While there are still qualification matches to unfold, the first round draw of the Australian Open is starting to take shape.
On the men’s side of things the top seeds all know the identity of their opponent, apart from Grigor Dimitrov, and so punters can start plotting how they think the brackets will pan out.
The bookmakers are slowly creaking into life as well, and they have priced up some tantalising value underdogs to get stuck into.
So here are some early observations from the draw for the men’s singles at the Australian Open 2018.
A Class Apart
The draw has been kind to the top seeds in the men’s draw. The number one seed, Rafa Nadal, should be able to ease into the competition with a comfortable victory over Victor Estrella Burgos, whose best performances routinely come in South America on clay.
Roger Federer meanwhile takes on Aljaz Bedene, the Slovenian turned Brit turned Slovenian again. Bedene is capable, make no mistake, but he will have to be at his absolute best to even compete with the Swiss machine.
Injury curtailed Novak Djokovic’s 2017 prematurely, and consequently he is a lowly number 14 seed in Melbourne. His first round opponent is Donald Young, a talented American who never seems to show his best in grand slam events. Despite his lack of match practice, we would expect Djokovic to proceed with few problems.
The other big seeds should have an equally agreeable time of it. Number four Alex Zverev should have no problem taking care of Thomas Fabbiano, who has exited three of his last four hard court tournaments at the first round stage, while the likes of Marin Cilic, Stan Wawrinka and Jack Sock should all progress. In contrast Dominic Thiem, the fifth seed, should be given a decent examination by the talented left-hander Guido Pella, however.
Best of British
With Andy Murray sidelined by injury, British hopes rest on the shoulders of world number 50 Kyle Edmund, a young man whose game came on leaps and bounds in 2017.
The hard court campaign has yielded plenty of positive results for the 23-year-old. He reached the last 32 of the US Open, got to the semi-finals of ATP Tour events in Atlanta and Winston-Salem, and upon his return in Brisbane last week he defeated the highly fancied Denis Shapovalov and took a set off Grigor Dimitrov.
His opponent is the giant Kevin Anderson, who bizarrely has reached number 11 in the world despite only having three tour titles to his name. The South African has only gone past the fourth round of a major twice – both at the US Open – and has exited the Australian Open in the first round on five occasions. Punters seeking a high reward outsider could do worse than backing Edmund at a widely available 9/4.
One intriguing clash that caught the eye straight off the bat is world number 20 Tomas Berdych against local favourite Alex De Minaur.
The Czech ace has reached the quarter finals (or better) in six of his last seven trips to Melbourne, and while his world ranking may be falling his ability to perform to consistently good levels in majors is not.
But the form of De Minaur is hard to ignore. In the past fortnight alone the Aussie has beaten the likes of Milos Raonic, Steve Johnson, Fernando Verdasco and Damir Dzumhur as he reached the latter stages of ATP Tour events in Sydney and Brisbane, and in the latter he actually took the first set in his semi-final against Ryan Harrison.
The Aussies love cheering on their own, and while De Minaur has never won a title at any level he could give Berdych a good run for his money here. We’re backing the Australian with a +4.5 game handicap at 8/11.