The first Grand Slam of the year is upon us as the stars of tennis head to Melbourne for the Australian Open with 128 players looking to begin 2019 in the best possible way with a major title and decent cheque.
Roger Federer did just that last year, as he so often has in his career, and he returns to Australia looking to win the title for a third successive time. There are plenty of players out there looking to dethrone him though.
2018 – Roger Federer
2017 – Roger Federer
2016 – Novak Djokovic
2015 – Novak Djokovic
2014 – Stan Wawrinka
2013 – Novak Djokovic
2012 – Novak Djokovic
2011 – Novak Djokovic
2010 – Roger Federer
2009 – Rafael Nadal
As ever in a Grand Slam the draw is pre-determined and the brackets have been drawn ahead of the tournament. Each match in the event is the best of five sets but unlike in previous years there will be a tiebreak in the deciding set. Should the score reach 6-6 in the final set a champion’s tiebreak will be played where the first to 10 points wins the match. The title will be decided on the second Sunday as ever.
Novak Djokovic is back as world number one after his wonderful end to 2018 and he heads up the top quarter of the draw this year. He is probably the one to beat but there are plenty of seeded players capable of troubling him. Those other seeds in this quarter are Denis Shapovalov, David Goffin, Daniil Medvedev, Fabio Fognini, Pablo Carreno Busta, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Kei Nishikori.
It isn’t all about the seeded players in this quarter though. Ivo Karlovic won’t win the tournament but his big serve can give a few a headache while Joao Sousa should enjoy conditions. The standout unseeded player in this quarter though is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who has returned in 2019 with a bang having made it to the semi-finals in Brisbane.
The 2018 ATP Finals winner Alexander Zverev heads up the seedings in the second quarter of the draw and as such he is expected to make the semi-finals at least. He took Djokovic to the cleaners in London which should give him confidence here. The other seeds in this section are Gilles Simon, Hyeon Chung, Milos Raonic, Borna Coric, Marco Cecchinato, Lucas Pouille and Dominic Thiem so on the face of it Zverev has a kind draw.
It might be a quarter where an unseeded player has a decent run with Benoit Paire, Mischa Zverev and Filip Krajinovic among those capable of putting a few wins together. There are four standout unseeded players in this quarter though. They are Nick Kyrgios, Stan Wawrinka, Sam Querrey and Jack Sock who could all blow this section wide open. Jeremy Chardy arrives in good nick too.
The defending champion Roger Federer launches his campaign from this quarter of the draw but if he is to come through it he might have to encounter the man he beat in the final last year in Marin Cilic in the quarter finals. Gael Monfils, Nikoloz Basilashvili, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Karen Khachanov, Roberto Bautista Agut and Fernando Verdasco are the other seeded players in this part of the draw.
There is a hugely obvious name in among the unseeded players in this quarter. Andy Murray jumps out at you in what could very well be his last tournament as a professional. Bernard Tomic could be a danger if he can come past Marin Cilic in the opening round while Tennys Sandgren arrives in good form. Denis Istomin took care of Novak Djokovic here recently and has a first shot at Roger Federer this year.
Rafael Nadal is here and in the tournament and is the highest seed in the bottom quarter. Just how fit he is remains to be seen and how good his game is would be another interesting thing to see. Kevin Anderson might just have hit the jackpot as the next highest seed, if Nadal is not in full working order. Steve Johnson, Grigor Dimitrov, John Isner, Kyle Edmund, Diego Schwartzman and Alex de Minaur are the other seeded players.
Matthew Ebden should get plenty of crowd support in this quarter in this tournament but the big name unseeded man has to be Tomas Berdych. Pablo Cuevas, Feliciano Lopez, Andreas Seppi, Frances Tiafoe and Adrian Mannarino are other household names in the bottom part of the draw this week.
When you bet on this tournament the first thing you have to look for are players who have some fight in them. Conditions get pretty brutal in this event and so you don’t want to be taking players who will disappear when the going gets tough. We then need to decide on which half of the draw to target and with Rafael Nadal clearly not 100% the bottom half is pretty obvious.
Roger Federer still rates as a leading challenger but the value around him is immense and so I’ll take two in case he slips up. The first one is the Paris Masters champion Karen Khachanov. That title was the third hard court tournament he made the final in last year so he is clearly comfortable on the bouncier surfaces and was playing better than ever towards the end of 2018. He floored Novak Djokovic in that Paris final which highlights both his potential, the quality of his game, and his liking for big matches. That should stand him in good stead this fortnight and at 28/1 he could come through.
I’m not normally a fan of taking players who win in the lead up to a Grand Slam because it is a lot of tennis in a short space of time but I can’t ignore Alex de Minaur. Having won in Sydney on Saturday, the Australian ticks the form box and with the home crowds behind him he should run deep if the expectation doesn’t get the better of him. His run to the quarter final could become as simple as one could be should Rafael Nadal not be fit and fall by the wayside early. In terms of seeded players just Kyle Edmund and Diego Schwartzman would remain to stop him making the QF and in truth the unseeded players aren’t great. A worst case scenario in the QF would be Kevin Anderson but even then it could be worse. At 80/1 he’s a no brainer.
Given the draw that is out in front of him it makes sense to take Alex de Minaur to come through the fourth quarter, especially given that he might have to face Roger Federer in the semi-final for an outright payout. He would have paid out in the quarter long before that stage and there is plenty of mileage in the 12/1 on him coming through.
The second quarter looks as open as it gets given that there are stamina doubts over Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem rarely impresses on a hard court so it would be no surprise to see an outsider come through that section. Hyeon Chung should relish these conditions. He was a semi-finalist last year against all the odds but had nothing left to give when he got there. Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic were among his victims last year so he likes it here and offers good value at 33/1 if he can find his better tennis.
In the top quarter I’ll throw a token couple of coins at the Brisbane champion Kei Nishikori who is clearly in good touch. He is another who should enjoy conditions here and while Novak Djokovic is going to be a tough nut to crack the Japanese star raises his game for the big matches and wouldn’t be a 6/1 poke to win a quarter final against him. After fighting his way back to the o2 Arena last year I’m expecting big things from Nishikori in 2019 and a semi-final appearance here offers value.
Back K.Khachanov to win Australian Open (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 29.00 with Boylesports (1/2 1-2)
Back him here:
Back A.de Minaur to win Australian Open (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 81.00 with BetVictor (1/2 1-2)
Back H.Chung to win Australian Open (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 34.00 with Betfair
Back him here:
Back A.de Minaur to win 4th Quarter for a 2/10 stake at 13.00 with Bet365
Back K.Nishikori to win 1st Quarter for a 2/10 stake at 7.00 with Bet365