Women’s draws don’t hold. The last Grand Slam has been a prime example for everyone supporting that statement. 19 of the 32 seeds went out in rounds one and two of the French Open late last year. We had a qualifier in the semifinal in Nadia Podoroska and an unseeded player hoisting the trophy in Iga Swiatek who, to be fair, has already been in the “dark horse“ category.
So here we are, trying to predict yet another one of these wide open draws and there might be hope it won’t end as chaotic as in Paris. The courts in Melbourne seem to be really quick this year. That’s not just my own feel, but many players have talked about it and it also makes sense since the surface changed from Plexicushion to GreenSet last year.
With a lot of big hitters among the favorites, I don’t see too many Podoroskaesque surprises, but I might be convinced otherwise. Let’s jump right into the preview which will be quarter by quarter with my picks at the bottom of each section.
Ashleigh Barty is still your top seed despite not having played for 11 months coming into 2021. After losing to Halep in an exhibition to start the season, the Australian won one of the lead-up tournaments, the Yarra Valley Classic, beating Muguruza in the final. That already clears up most of the concerns about her coming back rusty and the world #1 also jumped back into the co-favorite spot to win the first Grand Slam of the year. Barty’s skillset obviously suits these new courts as her slice will be a nightmare for opponents and her consistent aggressiveness from the baseline is the perfect recipe to go far in Melbourne. Either Krejcikova or Alexandrova will probably be Barty’s first big test and even though both can match her power, they are still not consistent enough to pose a real threat if Barty is on her game.
Shelby Rogers was able to go toe to toe with Barty in the Yarra Valley Classic quarterfinal and the American is set to start with another rematch, assuming both players win their first round matches, facing Petra Martic whom she beat 7-6 6-3 last week. Anett Kontaveit is the projected third round opponent and even though she won the Grampians Trophy (together with Ann Li since they didn’t play the final), the odds on offer are just not big enough for me considering her rather tough draw. Circling back to Rogers, I really liked what I’ve seen from her last week and she might be onto another Grand Slam run after she made the quarterfinal at last year’s US Open, only losing to the eventual champion Naomi Osaka. The American looks as fit and focused as ever and the quick conditions only improve her chances of going far. At 46.00 to win the quarter, I will take a little flyer on her.
The other eighth has Belinda Bencic and Karolina Pliskova as the two top seeds. While the Swiss looked rusty last week in her straight sets loss to Cirstea, you can find Pliskova’s name under “missed opportunities” in the dictionary. The Czech had loads of nice-looking draws in Grand Slams before, but wasn’t able to capitalize at all. Her odds are on the rise and she actually became backable at 34.00 on the outright market, but she burned too much money for me in the past and there are too many players that can bug her in this section. Danielle Collins defeated Pliskova in two tiebreaks last week and the two could clash again in round two. Another seed here is Karolina Muchova and while I do rate her, she will be facing Jelena Ostapenko in the first round in what can be a nightmare matchup for any seed. The Latvian is a grab bag and if she’s hot, she can blaze anyone off the court. Her serve is still a little suspect though and especially the second lets her down far too often.
Initially, I liked Collins in this little section, but the market agreed on that and the value is gone now after her good showing at the Yarra Valley Classic. Instead, I will go for an outright in the other section of this eighth. Elise Mertens just won the third lead-up tournament, the Gippsland Trophy, proving some great form right off the bat. The Belgian added a bit more power to her strokes over the years which certainly isn’t to her disadvantage on these courts.
Despite having played all week, I’m not too worried about possible fatigue as all WTA tournaments were cut to a third set tiebreak to speed things up. As a regular doubles player, she’s also used to playing lots of matches and I like to go with in-form players here. The gifted Leylah Fernandez is one of the tougher outs in round one, but if Mertens gets past the young Canadian, I really like how her draw shapes up and at 9.50 to win the quarter, that’s enough for me to take and hope for an early Barty upset who crumbled under high expectations before.
Bet: 0.75 units on E. Mertens to win 1st quarter at 9.50 with bet365
Bet: 0.25 units on S. Rogers to win 1st quarter at 46.00 with betfair
The second quarter might be the most vulnerable regarding the top seeds. Both Sofia Kenin and Elina Svitolina have to face some quality opposition early on and unlike other top guns, they won’t be too happy with the new setup. They didn’t have a great start to the season either and the American even admitted she wasn’t “mentally prepared so well” in her match against Muguruza last week. Now Kenin won her first major here last year and I clearly won’t cross her off the list of contenders as she can just turn on her feisty mode again, but Kaia Kanepi could already be an obstacle in round two. The Estonian reached the final at the Gippsland Trophy by defeating the likes of Sabalenka and Alexandrova and certainly has the power to blow opponents off the court. If Kenin survives that test, Nadia Podoroska might await in round three. The ever-improving Argentinian can match Kenin’s consistency and poses a threat on all surfaces now.
Should Kenin come out on top of this, Johanna Konta is her projected opponent in the fourth round. Although I see the Brit born in Sydney making it to the third round, this projection might not hold as the other seed Jennifer Brady is someone to watch out for this fortnight. The American was on my radar before and she’s even more after looking at the draw. Unfortunately, some others, including the guy who lets me publish this article, already jumped on and the price fell off a bit. At 6.50 to win the quarter and 31.00 to win the title, I still see value in Brady as she should be able to build confidence in the early rounds and has the power and skillset to go much further.
