The first few weeks of the tennis season build up to the first Grand Slam of the calendar year, the Australian Open. With many hard court warm-up events played in Australasia, this article looks at the array of young ATP Australian talent that could provide bettors with some strong betting propositions in January 2015.
The 2015 ATP season commences on 5th January, 2015, with three low-level 250 events being played in week one of the season, in Brisbane, Chennai and Doha. Week two sees players finish their warm-up for the Australian Open with further 250s in Auckland and Sydney.
With two events played in Australia, and an additional tournament in New Zealand, prior to the Australian Open, this schedule will give plenty of wild-card opportunities for young Australian talent to display their abilities.
A number of these players showed strong results in the latter stages of 2014, both on the ATP and the Challenger Tour, and could therefore provide bettors with value choices against ATP journeymen in these opening tournaments.
The table below shows the statistics of Australian players aged 25 or under, and ranked 200 or better, in 2014:
Six Australian players aged 22 or under are in the top 165 in the world, with a further two slightly older players – Millman and Smith – also ranked inside the top 200.
Kyrgios , Tomic & Kokkinakis
Nick Kyrgios, who had a stellar breakthrough season in 2014, finished the year with a debut in the IPTL recently, and the much-heralded Bernard Tomic, are the sole current Australians aged 25 or under in the top 100.
Kyrgios’ rise is stunning, considering he moved from being ranked 183 to 52 during 2014. This 71.58% drop in ranking places is significant. He managed to win over 60% of his 2014 matches in straight sets, although some of those were on the Challenger Tour. On that basis, bettors should consider backing the 19-year-old prospect at -1.5 sets on the handicap market. Kyrgios, along with Tomic, have the best career hard court Challenger records, by some distance.
Tomic, who dropped from 51 to 56 this year, was the only player of the eight not to have improved their ranking. Having said this, Tomic has a superb record in his home country. In the last three years, he has reached the semi-final of Brisbane in 2012, won Sydney in 2013 and was beaten by Juan Martin Del Potro in the 2014 Sydney final.
Based on this, it would appear that home comforts bring out the best in the brash 22-year-old, and he is definitely a player worth keeping an eye on in these warm-up events. However, Tomic also had the worst 2-0 win percentage (although at a higher level as he did not play Challengers) and 36.59% of his matches went to three sets in 2014. With a positive deciding set record, backing Tomic +1.5 sets when an underdog, or to win 2-1 as a correct score, can be considered by bettors.
18-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis is another player considered to have immense potential. Interestingly, after improving his ranking from 628 to 150 in 2014 (76.11% drop in ranking places), he is now ranked higher aged 18 at the start of the season than Kyrgios was.
Kokkinakis also boasts the third highest hard court Challenger win percentage (65.63%) and at a very young age, this should be open to improvement.
It will be very interesting to see how Kokkinakis is priced by the oddsmakers in the opening weeks of the season, although with 16 straight-sets defeats in 2014, bettors may wish to be cautious backing him at +1.5 sets when he is an underdog.
Duckworth & Millman
James Duckworth and John Millman have very similar career hard court win percentages in Challengers, but vastly different seasons in 2014. Duckworth, who slightly raised his ranking from 136 to 127 in the year, had a relatively consistent year, winning a shade over 60% of his matches. He also showed a tendency to play 3-set matches with 38.18% (the highest of all players in the sample) going the distance. With a strong 14-7 record in deciding sets, bettors may be interested in large prices backing Duckworth to win matches by a 2-1 correct scoreline.
Conversely, Millman’s year was almost entirely condensed into the second half of the season. Injury kept the 25-year-old out from May 2013 to April 2014, at which point his ranking was 820 (career best 129). Making up for lost time, Millman quickly ran through the Futures circuit, taking titles in Korea twice (F10 & F11) before making inroads into the Challenger Tour in the Autumn.
From September onwards, Millman suffered just five defeats in 26 hard-court Challenger matches, including two defeats to top-50 player Sam Querrey. This highly impressive run of form saw Millman lose 80.85% of his ranking places in 2014 – the best in the sample.
As the player in the best form, and with motivation to make up for lost time, as well as having no ranking points to defend until May, Millman is a player to keep an eye on in the opening tournaments of 2015. Although some matches were in Futures, a 68.18% straight sets win percentage is highly impressive and from those 26 Challenger matches from September onwards, he also won 18 by a 2-0 scoreline (64.29%), including the last ten in a row.
Kubler & Smith
Jason Kubler could struggle – if he decides to participate – in these early weeks of the hard court season. Kubler, who started 2014 ranked at 393, played exclusively on his favoured clay this year, using Futures events initially as a springboard to Challenger success.
In previous years, Kubler has an unimpressive 6-12 record on hard court in Futures events and after a strong run of form on clay in the latter stages of the year, he may well prove to be over-rated by the market if he plays on hard court in the opening weeks of 2015.
Finally, John-Patrick Smith’s future improvement is likely to be quite limited. A ranking improvement from 220 to 200 in 2014, at the age of 25, as well as the worst 2014 win percentage by some distance, suggests he is close to reaching the level that he will plateau at. Smith was also the only player in the sample to have a negative deciding set record (7-14) and this would suggest fitness issues, amongst other things. In the summer heat of Australia, this is likely to see Smith struggle and bettors should take this into account before backing Smith, particularly via a 2-1 scoreline or in a deciding set.
This article highlights a number of young Australian players who have the potential to be undervalued on the handicap market at the start of the 2015 tennis season. Bettors should focus on each player's individual statistics for 2014, to find a potential edge.
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