The first Grand Slam event of the 2016 ATP Tour campaign is upon us with the Australian Open kicking off on Monday. It should serve up a treat of a competition, but as ever punters will be looking at Novak Djokovic and considering whether such an unstoppable force can be backed at a price as short as 8/11. He will have to win seven matches – that’s 21 sets in total – and so there is plenty of potential for upset. At odds on, it is a huge risk to invest.
But then you look at the Serb – the world number one and the top seed here – and you think, well, can anybody beat him?
He is a five-time winner of this event, including four of the last five renewals, and his sole defeat in that period came in the quarter finals of 2014, where he lost in a five-set classic to Stan Wawrinka. Last year Djokovic only dropped three sets as he cantered to the title.
In worrying news for every other player on the planet, he has also won the last six tournaments that he has entered – all of those on hard courts – including his first of trophy of 2016 in Doha. He didn’t drop a set there, and so is clearly in great touch.
The nightmare scenario for any would-be champion is that they face a tough early match that presents a giant-killing possibility. Well, the likes of Hyeon Chung, probably Ivan Dodig and then either Andreas Seppi or Teymuraz Gabashvili in the third round will not be causing him sleepless nights. The huge Ivo Karlovic could cause problems in the last 16 – a player who has beaten Djokovic in three of their four meetings – but you would anticipate that the world number one would prove too wily for the big-serving Croat these days.
He is head-and-shoulders above his competition here, so can anybody stop him?
The Other Contenders
Andy Murray boasts a decent pedigree in this tournament having lost in the final four times in the last six years – three of those at the hands of Djokovic. The Scot had to beat the likes of Grigor Dimitrov, home favourite Nick Kyrgios and Tomas Berdych en route to the final in 2015, so it’s clear he justifies his position as the second favourite at 11/2 here.
But the contrasting news stories that have surfaced recently – Murray places winning the Australian Open as his number one goal for the year, although he has reiterated that he will leave the tournament should his pregnant wife Kim give birth to their first child during the event. She is due a week after the final – give us enough doubt not to get involved.
A shock third round exit for Roger Federer last year at the hands of Andreas Seppi will have knocked his confidence, and although he rallied well to enjoy his best year on the tour in quite some time the Swiss ace’s last final appearance here came back in 2010, and so perhaps the uncomfortably hot conditions do take their toll on his admittedly super-fit 34-year-old legs. Given his form in the other slams, that’s the only conclusion that we can make. He’ll meet Djokovic in the semi final if they make it to that stage here, and so Federer is unbackable even at 12/1.
A renaissance of sorts was enjoyed by Rafa Nadal in 2015 too – certainly the second half of it anyway – with three final appearances since the US Open. He’s playing well, but a stinky first round clash with the talented Fernando Verdasco is enough to put punters off.
One player whose chances we are willing to promote is Stan Wawrinka, who at 16/1 represents fantastic each-way value (losing finalists earn punters a payout). He is a former winner here in 2014 and a semi-finalist last time out, and as the number four seed he will avoid Djokovic in the final. A potential route of Milos Raonic (last 16), Nadal (quarters) and Murray (semis) is tricky, but Raonic is not yet living up to his potential, Nadal is improving but beatable and Murray may suffer from ‘baby brain’. The Swiss star is our outside pick as a result.
First Round Value
Due to the sheer nature of majors on the men’s tour, there is often very little value to be enjoyed in the first round given the gulf in class between the seeds and the qualifiers.
But there are a few ties that catch the eye. Sam Groth is 11/8 to beat Adrian Mannarino in their clash, and the Aussie – who reached the third round of this tournament on home soil in 2015 – recorded the fastest serve on tour last year. Mannarino plays most of his tennis on the second tier Challenger Tour, so his position as favourite in this one is slightly confusing.
There is a potential for a ‘seed slaying’ in the Vasek Pospisil and Gilles Simon meeting as well. The former has beaten the latter in their only meeting to date, while Simon has lost four of his last six matches on hard courts. Pospisil will be supported at 6/4 then.