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Saturday, 18 January 2020

Australian Open Tennis Outright Picks and Preview 2020 (January 20-February 2)

The 2020 Tennis season has already begun with a new tournament, the ATP Cup, taking most of the headlines over the first two weeks of the season.

I am still not convinced about the organisers having a very similar tournament to the new look Davis Cup being played just six weeks apart, but it seems like the fans got on board and there is a suggestion the WTA will follow suit in the years ahead. It would mean a new way of approaching the first Grand Slam of the season, even if the Ranking points on offer have been heavily criticised considering the difficult criteria that needs to be satisfied and one that is going to really limit entrants to those at the top of the sport.

I can understand the frustrations in a sport where there is a real disparity in terms of earnings between the top players and those trying to make a living on the Tour... But the other side of the coin is that fans want to pay to watch the very biggest names and it is hard to ignore that. I would certainly think about changing the Ranking points to reflect those you can earn on the ATP 250 Tour rather than where it is now, but that is something that will need to be discussed as well as the fact that this ATP Cup is played weeks after a very similar looking Davis Cup is completed.


Those are issues that will need to be resolved in the months and years ahead, but the more pressing concern in Australia is the continuation of the raging fires that have shown little sign of ending. The impact on the climate is clearly a massive concern and one beyond those of us who are solely looking at the sporting impact, but that impact has also got to be considered with the Australian Open beginning this Monday in Melbourne.

Qualifiers have been played in very difficult conditions and players have struggled with the air quality which has led to suggestions that the Australian Open will be postponed, delayed or have the format of the early Rounds of the Men's tournament changed. All of those have been clarified since the initial reports, but there is clearly a real problem there and it may mean having to use the roofs that are available to make it as comfortable to play in Melbourne as it can be.

Weather conditions may be dictating play under the roof anyway with rain expected throughout the first week of the tournament and that can play havoc on the players who have not been scheduled to play on one of the main three courts. We have seen other Grand Slams fall into disarray when matces are backlogged like they could be at the Australian Open next week and it could be something that has a big impact on the way the tournament develops.


The 2019 season proved to be a very good one for the Tennis Picks with a very positive return at the end of the year which was around 30 units better than the year before, which was also a season with a very strong return. We still have some of the top names in the Men's game leading the way and it is the 'Big Three' who make up the top four favourites at the Australian Open, and the ever-improving Daniil Medvedev is also involved in those positions in the Outright Market.

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer continue to lead the way for the most part, although it will be interesting to see if some of the younger talents can make a more consistent breakthrough. Daniil Medvedev looks closest to doing that, but Stefanos Tsitsipas was the latest winner of the ATP Finals and that can't be dismissed.

The Women's game looks as wide open as it has in the last couple of years and for the third season in a row we had four different Champions at the four Grand Slams played. In those years only Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka have won multiple Slams and I do think the prices reflect that at the Australian Open with only three players in single digits in the Outright Market.

It is a shame that Bianca Andreescu is not able to take part this week and Kim Clijsters return to the Tour has also been delayed. Guessing how the year will go on the WTA looks a fool's errand too with so many players looking like they are on the edge of really taking hold of the top position on the Tour, but many others capable of producing three or four months of hot tennis that leads to multiple successes.

I would not be surprised if this is another season where we have four different Grand Slam Champions on the WTA Tour and I actually think the competitiveness at the top of the WTA is good for the fans. It might make picking matches a bit more difficult, but for pure viewing entertainment I am looking forward to the season.


The Australian Open is going to be the first tournament I am making Picks from in the 2020 season and that follows on from 2019 when I only had a total of TWO Picks through the first two weeks of the season. I have felt the long lay-off coupled with the new ATP Cup did make it more difficult to negotiate two weeks which can be erratic and the Australian Open has long been the Grand Slam that can produce some unexpected faces at the business end of the event.

In this thread I will take a look at the tournament and I am going to have daily threads that cover the Picks as I have done in recent seasons. Twelve months ago I finished with over 24 Units of profit from the Australian Open and it was something I was able to build upon in the months ahead, although I will admit I have usually had some up and down moments when it comes to those tournaments Down Under.

Hopefully we can get off to a flyer like we did in 2019 at the start of another long season on the Tour.

For those who are interested in these things, I have finally opened an Instagram page which can be accessed here.

And now we get onto the Outright look at the Australian Open following the draw and any Picks to begin the tournament which I have identified.


Men's Draw
I went back to have a look at the Australian Open Preview and Picks I had twelve months ago and backing Novak Djokovic to win the tournament was a boring, but effective selection.

