It’s going to be oppressively hot in Melbourne and while this is unlikely to have as much impact in the best of three set format in the WTA event as it will in the best of five sets in the ATP, it is an important factor for bettors to keep in mind.
Past winners of the Australian Open trophy
Also similar, but not quite as pronounced as the men’s event, is the dominance of the top players in the last ten years. Only three players - Dominika Cibulkova in 2014, Justine Henin in 2010 and Serena Williams in 2007 - have reached the final without being one of the top ten seeds, and in the latter two cases these players would have been in the upper echelons of the betting markets. Barring Williams in 2007, Angelique Kerber’s triumph as the seventh seed last year was the lowest seed to win in this time period. Serena Williams has taken the event four times in this time period, whilst only Angelique Kerber of the current field has won the title.
Odds-on favourites to win the Australian Open 2017
The main contenders for the trophy are as follows:
Williams has recently lost her number one rankings spot to Angelique Kerber but is still a narrow favourite for the title at current odds of 3.86*.
This is justifiable on the grounds of her record at the event and hold/break stats, with the American holding serve 81.9% of the time on hard court in the last 12 months and breaking opponents 38.2% (120.1%).
The mark of greater than 120% is that of a world-class player, but concerns over Williams arise from her return percentage, which has dropped around 15% from several years ago, and her form after missing large parts of 2016 with injury.
After falling a break behind to Pauline Parmentier in Auckland last week, Williams came through in straight sets, but was then shocked by Madison Brengle in the second round, losing from a starting price of 1.054.
It is clear that preparations for the younger Williams sister have been far from ideal and she may still have to convince bettors that she is still relatively close to her best level.
World number one Kerber (4.73*), who is undoubtedly flattered by her current rank, suffered disappointing defeats in both her warm-up events - to Elina Svitolina and Daria Kasatkina respectively - and was pushed to three sets by youngster Ashleigh Barty in her other match.
These doubts over her current form and her general ability - she has held serve 69.7% and broken opponents 44.5% (combined 114.2%) - indicate that bettors might prefer other options than the German.
Third favourite at 6.36*, Halep is still to win her first Grand Slam, despite being in and around the top five for several years now. Doubts persist over Halep’s mentality more than her ability.
She still has a poor record when a set and break up, for example, and is 8-27 in her career when an underdog against top 10 opponents, a stat that does not make for encouraging reading when it is almost certain that she will be in this profile at least twice in the event.
Halep has held serve 68.8% of the time on hard courts in the last 12 months and broken opponents 44.9% (combined 113.7%) so this data makes her to be of a similar level to Kerber, but currently a worse player on the big stage.
Undoubtedly the form player in the field, Pliskova has been backed into 8.36* - fourth favourite at the time of writing - after a stunning performance saw her take the Brisbane Premier warm-up event title last week, dropping just one set in five matches.
This display came somewhat out of the blue, with Pliskova losing six of 11 matches post US-Open last year, but it’s also worth mentioning that she has been a player with much promise for a number of years.
The very serve-orientated Pliskova has held serve an elite level 77.9% of the time on hard courts - undoubtedly her best surface - in the last 12 months, but her mediocre return game sees her break opponents just 35.4% (113.3%).
This combined percentage puts her in the Kerber/Halep bracket, and it is more than possible that she can take advantage of the mediocrity and lack of depth of the current women’s game and claim her first Grand Slam title.
Muguruza is the fifth favourite at 9.92* in the current market, which is somewhat surprising considering that the Spaniard’s record on hard courts is far from elite level and she retired in the first set against Alize Cornet last week in Brisbane.
Another serve orientated player, but with an unimpressive 16-12 record on hard courts in the last 12 months, Muguruza has held serve 72.0% and broken opponents 34.1% (combined 106.1%), and it is clear from this combined percentage that she has been significantly worse on the surface than others above her in the betting.
Cibulkova rocketed into the top five of the WTA rankings following her victory in the end of season WTA Finals in Singapore, but her data indicates she shouldn't even be in the top ten.
Sixth favourite for the event at 22.43*, Cibulkova is inconsistent (she has lost 16 of 40 matches on hard court in the last 12 months), holding a poor 61.3% of the time. She has, however, broken opponents 42.8% of the time (combined 104.1%) making her a decent, but far from top level return orientated player. It is very difficult to make a case for Cibulkova to go one better than in 2014.
Arguably the most talented player never to win a Grand Slam, third ranked Radwanska’s hold/break stats are superb - the Pole has held serve 72.6% and broken opponents 50.6% on hard court in the last 12 months (combined 123.2%) - and this makes her a real contender.
However, there are several large obstacles in the way of Radwanska (35.88*) that she must overcome in order to claim her maiden Grand Slam title.
Firstly, she must improve her horrific final set record. A third set bagel by Alison Riske in Shenzhen was the latest final set disaster for Radwanska, and if this record is related to fitness issues, then Radwanska will find it far from easy in the heat of Melbourne in the next fortnight.
The second factor that she needs to overturn is her poor record against top players. In the last two years she has won just three of ten matches against top ten opponents when she was a starting price underdog, and failed to win a set in six of those seven defeats. Also worrying is the amount of dominant set defeats in those matches, with Radwanska losing seven sets by a 6-0, 6-1 or 6-2 scoreline.
Considering this poor record against top players but excellent hold/break data, it is reasonable to assume that currently Radwanska is not much more than a flat-track bully.
Another top player who has yet to win a Grand Slam, Wozniacki (32.33*) has played her way back into reasonable form in the last six months, after almost dropping out of the top 50 in the world rankings following injury and consistency issues.
However, her hold/break stats are strong. She has held 71.8% on hard courts in the last 12 months while breaking opponents 44.4% of the time (116.2% combined) and these alone makes her a contender for the title.
Having said this, she capitulated against Julia Goerges last week in Auckland and is another player with a mediocre record against top ten opponents. Bettors will need to decide if her strong hold/break data outweighs these concerns, but there are worse long-shots than the Dane.
Closely priced with Wozniacki, Konta’s (31.39*) rise over the last 18 months has been nothing short of spectacular. A front-running player with an excellent serve, Konta’s stats may surprise some readers, with the Brit holding serve 76.9% of the time, whilst breaking opponents 38.6% (combined 115.5%).
This data indicates that she should feel more than comfortable in being a top ten player and mark her out as a contender for the title - as with Wozniacki, she has better data than some others who are shorter in the current betting.
Currently priced at 53.21*, the fact that the Swiss youngster is in this bracket is something of a surprise, given that injury and poor form have seen her almost drop out of the top 50.
Bencic retired to Yulia Putintseva in the first round of Sydney last week, and lost eight of 11 matches post Wimbledon last year, including another retirement. Given that her combined hold/break percentage on hard court in the last 12 months is also poor (99.4%) it is extremely difficult to see Bencic make a big impression in the next fortnight.
There are a number of players who are priced above 50.00 in the markets, and bettors should look at players with upside - either strong hold/break numbers, young players who can improve, or those with a high peak level who can beat top players on their best showing.
Of these other players, both Elina Svitolina (70.22*) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (74.07*) have combined hold/break percentages around the 110% mark and have achieved strong results in the last six months.
Young prospects Daria Kasatkina, Naomi Osaka and Daria Gavrilova make interesting propositions, but Kasatkina is shorter than most at 50.82*, and at this current time possesses more ability on clay.
Osaka suffered a wrist injury last week, or would be a threat at long odds, whilst Gavrilova’s poor serve and questionable overall level makes her tough to back, even at 167.96*.
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