The English Winter Break is in play for the first time this season and I think it has not gone as well as the Premier League and the top clu...
Saturday, 13 January 2018
Australian Open Tennis Outright Picks 2018 (January 15-28)
Australian Open Tennis Outright Picks 2018
I am convinced in future years the first Grand Slam of the tennis season will be pushed back from January to February with the Australian Open beginning this year in just the third week of the 2018 season.
It has meant a lot of the top players have decided to take in very little competitive tennis to make sure they are ready for this tournament and this does feel like the real start of the 2018 season.
That's the case for the Tennis Picks too having made very few since the US Open last season. It gave me time to reflect on what has not really been working in the last couple of years, although I am happy with the performances in the Grand Slams and will be looking for more over the next fortnight.
The Australian Open looks like it could be a very open event for the ladies playing in the women's event, but you can take a handful of the men and figure out a winner from there. It has been a tournament that has produced surprise Finalists down the years, so you can't rule anything out, but below I will break down the draw and the outright picks to be made from this tournament.
Andy Murray has announced that he needs surgery on a long-term hip complaint and that has ruled him out of at least the first two Grand Slams in 2018, while there is no guarantee that Stan Wawrinka will be taking his place in the draw.
However Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have eased any injury fears with some solid performances in their exhibition and Tie Break Tens matches and both will take part this week.
Rafael Nadal is able to take his place at the top of the Men's draw this week and last year's Runner Up might not have been able to hand pick a much better Quarter.
It gives the Spaniard World Number 1 the chance to ease his way into the draw and he should be able to progress to the Fourth Round without too many issues. At that point John Isner could be an awkward opponent or someone like Diego Sebastian Schwartzman who has shown he is capable of giving the best a match on his day, but Nadal is going to be a big favourite to reach the Quarter Final.
Even then I would favour Nadal by some distance to get past whoever stands in his way.
Gilles Muller did beat him at Wimbledon last July and is a potential Quarter Final opponent, while Marin Cilic is a former Grand Slam winner. You would imagine that Nadal will be feeling pretty good about himself if he does reach the Quarter Final and his dominant record against Cilic, while you would imagine that Muller's best chances against Nadal will always be on the slick grass courts rather than the hard courts.
The Semi Final would likely be a much different prospect for Nadal, but the Second Quarter of the draw is wide open with some strong names hoping to take the next step in their careers with a Grand Slam win.
Just take a look at some of the names in the Second Quarter of the draw.
Grigor Dimitrov, Nick Kyrgios, Andrey Rublev, Denis Shapovalov, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Lucas Pouille and Jack Sock.
This could easily be a list of players who are expected to be next in line to follow the likes of Nadal and Roger Federer as potential Grand Slam Winners and top ten candidates in the years ahead.
And while the likes of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Kevin Anderson are veterans of the Tour who could easily have a deep run in the draw, one of those 'fresher' names could easily go all the way to a Semi Final, most likely against Rafael Nadal.
Dimitrov is the favourite to come through the Second Quarter and he has been handed a kind start to the Australian Open where he reached the Semi Final last year. It would be a big surprise if he is not making it back to the Fourth Round at the very least, but a potential problem could be Rublev who beat Dimitrov in three sets at the US Open a few months ago who is Seeded to meet Dimitrov in the Third Round.
The biggest threat to everyone in this Quarter may be Nick Kyrgios though as the Australian looks to become the first home winner of this Grand Slam in over forty years. Kyrgios won the title in Brisbane to show he is in good form, but the erratic displays have yet to really be ironed out and that is the only reason I am not interested in backing him this fortnight.
The draw could have been kinder to Kyrgios too with the likes of Shapovalov and Tsonga in his little section meaning a tough road to the Semi Final.
Jack Sock and Lucas Pouille are interesting players in the section too as both have shown they can get the better of the level of competition they will see in this Quarter of the draw. However it feels difficult to really nail your flag to the mast with any of these players and Rafael Nadal looks the player to beat in the top half of the draw.
Novak Djokovic makes his long awaited return from an injury at the Australian Open where he has dominated in his career, although a new look serving action shows that the elbow injury may been one that lingers on. On the other hand it may be the best way to protect the elbow from re-injury and Djokovic has looked pretty happy in his exhibition matches played so far.
The draw looks a tough one for the former World Number 1 with an opening match against Donald Young followed by a potential Second Round match against Gael Monfils.
A healthy Djokovic would be favoured to win both of those matches, but there are still some reservations to proclaim that the Serb is all the way back from his injury. A potential Fourth Round match against Alexander Zverev will be a huge test for Djokovic and I imagine the young German has his backers to come through this Quarter of the draw.
However Zverev has yet to really produce his best tennis at the Grand Slam level and a good draw isn't one he necessarily will take advantage of. Many will be hoping to see brother versus brother in the Third Round where Alexander could potentially take on Mischa, last year's surprising Quarter Finalist, but it is Alexander who should be making his way through to the Fourth Round match against Djokovic.