The World Number 2 looks like he is already in good form having led Serbia to victory in the ATP Cup and his dismantling of Rafael Nadal in the Final has to have given him a huge boost of confidence. It was Djokovic and Nadal that sliced up the four Grand Slams between them in 2019 and I am not at all surprised to see them as the top two favourites going into the Australian Open this time either.

The draw was made on Thursday and I have to say Novak Djokovic has got to be very satisfied at a tournament he has largely made his own. While not having the kind of dominance Rafael Nadal does in Paris or what Roger Federer managed in London, Novak Djokovic has won six of the last nine Australian Open tournaments and he has won seven overall here which makes up just under half of his total of sixteen Slam titles.

An opening match against Jan-Lennard Struff won't be easy, but Novak Djokovic looks like he is going to come into Melbourne in very good form and it is hard to see him knocked off. I do think Novak Djokovic is going to be very happy with the way the first Four Rounds are likely to develop, but there is one real hurdle that could step in front of him on the way to another Final and that comes in the form of Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The ATP Finals Champion finished 2019 with the memorable win in London to earn the biggest title of his career and Tsitsipas is going to be backed by a loud Greek community that is based in Australia. Last year they helped him through to the Semi Final here and Tsitsipas has some solid numbers on the hard court over the last twelve months even if he was not at his best at the ATP Cup played earlier this month.

Stefanos Tsitsipas also holds a winning record over Novak Djokovic which is going to give him confidence and beating Roger Federer here last year means he won't be intimidated by the 'big name' on the other side of the court.

However no one should take for granted that Tsitsipas is going to be in the Quarter Final to oppose Djokovic with the likes of Milos Raonic and Roberto Bautista Agut potentially standing in front of him in the Third and Fourth Rounds respectively. Milos Raonic has had injury problems over the last year, but has a booming serve that can take the racquet away from Tsitsipas, while Roberto Bautista Agut won all six ATP Cup matches played and also pushed the Greek to four sets in a losing effort here last season.

Another player who should be relatively happy in the bottom half of the draw is the aforementioned Roger Federer who took the decision to skip playing warm up tournaments so he can be fully ready to go in Melbourne. He won the titles here in 2017 and 2018 so has to be respected, but Federer did not really hit his very best form after pushing Djokovic all the way in a classic Wimbledon Final back in July.

It does lead to doubts about his ability to reach the business end of this tournament, but the draw might have put those concerns to the back of the mind. Roger Federer should be able to build some momentum through the first three Rounds before a potentially tough match against either Denis Shapovalov or Federer's conqueror at the US Open Grigor Dimitrov.

That potential Fourth Round match looks to be the toughest in this Quarter of the draw, although Borna Coric and Matteo Berrettini may have something to say about that. The latter is an interesting proposition, but this is his first tournament of the 2020 season after a memorable 2019 and his hard court numbers suggest he will find it difficult to match the kind of run he had at the US Open a few months ago.

I do think there is every chance the Seedings hold up in the bottom half with a Roger Federer vs Novak Djokovic Semi Final lined up for a week on Friday.


In all honesty the top half seems more straight-forward and I would be very surprised if Rafael Nadal is not making the Semi Final at the least- the Number 1 Seed was in good form at the Davis Cup and ATP Cup which alleviates concerns about the injury he was dealing with at the ATP Finals in London, while he could not have asked for a much better draw even accounting for the potential 'x factor' one opponent can bring.

I think Nadal is going to have very few problems in the first three Rounds, but he is then Seeded to meet Nick Kyrgios who will have the home fans behind him as well as a game that has proven difficult for the Spaniard to deal with in the past. Motivation for Kyrgios on a day by day basis is hard to work out though and it would not be a major surprise to me if he was not able to win the three matches required to potentially face Rafael Nadal in the Fourth Round.

Instead it may come down to Karen Khachanov, who I do think can make strides in the 2020 season, but the young Russian is 0-8 against Rafael Nadal so the upset is hard to foresee.

Dominic Thiem and Kevin Anderson are interesting names that could face Rafael Nadal in the Quarter Final, but I think both have issues to work out. The latter had an injury hit 2019 and only played his first tournament since Wimbledon at the ATP Cup, while Dominic Thiem has yet to get beyond the Fourth Round at the Australian Open which may leave the path clear for Nadal.

Instead the biggest threat in the top half should be Daniil Medvedev who reached the US Open Final and almost fought back from 2-0 down in sets to beat Rafael Nadal. At the moment I honestly believe only the top two Ranked players are performing better than the Russian and his game is tailor made to win Grand Slams whether that is to happen in 2020 or not.

There is no doubt that Medvedev has a more hazardous path through to the Semi Final with a difficult opening match against Francis Tiafoe and former Australian Open Finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could be waiting in the Third Round. A former Champion here in Stan Wawrinka is a potential Fourth Round opponent and it would not be a huge surprise if the tennis catches up to Medvedev at some stage in this tournament, even if he showed a lot of character to come through difficult moments in New York a few months ago.

