Who Will Win The 2014 Australian Open?
Will Djokovic and Azarenka claim glory again at the 2014 Australian Open? Today professional tennis trader The Sultan returns to deliver his analysis and selections for the 2014 Australian Open.
January 13th sees the start of the first tennis Grand Slam of the year - the Australian Open.
Australian Open Tournament History
Beginning life in 1905 in Melbourne as the Australian Championships, it was hosted by six other cities before it became the Australian Open in 1969 and settled in Melbourne 3 years later. But it wasn't until the 1980s that the tournament started to become as prestigious as the other 3 Slams. Its geographical remoteness, low prize money and inconvenient dates in December meant many top players didn't participate. That changed in 1988, with a move to current location Melbourne Park, a fixed date of mid-January and a change of surface from grass to hard court.
Djokovic and Federer have dominated the men's event since 2004; only Marat Safin (2005) and Rafa Nadal (2009) have also won the title in that period. Djokovic has won the last 3 years, Federer 4 times and Andy Murray has been losing finalist in 3 of the last 4 years. The final of this event has a history of throwing up surprise runner-ups. Arnaud Clement, Rainer Scheuttler, Marcos Baghdatis, Fernando Gonzalez and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are amongst the names who have lost in recent times.
Finalists have been far more predictable in the women's event, with Serena Williams winning 5 times since 2003 but several other big names on the trophy too: Henin, Clijsters, Mauresmo, Sharapova and the champion of the last 2 years, Victoria Azarenka.
The Plexicushion surface is similar to the Decoturf used at the US Open and is classified as medium-paced. The two main courts have retractable roofs, which are used when it's particularly hot as well as for rain, which would speed up the conditions if used.
Best of 5 Sets
In Grand Slam tennis, men's matches are best of 5 sets. This means they can be approached in a slightly different way. The key here is to be patient. It is very rare at this level, for 5 set matches to be straight trains to 1.01. 3-0 is not a scoreline you should see often, So if you bide your time, great opportunities can crop up to lay players with two set leads. There will be plenty of come backs from this position and you only need a couple of breaks or a set to make good money.
An important thing to remember is that if a match goes to a deciding 5th set (or 3rd set for the women) there is no tie-break. The winner must have a clear 2 game margin to claim victory.
Value With Qualifiers In Early Rounds
A few days of qualifying matches will have taken place before round 1. A great tactic is to look to back players who have come through qualifying at the start of their first round tie. All qualifiers will have played 3 matches, so will be used to conditions, balls etc and most importantly, will be feeling confident. It's common to see qualifiers start matches well, even against much higher ranked opponents, even if they still go on to lose.
The Men's Draw
Will it be 4 times in a row for Djokovic?
I think so! He is still on this amazing winning streak (26 matches if you include the Mubadala Exhibition), he has a relatively easy draw and none of his rivals look close to their best. Rafa Nadal has a tough quarter of the draw on paper. Home favourite Bernard Tomic is just about the worst opening round draw you can get and then there's Gael Monfils in round 3 and rejuvenated Lleyton Hewitt (winner in Brisbane), dangerous Kei Nishikori and potential champion Juan Martin Del Potro all lying in wait before he even reaches a semi final against Murray, Federer or Tsonga.
Nadal won in Doha recently, although the average quality of opposition he faced gave him far more trouble than they should have and I certainly would not feel confident backing him to win. That said, those matches will have been good preparation and unlike Murray and Djokovic, he will be much more into the swing of things. The same can be said of Federer, who reached the final in Brisbane. Unlike Nadal though, he failed in the toughest test, losing to Lleyton Hewitt - which pretty much sums up the way things have been going for him. All that said, Novak Djokovic never usually plays a serious tournament beforehand and it hasn't stopped him doing well!
Andy Murray is probably going to need more matches to get back to the level required to challenge after such a long time out. His quarter is relatively weak but with his lack of matches and wins, I feel he will struggle against Tsonga (who has started the season impressively) or Federer.
I would rule out anyone else other than Del Potro. I think this could be his year to get his second Grand Slam title and he's started well, reaching the final in Sydney and the draw is favourable for him, with only Paire and Dimitrov potential banana skins on the way to the quarters - though neither have started the season well.
Outsiders to Watch for
Gael Monfils has started the season in astounding form, reaching the final of Doha where he took a set off Nadal and was very close to going a break up in set 3. If he continues at this level he's a genuine threat. He is due to meet Nadal in round 3 and if he makes a better start than he did in Doha (nervously losing the first set 6-1) I think an upset could be on the cards.
The bottom half of the draw looks a far easier route for the big names. Stanislas Wawrinka (winner in Chennai already) will be clear favourite to meet Djokovic in the 4th quarter-final whilst Berdych and Ferrer are the two stand out names in the 3rd quarter, which is easily the weakest on paper. I certainly think this is the quarter most likely to see an outsider into the last 8 - maybe Tommy Haas, Kevin Anderson or Edouard Roger-Vasselin.
Men's Draw Selections
To Win: Novak Djokovic - Best Odds 1.85 at Winner Sports.
Men's Draw Best Odds - as at 11th January 2014
|J M del Potro||17.00|
|J W Tsonga||53.95|
The Women's Draw
Will it be 3 times in a row for Azarenka?
It could be but I don't see it. It's easy to pick Serena Williams to win every tournament she enters, as she has taken the majority of them over the past year. But the two Slams that eluded her in 2013 are undoubtedly going to be top priority in 2014 and that starts with the Australian Open. Injury last year scuppered her hopes as she was knocked out by Sloane Stephens and that was a defeat that clearly hurt the world number 1. Wins over her two big rivals Sharapova and Azarenka on the way to the Brisbane title, mean that she is already straight into top gear.
If there is one player I fancy to beat her, it would be Li Na. She showed in the US Open final that she can live with Williams and was not far away from taking that title. A win in Shenzen for the second year running, means her preparations for Melbourne are strong again. Losing finalist in 2 of the last 3 years, I think she is the one to watch.
Top Half of Draw
Williams should cruise through her quarter but we might see a "surprise" name joining her in that quarter final battle. Tsvetana Pironkova never does much away from a grass court but has started the season in remarkable form, reaching the final in Sydney. If the 8 matches she played don't take their toll, she is one to watch. American teenager Madison Keys has no-one to fear in her section, with Sara Errani the biggest name and one she could definitely beat to reach the quarters.
The second quarter is a tough one for Li Na, with Kerber (Sydney finalist), Kvitova and Venus Williams lying in wait. I'd still take her over any of them but it certainly makes her a much less appetising prospect to back.
Bottom Half of Draw
The third quarter looks like a Jankovic-Sharapova quarter final clash on paper but I feel if there's going to be an outsider break through, this will be the section of the draw. Halep, Cibulkova and Petkovic are dangerous floaters and several other names (such as Suarrez-Navarro) will fancy their chances of making the last 8.
The final quarter looks quite weak, with Radwanska (who looks well below her best) and Azarenka clear favourites to make the quarter final. Kaia Kanepi looks a real dark-horse, with a game big enough to knock out both Radwanska and Wozniacki (the other big name in that section). I've been impressed enough with Sloane Stephens from what I've seen this year, to suggest she can make the semis again, as she did last year - where she was knocked out by Azarenka, her would-be opponent in this year's quarter final.
Women's Draw Selections
To Win: Serena Williams - Best Odds 1.73 at Ladbrokes
Women's Draw Best Odds - as at 11th January 2014
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