TWO odds-against winners for our bets were most welcome on Monday at the Australian Open in a most atypical round four that ended up producing five (and almost six) underdog winners.
On average the quarter-final round has produced 19% underdog winners this decade (more than round four and just 1% fewer than round three), but on four occasions this decade all four of the favourites have won in this round.
The quarters (67%), semis (71%) and the final (67%) have each produced more tie break matches on average than any of rounds one to four in this current decade and, as you’d expect, few underdog winners.
We’re expecting it to get warmer in Melbourne on Tuesday, with 30C temperatures in the shade for the day session match and around 23C for the night match.
Roberto Bautista Agut vs Stefanos Tsitsipas
It’s often the case when an underdog takes down a heavy favourite, that that player’s odds become cramped in his next match, and that seems to have happened with Tsitsipas here.
Federer can count himself a little unlucky on the numbers of his defeat to the young Greek, with Tsitsipas saving 100% (12 of 12) of the break points against him and Federer himself holding serve 96.1% of the time.
The veteran Swiss won a higher percentage of points on serve and on return and created 0.47 break chances per game, compared to just 0.12 for Tsitsipas, so purely on the stats it was a tad unfortunate for Federer to lose that one.
Now we have a situation where Tsitsipas is a 1.81 chance to take down RBA in a first career meeting, yet it’s the Spaniard that leads the way in terms of service hold/break totals – both versus all opposition at main level and against the current top-25 (on outdoor hard in the last 12 months).
Indeed, RBA is some way ahead on the former stat, producing a hold/break total of 110.4 versus all opposition, compared to the 102.5 of Tsitsipas and he also leads by 2.6% against the top-25.
Both sets of stats show that Tsitsipas’ return game isn’t as effective as RBA’s, with the Greek breaking only 12.6% of the time against the top-25 (RBA 19.4%) and just 15.8% of the time against all opponents (RBA 26.6%).
And it’s not as if Tsitsipas is creating plenty of break chances yet not taking them (as Dominic Thiem was a few years back against the elite), with Tsitsipas creating only 0.40 break chances per game, compared to RBA’s 0.69 per game (the frequency that each man takes those chances is more or less identical).
Tsitsipas backers will no doubt suggest that he’s improving rapidly and that that will be reflected soon enough in his stats – and that may well be the case – but I wouldn’t be at all happy about backing him as favourite in this match.
It’s hard enough after a tight win to come back out and start again versus a quality opponent in a quarter final, but it’s even tougher when you’ve had a potentially career-defining win over a legend of the game, as Tsitsipas has.
It’s certainly a winnable match for Tsitsipas, but I can’t see any value in him at all in this price and the experience and reliability of RBA may well provide some value instead here.
Frances Tiafoe vs Rafael Nadal
To suggest this is a tall order for Tiafoe, who turned 21 on Sunday, is probably putting it mildly, given that it’ll be played on the slow Laver court at night when, as I’ve said before, it’s so tough to hit winners when these Dunlop balls aren’t new.
Looking at Nadal’s record against this sort of opposition, he’s won a very healthy 87% of his matches on all surfaces against players ranked between 28 and 38 in the world (Tiafoe will probably rise to a career high of 29 after this tournament from 38).
Breaking that down further he’s 48-9 on all hard courts (41-9 on outdoor hard) and he’s won his last 14 in a row, dating back to when Viktor Troicki beat him at the 2016 Shanghai Masters.
In majors he’s 12-2, with the two defeats coming against Fabio Fognini in the 2015 US Open and versus Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the 2008 Australian Open.
There was only one tie break in total in those 14 matches and in the 12 wins he covered a handicap of at least 5.5 games each time and it’s hard to see Tiafoe getting too close to Nadal in this one.
Against the players widely known as the ‘big four’ Tiafoe has only faced one – Roger Federer – and he did take Fed to five sets at the US Open of 2017, but Nadal will look to win points a different way and it’s hard to see the hit and miss groundies of Tiafoe standing up to many long rallies.
Versus the players I have in my database as ‘top-10 quality’ (all surfaces/main level) we get a clearer picture, with Tiafoe currently 3-15 win/loss and holding serve 76.4% of the time, breaking 12.4% of the time in those matches and on outdoor hard alone he’s 3-8 win/loss and with a better hold/break total of 92.6.
Tiafoe tends to play his matches in a rather irregular manner, catching fire in spells and slumping in others, so he could make one set close, but it’s tough to see anything other than a straight sets Nadal win here and under 29.5 games is of interest.
Rafa will be delighted that his new, more aggressive, serving has brought its rewards, as he’s held serve 96.3% of the time so far this tournament and it’s tough to imagine Tiafoe having the guile to cause too much damage, especially in slow conditions at night.
- 0.5 points win Bautista Agut to beat Tsisipas (2.02, Unibet)