Andrey Rublev and Alexander Zverev are possible Quarter Final opponents who could be tough to stop if they have built up the momentum to reach that stage of the tournament and overall it looks a tough route to the Final for the third favourite in the Men's draw.

Even getting to the Semi Final might be some achievement for him here despite continuing to show character in matches and putting wins together even when it looks like Medvedev should be counted out. That inner belief has to be a sign of a future Grand Slam Champion (and one I think will win multiple Slams too), but this one might come too soon with the path that has to be treaded by the Number 4 Seed.


So what are the plays? Like I did twelve months ago, I have to recommend Novak Djokovic for the title even though he is very short odds. In fact he will go off at the same price as he was ahead of the 2019 Australian Open and I mentioned it was a 'boring' selection last season, but ultimately it returned a winner and he will be my main Outright selection from the opening Grand Slam of the 2020 season too.

The other Outright play in the Men's draw that I am going to take is the odds against quote for Roger Federer to win the Third Quarter. I mentioned the lack of competitive tennis could be a concern, while there are a couple of tough opponents in the section, but Federer should be able to ease his way into a tournament he won in 2017 and 2018 and I think he is looking like a solid play to reach the second week and another Semi Final here after the surprise Fourth Round defeat in 2019.


Women's Draw
It has been something of a mixed twelve months for Naomi Osaka who comes into the Australian Open as the defending Champion having won consecutive Slams when leaving with the title last year. Injuries have perhaps prevented her from kicking on, although the Number 3 Seed will come into this event as the joint second favourite to win the tournament having shown considerable form since the US Open.

She can be a hard person to read, but twelve months ago I did say she was the leading player to win the tournament along with Serena Williams and Elina Svitolina. Unfortunately I did not see the value in Osaka at the time despite that opinion.

Naomi Osaka lands in the Second Quarter of the draw and reached the Semi Final in Brisbane in preparing for the Australian Open, although the defeat to Karolina Pliskova ended her fourteen match winning run. The last eight wins prior to the loss in the Final came against players all Ranked inside the top twenty-five in the World Rankings and that is impressive no matter how you look at it.

There are some solid names in this Quarter of the draw which makes it hard to know how far Osaka can go, although the clear big threat is Serena Williams who won her first title in three years in Auckland earlier this month. Williams and Osaka are due to meet in the Quarter Final, but there are players capable of getting hot that could stand in the way with the most notable being Sloane Stephens, Sofia Kenin and Johanna Konta.

Two of those players have had injury concerns in recent weeks and months, while Sofia Kenin plays with her heart on her sleeve and won't give up but ultimately lacks some of the same firepower that Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams bring to the table.

A potential Quarter Final between Osaka and Serena Williams would be huge and I do think both are capable of backing up Seedings to get there.

The home fans will be hoping that those two players can take something away from the other no matter who wins as that may leave the door open for Ashleigh Barty to move one match away from becoming the first Australian woman to win the title here since 1978. The Number 1 Seed won the Grand Slam at the French Open in a real surprise, but Barty will be coming into the Australian Open without any competitive tennis under her belt in 2020.

Ashleigh Barty has been given anything but an easy draw with Lesia Tsurenko likely to be followed by Polona Hercog while Alison Riske and Petra Martic are other potential threats that will have to be dealt with before the Quarter Final.
Even if Barty was able to come through those matches, players like Madison Keys and Petra Kvitova, who both reached the Semi Final or better in Brisbane, could be waiting and I think the Australian looks a short price here. Madison Keys in particular interests me, despite the difficult opening match against Daria Kasatkina, and she has a game that is well suited to the hard courts.

In the last five editions of the US Open and Australian Open, Madison Keys has reached two Fourth Rounds, a Quarter Final, a Semi Final and a Final. The American has twice reached the Quarter Final in Melbourne in her career and she is capable of a very good run here.


Over the last couple of years it has become something of a feature of my pre-tournament thoughts about the Women's Grand Slams that there are some extremely difficult Quarters that need to be separated out. The top half looks a touch clearer to be me than the bottom half at the Australian Open with multiple Grand Slam Champions and players in form involved.

The highest Seed in the bottom half is Karolina Pliskova who won the title in Brisbane which is ideal preparation to take into the Australian Open. Previously you could draw a line through Pliskova as someone who had not brought her form to Grand Slam events, but she finally broke through at the US Open in 2016 when reaching the Final and has since reached the Quarter Final in six of twelve Grand Slams played. However Karolina Pliskova has not made another Final and only two Semi Finals which makes her a vulnerable player despite her Seeding.

