping her for the 2018 US Open not long after she burst into the mainstream with a string of results on the North American hardcourts.

On that occasion in New York she got to 4-4 in the deciding set against eventual champion Osaka before losing her usually-strong serve. No-one pushed Osaka harder in that tournament and while the big-hitting Belarusian hasn’t built on that initial breakthrough as well as many expected, she has bounced back strongly in recent months.

Sabalenka was another player to end 2019 in fine fettle, winning titles in Wuhan and Zhuhai, and she’s carried that into the new campaign, reaching the last four in Adelaide where she beat Simona Halep before losing to the aforementioned Yastremska.

The draw here looks good for the aggressive shotmaker with Belina Bencic her scheduled fourth-round foe. However, the Swiss has started the season in disappointing fashion having ended 2019 so well.

There are also concerns over fourth seed Halep, who heads up this third quarter. She’s struggled to get over injury problems which dogged her in the second half of 2019 and managed only one win at her lone warm-up event in Adelaide.

 

Raise a glass to Collins

Danielle Collins also sits in this quarter of the draw and she could well be the one to take down 2018 runner-up Halep.

Picking two players in the same quarter may look a bit excessive but I can’t resist getting involved with the American given the way she’s started the season.

The former NCAA star has been blasting numerous opponents aside over the past fortnight.

She destroyed Elina Svitolina in Brisbane before losing to Madison Keys in the quarter-finals.

 

Women’s Final

Saturday’s Australian Open women’s final is a classic example of experience versus youth.

Former Wimbledon and French Open champion Garbine Muguruza takes on maiden Grand Slam finalist Sofia Kenin, with the Spaniard the 8/15 favourite.

Despite Muguruza being the lower-ranked player – she would be only the third unseeded winner of this title – that is understandable.

A trophy tilt didn’t look likely when she lost her first set of the tournament 6-0, but Muguruza has since beaten top-10 stars Simona Halep, Kiki Bertens and Elina Svitolina and, perhaps crucially, has that experience in the bank.

We’ve seen many times, particularly on the women’s side, a first-time finalist wilt in the brightest spotlight.

 

Kenin won’t crumble

The potential for that happening again is always in the back of the mind when looking at a match like this but I’m not expecting Kenin to fold.

While the American admitted to feeling “butterflies” at being in the final, she added: “I love this attention, I’m loving every single moment of it”.

The 14th seed had the more-than-awkward task of taking on home favourite Ash Barty in the semi-finals but she passed that test with flying colours and the way she did it may well improve her chances in the title decider.

Kenin saved two set points in each set before winning 7-6 7-5 and she played those big points particularly well.

Not surprisingly she hit fewer winners but her more consistent game won the day.

A similar pattern will likely emerge here.

Net gains?

Muguruza’s power off the ground has the potential to sweep her to victory – her first serve has certainly been firing – but Kenin defended well against Barty and notably also dealt with her well in the forecourt.

Kenin spoke impressively after her semi-final about how she had “studied” Barty’s game and come up with a winning plan.

The mature 21-year-old will doubtless be well prepared for Muguruza too and at the net is an area where she could profit.

Muguruza came forward plenty against Halep, and with success, but Barty struggled when she did so against Kenin, winning just three of 11 points at the net.

Kenin is more than capable of coming up with passes. A decent doubles player – she played in Melbourne this year with former world number one Bethanie Mattek-Sands – the American is also no mug at the net and happy to play there when required.

American leads H2H

It is far from insignificant that Kenin has also won the pair’s only previous encounter. That came in Beijing in September when she recorded a 6-0 2-6 6-2 success.

The defeat was Muguruza’s seventh in eight matches and it was to be her final match of 2019.

She’s since recruited Conchita Martinez as coach and her input has doubtless been a major factor in her return to form.

But her spluttering 2019 campaign is a reminder that Muguruza’s higher-risk game doesn’t always work and if her big hitting isn’t quite on, Kenin will be more than capable of capitalising.

