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Sunday, 17 January 2016

Australian Open Tennis Outright Picks 2016 (January 18-31)

The first two weeks of the new tennis season are in the books and that means we are now ready for the first Grand Slam of the season with the Australian Open next up. The draws for both the Men's and Women's draw was made on Friday and the tournament will begin on Monday with the top half of the draws both ready to get their bid to win the Grand Slam underway.

First off I break down the draw and any picks to be made from the outright markets.


Men's Draw
First Quarter
The Number 1 Seed at the first Grand Slam of the season is Novak Djokovic and I think it is going to take something special to beat him here after the World Number 1 won three of the four Grand Slams in 2015. If anyone was wondering if the off season would slow down Djokovic, he won the tournament in Doha and he has loved playing at Melbourne Park having won this Grand Slam five times in the past including four of the last five seasons.

The surface in Australia seems to work perfectly for Djokovic and he won't be too worried that he can't go on and add another Grand Slam to his collection. Of course there won't be any lack of motivation for Djokovic nor complacency in his game as he knows he has to perform at his best to win this event.

A First Round match against Hyeon Chung is one that will test the youngster who is expected to be one of the better players on the Tour in years to come. However, Novak Djokovic should be far too good at this stage of his career and there is nothing in his Quarter of the draw that will overly worry him.

Some will look for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Kei Nishikori to offer Djokovic a challenge in the Quarter Final, but it is hard to see either having enough to win three out of five sets on this surface at this current moment in time. Both Tsonga and Nishikori have awkward looking First Round matches too so there is some doubt that both make the Fourth Round in which they are Seeded to meet one another and it looks like the World Number 1 has caught a break with the way the draw has come down.

Second Quarter
The big question that people had prior to the draw was how the Number 3 and Number 4 Seeds will be separated and who will have the 'fortune' of being in the same half of the draw as Novak Djokovic. It is Roger Federer who has that situation to perhaps look forward to after facing Djokovic in the last two Grand Slam Finals, both in losing efforts.

Roger Federer has not reached the Final at the Australian Open since 2010 and a run of four consecutive Semi Finals was ended last season with a surprising Third Round loss. The courts here are not exactly the best for Federer at this stage of his career and his focus has clearly been set on the latter stage of the season where he believes he can win big titles.

Federer might have asked for an easier draw with the likes of Alexandr Dolgopolov, Grigor Dimitrov and David Goffin potentially three consecutive opponents from the Second Round and there is a real potential he is beaten at some stage before the Semi Final.

If that happens someone like Tomas Berdych could potentially reach another Semi Final here for the third time in a row, although he has yet to take it a step further. Consistency has been key for Berdych who has reached the Quarter Final at least for five straight seasons and it will take a significant effort for him to reach that stage again.

An early threat comes in the form of home favourite Nick Kyrgios and the winner of that one is Seeded to play Marin Cilic in the Fourth Round in what looks an open section of the draw.

An early defeat for Roger Federer could open the draw, but I think the former winner here will get back to his standard of reaching the Semi Final which had been the norm before last season.

Third Quarter
One of the more intriguing portions of the Men's draw has to be the Third Quarter which has brought together a number of players who will feel they can make the Semi Final.

The top two Seeds in the section are two former winners of the Australian Open in Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka and it is hard to imagine that one of those players are not competing in the Semi Final.

However you can't overlook two big servers who have proved to be very dangerous in the past as Kevin Anderson is Seeded to meet Nadal in the Fourth Round and Milos Raonic is Seeded to meet Wawrinka at the same stage.

Rafael Nadal also has an awkward First Round match against Fernando Verdasco, even if his compatriot is no longer the same player he was when reaching the Semi Final here in 2009, but it is a match I would expect him to win. The loss to Novak Djokovic in the Final in Doha might have dented some confidence, but Nadal has shown plenty of good stuff in the latter part of the 2015 season to think he is perhaps the favourite to come out of the section.

This is a tournament in which Stan Wawrinka has thrived too though and I think that Quarter Final is going to be something special and one to keep an eye on if it comes around in around ten days time.

Fourth Quarter
If Novak Djokovic is happy with his draw, I have no doubt that Andy Murray is not far behind when looking at how the draw has panned out for him at a Slam in which he has reached the Final the most times. Andy Murray is yet to win the title Down Under, but he will feel he can build some momentum into this tournament especially with the highest Seed in his section of the draw being David Ferrer.

