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.
Serena Williams to win 2-0
Naomi Osaka v Serena Williams
The odds suggest a close contest in this marquee semi-final for which Osaka is a marginal favourite.
However, the duo’s head-to-head shows a pattern of fairly one-sided matches. That record is led 2-1 by Osaka, although Williams did win the most recent of their meetings – in Toronto in 2019. On each occasion, the player who has got on top early, using their big serve to full effect, has pushed on for a fairly comfortable win. With Williams having looked in great form when dismissing Simona Halep in the quarter-finals, she looks the pick at the prices.
Osaka was troubled when a player was prepared to go toe-to-toe with her in the longer rallies, namely Garbine Muguruza, and Williams will be capable of doing the same here. Somewhat surprisingly, the American came out on top in the majority of the long points against Halep which bodes well. With Osaka also having struggled to get her first-serve percentage high at times during this tournament, taking Williams to win in straight sets offers some value at 13/5.
Jennifer Brady to win 2-0
Karolina Muchova v Jennifer Brady
Brady has been a fast starter during this tournament – winning the first set 6-1 in four of her five matches so far. Muchova, in contrast, lost the opener 6-1 to Ash Barty in her quarter-final and found herself 4-0 down to Elise Mertens (before rallying) in the previous round.
I can see Brady using her power game to get ahead early – she’s 8/13 to win the first set. If she does, it will be tough for the first-time Grand Slam semi-finalist to hit back.
Another factor to take into account is that fans will be back on Rod Laver arena for this one. Given Muchova’s controversial medical time out against home favourite Barty on Wednesday, I’d expect them to be on Brady’s side here which is another factor in her favour. Again in contrast to her opponent, Brady has played at this stage of a Slam before – at last year’s US Open – so nerves should be less of an issue for her.
A straight-sets win for the favourite at 5/4 looks fair enough.
Jennifer Brady to win
Australian Open Outright
What’s obvious is that whoever wins the Osaka-Williams semi-final will be a firm favourite for the final. Williams therefore offers potential value at 15/8.
However, she’s struggled to get over the line at the Slams in recent years, doubtless weighed down by the pressure of trying to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles – one she will equal with victory in Melbourne. She’s lost her last four finals at this level and so being a strong favourite would not sit particularly well.
With this in mind, Brady at 4/1 is probably the value at this stage, if you aren’t already on. She’s yet to meet Williams while even if she were to face Osaka in the final, she would do so knowing she pushed her hard at the US Open last September – Osaka broke her only once in a classic match and that was enough for a 6-3 final-set victory. Brady’s big-hitting game has been well served by Melbourne’s fast conditions and she may just be able to finish things off in style.