The draw does look a decent one for Karolina Pliskova though and in a non-Grand Slam event I would be comfortable in suggesting she can get through to the Quarter Final with matches in front of her. Angelique Kerber had to pull out with an injury in her tournament being played in preparation for the Australian Open and so the biggest obstacles for Pliskova to overcome may be lining up to face her in the Quarter Final.

Elina Svitolina, Garbine Muguruza and Kiki Bertens are all on the other side of the mini-bracket in this section. I really do like the chances of Svitolina and Bertens, but my lean is towards the Dutchwoman who has played well on the hard courts and had a decent showing in Brisbane before going down to Naomi Osaka in three sets.

However the lack of success at the Australian Open would be an obvious concern with Kiki Bertens, whereas Elina Svitolina has played well here but has three very difficult matches potentially in front of her to reach the Fourth Round.

Even the Third Quarter of the draw looks like a very competitive one to set up the last remaining Semi Finalist and the three names that leap off the page are Belinda Bencic, Simona Halep and Aryna Sabalenka.

My question marks about the highest Seed in this section has to be the fact that Belinda Bencic made her first serious impact at a Grand Slam a few months ago at the US Open. There is every chance she pushes on from there, but she has only once made it past the Third Round at the Australian Open and has shown little form in the preparation tournaments to be encouraged by her. The draw also presents a couple of players who can be very strong on their day before Bencic is even able to make it through to the Fourth Round this time around and I will move past her.

Simona Halep is a bit more interesting as a former Australian Open Finalist, but she has only reached two Semi Finals in either Melbourne or New York City which suggests her best work is not on the hard courts. As good as the Romanian is, there is a feeling that someone can outhit her on the faster surfaces and she has had a lot more consistent success on the grass than she has on the hard courts at this level.

You can't read too much into the recent form with only one tournament under her belt, but over the last twelve months Halep's numbers are significantly down on the hard courts compared with the grass and clay and her opening match against Jennifer Brady could produce an upset. The Romanian has four previous First Round losses at the Australian Open and I will look past her here too.

Instead it may be time for Aryna Sabalenka to shine at the highest level- the Belarusian did not have the kind of impact in the Singles Grand Slam tournaments as she would have hoped in 2019, especially not after a very strong end to the 2018 season, but Doubles successes may have given her another boost in confidence. She was a Semi Finalist in her second tournament of the season and Aryna Sabalenka has slightly better hard court numbers than both Bencic and Halep over a twelve month period.

The potential Second Round match against Iga Swiatek and Third Round match against Donna Vekic makes for a difficult path for Sabalenka too so there isn't much in terms of a real confident selection to have from this section. Other players like Danielle Collins and Elise Mertens have enjoyed their time in Melbourne in the past, but I am hoping to see a big impact from Sabalenka to help her take the next step in her career.

Last season I thought it might be the time for Aryna Sabalenka to make waves at the Grand Slam level, but twelve months ago she was coming in as the third favourite to win the event. This time around I think she can benefit from flying under the radar somewhat and I am expecting a big couple of weeks from a big hitting player.


Picking a winner in the Women's draw is much more difficult than in the Men's and I can make a case for a number of players. With the way the draw has shaped up, two of the top three in the market are in the same Quarter and all of the top three favourites are in the top half of the draw.

With that in mind there could be some value in picking someone like Aryna Sabalenka or Kiki Bertens at big prices (17.00 and 51.00 respectively) in the hope of at least laying them off later in the tournament. There have been some unfamiliar names at the business end of the Australian Open down the years, but not too many that have reached the Final and so it can be difficult to really identify those who could go all the way.

Those two players I have mentioned may be the surprises to come out of the bottom half, but it looks a difficult market to attack with a lot of confidence.

I think Aryna Sabalenka can at least be backed to come out of the Third Quarter of the draw at a big price and is worth having a small interest on her.

The other Outright selection I am going to have is Madison Keys winning the First Quarter and upsetting Ashleigh Barty, the home fans and Petra Kvitova in this section. The Keys game is well suited to the hard courts as I have mentioned and I do think she can build some momentum through this tournament if she can bring her early season form into this tournament.

Her price is slightly bigger than Aryna Sabalenka's to win her portion of the Quarter and I think it is another worth a small interest ahead of the start of the first Grand Slam of the season.

MY PICKS: Novak Djokovic Win the Tournament @ 2.20 Bet Fred (5 Units)
Roger Federer to Win Third Quarter @ 2.25 Bet365 (2 Units)
Aryna Sabalenka to Win Third Quarter @ 5.50 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Madison Keys to Win First Quarter @ 7.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit)

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