I was originally against the outright price of Aryna Sabalenka because I thought a tricky round 2 match-up with Daria Kasatkina was a hurdle that wasn’t being considered strongly by many. Instead, it is Alize Cornet, another decent counterpunching player in her own right.
Sabalenka is obviously playing some solid tennis and is more than deserving of favouritism in this match. Whilst I agree with her as clear favourite, she shouldn’t be sub-$1.15 today. Backing up from her defeat in the 4th round of the Australian Open, Sabalenka struggled early in her opening match in Doha against Garbine Muguruza, trailing 2-6 0-2 in just over 45 minutes. She did a great job of regaining a foothold in the match, winning the second set tiebreak and leading the final set *3-2, before dropping the last 4 games and the match. Her points won behind her first and second serve were not the the level expected from her over the last 12 months at this level, and Muguruza was able to break her 7 times for the match.
My preference to back Sabalenka comes in matches where there is a lot of pace on the ball, as that is when she looks most comfortable. That won’t be the case today for Sabalenka, with Cornet a player with a great ability to absorb and re-direct pace. When Sabalenka has to generate her own pace, her unforced error rate has the ability to rise as well.
For Cornet to be a chance today she will need to serve at a high percentage of first serves, however she will have taken a lot of confidence from her win over Kasatkina. She responded from dropping the first set by wrestling control back in the third, taking it 6-1. It was a much needed win coming off her struggles in Melbourne, however the weather in Dubai is far more favourable for her today.
Cornet has the advantage of a win under her belt for the week already, with Sabalenka having a round 1 bye. An implied win probability of 16% is too low in these conditions and in this style match-up. I would rather a small, 1 unit play on the head to head instead of a larger play on the handicap. Whilst I think Cornet wins this more than 1 in 5, I don’t think there is as much value in backing her at the plus game handicap.
1 unit Cornet to defeat Sabalenka at $6.50 (+550) at Unibet ($7+ at Betfair, $6.74 at Pinnacle and $6.50 at Topsport)