The draw has been announced for the first round of the women’s singles at the Australian Open, and there are some intriguing contests for both spectators and punters to savour.
In what is a very open looking tournament, there’s no guarantees for the top seeded players, even from the opening round.
Here’s a look at some of the best value around:
Top Seeds Looking Shaky
Simona Halep is the world number one and as such takes her place as the top seed, but it really is just a number for a player who routinely struggles here.
The Romanian has been dumped out in the first round here in four of her last six visits, and while she shouldn’t have any problems getting past first round opponent Destanee Aiava, she remains a wholly unconvincing bookmakers favourite to win her first grand slam title.
She may have won 27 titles, but a major has so far eluded Caroline Wozniacki. There’s no doubting she has the game to win a grand slam or two, but the fact she has just two semi-final appearances to her name across the four ‘big ones’ does call into question a potentially fragile psychology.
Victory in the WTA Championship at the tail-end of 2017 may just help with her mindset, but again she’s hardly the kind of value that punters lap up based on past history. At least first round opponent, Mihaela Buzarnescu, shouldn’t give her too many problems.
The number three seed is Garbine Muguruza, the phenomenally-gifted Spaniard who is halfway to a career grand slam at the age of 24.
The Wimbledon and French Open winner has shown considerable bottle under the harshest of spotlights, and for that reason alone she is a level above most at the head of the Australian Open 2018 betting.
That said, she has just one quarter final to her name in hard court majors, and so again Muguruza has to be added to the ‘maybe’ pile rather than the ‘probable’.
Her first round opponent, Jessika Ponchet, ranked 272 in the world, is unlikely to provide much resistance.
Queen Venus Not Ready to Abdicate
When we saw that Venus Williams was available at 25/1 to win the 2018 Australian Open jaws hit the floor.
Okay, so the older Williams’ sister’s record at this tournament isn’t the best when compared to her progress elsewhere, but she did reach her second final here 12 months ago which suggests there is a certain level of aptitude for the surface.
She may be into her 37th year, but Venus can still mix it with the young guns. In 2017 she reached two major finals and lost in the semi-finals of another, as well as narrowly going down to Caroline Wozniacki in the WTA Championship finale. That shows that on the big occasion she can still hang with those with years on their side.
Venus’ first round opponent is the powerful Belinda Bencic, and while the Swiss starlet is a fine young talent it is almost laughable that she is favourite to beat Williams.
Bencic was hampered by injuries in 2017 and had to drop down the Challenger Tour; that is not ideal preparation for taking on a proven thoroughbred like Venus. At a shade over even money, we will be tucking into Williams’ price with relish.
This isn’t a golden generation of Australian tennis players, it has to be said, but they may well have a star on their hands in 21-year-old Ashleigh Barty, the world number 17.
In the second half of 2017 she picked up some huge scalps, including Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, former Aussie Open winner Angelique Kerber, Venus Williams and Karolina Pliskova, and she seems to have continued that form into 2018 with her run to the final of this week’s WTA event in Sydney.
The Aussies love cheering home their own, and Barty should run out a comfortable winner against first round opponent Aryna Sabalenka. Back her to win 2-0 at 10/11.
We were rather surprised to see the bookmakers give such short shrift to Dominika Cibulkova in her encounter with Kaia Kanepi.
The diminutive Slovakian has had the misfortune of running into some elite-level opponents of late, including Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki and Johanna Konta, so her progress looks to have been stilted somewhat in terms of reaching the latter stages of tournaments.
But she remains an excellent ball-striker, and her meeting with Kanepi the US Open quarter-finalist, has the feel of a 50/50 encounter. As such, her price of 11/10 can be considered good value.