THE opening day of the first major of the year on Monday sees 32 men’s singles matches scheduled at the 2018 Australian Open at Melbourne Park.
The weather forecasters are predicting a cool (19C) and pretty windy (27kph winds) day on Monday in Melbourne, so heat won’t be a problem on day one. It’ll be pretty humid, but we shouldn’t see any heat-related retirements.
We may see the odd ‘thanks for my £28,900 round one losers cheque’ retirement, but they won’t have 40 degree heat to blame it on this year. Not on day one at least.
Looking back at all the results this decade at the Australian Open the first thing that’s noticeable is the lack of underdog winners, with an average of just 21% underdog winners in the last eight years.
Last year only 24 of 126 matches were won by the betting underdog and the most there’s been this decade was the 32 of 2014.
Tie breaks have been plentiful in Melbourne, with half of the matches over the last five years featuring at least one tie break. I’m not sure that the much cooler conditions will be suitable for many breakers on day one though.
Fifteen of those 24 underdogs that won here a year ago were in the first round and ones for the shortlist for me on day one are: Nicolas Jarry, Paulo Lorenzi, Dusan Lajovic, Dudi Sela, Dustin Brown, Yuichi Sugita, Alex Bolt, and maybe Ruben Bemelmans, Mikhail Youzhny and Federico Delbonis.
Nicolas Jarry vs Leonardo Mayer
Jarry’s lack of experience on hard courts has led the layers to put the Chilean in as a 2.80 shot for this 06:00 am (approx.) UK time clash on Court 12 and I’m happy to take a chance on that.
The 22-year-old has shown decent ability on hard courts in the few matches he’s played at main level, including in Pune a couple of weeks ago when he should have beaten Robin Haase in straight sets.
Jarry led that one by a set and a break and won more points than Haase overall, so the level is there on hard courts given that Haase played very well last week in Auckland where he was very close to making the final.
The kick serve of Jarry has been a good weapon for him so far on hard courts this season and he should give the single-handed backhand of Mayer a decent test in conditions that Mayer has found difficult so far in his career.
The Argentine has won only three of his 11 matches at the Australian Open (2-7 in the main draw) and in cooler conditions this match will probably play out more like a clay court affair.
In his five main level hard court matches so far in his career (discounting a Davis Cup rubber from 2013 when Jarry was 2091 in the world) Jarry’s held serve 87% of the time and each one has been competitive against the likes of Haase and Vasek Pospisil, so this should at least be a test for Mayer.
Federico Delbonis vs Gilles Muller
If conditions are going to be as cool and windy as expected it gives even more of a chance to Delbonis against Muller, who isn’t near his best form at the moment after elbow tendonitis led to him ending his 2017 season in September.
Since then Muller lost in straight sets to Hyeon Chung in Brisbane and should have been beaten by John Millman too, but the Aussie blew his chance with another horrible choke when serving for set one in Sydney.
Then Muller lost in straight sets to Benoit Paire and now he comes to Melbourne in less than ideal playing conditions and struggling for form.
And the leftie doesn’t have a great record in Melbourne either, with a record of only twice winning back-to-back matches in the main draw in his 11 years of trying.
In his last 11 matches here he hasn’t won any by the 5.5 game handicap margin that Delbonis gets today and it’s not as if Muller found Delbonis an easy ride when they met on indoor hard in Basel in 2016.
Despite hitting 25 aces that day Muller only won in a final set tie break after Delbonis had failed to serve the match out and the Argentine should fancy his chances in slower conditions than usual in Melbourne.
There’s little between the pair on their outdoor hard court hold/break stats either, with Delbonis holding 82.2% of the time and breaking 15.4% of the time for a decent total of 97.6, while Muller is slightly ahead on exactly 100 (89.4% holds/10.6% breaks).
It’s hard to trust a rusty big server that breaks serve 10% of the time to cover a handicap that he hasn’t covered in more favourable conditions in his last 11 tries at the same tournament.
Delbonis has beaten Ivo Karlovic and taken Nick Kyrgios to five sets at the Open in the past, so he’s no pushover when facing big servers and +5.5 games looks decent at 1.90.
Dudi Sela vs Ryan Harrison
We’ve got a 1.30 chance here that’s lost nine of his last 12 first round matches at majors and has a 2-7 record in the main draw at the Australian Open (2-8 overall). Keen to back him?
Me neither and although Harrison has shown some form in the early weeks of the season I’m not convinced that he should be this short against an opponent that is more than capable on his day.
You never really know what you’re going to get from Sela, but there’s nothing between the Israeli and the American on the main level hold/break stats over the past 12 months on outdoor hard (Sela: 99.5, Harrison: 99) and slower conditions probably won’t help Harrison either.
Harrison’s lost seven of his last 10 matches against players under 5’10” in height (four times to Tim Smyczek) and we’ll see how well he gets on with the trajectory of Sela’s ball.
It’s a risky one, as Sela can occasionally be awful, but at these prices it’s worth the risk and he did beat John Isner as a 4.62 underdog at Wimbledon last season, so he can’t be counted out of this one.