ON Tuesday Roberto Bautista Agut had his chances to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas, leading sets one and three (4-2 ahead in each) and winning set two, yet he was unable to get it done, and went down in four sets to the Greek.
Those who took my suggestion of under 29.5 games in the other quarter-final between Rafa Nadal and Frances Tiafoe would have collected, so in hindsight I opted for the wrong wager there.
The quarter-finals complete on Wednesday, with play starting at around 04:00 UK time and 08:30 UK time respectively.
Novak Djokovic vs Kei Nishikori
On paper this looks an extremely tall order for the brittle-bodied Japanese star, who’s now spent almost 14 hours on court to reach this stage – and that’s despite one opponent retiring and another (Sousa) barely competitive in their last two sets.
Anyone thinking of backing a Nishikori who’s coming off the back of a five-hour marathon in the last round against an opponent he’s lost to the last 14 times straight is surely hoping for a bit of a miracle, but they’re getting the biggest price on Nishikori against Djokovic for three years.
When they clashed here in Melbourne at this same quarter-final stage in 2016 Nishikori was roughly the same sort of price (7.50) that he is this time around, but it’s still not big enough to tempt me.
True, Djokovic hasn’t looked to be at his best this tournament so far, and at one stage against Daniil Medvedev it looked to be getting very interesting, with the Serb struggling physically.
Indeed, had Medvedev taken a great chance up at net to break Djokovic early in the third it may have been difficult for the world number one, but Medvedev missed and promptly fell apart.
On that performance and specifically the way that Djokovic appeared to be suffering physically you’d have to give Nishikori some sort of a chance, but his own five-hour struggle in another match he should probably have lost may have taken too much out of Nishikori – a man hardly known for his great stamina and physical strength.
Looking purely at the outdoor hard court clashes between this pair it’s clear that the fairly weak serve of Nishikori is all too easily broken by the strong return game of Djokovic, who’s created 0.83 break chances per Nishikori service game in their five meetings on this surface.
That’s resulted in Nishikori holding serve just 66.7% of the time and winning only 61.4% of his first serve points against Djokovic, so unless the latter does have some sort of physical issue it looks too tough an ask for the Japanese.
The bet for me here is no tie breaks at around the 1.80 mark, with both men strong returners and having played only one breaker in 14 sets against each other on outdoor hard and just four in the 46 total sets they’ve contested on all surfaces.
Slow conditions at night should make it tougher to hold serve when these Dunlop balls get old and I see fair value in this wager.
Milos Raonic vs Lucas Pouille
This looks to be another one where the heavy favourite appears to have a distinct advantage in the match-up, with Pouille having been out-gunned by Raonic fairly comfortably each time they’ve clashed.
The issue for Poulle is an obvious one: he hasn’t been able to get anywhere near the Raonic serve.
The Frenchman in his three meetings with Raonic has created a measly 0.06 break point chances per game and consequently the Canadian has held serve 97.1% of the time.
That puts a massive amount of pressure on Pouille to hold his own deal, which at times is hampered by a low first serve percentage, and while it’s an effective delivery when he gets it right too often (at this level) it and the rest of his game go missing.
In Pouille’s last 50 main level outdoor hard court matches he’s created 0.49 break chances per game, but with that collapsing to 0.06 against Raonic and in the three matches Pouille has played on this surface against Raonic and fellow big server Nick Kyrgios he’s yet to even force a tie break.
On that alone the 3-1 on no tie breaks is tempting and perhaps worth risking if you’re betting in this one and fancy a big-priced punt, with Pouille needing to have one of his better serving days to even force a breaker going on past matches between this pair.
It’s certainly noteworthy that Pouille’s return to form this fortnight so far has coincided with him getting a lot of first serves in (65%, 65%, 60% and 65%) and his match immediately prior to Melbourne (when we backed him against Rublev) was a loss and he only got 51% in play that day.
In his three priors against Raonic he’s gone 57%, 48% and 58% and that hasn’t been good enough to put any real pressure on the Canadian, so much depends on how well Pouille serves on Wednesday.
Given that his average percentage of first serves in play over his last 50 matches on this surface is 56% he’s been serving above his usual norm this tournament and that seems unlikely to continue.
- 1 point win no tie-breaks in Djokovic v Nishikori (1.79, Unibet)