Given it seems likely that the Rod Laver Arena roof will be closed for the final – rain is forecast – there’s already one good reason to suggest Muguruza could be knocked out of her stride. She has lost four of her last five matches indoors.

Outsider value

While I can’t argue too much with the way the final is priced, I do feel the value lies with the underdog.

She’s 6/4 to win the title and looks worth chancing, albeit with limited confidence.

A way of potentially boosting the price is to back Kenin to win both the first set and the match at 21/10.

Thirty of the last 34 women’s finals in Melbourne have gone to the player winning the opener, while Kenin is 73-14 in her career at tour level when winning the first set.

Round One: Potential Upsets

Sam Querrey to beat Borna Coric

Regular BV Blog readers will know how frustrating Coric’s inconsistency can be and unless he brings his best form to the table in this one, he could be in trouble.

Querrey’s big-serving game is capable of pushing opponents onto the back foot and he looks a tempting prospect at odds-against.

One particular factor which looks set to aid the American is the Melbourne weather. Heavy rain is forecast for Monday with his match due first on 1573 Arena – the tournament’s third showcourt.

If the roof is indeed closed, as seems likely, Querrey’s serve will get that extra boost and conditions would favour his game.

Notably, Coric lost his opening match in four of his five indoor hardcourt events in 2019.

As for more recent form, the Croatian did claim a good scalp at the recent ATP Cup in Dominic Thiem but he also suffered two heavy defeats to Hubert Hurkacz and Diego Schwartzman.

At odds-on, he is easily opposed and Querrey can claim the honours here.

 

John-Patrick Smith to beat Guido Pella

As I mentioned in my outright preview (see below), the court surface has changed ahead of this year’s Australian Open.

Greenset has replaced Plexicushion and that will doubtless concern some players.

JP Smith will not be among them. He’s in the main draw after winning the host nation’s wild-card play-off last month, an event staged at Melbourne Park, so he knows all about what to expect and how the courts will play.

He dropped just one set in four best-of-five-sets matches that week and his attacking game should cause problems for the more passive Pella.

More than 100 ranking places higher, Pella clearly has the quality to prevail but Smith looks to have more than a puncher’s chance.

Pella: Faces tricky opener

Guido Pella: Could be tested by JP Smith

Pella won’t be relishing facing a vocally-backed home player at a venue where he’s won just one main-draw match in five visits.

He was beaten by Ugo Humbert, Philipp Kohlschreiber and John Millman, all players prepared to come forward, at the back end of last year.

If Smith imposes his game on the match the upset could occur, although admittedly a play on the handicaps is probably the best bet here.

 

Ajla Tomljanovic to beat Anastasjia Sevastova

Latvian Sevastova has started the season with back-to-back defeats and could be a seed under threat in the opening round.

Like JP Smith, Tomljanovic, a Croatian-born Australian, will have a strong crowd behind her for this contest and her form at the start of 2020 has been decent.

She won through to the last 16 in Brisbane and took a set off eventual champion Karolina Pliskova.

Anastasija Sevastova could be an early casualty

The current partner of men’s star Matteo Berrettini, Tomljanovic also won her opener in Adelaide and losing to former world number one Simona Halep there was no disgrace.

That defeat actually allowed her to head early to Melbourne and she duly took in the Kooyong Classic exhibition event at which she saw off Maria Sharapova.

Holds strong claims for an upset.

Antonia Lottner to beat Camila Giorgi

Lottner came through the qualifying draw at Melbourne Park and so will be bedded in with confidence high.

That’s unlikely to be the case with Giorgi, whose game remains riddled with double faults – she’s regularly in double figures on that statistic.

Lottner, who also qualified in Luxembourg at the end of last season before reaching the quarter-finals, racked up some impressive return stats in qualifying and looks likely to cause plenty of damage on her opponent’s second serve.

The pressure will therefore be on Giorgi to get her big first serve in with regularity but that’s not something she’s been able to do consistently.

