TENNIS analyst Gavin Mair (@gavinnightmair) returns to highlight his favourite fancies from the women's side of the 2020 Australian Open.
WTA Australian Open | 20th January – 2nd February | Eurosport
The first Grand Slam of the tennis season starts in Melbourne on Monday, and it would be a surprise if one of the leading WTA players does not leave Australia as champion.
The outright market places Serena Williams as the 4/1 outright favourite, and whilst it is understandable given the reputation of the legendary American, I believe that the oddsmakers have opted for the wrong favourite.
Naomi Osaka won back-to-back hard court Grand Slam titles at the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open. Injury hampered her defence of the title in New York last year, but a month later – once the Japanese player had fully recovered – she dominated the Asian swing of the season, lifting important titles in her hometown of Osaka (yes Naomi Osaka is from… Osaka) and Beijing.
It is my belief that when Osaka is fit, she is the woman to beat on a hard court. The world number four is priced at 8/1 (Bet365), and considering this is double the price of Serena it has to be worth a play.
Serena can be opposed
Williams has started the season well by winning a trophy in Auckland, but I don’t accept that victory as an obvious suggestion that she will now be able to overcome her problem of overcoming the top tier players when it matters.
The elephant in the room for Williams is that she has been a clear second best in her last four Grand Slam finals – against Osaka, Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep and Bianca Andreescu – in-form top tier players.
I would expect Williams to coast through the early rounds (fitness permitting), but she is forecast to meet Osaka in the quarter-finals, and unless Williams has somehow improved her movement in the off-season since it was badly exposed by Bianca Andreescu in the US Open final then I wouldn’t hold much hope on Williams besting Osaka.
Furthermore, should Williams make her way into another Grand Slam final I question whether she can handle the pressure, which has evidently numbed her performances in the aforementioned finals and that is reason enough not to back the skinny 4/1 outright price.
Beyond my outright selection of Osaka I believe that there are good bets to be had elsewhere when examining the tournament draw.
Quarter 1 is headlined by world number one Ash Barty who is 2/1 to win her section of the draw. I believe that this is the most likely outcome given her form and unmatched ability when compared to the opposition in this quarter.
However, the 2019 Australian Sports Personality of the Year will have a lot of pressure on her shoulders, and you don’t need to look too far back in the past to find an example of her melting under the pressure of an expectant Australian crowd. In October, Barty was expected to lead her homeland to victory in the Fed Cup final, but fell up short despite two bites at the cherry to seal victory.
If Barty can handle the pressure then she probably wins the quarter, but I believe there is value to be found in an alternative to the Aussie hopeful. The leading contenders are big hitting duo Madison Keys and 2019 finalist Petra Kvitova. Both Keys and Kvitova may be considered enigmatic players that for better or worse control of their destiny, and it is not a stretch to imagine either bombing out unexpectedly should they wake up on an off day.
A player I like a little bit further down the rankings is Maria Sakkari. The Greek 22nd seed is capable of drawing errors from her consistent baseline style, and looks to have the potential to develop a combative counter punching style of play. Sakkari finds herself on the fringes of the top 20 in the world rankings and this tournament could offer her an opportunity to take a step forward in her career.
At 40/1 with Betfred to win Quarter 1 Sakkari is worth a small investment.
Quarter 3 looks an open book, with several candidates to make the semi-finals. This is the quarter of Simona Halep – who blows hot and cold on her least dominant surface – and of Aryna Sabalenka, who much like Keys and Kvitova could win it all or blow up against any player in the field.
I believe the best two value options to win this quarter are Belinda Bencic and Danielle Collins, who are both available at 9/1 to win Quarter 3.
Bencic is a mega talent that has long been tipped to win a Grand Slam title since bursting on to the scene as a precocious 17-year-old. Injuries have stalled her progress, but a healthy 2019 season saw Bencic re-emerge as a contender at the top of the tennis world with an appearance in the US Open semi-final.
Time will tell if Bencic is able to climb to the summit of the game by winning a major title, but at 33/1 (Bet365) it is worth an each-way play on this unique talent.
Danielle Collins, on the other hand, is a late bloomer, having only found success in the past couple of years at the top of the sport, after a stint in the US college system. She is a power hitting baseliner that is underrated due to her inconsistency but she has made two semifinals at Premier Mandatory/Grand Slam level in the past two seasons.
Conditions suit Collins, who made the semifinal in Melbourne last year. Collins looks cracking value at 40/1 (Coral) to win outright. I will try her as an each-way play.
The final quarter of the draw looks equally tempting for outright and quarter winning value. The top two seeds are Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina – neither of which I believe have the complete game necessary to win a Grand Slam.
Both Pliskova and Svitolina maintain a consistent level throughout the season, but lack the X factor needed to be considered as a tier one level player. The oddsmakers do not share my opinion on these players, and price them at very short odds to win Quarter 4.
Anisimova is touted as the next big thing in women’s tennis, and signs over the last season and a half suggest that she will fulfil her potential before too long. Her early season form has looked impressive and without any of the top tier players on her immediate horizon, Anisimova should look at the draw and believe there is a chance to make an impact in Melbourne.
As with my Quarter 3 selections I will take Anisimova each-way outright at 40/1 (Bet365).
Of course, if Anisimova is to go deep she will have to take out my other 4th Quarter selection Kiki Bertens in the 3rd Round.
Bertens has changed her coaching set up in the off season, and having watched her performances closely this season I was impressed by the Netherlanders tactical approach to the rallies. Bertens ended the 2019 season strongly and I hope she can carry her momentum into the latter stages of this event. Again I will chance Bertens at 55/1 each-way (Unibet) to win the title.
Australian Open – Naomi Osaka to win outright (8/1 Bet365)
Australian Open – Belinda Bencic to win outright (33/1 Bet365 each-way)
Australian Open – Danielle Collins to win outright (40/1 Coral each-way)
Australian Open – Amanda Anisimova to win outright (40/1 Bet365 each-way)
Australian Open – Kiki Bertens to win outright (50/1 Unibet each-way)
Australian Open – Maria Sakkari to win Quarter 1 (40/1 Betfred)
Australian Open – Belinda Bencic to win Quarter 3 (9/1 BetVictor)
Australian Open – Danielle Collins to win Quarter 3 (9/1 Betfred)
Australian Open – Amanda Anisimova to win Quarter 4 (10/1 BetVictor)
Australian Open – Kiki Bertens to win Quarter 4 (11/1 Ladbrokes)