Week 5 of the 2021 ATP Tour features two ATP 250 events on outdoor hard courts in Melbourne – the Great Ocean Road Open and the Murray River Open.
These have been helpfully titled ‘Melbourne 1’ and ‘Melbourne 2’ by the ATP and both will be held at Melbourne Park and they’ll be a good indicator of conditions for the upcoming Australian Open.
Early word from the players is that the Greenset surface that was installed at Melbourne Park last year is playing a fair bit quicker this year, with John Millman having this to say after a hit there:
“The balls I feel are behaving very differently. They’re kind of flying through the court, which makes it a little harder to control and it creates even quicker conditions. It probably will favour those guys who can get through their service games, the bigger hitters of the balls. I think it will favour them.”
Looking back at the only tournament week we’ve had so far on the ATP Tour this year and once again we found ourselves in a good position, with 33-1 each-way shot Cam Norrie making the semi finals of Delray Beach.
Norrie was slight underdog for that semi final, so it was easy to back his opponent Seb Korda in that match as a hedge, but as has been the case so many times in the last year or two we ended up with yet another good value outright loser in the semis.
Hubert Hurkacz won Delray Beach without even facing an opponent in the top-100, while Alex De Minaur took the Antalya title, so there was little joy for value seekers in the opening tournament week of the year.
Melbourne 1 (Great Ocean Road Open) draw – top half
The Melbourne 1 draw looks weaker than Melbourne 2, with just two top-32 ranked players in the Great Ocean Road Open draw compared with eight in the Murray River Open.
And our top seed at the Great Ocean Road Open, David Goffin, is ripe to taken on given that he usually takes time to find his best form, having never won a main level title in the months before July so far in his career.
Indeed, Goffin has never made a final in Australasia and he hasn’t won any of his 11 tournaments when he’s been top seed (only made one final in those 11 tournaments), but the cool and rainy weather forecast for this week will mean it won’t be too hot for him at least.
Nor will it be too warm for Vasek Pospisil, who should be very effective if the conditions here do turn out to be as described by Millman, and the Canadian is another one for whom the Aussie summer has proven simply too hot for him in years gone by.
This week it’ll be much cooler and having beaten Goffin in Montpellier on indoor hard a year ago in their most recent career clash, Pospisil looks a reasonable choice to defeat the Belgian in Q1 of the Melbourne 1 draw, but around 12-1 isn’t that tempting for me.
Jordan Thompson is one that often goes well at home and in quick conditions, but I’m not convinced of his self-belief at the business end of main level tournaments.
In Q2 Alexander Bublik has to come into the thinking after the inconsistent Kazakh made the final in unsuitably slow conditions in Antalya a few weeks ago despite having pulled out of the final there due to injury.
Service holds in Antalya were extremely low for a hard court event at just 72%, which is fewer than most clay events, and with conditions in Melbourne expected to be far faster than that Bublik has his chances.
Bublik twisted his ankle in the Antalya semi final and wasn’t fit for the final, but I’m not worried about that some three weeks later and at around 25-1 (40-1 win only with Unibet) I’m happy to take him at that price over Delray Beach winner Hubert Hurkacz in this part of the draw.
Melbourne 1 (Great Ocean Road Open) draw – bottom half
As much as I’m happy to take on Goffin in the top half, the high seed in the bottom half, Karen Khachanov, looks worth opposing as well.
The Russian hasn’t made a ‘proper’ semi final since the autumn of 2019 (unless you count the ATP Cup last year) and no final since he famously beat Novak Djokovic in the 2018 Paris Masters, so he’s increasingly looking like his best tennis is already behind him, which seems an odd thing to say about a 24-year-old.
He’s got plenty of time to rediscover his peak form of course, but Khachanov hasn’t shown anything like his best for a couple of years now and for now at least he looks worth taking on.
Miomir Kecmanovic disappointed for us in Antalya, but with the benefit of hindsight it was probably too slow for him there and the Serb is likely to show an improved effort this week in quicker conditions.
But I prefer taking a punt on Tennys Sandgren in Q3 of this Great Ocean Road Open draw, with the American holding a great record in this part of the world lately.
A quarter finalist at the Australian Open both last year (he should have been a semi finalist, but choked horribly against Federer) and in 2018, he also won first up in Auckland in 2019 without dropping a set and overall he’s 14-6 win/loss at main level in Australia and New Zealand.
Jannik Sinner is the obvious choice in this quarter of the draw on his 2020 form, but the young Italian is a tad short for my liking so Sandgren gets the nod at 50-1.
Khachanov’s Q4 looks lacking in quality, with most likely only the winner of Kevin Anderson vs Feli Lopez or Reilly Opelka likely to challenge Khachanov for a semi final place.
All four of those guys should appreciate the conditions, but the big worry for Opelka backers is rustiness, with the American not having played since October after a knee problem ended his 2020 campaign early.