The Italian ended last season on a poor run of form and while it would be unfair to describe her 2020 so far as a disaster, it’s not been good and she’s lacking notable wins on her record.

At 9/5, her German opponent looks worth taking a chance on.

Women’s Singles

(published on January 18)

The biggest takeaway from the Australian Open women’s draw was its lopsided nature.

The first three in the betting – title favourite Serena Williams, world number one Ash Barty and defending champion Naomi Osaka – are all in the top half of the draw.

Williams and Barty have already won titles this season, the former winning in Auckland and the latter victorious in Adelaide, and a host of other form players are also in that top section such as rising star Dayana Yastremska, Petra Kvitova and Madison Keys.

Serena Williams: 7/2 market leader

Serena Williams: Title favourite

In fact seven of the nine players to have made WTA finals in the opening fortnight of the year have been placed in the top half.

The flip side to the toughness of the top side is that the bottom half provides real opportunity, possibly for one of the lesser lights.

This is a tournament which has regularly thrown up surprise packages and this year’s draw provides a strong chance of that happening again.

 

Osaka the one to beat

I’ll focus on that bottom section shortly for that is where I believe the greatest value lies but the player I fancy most to get their hands on the famous Daphne Akhurst Trophy is one of those in the top half, namely Naomi Osaka.

She may have been handed a tough draw – the Japanese is in the same quarter as Williams – but she’s proved she has the beating of virtually all of the game’s leading lights.

She held a 2-1 winning record over Barty, a potential semi-final opponent, in 2019, while it was Williams Osaka beat to win her maiden Grand Slam crown at the 2018 US Open.

She was again highly impressive in winning in Melbourne 12 months ago but that success was actually followed by a period of upheaval with Osaka parting ways with coach Sascha Bajin (now with Yastremska). She moved on to team up with Jarmere Jenkins but results dipped and it proved to be a miserable few months for Osaka, a period which included a first-round defeat at Wimbledon.

However, Jenkins was soon moved on too and that sparked a recovery in the Osaka game. After the US Open she won back-to-back titles in Asia, bringing a winning run into 2020.

That finally ended at 14 matches when she was beaten by Karolina Pliskova in the Brisbane semis but even that loss came after she held match point when serving for victory in the second set.

 

Surface switch

With a strong serve which should win her plenty of cheap points and heavy groundstrokes, Osaka will have the power to hit through the court if it plays a little slower than it did last year.

The surface change from Plexicushion to Greenset has, according to some players, slowed conditions slightly but that should not be too much of a concern.

The close-season addition of coach Wim Fissette, who has worked with a host of top players including Kim Clijsters and Simona Halep, is another tick in the positive column for Osaka and, for me, she will take all the beating.

Moving on, we turn to that bottom half, a section of the draw which should have punters drooling.

 

Weaker half, double the value

Pliskova is the player rated most likely to reach the final.

The second seed triumphed in Brisbane a week ago but she’d won there twice before and failed to back it up with victory in Melbourne.

It was interesting to note her comments afterwards about how conditions there were “perfect” for her due to the canopy roof.

 

Then in Adelaide she eased past Bencic and into the semis where she only lost 7-6 in the third to Barty.

The surprise package of the 2019 event when she beat Angelique Kerber en route to the last four is loving the newly-laid Greenset courts in Australia.

She’s 35/1 in the outright market but I’ll turn to the quarter betting where she’s 9/1, given Sabalenka is already on the coupon.

Bertens looks big

Kiki Bertens is also an interesting outsider down the bottom quarter, that of Pliskova.

The seedings suggest Svitolina will prove the biggest challenger to Pliskova here but I beg to differ, with Bertens a much more attractive price of 45/1.

As I pointed out in my ‘outsiders’ article earlier in the week (see below), Bertens has both a strong record against her fellow top-10 stars – 20-11 over the past two seasons – and also has shown her ability to land high-quality hardcourt title, Cincinnati 2018 springing immediately to mind.

