We are two weeks into January which means that the opening Grand Slam of the year is upon us as the stars of tennis head to Melbourne for the Australian Open, the event which always throws up some surprises given its slot in the calendar.
It has been a surprise when Novak Djokovic hasn’t won this tournament down the years and it is he who will go in search of a successful title defence this week. We saw at the back end of last year that there are new guns ready to dethrone him though.
2023 – Novak Djokovic
2022 – Rafael Nadal
2021 – Novak Djokovic
2020 – Novak Djokovic
2019 – Novak Djokovic
2018 – Roger Federer
2017 – Roger Federer
2016 – Novak Djokovic
2015 – Novak Djokovic
2014 – Stan Wawrinka
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 back in the day 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 third Sunday as always.
Novak Djokovic heads to Melbourne as the world number one and as such he is the top seed and right at the highest point of the top quarter of the draw. He has a favourable early draw in this section but is scheduled to meet Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter final. Six seeds will be looking to stop that clash from happening. They are Lorenzo Musetti, Francisco Cerundolo, Taylor Fritz, the US Open semi-finalist Ben Shelton, Adrian Mannarino and Tomas Martin Etcheverry.
You always get some big unseeded names in these draws these days and in this one the former Grand Slam champion Andy Murray is in the top quarter of the draw. Former Wimbledon semi-finalist Roberto Bautista Agut is also in here as is Cristian Garin. Two other names which catch the eye in this quarter are Stan Wawrinka, the man who won this title in 2014, and Gael Monfils. Others to take note of include the home player Alexei Popyrin, Marin Cilic and the former Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini.
The ATP World Tour Finals finalist Jannik Sinner heads up the second quarter of the draw. He won a Masters 1000 event last year and the last tournament of the season and you would imagine the next step will be to win a major so he will be targeting this event strongly. Andrey Rublev is the man who could wait for him in the quarter final if this section goes to the seeding. If it doesn’t then the other seeds, Seb Korda, Nicolas Jarry, Alex de Minaur, Karen Khachanov, Frances Tiafoe and Sebastian Baez, will hope to take advantage.
Two names who jump out in this section from the unseeded players are the former Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic and the man who won a Masters 1000 title just 18 months ago in Borna Coric. Both of those will be looking for a decent run while Christopher Eubanks hasn’t really kicked on from that run at Wimbledon and will look to do so here. Quentin Halys, Arthur Rinderknech, J.J. Wolf and Botic van de Zandschulp are the other players who might surprise a few.
Daniil Medvedev was the beaten finalist here in 2021 and 2022 and he’ll look to finally get his hands on the trophy from the third quarter where he is the top seed. He could face an awkward quarter final test against Holger Rune, who looks like he has kicked on already in 2024 under the tutelage of Boris Becker. The other six seeds in this quarter are Felix Auger-Aliassime, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Grigor Dimitrov, Hubert Hurkacz, Ugo Humbert and Tallon Griekspoor.
There are a couple of seasoned campaigners among the unseeded players. David Goffin is still battling to work his way back up the rankings while Denis Shapovalov will be hoping to have a much better 2024 and he did 2023. Dominic Thiem is a former Grand Slam winner who is in this quarter while the home man Thanasi Kokkinakis will get plenty of crowd support while he is in the event. Emil Ruusuvuori was a runner up in Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago and he is in here too.
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Carlos Alcaraz hasn’t really gone that well in Australia before and he will be out to put that right this week. The Wimbledon champion is the highest seed in the bottom quarter of the draw where he is on a collision course with Alexander Zverev in what would be a tasty quarter final clash. Six seeds will be out to stop that from happening and they include the Adelaide champion Jiri Lehecka, Cameron Norrie, Casper Ruud, Tommy Paul, Jan-Lennard Struff and Alexander Bublik, so this looks like a decent quarter.
There are two other Britons in this quarter, both without a seed next to their name. They are Jack Draper, who was a set away from winning the Adelaide title in the lead up to this event, and Dan Evans. Other names of note are the veteran Richard Gasquet, Lorenzo Sonego, Miomir Kecmanovic and Dusan Lajovic. The home player Max Purcell improved throughout 2023 and will look to use the home crowd to his advantage here.
Holger Rune had a decent run to the last 16 here last year when he lost out in a deciding tiebreak in an absolute epic contest with the Russian star Andrey Rublev but clearly in the 12 months since then he has kicked on and has already reached a final this year when he was the runner up in Brisbane. Rune pushed Novak Djokovic and Jannik Sinner to a deciding set at the ATP World Tour Finals and looks to have taken the confidence from that into this season. Boris Becker generally gets his charges up to major winning level and he might well have done that with Rune. I wouldn’t say his draw is simple but he can navigate it and I think he’s a decent price here.
The other bet I like in the outright market is a small punt on Tommy Paul. The American was a semi-finalist here last year when he ran into Novak Djokovic who wasn’t for beating in the second week of that event. That extended a really good period for Paul on hard courts. In all last year he went 31:16 on hard courts while in 2022 he was 27:16 and 25:15 the year prior to that. That is 85:47 since the beginning of 2021, form which has taken him into the top 16 in the world and yet he is a monster price here. Paul also made the last 16 of the US Open last year and he has wins over Carlos Alcaraz on his CV. He feels a monster price in an event where the draw always opens up somewhere.
I’ll leave the top quarter alone here because it is hard to see past a Novak Djokovic vs Stefanos Tsitsipas quarter final there and the odds for both to win the section are on the skinny side it has to be said. I wouldn’t say that Djokovic is a certainty for that match should it happen but at the same time I wouldn’t want to oppose him if I didn’t have to so I’ll leave that quarter alone and head to the second quarter for a bet on the sections.
It is hard to ignore the rise of Alex de Minaur over the last 12 months and while he has never really done it in a major he probably won’t ever get a better chance to go deep than here. He has already seen off Novak Djokovic at the United Cup and he made a number of finals last year. He is obviously going to be the recipient of home advantage in this tournament. If he overcomes Milos Raonic I don’t see him not making the round of 16 and the event is pretty much anyone’s from there. A quarter final with Jannik Sinner wouldn’t be ideal but he would be no forlorn hope in it and I think he’s the value in the second quarter.
Back H.Rune to win Australian Open (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 31.00 with Betfair (1/2 1-2)
Back T.Paul to win Australian Open (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 226.00 with Sky Bet (1/2 1-2)
Back A.de Minaur to win 2nd Quarter for a 2/10 stake at 6.00 with Unibet