We’re down to the business end at the Australian Open. Four remain in the first Grand Slam of 2021. Who will take home the title? Andy Schooler previews both semi-final and picks his outright winner.
Karatsev to win the first set
Novak Djokovic v Aslan Karatsev
When world number 114 Karatsev took to the court in Dubai at the start of the qualifying competition, I think it’s fair to say that even he wouldn’t have thought he’d be in the semi-finals of the main draw a month later.
Yet here he is, taking on the world number one for a place in a Grand Slam final. While it’s been a remarkable run, it’s hard to see it going any further.
Even an abdominal strain hasn’t been able to derail Djokovic so far and looked pretty good in dealing with Alex Zverev in the last round, winning in four sets.
He can be expected to win this, although that injury issue does rather put me off backing a straight-sets win at odds-on.
Unsurprisingly, this is the pair’s first meeting so Karatsev will at least be able to bring an element of surprise to the court. The Russian’s thumping groundstrokes have reaped big dividends against the likes of Felix Auger-Aliassime and Grigor Dimitrov in previous rounds and while he doesn’t have a massive serve, it’s good enough to think it could take even a returner as good as Djokovic a bit of time to get his eye in.
With this in mind, a value pick for this match could be to back the underdog to win the first set at 7/2.
Djokovic seemed to be feeling his injury in the early stages against Zverev and the German really should have taken the opener, failing to serve it out.
Afterwards Djokovic revealed: “With this kind of condition you need time to warm up. Even though I had almost an hour prior to the match, I still felt it’s going to take me some time to warm up, to feel that I can rotate well.”
If that’s the case again, Karatsev may be able to take advantage and looks a half-decent price to do just that.
Medvedev to win 3-1
Stefanos Tsitsipas v Daniil Medvedev
Both of these men came through physical battles on Wednesday – Medvedev in the heat of the day against Andrey Rublev and Tsitsipas in the evening against Rafael Nadal.
The latter will likely have taken more of a toll – that match lasting more than four hours. And that’s before you consider the emotional effects it had on Tsitsipas, who came back from two sets down to claim arguably the biggest win of his career.
Forty-eight hours later he must back up against an opponent who has caused him plenty of problems in the past – Medvedev leads their head-to-head 5-1. At least, Tsitsipas can take heart from the fact he won their last clash, at the 2019 ATP Finals in London.
Medvedev looks a worthy favourite to continue his dominance in this match-up, although arguably he shouldn’t be as short as 9/20.
For a better price, turn to the set betting market where 3-1 looks a fair shout at 11/4.
Only one of Medvedev’s wins over Tsitsipas has come in straight sets – that’s 21/10 this time – and the Greek has clearly been playing well.
He should be competitive but I see Medvedev prevailing with his better backhand and movement likely to be key.
Tsitsipas’ quarter-final exploits could also take their toll as the match goes on so although I can see him grabbing a set early in the contest, Medvedev should finish the stronger.
Medvedev to win the title
Unless there’s a huge upset in the semis, Djokovic will go off favourite in Sunday’s final. Yet he won’t be heavily odds-on.
Tsitsipas has won two of their previous six meetings and two of three on an outdoor hardcourt. As for Medvedev, while he trails 4-3, he’s actually won three of the last four. The most recent, at the ATP Finals in November, was convincing with Djokovic creating just a single break point.
With the tougher semi-final, it’s fair enough that the Russian is considerably longer than Djokovic – 9/4 compared to 8/11 – but looking at the long game, Medvedev has to be the better bet.
He’s going to be much shorter if he defeats Tsitsipas, whereas Djokovic’s price won’t change much if, as expected, he sees off Karatsev.
With just four remaining, Medvedev looks the best bet for those getting involved at this stage.