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Sunday, 15 January 2017

Australian Open Tennis Outright Preview 2017 (January 16th-January 29th)

There is no time to play yourself into a new season on the Tennis Tour with the first Grand Slam of the season beginning in the third week back on the Tour. The 2017 Australian Open is set to go this Monday with all of the big names arriving in Melbourne in a bid to set a marker for the rest of the year.

This certainly looks like a really event on both the men's and women's side of the draw and there are questions to be answered which makes it intriguing as the next two weeks begin to answer those.

Men's Tournament
For the first time in his career, Andy Murray will be heading into a Grand Slam tournament as the Number 1 Seed in the men's draw, but that does not mean the bookmakers are ready to call him the favourite for the title in Australia. Murray has come so close through his career here having been a Runner Up on a number of occasions and anyone who is backing him has to be fairly happy with the draw the World Number 1 has received.

You will hear that Murray is in the same section as the likes of Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori, but he won't have to face any of those until they have sorted things out between themselves prior to any potential Quarter Final.

Even the suggestion that Sam Querrey and John Isner are big threats before the Quarter Final seems like they are catered for the casual fan. Outside of Querrey's upset of Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon, the American did next to nothing on the Tour to suggest he can beat Andy Murray in the form he has been in. John Isner is not the same threat as he was and Murray has shown he can negate that serve and I think the Brit is a big favourite to win this Quarter.

It would be something of a surprise if Andy Murray is not competing in the Semi Final but picking the player he is going to face is a challenge. It is Seeded to be Stan Wawrinka, a former Australian Open winner, but Wawrinka will be the first to tell you that he can beat anyone on his day, but is also too inconsistent to really push on and, in this case, to rely on to have a deep impact in the draw.

This is not the worst draw in the world for Wawrinka, but he will be challenged by some players that he would expect to beat but who have also shown decent form in the opening two weeks of the season. I would think Wawrinka gets the better of the likes of Steve Johnson and Victor Troicki to start building some moment, but it is hard to have a long position on the Swiss player.

If Wawrinka gets going he can be very tough to stop and he has won big matches in Grand Slams against Andy Murray in the past which could make him dangerous, but there are a couple of other names in his section that could have big tournaments. Jack Sock has admitted he is focusing more on his Singles career in 2017 and won the title in Auckland after a strong performance at the Hopman Cup, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is a former Finalist here and will feel he has some making up to do after missing out on a couple of the Grand Slams last season thanks to injury.

Either Sock or Tsonga, who are Seeded to meet in the Third Round, could be a potential Quarter Final opponent for Wawrinka, who I do feel can come through the top half of this quarter. That would be an interesting match if it comes about, and I would quickly draw a line through Nick Kyrgios who is rumoured to be operating at less than 100% at the moment for anyone contemplating backing the Australian in his home Slam.

The third quarter of the draw also looks like an open one with the layers struggling to put out a strong favourite like you have in the first and fourth quarters. The leading Seed in this section is Milos Raonic who reached the Semi Final in Brisbane and I have seen a number of people pick the Canadian as a potential winner here after improving as a player in 2016. I still think he doesn't return well enough to win a Grand Slam, while Raonic could face Gilles Muller in the Second Round, a player who won the title in Sydney and could sap a lot of energy from Raonic with the danger of an upset.

This is the same section Rafael Nadal has fallen into, although he won't have a chance to avenge his loss to Raonic from Brisbane until the Quarter Final. Instead the bigger worry for the Spaniard might be Alexander Zverev who looks like he is ready to make his bow on the biggest stage with a deep run in a Grand Slam event in 2017.

Nadal and Zverev potentially meet in the Third Round and the winner is likely to head through to the Quarter Final in my opinion, but that could be a really close match and one to enjoy. The three players Nadal, Zverev and Raonic lead the market to win this quarter and I would be surprised if there is another name who ends up in the Semi Final, but all three have a few doubts around them and I wouldn't feel comfortable picking the player to get through.

This all brings us to the former World Number 1 and player who has dominated the Australian Open in recent years, Novak Djokovic. He does have to face an opponent in the First Round who had five match points against him in Doha, Fernando Verdasco, but I do think Djokovic would have gained a lot of confidence from winning that title to open 2017. I really don't think Verdasco can reach the level he did in Doha in a best of five set match to win this one, and I think Djokovic will be very, very comfortable with the draw he has been given.

The likes of Grigor Dimitrov and Dominic Thiem will be touted as potential challengers for Djokovic, but the Serb has an aura on this court and it will take something special to knock him off.

That is a huge reason I like Djokovic to build his way into this tournament and produce his best tennis in two weeks time to win the tournament. He isn't the strong favourite he was twelve months ago to win the event, but I still think he is the deserved favourite to win here and I will place him in my staking plan.

The most likely Final is still Djokovic and Murray and I would be surprised if someone can break that up here in Melbourne. Some dangerous players like Wawrinka will feel they can be tough to stop when they get the momentum behind them, but I will stick with Djokovic as my pick from the men's tournament rather than adding anything else to the plan from the men's draw.

