WE'VE got 32 matches from the bottom half of the draw on day one in Melbourne and as ever here it’s wise to have a look at the likely weather conditions the players can expect.
It’s set to be a sunny and hot at around 34C in the shade on Monday, but there’s also a yellow warning for wind in place and the wind will pick up as the day goes on and peak at around 26kph speeds (according to the forecast).
So, tricky conditions on day one, and given that it’ll be hot I’m happy to take on one particular favourite on day one – but as I’ve mentioned before, this event is poor for frequency of underdog winners (we usually see some big-priced ones though), so I’ll be circumspect with my wagers this fortnight.
Stefanos Tsitsipas vs Matteo Berrettini
The young Greek is worth opposing here for two main reasons: his mediocre stats on outdoor hard courts and his dislike for hot conditions.
Let’s look back to what Tsitsipas said after beating fading veteran Tommy Robredo in a tight round one and then losing to Daniil Medvedev in round two at the 2018 US Open.
“The conditions today – and even in my first-round match – were very tough to deal with. When I managed to win that first-round match I felt very relieved, because I knew if that match would go to four sets, then I don't know if I could make it.”
He’s lost five of his last seven matches at all levels in Australia and with a match scheduled for around 13:00 local time Tsitsipas will have to cope with the full heat and an opponent with power that can rush him in quick conditions.
Berrettini came to Melbourne a year ago ranked 130, but a fine year has put him just outside the top-50 this time around and if we look at his five matches versus top-20 opposition in 2018 he won two, lost one in a final set, and took a set off Dominic Thiem at the French Open.
Thiem went on to make the final and the other loss was to Alexander Zverev in Rome (who also went on to make the final), so he’s shown a good level against the better players.
If we’re looking at stats then there’s very little between this pair on their service hold/break totals on outdoor hard in the last 12 months at main level (99.7 for Tsitsipas and 98.8 for Berrettini) with both struggling to break serve as often as they’d like.
When they clashed at the US Open around 18 months ago it went to three tie break sets in a final set win for Tsitsipas (in qualies) and there were two breaks of serve all match.
The Greek has already been beaten by Andreas Seppi and Cam Norrie this year and I like either the over 37.5 games or the +5.5 games on Berrettini here.
Let’s have a look at the draw and I’ll be brief about Q1 as it’s tough to envisage Novak Djokovic not winning it. Djokovic has been beaten before the quarter finals in both of his last two appearances here, but it’s hard to see it happening again unless the winner of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/Martin Klizan has an unplayable day when one faces the Serb.
That seems unlikely with this 2019 version of Tsonga and surely Klizan would find a way to lose even if he got himself close to winning and that would leave us relying on the winner of the David Goffin/Daniil Medvedev mini-section to take down the tournament favourite.
Goffin has struggled in the heat here over the years and it is set to be hot on Monday and Tuesday in Melbourne, plus he usually takes a while to find his form after a lay off, so Goffin looks to me a long shot in this section.
Medvedev is the interesting one, with his flat hitting capable of causing at least some problems for Djokovic if they met in round four and he could possibly emulate Denis Istomin’s win over the Serb of 2017, but I’m not going to bet on it.
Nobody in the adjacent section looks capable of providing the upset, with Kei Nishikori 2-17 versus Djokovic in his career and probably not the player he was a few years ago after wrist surgery.
So, it’s Djokovic for me in this section of the draw.
Q2 is an interesting one, as I’m interested in possibly taking on Alexander Zverev, whose failures in majors have shown no signs of halting, plus he’s said to be struggling with a hamstring injury.
The German also reportedly had to halt a practice match in Melbourne with a foot or heel problem and given that he’s yet to prove by any means that he can last the course at a major I’m not sold on his chances.
Of those that could stop Zverev from making week two in a major again perhaps Gilles Simon could on a good week, but he usually finds it too much of a physical test here in the heat with his play style and hasn’t been past round four since 2009.
Jeremy Chardy has gone well in Australia in the past and on his day is capable of the upset, but I’m not backing Chardy and Jack Sock is another who usually struggles in the heat.
In the next section, Hyeon Chung, last year’s semi finalist, looks hopelessly out of form and Stan Wawrinka, Ernests Gulbis, Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic are all drawn together and only one of that quartet will make round three.
Kyrgios has got what he deserved for his childish “couldn’t care less” comments about his ranking slipping and has been handed Raonic in round one, which is a test the Aussie probably won’t pass in his current frame of mind.
Wawrinka is perhaps the most likely to upset Zverev, but while Stan still looks capable of hitting the heights I’m not at all convinced that he can string those sorts of performances together any more to make the latter stages of a major.