She possesses one of the biggest serves on the WTA circuit, one providing her with aces aplenty.

Some will worry when they see she withdrew from this week’s Adelaide tournament citing an Achilles injury.

However, that problem is a long-standing one and the withdrawal simply a case of managing it.

“It was too much to play there,” explained the Dutchwoman, who also made the doubles final in Brisbane.

“It was too soon after already playing a lot of matches in Brisbane. So I just wanted to prepare as good as I could for this tournament.

“I was really happy with the level I was playing (in Brisbane), the way I was feeling also on the court. To just get a few matches in, I think is good, especially some really tough fights.

“I think for me it’s a great start to the season.”

The draw provides Bertens with the chance to make that great start even better and she warrants each-way support at 45/1.

Men’s Singles

This year’s Australian Open looks full of variables and unknowns – and sadly those can be difficult for punters to work with.

First up is the court-surface change. Plexicushion is gone and in comes a Greenset surface which organisers insist will play the same as its predecessor.

History suggests that won’t be the case though and generally the view of players so far is that it has played slightly slower than the surface it has replaced. How will the contenders react? At this point, it’s something of a guessing game.

Change is also coming to the ATP Tour in terms of new faces at the top of the game. Yes, I know you’ve heard that before but it’s fair to say that the Big Three of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are coming under increasing pressure.

In the second half of last season, US Open finalist Daniil Medvedev had a good argument to be considered one of the best three players in the world, while at the ATP Finals the title match featured none of the famous trio. Instead Stefanos Tsitsipas, the other leading member of the so-called ‘Next Gen’, saw off Dominic Thiem in the final.

Is the belief there to make the big breakthrough at Grand Slam level though? Remember you have to go back to 2016 to find the last time a major wasn’t won by one of the Big Three. That is certainly open to question.

 

Fire concerns

There’s also another factor – one which could have no effect at all or a very serious one: the raging Australian bushfires.

If the wind is blowing the ‘wrong’ way, a big impact could be made on the tournament. If the smoke which disrupted qualifying returns in the second week, there’s a good chance it will turn the event into an indoor one – remember there are three courts with retractable roofs at Melbourne Park.

Indoor conditions would favour defending champion and strong favourite Novak Djokovic. On the other hand, if he’s forced to play outside when the air quality is poor, I’d be worried as a backer for the Serb has a history of breathing problems, particularly when it’s blazing hot as it can be in Melbourne.

Djokovic opposable

That’s not the only concern I have about the 11/10 shot, one who is undoubtedly the best hardcourt player in the world when everything is firing.

Djokovic went 8-0 at the recent ATP Cup, helping Serbia lift the trophy, but he again required treatment on his long-standing arm problem during that event. It was that injury which forced him to quit the US Open only a few months ago.

Neither did he sweep all before him last week. Yes, he was again ruthless in dismissing Rafael Nadal in the final, but both Medvedev and Denis Shapovalov took him deep into a final set.

Djokovic is a seven-time champion here and has won four of the last six Slams but 11/10 isn’t for me in the circumstances.

 

Little value in Nadal

Neither am I prepared to back Nadal at 9/2 despite a decent draw.

The Spaniard spoke of fatigue at the ATP Cup where he lost to David Goffin, as well as Djokovic, against whom he has now lost 19 hardcourt sets in a row. Should the pair meet in the final, it is hard to see how Nadal will reverse recent fortunes.

He’s only won this title once (2009) in his stellar career, making it his least-successful major, and while he’ll hope the surface change can work in his favour, I don’t’ see any value in his price.

As for the other member of the Big Three, we’re back to variables and unknowns.

 

Question marks over Federer

Federer rocks up without a warm-up match which is a break from the recent norm.

With his recent tune-up event, the Hopman Cup, confined to the history books, Federer opted not to play the ATP Cup so he hasn’t played competitively since November when he lost to Tsitsipas in the last four of the ATP Finals.

