ROUND one of the men’s singles at the 2018 Australian Open completes on Tuesday, with 32 matches set for day two at Melbourne Park.
Well, Monday in Melbourne was one of the more frustrating opening days of Grand Slam tennis that I can recall, with pretty much every underdog on my shortlist going close or winning – except for two of the three I plumped for.
Dudi Sela should have been a winner in four sets against Ryan Harrison, but failed to serve it out and lost in five, while the alternative choice for that third bet of the day, Yuichi Sugita, beat Jack Sock.
And Kyle Edmund and Ruben Bemelmans also won at big prices, while Dusan Lajovic, Paulo Lorenzi, Dustin Brown and Alex Bolt all went close.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, I went with the ones that didn’t do so well, with Federico Delbonis and Nicolas Jarry both losing in straight sets, which when combined with Sela’s tough loss, made for a poor opening day.
We also lost Kevin Anderson on the outrights to that Kyle Edmund win, but we did get Belinda Bencic through that tough-looking round one with Venus Williams in the women’s draw.
After Monday’s play Alexander Zverev, who isn’t the most reliable of court speed judges, claimed that the outside courts are “as fast as ice,” while Pablo Carreno Busta said: “In Australia it is faster than the US Open.”
Hawk-Eye data suggest that HiSense is a fair bit slower than Laver at 35.9 CPI, while Laver is 41.3. Margaret Court Arena is 38.9, Show Court 3 is 39.2, and Show Court 2 is 41.0.
Weather-wise it’s set to be a bit warmer at around the mid-20sC, with wind still a factor, as 25kph gusts are expected on Tuesday.
Let’s see if I can do better in picking from my shortlist on day two, with Guido Pella, Vaclav Safranek, Fernando Verdasco, Alex De Minaur, Lorenzo Sonego, and Alexei Popyrin all holding chances at big prices.
Lorenzo Sonego vs Robin Haase
Haase hasn’t won a match at the Australian Open since 2011 and the Dutchman is 3-9 at this tournament, so Melbourne hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for Haase over the years.
And now he’s been put in as a 1.23 chance to beat qualifier Sonego, who made it through the qualifying event without dropping serve and facing only two break points in total in three matches.
And they weren’t gimmes either, with Sonego beating Bernard Tomic, who’d played pretty well in qualies, and Thiago Monteiro, who beat Bemelmans and pushed Anderson in Pune, as well as Mohamed Safwat.
The Italian has been banging down the 200kph serves and hit 13 aces against Tomic, so the quicker outside courts (this one’s on Court 22) should see the Sonego serve be tough to break.
At the minimum Sonego should come into this match with confidence after that qualifying performance and he’s facing an opponent today, who’s 5-17 lifetime in hard court majors and won just one of his last 14.
Of the five wins he has had two were against clay courters Carlos Berlocq, Juan Monaco and Rui Machado, another a five setter against Dustin Brown and a 2008 success against Ivan Ljubicic.
Sonego lacks experience at this level, which may save Haase, but over 35.5 games or Sonego on the set handicap look good here, with 1.23 a poor price on a man with Haase’s record at hard court majors.
The Dutchman played well in Auckland, which puts me off the outright win on Sonego, but the handicaps look good value.
Roberto Bautista Agut vs Fernando Verdasco
RBA beat Haase in the tightest of battles in the Auckland semi final before going on to win another three setter in the final against Juan Martin Del Potro, but how much is left in the tank for what looks a tough battle first up in Melbourne?
Verdasco has played some of his best tennis at the Australian Open over the years, beating Rafa Nadal in round one two years ago and losing to the same opponent in a classic semi final years earlier.
And he’s won three of his four career meetings with Bautista Agut, the most recent one coming on pacy outdoor hard in the wind in Dubai last season, so I do like the odds on Verdasco here.
Bautista Agut is yet to really convince against top-50 ranked lefties on outdoor hard, winning only three of the eight he’s played so far in his career (two of those wins were against Adrian Mannarino), so combined with likely fatigue and an opponent that tends to up his game here RBA is a risky wager.
Verdasco has been unlucky with the draw in Melbourne of late, facing Novak Djokovic twice and Nadal once in his last three years here and again he’s got a tough one first up.
But out on Court 7 where it’ll be quick, if the players’ reports on conditions are to be believed, Nando has a fine chance of causing an upset.
Vaclav Safranek vs Jiri Vesely
Vesely is in no sort of form at the moment and his record so far at the Australian Open in his career is 0-5, so he’s another one that’s a dismal price at 1.29 to beat his countryman Safranek.
The younger Czech qualified here by beating Renzo Olivo (who beat Vesely at this tournament in 2016), Aussie Andrew Whittington and Andrea Collarini and in so doing he won 69% of his second serve points and didn’t drop a set.
Vesely meanwhile just about scraped a final set tie break win over Radu Albot and then did the same against Sam Querrey in Auckland last week after losing to Ricardo Ojeda Lara (who went on to lose to Bradley Mousley in qualies in Melbourne) in Pune.
Vesely has a similarly poor record to Haase in hard court majors of 3-8 and the last time that he won a match on outdoor hard at any level in straight sets was 22 such matches ago (again in Auckland) against Horacio Zeballos.
Safranek is clearly playing with confidence, while Vesely hasn’t been for a long time now, and again the handicaps on the underdog appeal, with Safranek +1.5 sets at 2.38 my choice here.
Of the others, Guido Pella has already beaten Dominic Thiem twice and the latter has been struggling with his health since he’s been in Australia, so Pella, who’s much improved on hard courts, has a shot in that one.
It’ll be quick on Court 2, so it’s certainly possible for Pella to emulate his Chengdu win over the Austrian, who struggles on pacy hard courts.
I’m tempted by set one to Aussie youngster Alexei Popyrin against the very average and somewhat weaponless Tim Smyczek on quick hard courts, with the American a 1.28 chance, which seems short.
Popyrin is likely to come out firing here and the 2.80 on him winning set one looks the bet, with Smyczek likely to grind it out in the end with his much more measured style.
The wild card should give a good account of himself and Smyczek should be tested at least for a while in this one.
The other one that’s a possibility is fellow Aussie Alex De Minaur, who’s shown a liking for the big stage at home and on the slower HiSense Arena his counter-attacking game could make life tough for Tomas Berdych.
Again, the question about De Minaur is ‘how much has he got left?’ after a tough fortnight in Brisbane and Sydney, but on current form the Aussie has a shot for sure.
Cedrik-Marcel Stebe probably shouldn’t be underdog against Maximilian Marterer (0-14 at main level) but the former retired in his only match so far in 2018 and last match of 2017.
Who knows what sort of condition Stan Wawrinka (or Novak Djokovic for that matter) will turn up in today after admitting he still has pain in his knee, but Ricardas Berankis’ stats on outdoor hard are woeful and I couldn’t back him at today’s price.
Mischa Zverev had an MTO last week in Sydney for an arm issue and the often-injured German was less than committed during that loss to Leo Mayer.
Fellow brittle bodied sort Mikhail Kukushkin retired sick last week in Canberra, while Milos Raonic is yet to show that he’s in the right shape for competing at this level.