Stan Wawrinka is also in this Quarter of the draw, but his participation is very much up in the air, while a potentially dangerous Quarter Final opponent for either Djokovic or Zverev is Dominic Thiem. The Austrian is usually at his best early in the season and should be firmly over an illness which curtailed his start to the 2018 season.
His performances on the hard courts have yet to really reach the same heights as what Thiem has produced on the clay courts though and I imagine the winner of the Djokovic/Zverev potential Fourth Round match should be able to go all the way to the Semi Final.
The layers don't disagree with both players leading the market to win the Third Quarter and I imagine that Fourth Round match will decide things, assuming both reach that stage at the very least.
Twelve months ago you wouldn't have ever thought Roger Federer was set to return from a long injury lay off and have enough in the tank to win a Grand Slam event.
Going into 2017 Federer would not have been favoured to win any of the Slams to be played, but instead it turned out to be a dream season for a player who almost regained his Number 1 spot in the World Rankings. Winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon coupled with a strong start to the 2018 season means Federer goes into the Australian Open as the favourite to retain the title he won twelve months ago.
And I am not going to back against the great man doing that.
Federer has been given a draw that he will likely enjoy with a comfortable start before likely Third and Fourth Round matches against the likes of Richard Gasquet and Milos Raonic. The Number 2 Seed in the draw will be a big favourite to win those matches in the form he was showing at the Hopman Cup and Federer is going to be a tough opponent to stop.
The dangers in the Quarter are likely to be in front of Federer in the Quarter Final at the earliest with both David Goffin and Juan Martin Del Potro in the section. Del Potro has won big Grand Slam matches against Federer including at the US Open a few months ago, while Goffin beat Federer in the ATP Finals Semi Final in November.
However there were reasons behind both losses and I think Federer is far healthier than he was ahead of both those defeats. Someone like Tomas Berdych will be hoping that he can prevent either Del Potro or Goffin getting to the Quarter Final too, even if he has been handed a very difficult looking First Round match against a young Australian making hay during the early part of the 2018 season.
I will say I do like Federer's draw and also Nadal's draw in the first Grand Slam of the season. These two players met in the Final last year and I think there is every chance that both can once again meet on the last day of the Australian Open and perhaps provide another classic Final.
Federer has looked very, very good in the build up to the Australian Open and Nadal looks to be over his fitness concerns. Both also have a chance to build into the tournament and I am going to be a little boring by suggesting both should be backed in the outright market.
I would need to see more from Novak Djokovic before even thinking about backing him in the tough environment of a Slam, but others may feel differently having seen the way Federer was able to return in January 2017.
Nick Kyrgios is another who is going to be a Grand Slam Champion in my opinion, but this may not be the tournament despite his title win in Brisbane. I also think the draw is perhaps a little tougher than some think, while I am yet to be convinced about Grigor Dimitrov and his chance to become a Grand Slam Champion.
The Bulgarian may not have a better chance than here in his current form, but I will stay behind the 'old guard' who dominated men's tennis in 2017 and have an interest in both in the outright market.
There are a couple of big names missing from the men's draw at the Australian Open in 2018, but THE biggest name in women's tennis remains absent.
Serena Williams looked to be returning after giving birth a few months ago, but there were complications from that birth which she has admitted in the last few days which means she is not yet ready to compete. There was no way Serena was going to head to Melbourne to make up the numbers, as she said herself when withdrawing, but the American should be back in time for the hard court swing in Indian Wells and Miami in March.
Without Williams there has been a vacuum at the top of women's tennis which has yet to be filled with any consistency. A number of the players have a chance to finish this fortnight as the World Number 1, while the last three Slams have been split by three different winners.
Not many would have tipped up Jelena Ostapenko or Sloane Stephens as potential Slam Winners going into the 2017 season and it is not a good look for the women's game that the current Number 1, Simona Halep, has yet to win a Grand Slam title.
Being the World Number 1 means Simona Halep will head up the draw at the Australian Open this week and the Romanian did win the tournament in Shenzhen to give herself plenty of confidence to take into the first Grand Slam of the season.
However the draw could have been a lot kinder to Halep who has some huge names in her Quarter, let alone half of the draw.
Halep also has a poor recent record at the Australian Open and the joint favourite to win the title here looks like a player I want to avoid. Of course in an open draw Halep has every chance to win the title with the consistency she can produce, but I think someone will be able to out-hit her and failing to make the Quarter Final would not be a huge surprise to me.
The likes of Eugenie Bouchard could wait in the Second Round, but Halep would then potentially play Petra Kvitova in what would be a blockbuster Third Round match. Players like Johanna Konta, who has had considerable success in Australia in the past, Lucie Safarova and Karolina Pliskova could wait further down the line and I am not convinced about Halep's chances of a maiden Grand Slam being won here.
It does have to be said that Halep has strong winning records against those players I have mentioned, which makes it more treacherous picking someone to oppose her in this Quarter, but it will be a section of which to make notes rather than putting your faith in any player.
The top Seed in the Second Quarter of the draw is current Wimbledon Champion Garbine Muguruza, but this is a player that has not always enjoyed the conditions in Australia. The Spaniard's best performance at the Australian Open was reaching the Quarter Final last season, but I do think she struggles at an event where the heat can really pick up although Muguruza's top level is one that is difficult for players to deal with.