Murray should be able to ease his way into the draw and I don't expect he will find too many problems ahead of the Fourth Round when he is Seeded to meet Bernard Tomic. The Australian has played well here but he had to retire in Sydney and that will leave some doubts that Tomic is able to come through an awkward looking three Rounds and then have enough to beat someone as good as Murray.

One of the more dangerous opponents for Andy Murray may be John Isner but the American doesn't return well enough to think he is not forced to dig deep far before he gets to the Quarter Final. That fatigues the big man and he doesn't usually have a lot left at the back end of tournaments and so it feels like the Murray-David Ferrer Quarter Final is the most likely scenario in this section.

However Ferrer is potentially vulnerable early in the tournament having fallen in Doha and Auckland before the Finals and Andy Murray looks a strong favourite to get out of this Quarter.

PICKS
I have really tried to find a reason to oppose Novak Djokovic in this Grand Slam but I am not sure there is anything that anyone can point to. He looks the best player in the draw at an event he has loved playing at in the past with his sole loss in five seasons coming against Stan Wawrinka in an outstanding match.

I think it will need even more to beat Novak Djokovic and I like him winning another Australian Open crown.

While Novak Djokovic looks the man to beat this week, I also think an interest in Roger Federer to get back to his standards of reaching the Semi Final in Australia has to be made. He had reached four consecutive Semi Finals before his early loss last season and Federer does look the pick of the players in the Second Quarter even if he has some difficult tests to overcome early in the tournament.

However I think Federer is good enough to do that and I don't think he should be odds against to make the Semi Final so I will back him to do that.



Women's Draw
First Quarter
The Number 1 Seed in the Women's draw is Serena Williams but the Grand Slam looks wide open with the number of injury issues the top Seeds have all seemingly had in preparation for the Australian Open. The end of 2015 saw many of those top players struggling and this has not really been cleared up by the two month off-season.

It is the first competitive tournament that Williams has played since losing in the Semi Final of the US Open. She had to pull out of the Hopman Cup with a knee issue and has been given as difficult a First Round opponent as she may have received in Melbourne.

However, Williams has tried to play down any concerns that people have and she is set to be ready to go in this event although Camila Giorgi is the kind of capable player that may feel she can produce an upset.

If Williams is healthy for two weeks, it is hard to see anyone beating the World Number 1 who has dominated the WTA Tour over the last few years. There simply isn't a player in the top half of the draw that the American would concern herself  about, but the doubts about her fitness have to be a big concern.

Maria Sharapova is the top Seeded player Williams is set to meet in the Quarter Final, but the Russian has barely played any tennis for months and has a terrible head to head with Williams.

Perhaps someone like Belinda Bencic, Caroline Wozniacki or Svetlana Kuznetsova can take advantage of the issues Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have had, but a healthy Serena Williams would be hard to oppose.

Second Quarter
It is Petra Kvitova who is the big doubt in the second quarter of the draw with injuries and a loss of form really making it hard to see the two-time Wimbledon Champion adding another Grand Slam to her trophy cabinet.

The player to beat in the section looks to be Agnieszka Radwanska who is the highest Seed in the section, but she might run into a rejuvenated Eugenie Bouchard in the Second Round which would be a huge test of her credentials.

So you might be wondering which players could potentially take advantage in the section if it does open up? I think the winner of the Radwanska-Bouchard Second Round match would have every chance of going all the way, but it is hard to trust either to put together the five wins to reach the Semi Final.

I am not  big fan of Carla Suarez Navarro who I feel is in an inflated position of the Number 10 Seed and I wouldn't really have a lot of faith in Roberta Vinci nor Sam Stosur, the latter because of her terrible record at the Australian Open and the former because I don't believe she will ever reach the levels she produced at the US Open.

The one player that might be ready to re-announce herself as a potentially major player on the WTA Tour is Sloane Stephens having won the title in Auckland to open the season. However, picking the player to come out of the section looks incredibly difficult to me and looks one to avoid.

Third Quarter
A couple of players that I was looking at as potential ones that could have a deep run at the Australian Open through all the injuries have unfortunately landed in the same quarter of the draw. Both Angelique Kerber and Victoria Azarenka have opened the season in strong form and have past experiences of reaching the business end of Grand Slams, the latter a former two-time winner in Australia.

