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.
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.
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)