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Heat on all-time greats at Aussie Open

By Lew Ford  (Point Spread Weekly) 

January 19, 2020 01:02 PM
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Nick Kyrgios of Australia is one of the upstarts who could content at the Australian Open.
© Imagn

With the 2020 tennis season set to begin Jan. 20 in Melbourne, Australia, a big question is looming: 

Will this finally be the year that someone from the next generation of ATP players breaks through and wins a major?

Another question: Can one of the major winners, Andy Murray or Stan Wawrinka, in the Big Three era regain his form and add another trophy? 

If history is a guide, the Australian Open title will go through defending champion Novak Djokovic (5/4 odds at Westgate SuperBook), whose seven wins mark the all-time record. Roger Federer (10/1) is behind Djokovic with six titles since 2004. Current No. 1 Rafael Nadal (7/2) has only one Aussie Open title, in 2009, but is a four-time runner-up, including last year. 

Nadal had a dominant summer and fall by winning three events, including the U.S. Open and Davis Cup. The 19-time major champion looks to be on a mission to tie Federer with 20 Grand Slam titles. Djokovic does have the recent advantage in head-to-head matchups on hardcourts, going 9-0 vs. Nadal, including the ATP Cup on Sunday, and 10-6 against Federer since 2013.

January is the middle of summer in Australia. This year has been very hot, and the country has been dealing with a catastrophic fire season. It will be important to monitor whether smoke could cause air-quality problems for the players. A handicapping factor will be the heat. Will it have a physical effect on the Big Three, making them vulnerable over the two weeks? Another handicapping angle to consider is betting on Australian underdogs in the early rounds. Both draws will have 16 to 20 such players, and they will play with a lot of emotion, backed by the support of the rowdy home crowd.

Other favorites

Daniil Medvedev (8/1) dominated last summer’s hardcourt season by reaching six straight finals and winning three tournaments. He proved he could perform in the majors, losing a five-set marathon to Nadal in the U.S. Open final.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (10/1) had a breakthrough year in 2019 by winning three tournaments, including the ATP Finals. He performed in the majors, reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open and quarters of the French.

Contenders

Nick Kyrgios (30/1) is the bad boy of tennis. There’s no question he is good enough to win a major, but is he dedicated enough? He will be a home favorite and should be motivated, yet will he be physically and mentally fit enough for a two-week grind? 

Denis Shapovalov (50/1) is a young Canadian who has always been super talented and finally got his first win in late 2019. His willingness to let points develop and wait for his chances instead of trying to hit winners on every shot shows he has matured and is ready to challenge for the title. 

Long shots

Alex de Minaur (50/1) could be the fastest and fittest player on tour. The young Aussie will cause problems for everyone he plays, though he pulled out of this week’s Adelaide International due to an abdominal injury.

 

Andrey Rublev (80/1) won the last tournament he played in 2019 and the first tournament he played in 2020. The young Russian is red-hot and must be confident he can beat anyone in his part of the draw.

 

Women’s preview 

 

The No. 1 player in the world and top seed is Ashleigh Barty (7/1) of Australia. Barty might be the most athletic player on tour and has the all-around game to win on any surface. The Aussie won four titles in 2019, including the French Open and the WTA Finals. But can she handle the expectations of becoming the first female to win on home soil since 1978?

Naomi Osaka (6/1) is the defending champion and has become a bit of an enigma. After winning the U.S. and Aussie opens, she struggled with the pressure and attention of being the top player in the world. Late in the year she did start playing excellent tennis again and won two of the last three events she played. When Osaka is calm and relaxed, she is dominant, but she often seems distracted and aloof.

Serena Williams (4/1) is back, looking to add another Grand Slam to her record 23 titles.  Arguably the greatest player of all time, she has reached four major finals since winning the 2017 Aussie Open but has lost all four. Williams is still a force at 38. 

This looks to be a wide-open event, and the hot conditions should favor the players in the best physical condition. It would not be surprising to see a first-time major winner this year.  

Other favorites 

Karolina Pliskova (10/1) is now the owner of the dreaded “best player not to win a major” moniker. She made it to the semis of last year’s Aussie, and hardcourts are her best surface. She is coming off a victory in her first tournament of 2020 and is primed to win that first major.

Madison Keys (20/1) is another talented player who has battled injury and inconsistency since reaching the 2017 U.S. Open final. Keys is the best hope for an American winner at the Aussie and is coming off a run to the finals in last week’s event.

Contenders

Aryna Sabalenka (18/1) is a physical and powerful player from Belarus who broke into the top 10 with three wins in 2019. Her game is suited to the hardcourts, and she has proved she can beat the other top players, but she has not had success in majors.  

Belinda Bencic (30/1) has finally recovered from injuries. Bencic had a strong 2019 season by winning two tournaments and reaching the semis of the U.S. Open. Powerful groundstrokes and a fiery attitude will make her a threat.

Long shots

Elena Rybakina (80/1) is coming off a big 2019, climbing into the top 40 and winning her first WTA title. She is a power player with a big serve and groundstrokes, but a lack of experience is her biggest weakness.

Ekaterina Alexandrova (150/1) was slowly building toward that elusive first win and finally broke through in her first tournament of 2020. She will be seeded for the first time in a major and will be a dangerous opponent.

Follow Lew Ford on Twitter @sweetlew23 for daily tournament plays

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