MARK Stinchcombe (@markstinchcombe) now turns his attention to the Women's draw in Melbourne at the 2017 Australian Open.
Australian Open | 16-29 January 2017 | Eurosport
The 2017 Women's Australian Championship is one of the most open tournaments in recent memory. With no two-time winner Victoria Azarenka, five-time slam winner Maria Sharapova and two-time slam champion Petra Kvitova nor Madison Keys, there looks to be a good 10-15 players who will think they can go deep over the next two weeks.
However, trying to find the winner looks a tough task with negatives surrounding most players at the prices.
Serena Williams has played just one tournament since her semi-final exit at the US Open, when losing in round two at 1/25 to Madison Brengle in Auckland in three sets hitting a staggering 88 unforced errors. She blamed the wind for her troubles which in truth was awkward with her double faulting on match point to gift the victory to the fellow American.
Angelique Kerber followed up her maiden grand slam title here last year with victory at the US Open. It was a great year for the German, as well as reaching World Number one she also made the Wimbledon final, where she was defeated by Serena, and the final of the Olympics.
Her next four tournaments however she lost at odds of 8/13, 3/10, 2/7 and 1/3 with only the latter being a final. 9/2 outright here feels too short, especially in the same half as Muguruza and Halep, two players she has a negative head-to- head record against (overall and hard court respectively). Her preparation hasn't been ideal either, losing two of her three matches to Elina Svitolina at 2/5 and Daria Kasatkina at 4/11.
Karolina Pliskova comes third in the betting at 9/1 but I think she's a weak candidate at the prices. She was runner-up at the US Open and won Brisbane last week which goes someway to explain her odds.
But up to the semi's for the US Open she was favourite for every match at average odds of 4/9 and in Brisbane she was favourite for all her matches at average odds of 4/11. Which makes me wary when at the end of last year she lost at odds of 1/8, 8/15, 4/6 and 4/6.
Throw in the fact that her grand slam record is appalling having made it past round three of any slam just once in her career, then you can see why 9/1 looks skinny. She is also seeded to meet Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarters against whom she is 0-7 against andm has never even taken a set off.
They last met in October and Pliskova was 2/1+, further putting the 9/1 as value in doubt, and the Pole is very comfortable here in Australia having made at least the quarters in five of the last six years.
Garbine Muguruza arrives under an injury cloud having had to retire midway through her match with Alize Cornet in Brisbane with a right thigh issue.
After winning her maiden Grand Slam title at the French Open last year she was touted as the leader of the new generation of tennis stars but as it turns out she's still enormously erratic.
She lost in round two of Wimbledon, where she was a finalist the year before, to 124th-ranked Jana Cepelova, before losing 6-1 6-1 to eventual Olympic champion Monica Puig to which then followed a round two exit at the US Open to Anastasija Sevastova. She's never been past round four here before, either.
Simona Halep (12/1) has 14 WTA titles and has been a top 5 player for the last few years but she just crumbles under the pressure at a slam having only ever made one final at Roland Garros in 2014 and is yet to go past the quarters here, losing in the 1st round when 1/16 last year. Her season hasn't got off to the best start either losing in the 2nd round of Shenzhen at 2/9.
Johanna Konta has been making waves the last few days having dispatched Radwanska 6-4 6-2 in the Sydney final to pick up her 2nd WTA title. She'll be looking to at least recreate her run to the semi-finals here last year, but I think it will be a big ask to go on and win here, especially after her exerts last week.
Only three players in the last 20 years have won Sydney then Australia in Azarenka, Justin Henin and Martina Hingis – all multiple slam winners – which shows you the level of ability required.
I've touched on Radwanska a couple of times already, and essentially she's a great player to read because of her consistency. She doesn't have the weapons to hit players off court but she's very clever at mixing things up and forcing her opponents to go for too much.
I'm not advocating her to win but the 10/3 on her winning the 3rd quarter looks a solid play given her aforementioned record both here and against Pliskova.
I like Dominika Cibulkova (28/1) but she's a very difficult player to trust. Finalist here in 2014, she won the WTA finals last year in her very first appearance but then in typical Domi style began this year with defeats at 4/9 and 1/2.
Her record of only ever being past a quarter-final once anywhere is probably more telling and I'd want bigger than 28/1 for the number six in the world.
The value pick?
So where do we look for value? For me the only one who's positives outweigh the negatives, at the prices, is Serena Williams. She is four times champion here and the runner-up last year.
If you backed her in the match odds market for each round a year ago you would have got Evens. Two years ago when she last won it was 7/4 – generally the price she goes off for slams the last few years.
This year she is 16/5 and there is no way her match odds will be anywhere near cumulatively bigger if she wins. Yes she is a prone to a meltdown but that is more than built into the price and last year when winning Wimbledon she dropped just one set and here in Australia it was only one in the whole tournament also. On her day the only person who can beat Serena is Serena.
Australian Open Women's – Serena Williams to win (16/5 Boylesports)