This is far from a two-way battle to reach the Semi Final too with both Jelena Jankovic and especially Garbine Muguruza likely to have plenty to say about it. I really think this could be a big season for Muguruza having reached the Wimbledon Final last season, but she had to withdraw with a heel issue from her match in Brisbane and that would be a real concern going into the Australian Open, even if the Spaniard has made it clear that she is not so bothered about that herself.

A potential Fourth Round match against Victoria Azarenka looks likely to be the one that decides the quarter, although Kerber might feel she can 'pick the bones' of the winner if that match is as close as anticipated. However, Kerber does not have the best record against either Muguruza or Azarenka and I think it will come down to the latter two who will both feel they can go all the way to the Final and perhaps even win the title.

The real question is which of the two out of Muguruza and Azarenka would I favour in the Fourth Round match? I think Azarenka's experience of winning the title in Melbourne as well as what looks the better health and I believe the former World Number 1 makes a big stride back towards the top of the women's game.

Fourth Quarter
The final quarter of the draw is headed up by Simona Halep but hasn't it felt like she has not been at 100% physically for months now? A run to the Final in Sydney might alleviate some concerns, but I am not sure she has enough in the tank to put together a seven match winning run to take home the title and even reaching the Final might be a real achievement for her.

Halep will be tested immediately with Hobart Champion Alize Cornet a potential Second Round opponent, but she has a chance to build some momentum with the bigger threats in the quarter not expected to see her before the Quarter Final.

Ana Ivanovic might argue with that point, but she has not looked like a player capable of producing consistent enough tennis to go all the way at a Grand Slam again even if she has a winning record against Halep which makes her a threat. Two defeats out of two matches played in 2016 would be a real worry for those who want to back Ivanovic, even if she has openly admitted her love for playing in Australia where a big Serbia community will come out and offer plenty of support.

I wouldn't be able to back Karolina Pliskova with any kind of confidence when you consider her performances at past Grand Slams, although she has the talent to make a breakthrough sooner rather than later. However, Pliskova would have hoped for an easier draw and perhaps that means a veteran like Venus Williams is ready to turn back the clock.

I am not convinced the surface used at the Australian Open is really to Venus Williams' liking though and this fourth quarter of the draw looks like the second quarter in being open enough for a surprise Semi Finalist.


PICKS
The Men's draw looks like one that is dominated by Novak Djokovic at the head of the market, but the Women's draw looks open enough that the favourite is Serena Williams at an attractive looking price.

I think it is hard to look beyond the two top players in the market in the Women's draw and I would feel silly if I ignored the Serena Williams price if she is healthy as she claims. I couldn't go overboard with the units simply because of those doubts and what looks a tough First Round draw, but Serena Williams is the best player on the WTA Tour by some distance when she is healthy and sometimes even when she is having some difficulty.

The one player that has given her perhaps the most to think about in the last couple of years despite falling a little short of her own standards thanks to injury and a slight dip in confidence is Victoria Azarenka.

She looked good in winning the title in Brisbane without needing to break much of a sweat and looks the player to beat in the bottom half of the draw. The layers have reacted by shortening her price considerably but Azarenka has won two times here and clearly has enjoyed playing at Melbourne Park.

Azarenka looks the player that might potentially have the best chance to reach the Final and perhaps win the title if Serena Williams isn't doing well enough to last a two week Grand Slam run.

There are otherwise too many doubts in the Women's draw to feel too confident backing against the leading contenders in the market and I won't do that.

MY OUTRIGHT PICKS: Novak Djokovic @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (8 Units)
Roger Federer to Win Second Quarter @ 2.25 Coral (2 Units)
Serena Williams @ 4.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Victoria Azarenka @ 8.00 Ladbrokes (1 Unit E/W)


Weekly Final: 8-6, + 1.92 Units (28 Units Staked, + 6.86% Yield)

Season 2016+ 3.70 Units (60 Units Staked, + 6.17% Yield)
Season 2015- 21.81 Units (1812 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
Season 2014+ 45.05 Units (1586.5 Units Staked, + 2.84% Yield)
Season 2013+ 21.74 Units (1251.5 Units Staked, + 1.73% Yield)
Season 2012+ 49.21 Units (855 Units Staked, + 5.76% Yield)
Season 2011+ 82.02 Units

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