He pulled out of Delray Beach earlier this month and his record in Australia as yet is far from impressive, so for me he’s not worth the risk right now and certainly not as short as 8-1 or so.
Lopez will be 40 later this year and hasn’t made a quarter final in Australia since 2005, but if he’s fit Anderson could well be the one to be on in this quarter of the draw.
Beset by injuries this past couple of years, Anderson said last week: “my body has been feeling as good as it has in a very long time,” so he’s one for the shortlist after reminding us what he can do towards the end of last season in Vienna.
Anderson usually needs matches to find his best form, but 28-1 (Ladbrokes) is not a bad option at all.
Melbourne 2 (Murray River Open) draw – top half
Our top seed in the Murray River Open, Stan Wawrinka, is another one I’m looking to oppose this week, with Stan having not having won a title now since 2017.
The Swiss ace’s best days look behind him now at almost 36 and he revealed recently that he had been suffering with COVID-19 around six weeks ago.
“I was positive for Covid during Christmas and it was not easy,” he said. “It was a tough one. When I came here I started to practice again but it takes time. I was a bit out of shape when I arrived but I’m happy it’s going well.”
Wawrinka’s quarter of the draw (Q1) looks tricky, with Taylor Fritz, Mikhail Kukushkin, Richard Gasquet, Marin Cilic, and Gilles Simon all capable on their best form, but none really stand out for me as outright bets.
Fritz’s record in Australia isn’t good, while the others are all getting a bit long in the tooth now and Q2 looks like it holds better possibilities.
Borna Coric, Dan Evans, Nick Kyrgios, Bernard Tomic, and Adrian Mannarino are all in this section and if you can get Unibet’s 75-1 about Mannarino that looks good value, with Evans at 33-1 also tempting, but I prefer the bottom half of the draw for some bets.
Melbourne 2 (Murray River Open) draw – bottom half
Second-seeded Grigor Dimitrov is another one that consistently fails to deliver, with the Bulgarian without a title now since he won the Tour Finals at the end of 2017.
He’ll be 30 in three months time and it’s hard to get away from the feeling that he’s underachieved a little bit in his career and how much motivation does he have left?
He might surprise us, but I won’t be backing him this week and I prefer others in the bottom half of the draw.
High seed in Q3, Casper Ruud, has improved a bit on hard courts, but surely it’ll be too much to expect him to win in these conditions, so at a big price Jiri Vesely is interesting in this quarter.
Vesely won in fast conditions in Pune at the start of the season last year and he’s also an Auckland champion, so he’s been known to go well early on in the season in lively conditions and 200-1 (Unibet) looks big.
Another big-priced option is Lorenzo Sonego, who shocked everyone by making the Vienna final on indoor hard at a massive price at the end of 2020, while Lloyd Harris, Marton Fucsovics and Egor Gerasimov also have their chances in Q3 alongside perhaps the obvious choice, Felix Auger-Aliassime.
I wouldn’t be surprised if any of those made the final from Q3 instead of FAA or Ruud and at the prices I’ll take Vesely each-way at 200-1 (Unibet).
Q4 is Dimitrov’s quarter and might it be worth taking a punt on home hope Alexei Popyrin at a big price here?
Popyrin showed a good level in 2019, but for one reason or another wasn’t able to back that up in 2020, but he’s one of those Australian players that loves playing at home and he’s had some good results on Aussie soil.
He says he’s had: “the best pre-season I’ve had to any year;” and “I feel I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been and can really produce a higher intensity for a longer period and really feeling confident in my game.”
It’s a real long shot, but worth half a point each-way at Unibet’s 150-1.
Other options in Q4 to oppose Dimitrov with are Ugo Humbert, Tommy Paul and maybe Cam Norrie or Frances Tiafoe, but Humbert is the form pick and is a worthy choice at 20-1.
However, 100-1 (Unibet) about Tommy Paul looks too big and at that price (if you can get it) I’ll add the American to my portfolio.
With the form, fitness and current mental state of all of these players after lockdowns of various lengths a mystery I’m happy to take my chances on some big prices in Melbourne and there are plenty to choose from across the two events.
But Bublik at 25-1 and up and Sandgren at 50-1 in the Great Ocean Road Open look the two there and at the Murray River Open I’m taking some huge prices in what looks a pretty open tournament.
0.5 points win Bublik to win the Great Ocean Road Open at 25-1 (generally and 40-1 with Unibet)
0.5 points win Sandgren to win the Great Ocean Road Open at 50-1 (Bet 365)
0.5 points each-way Popyrin to win the Murray River Open at 150-1 (Unibet)
0.5 points each-way Vesely to win the Murray River Open at 200-1 (Unibet)
0.5 points each-way Paul to win the Murray River Open at 100-1 (Unibet)