He’ll look to play himself into a tournament he has reached the semi-finals of eight times in the last 10 years, winning it twice in the last three.

But a tricky draw has him in the same section as rising stars Shapovalov, Jannik Sinner and Hubert Hurkacz, plus the man who beat him at the US Open, Grigor Dimitrov.

Roger Federer

How will Federer find the new courts?

Also, if the Greenset does indeed produce slower conditions, that will only hurt Federer’s chances.

I’m not among those prepared to write off the 38-year-old’s chances of winning further Grand Slam titles – remember it’s only six months since he held championship points at Wimbledon – but I’m not tempted enough by his price of 10/1.

 

Medvedev can marvel

So if the Big Three aren’t going to make it 13 in a row, where does the value lie?

It’s not an original opinion but the most likely winner from outside the usual trio undoubtedly looks to be Daniil Medvedev and of that pack of Next Gen players, he’s the man I’m prepared to back with hard cash.

Medvedev made six successive hardcourt finals in North America last summer, a run which culminated in his run to the US Open final when he really wasn’t far away from defeating Nadal, eventually losing a classic encounter in five sets.

Opponents are yet to truly figure out the variations in his game and while there was an almost inevitable dip in his form towards the end of last year, he’s hit the ground running in 2020.

The ATP Cup brought four singles wins and one defeat, that being a narrow final-set loss to Djokovic.

Medvedev had beaten the Serb in their two previous encounters, while he was also the only player to take a set off Djokovic in Melbourne last year.

As fourth seed, the Russian can’t meet any of the Big Three until the semis where Nadal is his scheduled foe. Medvedev is yet to topple the world number one but he came mightily close in their last two matches.

His US Open final performance should give him the belief that he can take that final step and get over the winning line.

Dimitrov can shine in Melbourne

My other bets will come from further down the market and despite the switch to Greenset I’m going with two players who have found Melbourne very much to their liking in the past.

First up is Grigor Dimitrov.

He’s made two quarter-finals and a semi-final here in the last six years and he’s beaten some good players at this venue, including Nick Kyrgios, David Goffin, Richard Gasquet and Milos Raonic.

Nadal (twice), Federer and Andy Murray have been responsible for four of his six losses in that period so it usually takes a good player to beat him. If the big guns are vulnerable, Dimitrov looks to be towards the head of the queue for those who could capitalise.

At the last hardcourt Slam, the US Open, he defeated Federer – a potential last-16 opponent here – before reaching the semis and losing to Medvedev.

Yes, he may well need a bit of help but the Bulgarian is worth a small interest at 66/1.

 

Play it again, Stan

Then there’s Stan Wawrinka, the man who won here in 2014 and has since played in two semi-finals.

Few players are able to rise to the big occasion like ‘Stan the Man’ and he has regularly delivered his best tennis at this level. He’s tested Djokovic arguably more than anyone in the Slams in recent times – the pair producing multiple classics – and they are actually level at 4-4 in their last eight meetings.

Wawrinka has made the quarter-finals at two of the last three Slams, including the US Open where he beat an ailing Djokovic before also falling to Medvedev.

The Swiss subsequently built on that run and finished 2019 strongly.

He was the runner-up in Antwerp the day that Murray famously returned to the winner’s circle. The following week he made the last eight in Basel before injury struck and it took Nadal to beat him in Paris.

It is not that significant given those events were all played indoors but the surface used for all three was Greenset.

Wawrinka has started the new season well enough, reaching the semis in Doha before losing two tie-breaks to rising star Corentin Moutet.

His power off both wings make him an extremely dangerous player when on song and while his game undoubtedly has off days, he has proved at the Slams in the past that he can hold his best level together for long enough.

Wawrinka spent a long time off the court nursing a knee injury but the last nine months or so have seen him continually improve and at 50/1 I’m prepared to chance him being capable of one last hurrah in a city where some of his best memories were made.

