Frequently at the start of the season, there is almost a ‘new school year’ feel, with players refreshed following some off-season rest and preparation, full of enthusiasm. While that may be the case with some players this year, this year’s men’s event can be more accurately described as the walking wounded.
Men’s Australian Open winner odds: The favourites
A number of top players - including Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka - have considerable injury doubts, while Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori are among the high-profile withdrawals from the tournament.
Given these numerous injury issues, it’s unsurprising to see Roger Federer installed as a strong favourite to win the event, with the Swiss legend currently available at 2.889*, Rafa Nadal (4.710*) and Novak Djokovic (5.690*) next in the betting.
Federer has a superior record to Nadal in their last 50 matches against top 10 opponents (37-13 compared to 27-23) and this is likely to give him a big edge over the rest of the field.
Across the last three years at Melbourne Park, 80.2% of service games have been held, slightly more than the 79.4% ATP hardcourt mean during this time period, while 0.62 aces per game were served, again slightly up on the 0.57 hard court average. With this in mind, it’s reasonable to assert that overall conditions are a touch quicker than average, but not unduly so.
It has been commented by some observers that some courts in this event play quicker than others, but given that historical data does not provide court information to allow backtesting, it is impossible to statistically prove or disprove such an assertion.
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Federer would generally prefer conditions to be as quick as possible, but last year’s title was his first in the Australian Open since 2010 - he’s won five titles overall (three of them between 2004 and 2007). He needed five sets to get the better of Nadal in an epic tussle in last year’s final (the Spaniard hasn’t won the Australian Open since 2009 and that was his first final at the event since 201). Novak Djokovic - five titles in total - has dominated since the start of the decade.
However, as mentioned previously both Nadal and Djokovic have big injury concerns. Nadal ended his 2017 campaign early after one match at the Tour Finals (following his withdrawal from Paris a fortnight earlier) and pulled out of the Brisbane warm-up event last week as well. Djokovic - with a new service motion - eased past Dominic Thiem in the Kooyong Exhibition this week after not playing since his retirement in the Wimbledon quarterfinals in July.
Statistically, there isn’t much to choose between Federer and Nadal, with Federer winning 71.2% of service points won on hard court in the last 12 month, and 39.3% on return (combined 110.5%), with Nadal (70.2%, 40.5% = combined 110.7%) almost identical. However, Federer has a superior record in his last 50 matches against top 10 opponents (37-13 compared to 27-23) and this is likely to give him a big edge over the rest of the field in the latter stages of the event.
Djokovic (106.4% combined) saw his statistics drop vastly last year - evidently afflicted by injury - but it’s worth noting that peak Djokovic - for example in 2015 - won 69.4% of service points and 44.1% on return (113.5% combined) and if he could get back to those levels he’d be the obvious favourite to win the tournament.
Is there an opportunity for those on the fringes?
The aforementioned injury situation is obviously an intangible at the time of writing, so the likes of Grigor Dimitrov (9.510*), Nick Kyrgios (13.740*), Alexander Zverev (16.689*) and David Goffin (17.900*) are more respected in the outright market than would usually be the case.
Of this quartet, all lie between the 106.3% and 103.4% combined service/return points won percentage - quite a bit below Federer and Nadal - with Kyrgios leading this chasing pack. The Australian bad-boy will receive plenty of home support and doesn’t have a disastrous career record (16-24) against top 10 opponents either.
Kyrgios’ success will largely depend on whether he can keep his head together for seven consecutive matches in a fortnight, and also whether his serve-orientated style can get him over the line enough in tight sets.
Evaluating the remaining three players, there is a case for arguing that Dimitrov is a touch over-rated following his World Tour Finals triumph - his numbers indoors are better than outdoors - while Zverev has overperformed on break points consistently in the last season. It’s possible that this may continue, but players who do this frequently mean-revert.
Goffin (14-36 in last 50 matches vs. top 10 opposition) doesn’t often have a higher gear to trouble the big names on tour, and for him to succeed here, the draw would have to seriously open up for the Belgian.
Are there any outsiders worth considering?
Of the remaining players in the men’s Australian Open winner odds, all of Marin Cilic, Milos Raonic, Kevin Anderson, Roberto Bautista-Agut and Sam Querrey boast combined hard court service/return points won percentages in excess of 105%, but all have some doubts over whether they’d be able to sustain a challenge.
80.2% of service games have been held at Melbourne Park, slightly more than the 79.4% ATP hardcourt mean during this time period, while 0.62 aces per game were served, again slightly up on the 0.57 hardcourt average.
Raonic was been injured for large parts of 2017. He played his first match of this year last week and lost in straight sets to young prospect Alex de Minaur as a 1.249 favourite, facing 10 break points on serve across 10 service games - a statistic that supporters of the big-serving Canadian will be horrified by.
Doubts over Cilic focus on poor recent form post-Wimbledon (again, arguably injury-affected) and defeats to Gilles Simon (in Pune last week) and Matt Ebden (in Kooyong Exhibition) won’t have boosted his confidence. A further issue for the Croat is a woeful record against elite level opposition throughout his career.
The big-serving duo of Anderson and Querrey also have mediocre records against top ten opponents, while Querrey typically hasn’t thrived in this part of the world. Bautista-Agut (7-40 career vs top 10) has a flat-track bully dynamic and tends to be outclassed by players better than him.
Finally, some readers may be supporters of the younger prospects on tour at bigger prices, but statistics don’t particularly make a big case for any of them - all of Denis Shapovalov, Andrey Rublev, Hyeon Chung, Daniil Medvedev, Borna Coric and Alex de Minaur are below 102% combined, so it would take a vast improvement for them to threaten the big names in the latter stages.
2018 WTA Australian Open betting preview