THE second round of matches in the 2018 Australian Open men’s singles gets under way on Wednesday at Melbourne Park, with 16 matches set for day three.
Day two was a decent one for our bets, with Fernando Verdasco a comfortable 2.95 winner over Roberto Bautista Agut, while Lorenzo Sonego beat Robin Haase at a big price, so easily covered the +1.5 sets wager at 2.70.
The all-Czech affair between Vaclac Safranek and Jiri Vesely didn’t go our way, with the latter taking four of his break point chances and Safranek none of his five.
Madison Keys and Juan Martin Del Potro both progressed in straight sets, so it was a good day overall.
The wind is set to drop and more sunshine is forecast in Melbourne on Wednesday, with the dial reaching 28C in the shade by mid-afternoon, so the warmest day so far is expected.
Roger Federer said of the night-time conditions on the quick Rod Laver Arena: “I feel it's pretty much the same as last year. It felt fast tonight. Normally at the night-time it feels slower. It felt pretty fast out there tonight. That's how it also felt last year. When you do serve well and connect well on shots, you get rewarded for it.”
Gilles Simon, Marcos Baghdatis, Denis Istomin and Denis Shapovalov are the ones that appeal today for me, but Simon’s price is too short now at 1.74 for my liking.
Kyle Edmund vs Denis Istomin
I don’t like this price of 1.41 on Edmund one bit and the mercurial Istomin looks the value here pretty comfortably.
Edmund was a questionable starter in Melbourne after pulling out of Sydney with an ankle injury, so after five sets against Kevin Anderson in round one you’ve got to wonder how that ankle is now.
In any case Edmund is very inexperienced in recovering from five set matches, with that victory over Anderson being his second five set win in a Grand Slam in his career.
The only other time he did it was in a cramping effort in the French Open three years ago and he didn’t show up for his next match, but you’d expect the Brit to be tad fitter than that now.
He’s unproven though and he has an unfortunate knack of picking up injuries at inopportune moments, such as last time out in a major when he injured his neck against Denis Shapovalov.
Even on a level playing field, assuming both men are fit, this looks a poor price, with Istomin very capable of playing superb tennis on quick outdoor hard, as he showed here in Melbourne a year ago and again in Chengdu in similar conditions.
Istomin also limped out of his previous tournament in Brisbane in the quarters with a leg injury and he’s hardly shy when it comes to retirements either, but on his best form he’s every chance of taking down Edmund.
On the main level outdoor hard service hold/break stats over the last 12 months there’s little in it, with Edmund a fraction ahead on 105.2 (84.5% holds/20.7% breaks) and Istomin on 103.9 (83.2% holds/20.7% breaks).
The pair have never met, but there doesn’t look as much between these two as odds of 2.9 on Istomin suggest.
Marcos Baghdatis vs Andrey Rublev
Another young player that’s so far unproven in playing back-to-back five setters at a major is Rublev, who had a scrap against David Ferrer in round one and now faces the unpredictable Baghdatis.
Only once has Rublev played back-to-back five setters at a Grand Slam and that was last season at Wimbledon when he lost in five to Albert Ramos after beating Stefano Travaglia in five.
Baghdatis gets a lot of support in Melbourne, which may well annoy the temperamental Russian and another concern with Rublev is his serve, which often goes missing (as it does with Baghdatis too).
OK, it was windy during round one, but Rublev his 15 double faults against Ferrer and on hard courts at main level over the past 12 months he’s hit 0.44 double faults per game, which is more than he hits aces (0.43 per game).
In those 23 matches (15-8 win/loss) Rublev has only held serve 74.6% of the time and if Baggy plays his best stuff, which he often does in Melbourne, this could be a tricky day for Rublev.
In 39 main draw matches at the Australian Open Baghdatis has only lost in straight sets three times – once to Roger Federer in 2005, once to Ferrer in 2013, and once to Istomin in 2014.
Indeed, the full list of players that have beaten Baggy here is full of major winners, finalists and top-10 stars, with only Istomin bucking that trend, and two factors will be key for the Cypriot here.
The serve is always an issue for Baggy, with a first serve percentage that’s rarely above 55% on average, and fitness, which has been a problem for him for much of his career.
He says he’s in good shape and after playing well in Kooying, where he beat Anderson, he took down Yuki Bhambri in straight sets in his first main level match since October.
His hold/break stats on outdoor hard are still good, with a 106.7 total, which is better than Rublev’s 102.4, and if he’s feeling it Baggy can still play a bit.
Rublev’s firepower should see him through here, but he’ll do well to keep his best level up for a 3-0 win, and I like the over 36.5 games here at 1.89, with the handicaps on Baghdatis also good options.
The last one on the shortlist is Denis Shapovalov and the young Canadian isn’t going to go out of this tournament meekly, with his very attacking approach either going to win him or lose him his clash with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
It’s a rematch of their US Open encounter last season, which Shapovalov won in straight sets and the prices today are much the same as they were then, with the Canadian a 2.50 shot for this 02.00 (approx.) UK time clash on Margaret Court Arena.
Shapovalov’s last two matches pretty much tell the tale about his approach, with a wayward showing against Del Potro and a very good one here versus a nervy Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Tsonga isn’t the force he was but he’ll know what to expect from Shapovalov now and the latter’s too erratic to back today.
Elsewhere, John Millman’s status as favourite against Damir Dzumhur is due to the latter’s questionable physical condition, with the Bosnian saying he didn’t train for four or five days before his round one match. He won it in five though and I couldn’t back Millman as favourite here.
Diego Schwartzman and Casper Ruud both had long five setters in round one, so there’s some doubt as to how either man will shape up in round two, while picking one of Nikoloz Basilashvili or Ruben Bemelmans is not a job I’d fancy taking on.
Nick Kyrgios should beat Viktor Troicki with something to spare, but 1.06 is short, as is the 1.14 on Gilles Muller, but Malek Jaziri has no sort of record against big servers and had a five setter in the last round.
Yuichi Sugita doesn’t have any sort of record against big servers either, with a 0-5 record in completed matches at main level versus the ones in my database, so he’s a tad short in price against Ivo Karlovic, who may well improve for his first match in a while.
Andreas Seppi won the Canberra Challenger last week and is in confident mood, but Yoshihito Nishioka is a tough one to judge, having been out since last March with a knee injury.
It was a surprise that he was able to beat Philipp Kohlschreiber in five sets in only his second match (he lost the first one to Brayden Schnur), but Kohli has begun the season very poorly in his opening two matches.
I wouldn’t be convinced about Ryan Harrison beating Pablo Cuevas, but Marin Cilic should be too much for Joao Sousa to handle.