The adjacent section looks very open, with Borna Coric holding a very poor record in Australia and Dominic Thiem finding the conditions too fast and also he gets nosebleeds here in the dry heat.
Lucas Pouille is another who’s struggled in Australia (lost nine of his last 10 matches at all levels) and he’s coming to terms with a new coaching set-up with Amelie Mauresmo, too.
As tempting as it is to take Zverev on no single player stands out for me to do it with in Q2.
Q3 is really interesting if you’re of a mind to take on the 37-year-old Roger Federer, which is certainly a possibility, given the Swiss’s age and recalling how he struggled in the heat at the US Open.
He usually gets nice match times and it’s a drier heat here, less humid, but I’m still tempted to take him on in his 38th year.
The main candidates to upset Federer before the semi finals are: Marin Cilic, Roberto Bautista Agut, Karen Khachanov Stefanos Tsitsipas, and perhaps Gael Monfils and Nikoloz Basilashvili.
Given that last year’s semi finalists were Kyle Edmund and Hyeon Chung at big prices to win their quarters and his huge improvement of late I’m tempted into a small interest on Basilashvili.
His early draw looks kind and the high seed in his section, Tsitsipas, is another that’s really struggled in the heat so far in his career, so I’m not at all convinced about the Greek’s chances this fortnight.
Basilashvili’s improvement has been rapid and much of it has been on the mental side, as he used to go away mentally far too easily, but Jan De Witt has turned him into a top-20 player and now he doesn’t look fazed against the elite.
Indeed, he won only six points fewer than Djokovic when they clashed in Doha recently in a final set defeat and it’ll be interesting to see how he fares this fortnight.
It’s a big long shot but with doubts (again) over the fitness of Monfils and heat resistance of Tsitsipas I like the price of 100-1 on Basil.
Only one of Cilic, Bautista Agut, Khachanov, Andy Murray, Bernard Tomic, or Fernando Verdasco can make the quarter finals and of these I’m tempted by RBA.
He looked in fine form in Doha after a difficult year on and off the court in 2018 and it’s hard to see Murray beating him over five sets in what may turn out to be the Brit’s last career match.
The Spaniard has also beaten Karen Khachanov on quick surfaces and with Cilic a tad rusty after no competitive action since the Davis Cup final and suffering with a knee problem (and with Tomic to face in round one) RBA looks a fair option in Q3.
I’m completely unconvinced about Rafael Nadal’s fitness and he can be taken on in Q4 with Kevin Anderson or Tomas Berdych.
The Spaniard hasn’t hit a ball competitively since the US Open and even when he fit he usually finds the quick conditions here a big challenge, with no title since way back in 2009.
Rafa can’t complain about his draw at all, with Alex De Minaur a possible threat, but that doesn’t look a favourable match-up for the young Aussie, who will be tired after a long week in Sydney that didn’t finish until Saturday night.
Instead, it could be possible that a resurgent Tomas Berdych could be the man to take down Nadal, as he did here in Melbourne in 2015, with the Czech playing pain-free this season so far after a long time off the circuit die to back problems.
Berdych faces last year’s semi finalist Kyle Edmund though in round one and that’s a tough one to call, as Edmund has been injured too, playing only one match in 2019 so far due to a knee injury.
Given that Berdych is favourite for that match it indicates that Edmund isn’t fit and I’m happy to have half a point on the Berdman at 16-1 to win this section (he’s also 12-0 head-to-head against Anderson, although they haven’t clashed since 2014).
The Czech was similarly unfancied last season coming to Melbourne, having also ended the previous season early and he hadn’t won a match for more than three months, but he played superbly well until losing to Federer in the quarters.
Anderson is the obvious choice to win the quarter given his form over the last year or so and he’ll have taken some confidence from beating Nadal in Abu Dhabi at the start of this year, even if that event is an exhibition.
Anderson has held serve 91.1% of the time in his last 50 matches and broken 16.7% of the time, for a combined total of 107.8, which is not elite level, but handy enough and he has the knowledge that he can go deep in majors these days.
Grigor Dimitrov is an interesting contender, given his decent record at this tournament, but 7-1 about him winning the quarter seems pretty short considering his weak form over the last season.
John Isner has never been the last 16 in Melbourne and has started recent seasons slowly, so I’ll overlook him and the value, if there is any, is on Berdych for me in Q4.
I suspect it’ll be business as usual for Djokovic as far as winning the title is concerned, but the huge price on Basilashvili to cause a shock in Q3 and a fair price on Berdych to do something similar in Q4 look the best outright options.