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Australian Open 2019: Men’s singles contenders

10/1/2019
Predicting the Australian Open women’s singles champion is always difficult. Serena Williams may have won the tournament seven times, but it has only been successfully defended by the same player twice in the last 16 years.

The men’s singles? Not so much.

While Roger Federer was a 20/1 victor in 2017, it was still the Swiss maestro’s fifth Australian Open and 18th Grand Slam title. He and Novak Djokovic have shared 11 of the last 13 championships at the Rod Laver Arena, with only Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal occasionally interrupting to break the mould.

When you consider as many as the last eight Grand Slams have also been won by Djokovic, Federer and Nadal – and the last four Australian Opens divided equally between Djokovic and Federer – you start to see a pattern. While the women’s draw has produced various winners like Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber, Li Na and Kim Clijsters this decade, the men’s singles has proved to be a far more exclusive club.

Is that likely to change in 2019? The odds say no.

Djokovic is a 5/4 favourite with most bookmakers, even after his surprise loss to Roberto Bautista Agut in last week’s Qatar Open final. Despite Federer seeking his third Australian Open title in a row, Djokovic’s dominance in the second half of 2018 marks him out as the man to beat.

After recovering from elbow surgery, Djokovic won Wimbledon, the Cincinnati Masters, the US Open and the Shanghai Masters. In the process, the Serb returned to world number one and completed the “Golden Masters” – meaning he is the first man in history to win every single Masters 1000 event.

Tennis, though, is never a one-horse race. Federer is 4/1 with Bet365 to go all the way – and 5/1 with Sky Bet and Ladbrokes.

The world number three is perfectly suited (and used) to hitting the ground running after extended breaks. After all, Federer won the 2017 Australian Open following six months out – so a few days off at Christmas should be no problem for the 20-time Grand Slam winner. The 37-year-old is seeking his 100th overall title and will be buoyed by how close he came to overcoming Djokovic in November’s Paris Masters final, where Djokovic came through in a final-set tiebreak.

Another tennis great who should never be discounted – and loves a comeback – is Nadal. The Spaniard is 13/2 with Sky Bet and backers will be buoyed by a longer price of 8/1 with Sky Bet.

Outside this most successful of tennis trios, though, a surprise winner is very unlikely indeed. Neutrals’ best hope is Alexander Zverev, now coached by Ivan Lendl (who aided Andy Murray so ably during his golden years) and high in confidence after conquering the ATP Tour Finals in London. In that final, he disproved Djokovic’s infallibility with a straight-sets win.

But the 21-year-old is still yet to progress beyond the quarter-final of a Grand Slam, or even the third round in Melbourne. With heat a major factor, Zverev will need a new level of maturity if he is to continue his recent momentum. The German is 8/1 with most bookies.

Other outsiders include Murray, only recently returning from a very lengthy spell out and 33/1 with most bookmakers, as well as last year’s runner-up Marin Cilic; 20/1 with the majority. A run of injuries has left Wawrinka dwindling at 33/1 with Bet365, while the US’ best hope is John Isner at 66/1. Grigor Dimitrov (50/1 with William Hill), Dominic Thiem (40/1 with Ladbrokes) and Karen Khachanov (33/1 with BetVictor) may also be worth examining.

Realistically, however, there is a dearth of genuine contenders if you look past the ATP’s oligopolistic rulers.

By Tim Poole
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