The overarching theme in men’s tennis back in 2017 was one of the old guard reborn, with Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal sharing out the grand slam events between them at a combined age of 107, or similar.
On paper at least there’s no reason why they can’t repeat the feat, other than the sands of time continuing to ebb away of course, and both will be buoyed by the injuries suffered to two of the other members of the ‘big four’: Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.
Murray won’t take his place at 2018’s first major, the Australian Open, which kicks off in Melbourne next week. His hip in a state of disrepair after years of hard graft, and we have to whisper the question of whether the British ace will ever return to his peak.
Djokovic’s case is slightly more complicated. He’s been suffering with an elbow injury that has dogged him for months on end and curtailed his activities in 2017, and in truth he doesn’t appear to be back to full fitness as yet. The Serb dropped out of a tournament in Doha last week, and while he has completed his first match – an exhibition, two-set win over Dominic Thiem – there is no suggestion he is anywhere near ready to battle it out for a major title.
The women’s side of the draw is worse off for the loss of one of their greats, too. Serena Williams isn’t quite ready for a top-flight return after giving birth last year, and she will likely return to the major scene at Roland Garros.
The bookmakers haven’t a clue who is going to prosper in Serena’s absence; a group of seven players are all available at odds between 7/1 and 12/1. The bookies don’t often get things wrong, so that suggests backing the winner of the women’s Australian Open is something of a lottery!
Nevertheless, here’s a look at some of the intriguing betting value ahead of the season’s first major.
It’s 2018 but that doesn’t mean we can discount Roger Federer, who at the age of 36 looked back to somewhere near his imperious best last season.
These slick surfaces suit the Swiss dynamo – he can end rallies before they become too taking on his body, and any doubts about his ability to withstand the rigours of a two-week major can be put to bed. In blistering heat he played out a pair of five-set matches in last year’s Aussie Open, and won them both.
Of those at the head of the market, Federer by far appeals the most although odds of 2/1 do feel a tad short.
Punters seeking longer value are advised to take a look at Grigor Dimitrov, the Bulgarian who at one point was tipped to inherit Federer’s crown as the classy all-round stroke-maker par excellence.
He hasn’t kicked on however, although there are signs that 2017 could prove to be something of a breakthrough year for the world number three.
Dimitrov won a fairly standard ATP Tour event in Cincinnati in the autumn, but that proved to be a catalyst: he reached the latter stages of event in Asia twice before being beaten by Nadal, lost in a final in Stockholm to Juan Martin Del Potro and then came the big one: victory in the ATP Tour Finals.
That’s not a major by any means, and it was an event that was hampered by injured absentees. Regardless, Dimitrov would have felt like a million dollars after taking the honours – while banking a few dollars in prize money too – and that confidence should carry over into the 2018 campaign.
A semi-finalist here 12 months ago, now could be the time for the Bulgarian to finally make his mark on a grand slam.
It’s slightly troubling that the bookmakers’ favourite to win the women’s Australian Open, Karolina Pliskova, didn’t make it past the quarter final stage of the Aussie or US Opens, nor Wimbledon, last year.
That’s hardly the CV of someone we’d like to be backing in a major, so how about a speculative flutter on Venus Williams at 25/1?
Like Federer, Venus is as playing as well in the winter of her career as she was in the spring, and in 2017 she reached two grand slam finals….alas tasting defeat on both occasions.
Remarkably, the older of the Williams sisters has never won at the Rod Laver, but as a two-time finalist there’s no doubting her credentials on Australian soil. There are players above her in the betting who can only dream of her resumé, and as such 25/1 looks a huge price.