Australian Open 2021 – potential round one upsets

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The Australian Open gets underway on Monday and given the unique circumstances this tournament is being played under we might well see a few unexpected results, particularly in the early rounds.

The men’s singles at the Australian Open has been a poor tournament to be backing underdogs in in recent years and it sits down at the bottom of my lists of ‘underdog winners’ (frequency of) and ‘underdog profit and loss’ with only the French Open below it.

Indeed, if you’d backed every underdog for a stake of just £10 in the men’s singles at the Australian Open in the last five years (2016-2020 inclusive) you’d find yourself £1221.37 down*, so you’ve got to be selective.

*Information taken from my ATP Tournament Guide, which is available for purchase here*

There have been an average of 23% underdog winners in round one of the men’s singles at the Australian Open, both in the last 11 years and in the last three years alone, and the following underdogs look like they could hold some betting value in round one of this year’s tournament.

Christopher O’Connell, Stefano Travaglia, Marc Polmans, Sergiy Stakhovsky, Mikhail Kukushkin, Gianluca Mager, Alexei Popyrin, Vasek Pospisil, Botic Van De Zandschlup, Tennys Sandgren.

More and more observers are chipping in with their takes on conditions at Melbourne Park this year and it’s been said that even Rod Laver Arena is really slick and low-bouncing this year, which is good news hopefully for those that have taken Rafa Nadal on in Q4.  

Talking of Rafa, these are the latest quotes from him from Sunday on his back problem:

“For the last 15 days I have been suffering with the back. I started to have the feeling in Adelaide after one practice. It isn’t serious, but the muscle is still tight, so it’s difficult to play with the freedom of the movement.”

That slick court speed will be a problem for quite a few players and it’s been said that the outside courts are even quicker – Emil Ruusuvuori said this after a match on Court 16:

“The conditions were really fast – it felt pretty outrageous. There are really a lot of differences between the courts. I got to practice on the bigger courts before the tournament started and they were much slower.”

One player who won’t enjoy being net-rushed on a slick, quick, low-bouncing surface is Dusan Lajovic and there’s every chance that Sergiy Stakhovsky can at least make a good match of this.

Stakho has taken down Lajovic three times from four career clashes (including once on clay in Monte-Carlo) and if the Ukrainian has enough left at 35 years old he can make it another tough day for Lajovic, who hasn’t won a single match since Roland Garros last year.

I’m taking Stakho to win set one in that one and for a really tasty price how about the 8.0 about Mikhail Kukushkin winning the opener against a rusty Dominic Thiem in these conditions.

Kuku often starts well and then falters against the better opposition and with Thiem lacking matches and easily beaten by Matteo Berrettini in ATP Cup and having never faced Kuku’s flat ball before this might get interesting on a quick court.

Another fast starter is Nikoloz Basilashvili, whose form has been so hopeless for so long now that he’s been put in as a 4.50 chance to beat Tommy Paul.

Basil has been starting well enough but quickly losing belief and sooner or later he’s going to have to shake off the funk of his personal issues and start playing again. A price of 3.25 on him winning set one is tempting.

I always like to keep a few Aussies on side in the early rounds in Melbourne and Christopher O’Connell, Marc Polmans and Alexei Popyrin all have chances to show what they can do in round one.

O’Connell has been playing some good stuff this past year or so and wasn’t far away against Alexander Bublik last week. He takes on Jan-Lennard Struff, who’s record here is poor, with a 1-6 win/loss mark, although he has had a few rough draws.

If Struff’s game is firing on all cylinders he’ll win this, but if it isn’t and he gets drawn into a scrap I wouldn’t bank on the German coming through, so O’Connell with a +1.5 sets start at 2.95 (Unibet) is a fair option, as is set one to the Aussie as a 3.75 chance (B365).

Polmans played really well at the French Open on the clay recently and he faces an opponent in Marton Fucsovics who’s flattered to deceive far too often and regularly has injury problems.

Again, on his best form – and he has played well here in the past – Fucsovics will win, but far too often he fails to impose himself and he’s not the toughest of fighters out there when things aren’t going his way.

He didn’t show anything much last week when edging past Marco Cecchinato and losing to Egor Gerasimov, while Polmans will put it all out there and I like the 3.65 (generally) on him winning set one here or the 3.35 about +1.5 sets (Unibet).

I talked about Alexei Popyrin last week and he did pretty well for us as a 150-1 shot, losing in a final set to number two seed Grigor Dimitrov in the last-16.

In these conditions he can at least test a David Goffin who’s been struggling with his game for some time now and who was crushed by young starlet Carlos Alcaraz last week.

Popyrin’s best form against what Goffin has shown lately gives him every chance in this match and again the +1.5 sets on the underdog appeals here as a 2.55 chance (Unibet).

Aslan Karatsev qualified pretty handily, but that was almost a month ago in Doha and he hasn’t played singles since.

He’s only ever played three singles matches in Australia in his career (at all levels) and only won one of those, so it’s fair to say he’s not exactly attuned to the Melbourne conditions (although he did play doubles last week).

He’s never played a main draw match at the AO or any other Grand Slam, so 1.36 looks short against Gianluca Mager, who beat Sam Querrey at Delray Beach, seems a tad short, even in quick conditions.

Daniil Medvedev has been on great form in Melbourne so far, but 1.08 is a little insulting to Vasek Pospisil, who’s game has been tough for Medvedev to handle in the past.

What puts me off here is Pospisil’s injury problems, with the Canadian having pulled out of the ATP 250 last week due to a lower back problem. Otherwise I’d be tempted to back him to win set one here or take the overs.

Another one that I might pass on now due to injury worries is Tennys Sandgren, who is a very big price (presumably due to his condition last week) against Alex De Minaur on a fast surface.

We know that Sandgren loves it here, but I’m not sure he’s up to it over five sets based on what we saw last week.

Botic Van De Zandschlup played very well last week and I wonder if his big game could be too much for Carlos Alcaraz, who’s already being priced up too short by the looks of things.

In quick conditions it’ll be interesting to see if the young Spaniard can handle the Dutchman’s big hitting and there may be some value in Van De Zandschlup as underdog.

So, plenty of options, and I’ll take a chance on these five for small stakes.

Best Bets

0.5 points win Stakhovsky to win set 1 vs Lajovic at 2.62 (B365/Boylesports)

0.5 points win Kukushkin to win set 1 vs Thiem at 8.0 (B365)

0.5 points win O’Connell +1.5 sets to beat Struff at 2.95 (Unibet)

0.5 points win Polmans +1.5 sets to beat Fucsovics at 3.35 (Unibet)

0.5 points win Popyrin +1.5 sets to beat Goffin at 2.55 (Unibet)