I was hoping Muguruza would be the favourite to come out of this section, but it is Sydney Champion Angelique Kerber who leads the market. Kerber won the Australian Open two years ago and she looks to be getting back to her best following an underachieving 2017 with some changes made to the serve to aid her game.
It will take time for her partnership with Wim Fissette to show the results both will want, but Kerber looks to be a lot more confident now and that makes her a real title contender.
A potentially huge Third Round clash with the unseeded Maria Sharapova could sap some energy for the Fourth Round match with Muguruza which is a concern, although I would favour Kerber to beat both players.
Anastsija Sevastova and Madison Keys are also in the section and both will feel they can build on very successful US Open appearances, but it is Kerber who looks the player to beat in the Second Quarter.
The top half of the draw has some potentially very exciting matches which could come together in the first week and that should put plenty of eyes on the women's tournament.
There are some decent names in the Third Quarter of the draw too, but I do feel this is a section where a few of those are overrated after some special performances. One of those is the US Open Champion Sloane Stephens who I don't think can have the same special fortnight she enjoyed in New York City back in September, while Julia Goerges has had a good build up to the Australian Open but lacks the consistency to go all the way.
Venus Williams will have her backers, but a tough opening match against Belinda Bencic is going to test the veteran who reached two Grand Slam Finals last season.
That tough start could easily see the American knocked out of the draw immediately, and that could open things up for the joint-favourite Elina Svitolina.
Svitolina has been an improving force on the Tour over the last couple of years and she won the title in Brisbane which will give her a boost in confidence to take into the first Grand Slam of the season. The draw looks like one that she can take advantage of with Stephens Seeded to play Svitolina in the Fourth Round, and the Ukrainian looks a tough out for anyone this week.
The bottom half of the draw also looks devoid of the same kind of threats the top half players are going to have to deal with.
Caroline Wozniacki is the Number 2 Seed in the draw who won the WTA Finals and will be hoping she can use that momentum to win her first Grand Slam title. The former World Number 1 could not have handpicked a better draw to be honest and Wozniacki can certainly take advantage even if she has struggled in the Australian Open in recent years.
Things had gotten progressively worse for Wozniacki until she snapped that trend with a Third Round run last year, but she can turn that all around with a strong run in 2018.
While it may look like there are some tough names in her section before the Quarter Final, Wozniacki has a strong record against those perceived threats and I do think she can put some momentum behind her through this tournament.
Wozniacki's biggest challenge may come in the Quarter Final with the likes of Jelena Ostapenko, Coco Vandeweghe, Dominika Cibulkova and Sam Stosur in line to be potential opponents.
Ostapenko has not really been able to back up her French Open win in the way many expected, although tennis fans will be able to recognise the problems for the young player. At the moment it is all or nothing for Ostapenko when she plays her game and that is tough to put together in a seven match stretch on a consistent basis and I think the Latvian could get caught out.
Local hopes through Stosur have regularly been dashed early in the tournament and there is no guarantee she beats Monica Puig in the First Round.
That leaves Cibulkova and Vandeweghe and both have had strong runs here with Cibulkova a former Finalist at the Australian Open and Vandeweghe reaching the Semi Final last year. It is the American who appeals more having also had a strong run at the US Open in 2017 and I think Vandeweghe may be finding the consistency behind a huge game which is causing problems for players.
The backhand is being looked after a little more and she looks the danger in this draw if she can get through to the Quarter Final.
Some will be critical of the women's game, but I think the women's event at the Australian Open could be far more entertaining than the men's. There are some huge matches that could begin in the First Round right through to the Final and I am looking forward to seeing how a very open draw develops.
I am not keen on the chances on Simona Halep as one of the joint-favourites, but Elina Svitolina looks to have benefited from a kind draw and could go all the way for her first Grand Slam title.
She is one of three players I will be backing this week with another in the bottom half who looks a big price and could be a dark horse.
She was a Semi Finalist in both hard court Slams last season and looks to have also been landed a decent looking draw. Of course Vandeweghe can be hard to trust with a big game that can go off the rails when she is misfiring, but her performances at the Australian Open and US Open is a cause for optimism and she can beat out Caroline Wozniacki for a Semi Final berth against Svitolina if things fall the way I am hoping.
The last player on my list is Angelique Kerber who comes into the Australian Open with a title win behind her. Kerber is a former Australian Open Champion and she can get the better of the likes of Garbine Muguruza and Maria Sharapova to build momentum through the draw.
Kerber is still in the learning period under her new Coach, but I think the German is ready to bounce back after a disappointing 2017 and is one of only a couple of former Champions in the draw.
MY OUTRIGHT PICKS: Roger Federer @ 3.00 Paddy Power (2 Units E/W)
Rafael Nadal @ 5.50 William Hill (1 Unit E/W)
Angelique Kerber @ 12.00 Ladbrokes (1 Unit E/W)
Elina Svitolina @ 9.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit E/W)
@ 29.00 Bet Fred (0.5 Units E/W)