The first Grand Slam of the year starts on Monday and the lack of some familiar names makes the 2018 Australian Open all the more tantalising.
We will start with the men’s singles and, bar reigning champion Roger Federer, the main contenders seem to be dropping like flies.
Federer is rightly the 19/10 favourite and looks in better shape than 12 months ago when, coming back from injury, he finally won his 18th Grand Slam title. He went on to add Wimbledon to his tally and seems to be mastering his new policy of resting whenever he feels fatigued.
At 36, there will be doubts over his ability to put a fortnight’s worth of tennis together. However, with five Melbourne titles behind him, few would be surprised if he makes it six on January 28.
Second in the betting is another veteran who took the other two Grand Slams last season but after a brief spell of fitness, it seems Rafael Nadal‘s troublesome right knee is going to hinder him.
The Spaniard lost to Federer last year and, in fact, failed to beat him at all in 2017. He is still the world number one, though, but at 9/2 is just too short when considering his fitness troubles.
Novak Djokovic is in the same boat after his trouble with an elbow issue and, like Nadal, the six-time champion recently withdrew from the Brisbane International.
The Serb does not seem the same player that triumphed in Australia in 2016 and it would be some effort for Djokovic (11/2) to add to his tally, especially as his injury-inflicted break from the game means he is seeded 14th.
With no Andy Murray this year, fourth in the betting is Grigor Dimitrov at 9/1 and he is a fascinating case. Momentum is such a vital part of all sports and, having claimed the ATP World Tour Finals in November, he is a man in form.
He saw his chances scuppered by Nick Kyrgios in Brisbane (more of him later) but that could be the setback he needed to sharpen him up.
The Bulgarian is known as ‘Baby Fed’ for a reason and after reaching the semi-finals 12 months ago, this looks the best chance he has had to win a Grand Slam.
Speaking of Kyrgios, he has the bit between his teeth and again the question is: can he finally do it? Finally might be a bit strong for the 22-year-old but he seems to have been around forever.
His win last week in Queensland is sure to have boosted his often unpredictable mood and 16/1 provides plenty of value, but doubts remain as to whether he has the temperament.
We are now into the realms of the underdogs and players who can cause a shock. Juan Martin del Potro is 14/1 – too short considering his injury record. As a former US Open winner, Delpo knows how to win but there are always worries about his fitness and he is too fragile to trust.
Marin Cilic is also a player who can raise hopes but then see his dreams come crashing down. The Croatian is another who has won at Flushing Meadows in the past and his rangy style means he is a similar player to Del Potro.
The 33/1 shot Cilic will also feel the Grand Slams owe him one after a blister killed his chances of beating Federer in the Wimbledon final.
On to the ladies and much of the talk surrounding the women’s singles had been about the absent Serena Williams. The American had hoped to be fit enough to play in Melbourne but says she is not at the level required after giving birth to her first child in September.
It opens up the event to everyone else and world number one Simona Halep, the 7/1 favourite, will be keen to finally break her duck in the majors. The Romanian has been knocking on the door for what seems like forever and, having twice lost out in the final of the French Open, it could be her time.
However, with two quarter-final appearances her best return in Australia, it may be worth looking elsewhere and Karolina Pliskova is joint-second in the betting at 15/2. A quarter-finalist 12 months ago, her improvement in recent years has been staggering and she seems to have the game required to thrive on the hard courts.
She is joined at 15/2 by Elina Svitolina, who appears to be the form player. The Ukrainian beat Pliskova on her way to winning last week’s Brisbane International and is another who still has something to prove at the Grand Slams as she has never made it past the quarters.
Garbine Muguruza is the real danger at 10/1, having been there and done it all before. Last year’s Wimbledon triumph went with the French Open title she claimed in 2016 and she clearly has a winner’s mentality.
The one question mark against the 24-year-old is that she has traditionally struggled on the hard courts although if you can win at SW19, you can do the same at Melbourne Park.
The 10/1 available is a good price for Caroline Wozniacki, especially considering she won the recent WTA Finals. It seems a Grand Slam is all that is missing from the Dane’s CV and it could finally be her time.
French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko is also a ridiculous 28/1, having beaten Serena in a recent exhibition match to allay fears about her ability on hard courts.
However, the value bet has to be Venus Williams at 22/1. The 37-year-old is a two-time finalist in Melbourne and, having lost a spell of her career due to illness, seems to have rediscovered her form over the last 12 months.
Unlike other events, the timing of the Australian Open means surprises are always possible and it promises to be another barnstorming fortnight Down Under.
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