Attentions once again turn to Melbourne Park, Australia, as the biggest names on the professional tennis circuit contest the 104th edition of the Australian Open from 18th to 31st January 2016. To help guide you through the betting wilderness, here's an in-depth look at how major bookmakers shape the market.
The Australian Open is the first Grand Slam of 2016 and Novak Djokovic arrives as defending champion in the men’s category, having beaten Andy Murray 7-6, 6-7, 6-3, 6-0 Down Under 12 months ago. It’s therefore little surprise to see bookmakers price the 28-year-old Serb as favourite before a ball has been bounced in anger, with Ladbrokes Sports and Coral Sports offering odds of 4/5.
Followers of the trends will be pleased to note that Djokovic has banked the prize money in four of the last five years, and no less than five times throughout his career. Victory here would put him on a par with legendary local Roy Emerson, who won this honour a record six times between 1961 and 1967 – and that will surely be at the forefront of the 10-time Slam winner’s thinking when the competition kicks off in the New Year.
British number one Andy Murray showed a return to his best form at the tail-end of 2015, when leading Team GB to an emotionally-charged Davis Cup win, making him the first from these shores to win the title in 79 years – adding to the success of ending a 76-year wait for a US Open victor, 77-year Wimbledon champion drought and the 104-year absence of an Olympic Gold medalist.
That’s sure to inspire more than a few patriotic punts on the pride of Dunblane to better his efforts of 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2015, when he finished as runner-up, finding both Federer, and more recently Djokovic, a bridge too far. Fans of the Scotsman have watched Murray mature both mentally and physically in front of their eyes in recent years however, and will be confident of the 28-year-old avenging any final against 'Fed-Ex' and – on his day and playing his best tennis – recording another memorable win over Djokovic.
Those keeping the faith in 'Muzza' can back him to win the 2016 title at 11/2 with Bet365 Sports and William Hill Sports – although with the Scot recently vowing to leave the competition if his wife goes into labour (he is expecting his first child in February), there's a slight possibility he may not make it to the finals.
Following the form is often a tactic of punters at major events and a list of previous winners includes Stan Wawrinka (2014 champion) at 14/1 with Coral Sports, Roger Federer (2010 champion) at 8/1 and Rafael Nadal (2009 champion) at 12/1, both with William Hill Sports.
Another defending champion leads the way in the women’s championship betting, with Serena Williams priced 9/4 at Ladbrokes Sports. A win for Williams would be her second in two consecutive years, after clinching the 2015 competition, and her seventh title on the Melbourne hard court in a highly decorated 20-year career. 34-year-old Serena added French Open and Wimbledon titles to that success in 2015, capping a devastating run of results – so it's no surprise to see her leading the favourites.
The chasing pack is rather predictably headed by last year’s beaten finalist Maria Sharapova, with the 2008 champion narrowly edged out 6-3, 7-6 in the final two of the 2015 competition. The ever-popular 28-year-old Russian hasn’t won a Grand Slam singles title since clinching the French Open in 2014, but there’s little doubt regarding her ability, and the 8/1 offered by Betfred Sports is sure to catch the eye of value hunters, especially with each-way terms of 1/2 the odds 1-2.
Another at a price sure to entice is two-time champion Victoria Azarenka, who took the prize money in 2012 and 2013 consecutively – that sort of form is sure to make the 26-year-old Belarussian a tempting prospect for outside backers, with Coral Sports serving up odds of 7/1.