After last year’s dream run before and at the US Open, Victoria Azarenka became part of the outright conversation at Grand Slams again after quite some time. The Belarusian has even been among the three favorites to win the Australian Open temporarily. If she still played at that level, you would have loved her draw, but instead, I’ll be looking elsewhere as Azarenka’s only match last week against Putintseva didn’t convince me at all and she’s also been part of the players that were forced into hard quarantine. Her first round match against Jessica Pegula could be a tricky one already. The player she would likely be facing in round three is Maria Sakkari. The Greek more and more evolves from a clay courter to an an all-court player and the added aggression to her groundstrokes might suit her well on these courts.
Elina Svitolina’s mini-section is another tough one to predict. All of Putintseva, Stephens, Gauff and Bouzkova could go on a little run here and it’s just too balanced for me to make a pick even though I don’t think Svitolina makes it out of that.
Bet: 0.5 units on J. Brady to win outright at 31.00 with Unibet
Bet: 0.5 units on J. Brady to win 2nd quarter at 6.50 with bet365
Bet: 0.5 units on M. Sakkari to win 2nd quarter at 8.50 with Bet365
I’m a little lost for words when looking at the bottom half of the draw. There’s a good chance I wouldn’t have played any of the outrights in the first half if some of Andreescu, Muguruza, Osaka, Sabalenka, Serena, Swiatek, Rybakina, Kudermetova or Kostyuk were drawn there. But here we are, trying to predict a quarter with Bianca Andreescu, Petra Kvitova, Garbine Muguruza and Naomi Osaka as the highest seeds. Did you notice something? Yes, all of them are Grand Slam champions, all of them are former top 4 players and all of them should like the quick conditions.
The good thing about it: you don’t have to read too much of my crap anymore. The bad thing about it: value can hardly be found. I could talk about Pironkova, Wang, Vondrousova, Peterson, Cirstea, Samsonova, Kerber, Jabeur or Pavlyuchenkova, but it just doesn’t make sense to me with that nightmare of draw.
Naomi Osaka also raises the point that projected draws don’t “come true”, but at the same time says that she’s excited to play tough opponents. Actually, the reigning US Open champion has the toughest path of them all. Pavlyuchenkova, Garcia, Jabeur, Muguruza, Andreescu just to get out of the quarter. If she’s gonna win this title, it would manifest her standing as the best hard court player once more, but at 6.50, that’s quite an easy pass for me. Funnily enough, Garbine Muguruza is the third favorite for the title now after showing some great tennis last week. Remember: her and Osaka are in the same eighth of the draw, meaning they would face off in the fourth round already.
Now that the draw is weird, I’m going to make a weird decision as well: taking a player that hasn’t stepped foot on a tennis court for 15 months. The increased odds on Bianca Andreescu made me change camps from “don’t back a player coming back from injury” to “this might be the last time we see these odds on Andreescu”. The Canadian prodigy was dominating the American hard court swing in 2019 and it took injuries and a pandemic to stop her rise. Her odds have gone all the way up from 8.00 late last year to 21.00 now and this is just enough for me to take. Andreescu decided to pull out of a lead-up tournament in Melbourne late, but I think that was a smart decision.
Three full weeks of competitive tennis would probably be a little too much for someone coming back after such a long hiatus. Her opening match against Buzarnescu should be a good opportunity to become comfortable on court again. Hsieh or Pironkova would be tricky opponents in round two, but if she makes it out of there, she should also be able to stand up to Venus and Petra in what is the “softer” part of the quarter.
Bet: 0.5 units on B. Andreescu to win outright at 21.00 with bet365
Bet: 0.5 units on B. Andreescu to reach quarterfinal at 3.50 with bet365
Bet: 1 unit on G. Muguruza to reach 4th round at 1.72 with bet365
Simona Halep lurks from the bottom of the draw and she’s surrounded by some heavy hitters. While she should comfortably win her first two matches, the winner of Kudermetova and Kostyuk probably awaits in round three. For me, this is the first round match to watch and whoever comes out of it will have a proper chance to go far. Going from bottom to top, up-and-comers Iga Swiatek and Elena Rybakina are set to meet in a third rounder that would present an intriguing matchup as well. My approach to the fourth quarter is to sit down and wait. Wait for a sign of form from Rybakina or some nice odds on whoever wins that Kudermetova/Kostyuk clash. I’ll probably add another outright here on Tuesday.
With that being said, I’ll try to pick someone from the bottom eighth to avoid clashing with Aryna Sabalenka and all-time great Serena Williams as long as possible. The two are projected to meet in the fourth round and I don’t really see anyone stopping them.
Serena was dealing with a minor shoulder issue last week which made her pull out of the Yarra Valley Classic semifinal, but at this point, she just knows what’s right for her body and having a few days off before the start of a Grand Slam only increases her chances. I think there might be a little overreaction on this injury and you can currently get 1.83 odds on Serena to reach the fourth round. Wins over Siegemund, Begu and Riske should still be a technicality for the 23-time Grand Slam winner who unexpectedly played some really good tennis again last week. As for the projected matchup with Sabalenka, anything can happen. The Belarusian’s 15-match winning streak was snapped by Kaia Kanepi last week, but the Estonian admittedly played some great tennis herself and is always a dangerous opponent on quick hard courts. So while I do see Sabalenka and Williams coming out of their respective sections, neither do their odds appeal to me nor do I want to choose the winner between them. Both are among the five favorites to win it all, so that’s a similar situation to the one with Muguruza and Osaka as they also have to face each other in round four.
Bet: 1.5 units on S. Williams to reach 4th round at 1.83 with bet365
Thank you so much for reading and here’s to a profitable Australian Open!
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