The Outsiders

Roberto Bautista Agut

Bautista Agut arrives in Melbourne having guided Spain to the ATP Cup final with six consecutive straight-sets wins. While some of those were against questionable opposition, the quality grew throughout the week and he ended it with convincing victories over Nick Kyrgios and Dusan Lajovic.

He’s been a consistently strong starter to a season – four of his nine ATP titles have come in January – with his record at this event a decent one.

RBA made the quarter-finals last season, beating Karen Khachanov and Marin Cilic before running into Stefanos Tsitsipas. That bettered last-16 runs in 2014, 2016 and 2017.

There have been some suggestions the new Greenset courts are playing a little slower which would arguably favour Bautista Agut. He’ll likely need a favour or two from others but if the draw does open up, a player with no real weakness in his game will be well poised to capitalise.

 

Grigor Dimitrov

A similar case can be made for Dimitrov – he’s a player who has started the season well and has a good history at Melbourne Park.

The Bulgarian has made at least the last 16 in five of the last six seasons, with 2017 bringing a semi-final appearance when he lost to Rafael Nadal in a classic.

Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Nadal (again) have all beaten Dimitrov here in that six-year period so it usually takes a good player to beat him.

Having started the season well at the ATP Cup, Dimitrov should be relishing his return to Melbourne. When in top form, as he was when winning the 2017 ATP Finals, Dimitrov has some serious weapons and certainly has potential here.

 

Kyle Edmund

Heading into the triple-figure prices, it might just be worth taking a punt on British star Edmund. He memorably conjured up a semi-final run here two years ago and that will surely act as strong inspiration.

2019 was largely a season to forget but he finished it well with a string of strong performances (and wins) at the Davis Cup Finals.

As he showed in Madrid, when Edmund serves well and his forehand is firing, he’s a match for most on tour and, coming in unseeded, he could be a really awkward opponent for one of the big names in round one.

Lost his opening match of the season in Doha but a few wins in Auckland this week may well see his Melbourne price cut.

 

Kiki Bertens

Bertens is the highest-priced top-10 star heading into the Australian Open and I’m not sure that’s right. She’s better-known for her claycourt game – she won the prestigious Madrid Open last season – but hardcourt results have been strong too.

During 2019’s season-ending Asian swing, she made the semis in Beijing (beating Elina Svitolina), finished runner-up in Zhuhai and beat world number one Ash Barty at the WTA Finals before injury halted her title bid in Shenzhen.

Her wins over Svitolina and Barty were two of eight victories against top-10 players last season (from 12 such encounters). The previous year, during which she won a big hardcourt title in Cincinnati, she went 12-7 against the top 10 so clearly has the ability to trouble the elite.

Her big serve, which produces plenty of aces, certainly helps but there is much more to Bertens’ game than that. She has started the new season in decent nick, reaching the last eight in Brisbane where she was narrowly beaten by Naomi Osaka.

Withdrawal from Adelaide followed but don’t be too concerned by injury reasons given – Bertens also made the doubles final in Brisbane so fatigue concerns will have played their part in that decision.

 

Karolina Muchova

The Australian Open has regularly provided some truly surprising runs in the women’s singles. Dominika Cibulkova made the final at a big price in 2014, while there have been a string of other semi-finalists out of leftfield.

Sloane Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard both used this as their breakthrough event while the past two seasons have seen Elise Mertens and Danielle Collins reach the last four.

Looking down the market in search of this year’s surprise package, the name of Muchova catches the eye. Admittedly she has already made the quarter-finals of Wimbledon, claiming her first top-10 win over Karolina Pliskova en route to the last eight, but she remains under the radar somewhat.

The Czech’s mix-and-match game is a delight to watch in an era of ball-bashers and she looks likely to flummox more of the elite in 2020. With a decent draw – it is made at 0700 GMT on Thursday – Muchova may be able to challenge.

Any odds mentioned in this article are correct at the time of posting

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