Wide open field for first Grand Slam of 2015
The first Grand Slam event of 2015 got under way in Melbourne this week. It’s the 103rd Australian Open and both the men’s and women’s tournaments look wide open this year.
Stan Wawrinka defied the odds to win the title in 2014 while Li Na has retired since capturing the women’s title twelve months ago.
With no major casualties in the men’s tour to report thus far and some upsets in the Ladies’ with Kerber and Ivanovic among the early exits, it’s shaping up nicely for an excellent weekend of Tennis Down Under.
Australian Open – Men’s
No-one has a better record at the Australian Open in the Open era than Novak Djokovic. The four-time champion had won three titles on the bounce and 25 straight matches before his surprise quarter final defeat to eventual winner Stan Wawrinka in Melbourne 12 months ago.
The start of the season can throw up some unusual results. After withdrawing from the Abu Dhabi tournament due to illness the world number one was surprisingly beaten by Ivo Karlovic in the quarter finals in Qatar. The Serb looked in decent touch as he beat Slovenian Aljaz Bedene in round one in Melbourne and while he is the man to beat there are question marks about the 5/6 favourite.
Since he was knocked out of Wimbledon in late June Rafael Nadal has played just nine matches. He lost to a German ranked 127th in the world in Qatar and while pessimistic about his chances in Australia he did look in excellent form in his first round match.
He easily saw off world number 49 Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets and afterwards admitted he was very happy with his performance, stating:
“I was a little bit under doubt before, but I think I played without making too many mistakes and the only way to get better is to win more matches so it will probably help me.
“In general I was working well, returning well and I just need to build a little bit, such as being more dynamic with the movements sometimes. But for the rest I am more or less happy.”
Roger Federer won his 1000th career match in Brisbane this January and with it a stunning 83rd title. The Swiss star is a four-time winner of this tournament but hasn’t reached the final since 2010. There would be no more popular winner and the former world number one is the 19/4 second favourite.
Andy Murray has reached the Australian Open final three times and his best performances have always been after he warmed up at the Hopman Cup. The Scot returned to the team tournament this year and won all three singles matches before easily seeing off Indian qualifier Yuki Bhambri in straight sets in his opening match in Melbourne.
Murray reports that his physical condition is good after some injury concerns and he served well against Bhambri. However, by his own admission he has a ‘difficult’ draw – he may have to beat Grigor Dimitrov, Rafae Nadal and Roger Federer to reach the final – and this is reflected in his odds of 33/4.
Stan Wawrinka emerged from the pack to win this title in 2014 and it is possible that one of the new breed of stars could break through. Kei Nishikori lost in the US Open final last autumn and is a 49/4 chance while Milos Raonic is due a big tournament and can be backed at 31/1.
Australian Open – Women’s
She may not have won the Australian Open title since 2010 but the five-time champion Serena Williams is this year’s 47/20 favourite.
While Serena was impressive in winning the US Open last autumn without dropping a set her form over the last year has been inconsistent. The 33 year old hasn’t got past the quarter final stage at the opening Grand Slam event of the year in the last four attempts and was thrashed 6-1 6-1 by Eugenie Bouchard in the recent Hopman Cup.
Williams breezed through her opening set against Alison van Uytvanck in her first round match although she was put under some pressure in the second set before winning 6-0 6-4.
It’s surely only a matter of time before Simona Halep wins a Grand Slam tournament. It’s been a good start to 2015 for the Romanian who won the first tournament of the year in Shenzhen and while her record in Melbourne isn’t spectacular – the quarter final last year is her best performance – the third seed could go well at 5/1.
Eugenie Bouchard reached the semi-finals last year ranked number 30 in the world and ended the year in the world’s top ten. The Canadian has enjoyed a great few months although lost her opening match of 2015 to Lucie Safarova. She beat Anna-Lena Friedsam 6-2 6-4 in the opening round and can be backed at 37/4.
Maria Sharapova is a former Australian Open champion and is available at 13/4 while we like the chances of last year’s beaten semi-finalist Agnieska Radwanska at 33/2.