The first Grand Slam tennis tournament of 2017 kicks off 'Down Under' as hundreds of tennis players descend upon Melbourne, determined to start the New Year with a bang. The local spectators will be rallying around Aussie players like Nick Kyrgios, or even the inconsistent Bernard Tomic, but everyone is hoping to see a rematch between the top two players on the planet.
Novak Djokovic returns to the Australian Open to defend his 2016 title, with his greatest challenge arriving in the shape of his friendly Scottish nemesis, and current World Number One player, Andy Murray. Djokovic managed to best his frenemy at the 2017 Qatar ExxonMobil Open, winning two out of three sets, but the newly knighted Scot felt he started well, saying:
"Physically it was a good test to start the year, and I did good there. Obviously I am disappointed not to win but I played pretty good the last couple of the matches."
Both Murray and Djokovic are odds on favourites with the bookies to reach the final, but bet365 is hedging its bets by offering a lower return on Djokovic to win at 11/8, while Murray is slightly higher at 13/8.
Tennis headlines have been dominated by the return of Swiss maestro Roger Federer to competitive tennis after a nasty knee injury – one of a number of issues that plagued his 2016 season. He lost the Brisbane International after a bout of flu, missed Dubai to have surgery on his knee, withdrew from the Madrid Open after suffering a back injury during practice, and also missed the 2016 Brazil Summer Olympics for his knee.
Despite this string of horrendous bad luck, he finished the year ranked No. 17. The last time he played at the Australian Open was in 2016, when Federer managed to reach the semi-finals before bowing out against Djokovic. This was actually an improvement on 2015, when he was ejected in the third round, but a far cry from 2010 when he won the title.
Although it would be a fairy tale return to tennis if Federer managed to clinch the title again after his rollercoaster 2016, the bookmakers are being more realistic, with bet365 offering odds of 16/1, behind the likes of Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka, both of whom are courting odds of 12/1.
While Roger Federer experienced the curse of 2016, Serena Williams enjoyed one of the best years of her career, reaching three Grand Slam finals, with a win in Rome as well as winning both Wimbledon singles and doubles alongside her sister Venus on the same day. She also got engaged to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.
Yet 2016 was not without its dismay, with Williams plagued by minor injuries that saw her withdraw from many events. It got off to a bumpy start at the Australian Open, where she failed to defend her title in the final against Germany’s Angelique Kerber, who then finished the year as the women’s Number One after winning the US Open. Williams made it to the semi-finals of that tournament, losing to Karolína Plíšková.
With an extended break to focus her mind, Williams now returns to Melbourne on the edge of history, beating Steffi Graf’s record of winning 22 Major titles in her career. Despite not retaining the World Number One title, she is bet365’s favourite to win outright, offering odds of 12/1, while her rival and current number one Kerber is garnering odds of 7/2.
With Murray and Djokovic fated to duel with each other in every Grand Slam until retirement beckons, it's difficult to see which players could cause an upset. Solid choices would be Wawrinka or Nadal, both of whom are attracting odds of 12/1. If you're a punter that likes to take home advantage into account, then a bet on Australian Nick Kyrgios might be in order, with attractive odds of 33/1.
One of the wildcard entrants to watch is the Saudi-born American player Michael Mmoh. At just 18 years of age, his record to date is mostly in the junior versions of the tournament, which is why his odds of winning are set at an astronomical 500/1. His playing style has been compared to the likes of Andy Murray, Gael Monfils and Andy Roddick – an explosive combination that might cause upset as he moves into the professional tournaments.
If you're looking beyond Williams or Kerber for a player that offers good odds, young Spaniard Garbine Muguruza is attracting odds of 8/1, the same as No. 5 ranked Karolina Plíšková. Although she has only ever managed to reach the fourth round in Melbourne, in 2014. In 2015, she won the 2016 French Open, beating bookies favourite Serena Williams. Could she conjure up some of the same magic here?
Another one to watch is Romanian Simona Halep, currently ranked fourth in the world. She has managed to reach the quarter finals of the Australian Opens in 2014 and 2015, although bowed out in the first round of 2016 after a shocking defeat to China’s Shuai Zhang. This was later attributed to injuries on her nose and Achilles, which have been now been treated. bet365 is predicting a return to form, with odds of 10/1.
A long shot would be Serbian player Jelena Jankovic, who will rack up her 53rd consecutive Grand Slam at the 2017 Australian Open. The former World Number One is currently ranked 39th, which would explain the long odds bet265 is offering at 100/1. The furthest she has progressed at this Grand Slam is through to the semi-finals, yet despite some injury upsets in 2016 she managed to reach the final in Guangzhou.
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