Women's Tournament
The top two men in the draw look to dominate the market as single digit favourites to win with the next player in the market six times the price to win the Australian Open. The women's draw looks a lot more open with five players at single digit prices to win the tournament and I really do think there are quite a few players who will feel they can go all the way.

It is Angelique Kerber who enters her first Grand Slam as the Number 1 Seed and is also having the pressure of trying to defend the title she won last season. That sparked a huge 2016 for the German who won the US Open as well as reaching the Wimbledon Final in a special season, but Kerber has not begun 2017 in the fashion she would have liked.

The dangers are ever present for Kerber in her quarter of the draw with the likes of Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 French Open Champion, and Daria Kasatkina the stand out names. Most casual fans will know Muguruza, but Kasatkina is a less familiar name as the Russian player has shown plenty of signs of fulfilling the potential that so many believe she has.

Kasatkina has already beaten Kerber in 2017 and pushed Muguruza to three sets in a defeat in Brisbane, and she could be a very difficult Fourth Round opponent for the defending Champion. The draw could have been kinder to Kasatkina in the opening Rounds here and there is no guarantee that she gets through to that Fourth Round, but it does raise some doubts about Kerber's chances to defend her title if she has to play Kasatkina and Muguruza in consecutive matches.

The first quarter of the draw is an intriguing one and the same can be said for all four quarters. In the second quarter it is Simona Halep who leads the Seeds in this section. She does have a couple of Quarter Final runs to her name, but Halep has lost in the First Round in three of the last five seasons and she could be a vulnerable favourite to win the quarter.

The two most expected to take advantage of any Halep slip up are Elina Svitolina or Svetlana Kuznetsova and I would favour the latter more than the former. The veteran had a really good 2016 by getting back into the WTA Finals and ending the season in really strong form, but she didn't really have a deep impact in a Grand Slam tournament like she may have wanted.

It does have to be said that Kuznetsova has never been passed a Quarter Final in the Australian Open and has not reached a Grand Slam Semi Final since winning the French Open in 2009. She is an appealing price for her best ever run at the Australian Open, while others may look for Monica Puig, the Olympic Champion, to perhaps be a threat if she can build some momentum behind her.

The big Australian hopes in the women's draw have both been placed in the third quarter of the draw, but neither Sam Stosur nor Daria Gavrilova will be considered as potential winners here. They have some tough names like Agnieszka Radwanska and Karolina Pliskova in this section of the draw and both have had recent successes in the Grand Slams to think they can reach the latter stages of this Australian Open.

Radwanska and Pliskova are Seeded to meet in the Quarter Final and it will be difficult for another player to come through and prevent that happening. However you can have some doubts about both Radwanska and Pliskova which makes it hard to back either with the former having some third set struggles to worry about and the latter only having one really strong Grand Slam appearance to show she is capable of another here.

That did come at the US Open last September, but I would like to see Pliskova perform again at this level before I would be interested in a fairly short price for her to reach a Semi Final. There just doesn't seem to viable contenders to back with confidence in this section to oppose both the top Seeds, although it wouldn't be a huge surprise if there is a lower Ranked player reaching a Semi Final here.

We then get down to the favourite to win the title here and that is Serena Williams who is the Number 2 Seed heading into the Australian Open. Her recent shock defeat in Auckland has to have participated in the big price for Williams to win the event and I do think the American is tough to back when you think of her coming up short in three of four Grand Slams last season.

She hasn't been helped by a very difficult opening match against Belinda Bencic nor a potential Second Round match against Lucie Safarova and Serena can be caught early in these tournaments. Injuries have curtailed the Bencic move up the World Rankings, but she does hold a win over Serena Williams on the hard courts and has to feel she could potentially cause an upset in the First Round, although Williams does look to have a nice path one she gets past the first two matches.

Serena Williams has been known to get stronger as we reach the business end of the Slams for the most part, but there could be some dangers waiting further down the line. Johanna Konta won the title in Sydney and looked very good in doing so, Dominika Cibulkova is a former Finalist here and Caroline Wozniacki looks like she is getting back to her best.

I think it will come down to Konta and Cibulkova to work out who Serena Williams would likely meet in a Quarter Final and both may feel confident they could beat the legend with their performances through 2016. Out of the two Konta might have the better tools to compete with Williams with her power and ability to produce big serves, but it would be a big test for Konta having played in Sydney a few days before having to beat Serena without a lot of rest.

Picking a winner from the women's draw looks tough, but you would have to say if Serena Williams turns up at full tilt, she wins. However she looked uncomfortable in Auckland and similar conditions are expected at the Australian Open when it comes to the court speed.

Then again I think most of the viable contenders to win the title here have plenty of question marks of their own which makes it difficult to pick the winner and I will rather take it day by day with the women's event. Instead I will focus solely on the men's winner and then go through the daily picks and look for a strong tournament.

MY OUTRIGHT PICK: Novak Djokovic @ 2.75 Betfair Sportsbook (4 Units)

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