Rafael Nadal after the 2009 Australian Open
As far as sucker bets go, there are few bigger than Rafael Nadal at the moment when it comes to winning the 2012 Australian Open. When you look at what he has done recently and what he has done in recent years at the Aussie, there's little reason to be optimistic about the world No. 2's chances.
The Spaniard did not win a hard court title in 2011, he closed that year off with an exhibition loss to David Ferrer, Nadal started 2012 off poorly with a loss to Gael Monfils and the Australian Open is historically Nadal's worst Grand Slam event.
Still, the world No. 2 is well backed to win the title at Melbourne Park, although his status in that betting market is declining—as it should.
Currently Nadal is the fourth favorite to win the 2012 Australian Open with Andy Murray now considered the third favorite following his title at ATP Brisbane (d. Dolgopolov).
Nadal is priced at +600 (6/1) with Ladbrokes while Murray is +500 (5/1) with Bodog, both to win the title outright at Melbourne Park.
With Nadal, you just have to ask yourself a couple pretty simple questions:
Firstly, what are Nadal's chances of beating Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open?
Given that Nadal lost all six of their head-to-head meetings in 2011 you have to think that the Spaniard's chances are not that good at all. Nadal did take sets off of Djokovic on the hard court in 2011 and if the Spaniard can do that, then there is a chance he can find a way to beat Djokovic. However, if the two players meet in the final then Nadal's chances are probably only about 15% to 20% to win that match.
What round will see Nadal eliminated at the 2009 Australian Open?
Nadal could make the final and face a player besides Djokovic, but to be fair it's Nadal that's far more likely to falter before the final than the Serb—a point which relates to the next question.
Does Nadal's accomplishments at past Australian Open events suggest that he'll win the title this year?
The obvious bright light is the 2009 title where the then No. 1 Nadal beat Roger Federer in the final. However, that was three years ago and Rafa hasn't been stellar in Australia in the mean time.
He tapped out against Murray in the 2010 quarterfinals and David Ferrer eliminated Nadal in hapless straight sets last season in the same round. Nadal looked weak in the match, nearly resigned and certainly defeated.
Let's face it: the only times Nadal has won his quarter at the Australian Open has been when he has faced an inexperienced opponent for that late in a Grand Slam draw.
Nadal beat Gilles Simon in the 2009 quarters, the only time that the French player has ever made it that far in a slam. Back in 2008, when Nadal made the semis, he beat Jarkko Nieminen in the quarterfinals. While Nieminen had twice made it to a Grand Slam quarterfinal prior to the 2008 Aussie, it was the first time he had made it that far down under. But even in his past attempts the quarters were a hurdle the Finnish player had never jumped over and that made him easy pickings.
Nadal needs some luck to go his way to win the title at Melbourne Park, just like luck went his way in 2009. Fernando Verdasco in the semifinals was just what Nadal needed to get into the final where he faced an opponent that he matched up well against.
Nadal should be a middle round casualty at the Australian Open. And by "middle round" I mean R32, R16, or quarters. If he survives the middle rounds then he better hope to be facing a Verdasco-like player in the semifinals again and Federer in the final. If the world No. 2 faces Murray or Djokovic, then it will be lights out.
The 2012 Australian Open isn't ATP Tokyo 2010, the last hard court title Rafa won and an event where he faced no one in the Top 10.