TENNIS analyst Gavin Mair (@gavinnightmair) returns to highlight his favourite fancies from the women's side of the Australian Open.
Australian Open | 8th-21st February 2021 | Eurosport
The top tennis players in the world start serving towards the first Grand Slam title of the 2021 season on Monday.
As ever in women’s tennis a host of players could have a chance of capturing a major title, and here are 4 names worthy of backing over the next fortnight.
Aryna Sabalenka (14/1 Sky Bet)
The big hitting Aryna Sabalenka heads into this edition of the Australian Open as one of the players to beat. For a couple of years Sabalenka has looked a player with the potential to win a Grand Slam title with a powerhouse game that no opponent can answer to when she is in good flow.
As the 2020 season ended the Belarusian captured back to back tournaments in Ostrava and Linz, then followed it up with a dominant title run in Abu Dhabi at the turn of the year.
The tennis she showed during the triumphant spell was highly impressive – when she was playing well she was untouchable, and when she was in a day where things weren’t going to plan she was able to knuckle down and find a way to win.
Sabalenka has been backed in since mid-November. When I backed her outright for this tournament in December I was able to get 18/1, and now she is available at a best price of 14/1 after hitting a low of 10/1 a couple of weeks ago.
I’ve never seen Sabalenka look this consistently sharp at any point in her career and it feels like a good chance for her to win a maiden Grand Slam
Serena Williams (10/1 Bet365)
In the build up to the 2020 US Open I had become convinced that it was safe to say that the best days of Serena Williams were now far behind her and that she was no longer capable of winning the elusive 24th Grand Slam title that would tie her level with Margaret Court – whose ‘achievement’ was set in the early years of tennis being considered a professional sport, with many of her wins coming against amateurs.
Despite the legendary American looking slow on her feet and appearing far from secure in her general play, her champion personality still enabled her to make the semifinal in New York.
Roll on a few months and Williams has arrived in Australia looking fully fit – for the first time in a long time – and she has shown a calmness on court that has been rarely seen in recent seasons.
Since returning to the tour after pregnancy in 2018 Serena has contested 4 Grand Slam finals in addition to the aforementioned US Open semi-final demonstrating that even post-peak Williams is there or thereabouts at the business end of the tournament.
I backed Serena and Sabalenka prior to the tournament draw being made and unfortunately they are forecast to meet in the Round of 16. However, you can safely assume the winner of their battle will take some beating going forward.
Garbine Muguruza (10/1 Bet365)
Garbine Muguruza has looked in incredible form during the lead-up tournament Down Under. She dropped only a handful of games until the final where she encountered a narrow loss to home favourite Ash Barty, a player that is proven to be a difficult style match-up for the Spaniard and is thankfully on the other side of the draw.
Last year Muguruza made it to the final of the Australian Open, losing from a set up in the final to Sofia Kenin – who made an unexpected breakthrough this time last year, winning at a pre-tournament price of around 66/1.
The former Roland Garros and Wimbledon champion looks in a good swing and should be heartened by a promising draw that avoids any obvious bananaskins until a potential 4th round clash with Naomi Osaka. The winner of this match should be considered as having a good chance of making the semis.
Victoria Azarenka (24/1 Unibet)
I made the previous 3 player selections prior to the draw being made, and unfortunately they all landed in the same half of the tournament ladder. Therefore I made a search for value in the noticeably softer top section.
Azarenka made the US Open final last season, and looks to have refound the form that saw her lift the Australian Open title in both 2012 and 2013. Following her strong US summer she made the final in Ostrava to confirm that her comeback form wasn’t temporary.
The Belarusian suffered legal difficulties involving custody of her child and was barely seen on the tour for several years. However, she appears to have her off-court issues under control, or at least to the extent where she is able to focus on her career again.
The one concern with Azarenka is that she was forced to sit two weeks inside a hotel room on arrival in Australia after coming into contact with a passenger on her flight that tested positive for COVID-19 and has therefore had less adjustment time than most – but not all – players.
She has a tough assignment in the first round against Jessica Pegula, but assuming she comes out on top of the American it wouldn’t be the worst opponent to help Azarenka develop some form. It is certainly worth an investment for your outright portfolio at 20/1+.