Australian Open 2013: Early Odds on Top 10 Men and Women in the World
While the rest of the world is still coming out of the post-holiday haze, tennis fans are already gearing up for one of the biggest nights of the year: the Australian Open.
Though we once again face the disappointing prospect of a Grand Slam tournament without the presence of Rafael Nadal, there will still be plenty of excitement—and, surely, excessive time spent between points—in this year's tournament, as both the top-ranked man and woman (Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka) seek to defend their 2012 Australian Open titles.
On the men's side, all roads to victory still run through the healthy members of the Big Four of Djokovic, Federer and Murray, who have won every Grand Slam since the 2009 U.S. Open. While Murray and Federer are the greatest threats to Djokovic's title defense, several other competitors are playing outstanding tennis and believe this is the year to end the hegemony on top of the men's game.
On the women's side, though Victoria Azarenka is the defending champion and top-ranked player in the world, she is likely much less confident than Djokovic due to the resurgence of Serena Williams, who has dominated Azarenka on the court. Williams is the overwhelming favorite to win in Melbourne; if she falls, however, there are several challengers who are ready to claim a major victory.
Here is a look at the odds, courtesy of British gaming site Ladbrokes, of each of the top ten men and women in the world winning the title in Melbourne.
Men's No. 10: Richard Gasquet
Richard Gasquet has claimed eight singles ATP titles, including two in the past four months, yet he has never been able to advance past the semifinals of a Grand Slam event.
Now 26 years old, Gasquet is playing the best tennis of his life. Along with Julien Benneteau, he claimed the bronze medal at the London Olympics in men's doubles, and in last weekend's Qatar Open, he defeated Nikolay Davydenko to win the tournament.
Gasquet reached the fourth round of all four major tournaments in 2012, and at this year's Australian Open, hopes to advance to the quarterfinal round of a major for just the second time in his career. Gasquet will be seen as a long shot to win any Grand Slam tournament until he shows that he can regularly reach the later rounds, and the 2013 Australian Open is his best chance yet to begin to make such a statement.
A win for Gasquet would be a stunner, but don't be surprised if he reaches the semifinals for the first time since the 2007 Wimbledon tournament.
Men's No. 9: Janko Tipsarević
Janko Tipsarević comes to Melbourne with momentum gained from his victory at the Chennai Open this past weekend, where he defeated up-and-comer Roberto Bautista Agut in the final after dropping the first set.
Tipsarević has a handful of ATP titles to his name (four) and has been ranked as high as No. 8 in the world, but thus far in his career, he has not been a factor at the Grand Slams. He reached the quarterfinal round of the last two U.S. Opens, the only times he has gotten past the fourth round in his career. Of the majors, he has struggled at the Australian Open most of all, twice topping out in the third round (2008 and 2012).
Tipsarević has great movement around the court and has one of the best return games in the ATP, but struggles with consistency and doesn't always take the smart shot. He has the talent to go further in the majors than he has thus far, but until he gets better results, handicappers will not have much faith in him at Grand Slam tournaments.
Men's No. 8: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Now that Andy Murray has won a Grand Slam, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is one of the top candidates to claim the title of "Best Active Men's Tennis Player Without a Grand Slam." Tsonga has nine ATP titles to his name, most recently taking home the title at last September's Moselle Open, but has only reached the final of his one Grand Slam singles tournament, the 2008 Australian Open.
Tsonga has excelled on the plexicushion surface of the Australian Open, and aside from his runner-up finish in 2008, he also has a semifinal and a quarterfinal finish in Melbourne.
Supporters of Tsonga have defended his failure to be more of a factor in Grand Slam finals by blaming his young age, but now that he is 27 years old and has been a pro for almost nine years, it is time for Tsonga to show greater dominance in the most important tournaments. Tsonga has shown that he can beat the very best, including winning five out of 14 matches against his biggest rival, Novak Djokovic.
Tsonga is battling a hamstring injury, but at this point, it does not appear to be serious enough to curtail his Australian Open title quest.
If he is healthy, there is no reason Tsonga cannot put together a run at a Grand Slam to reach the final once again, and he has shown before that Melbourne is the best place for him to do it.
Men's No. 7: Juan Martin Del Potro
If anyone other than the Big Four of Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray is going to win a Grand Slam, the oddsmakers believe it will be Juan Martin Del Potro.
After winning the 2009 U.S. Open, Del Potro struggled in Grand Slam tournaments, exiting the 2010 Australian Open in the fourth round before missing the rest of the year's majors due to a wrist injury. He failed to make it past the fourth round in any of 2011's majors, but by 2012 he once again became a contender, reaching the quarterfinal round in three of the year's four majors and winning a bronze medal at the London Olympics.
Del Potro has 13 career ATP tournament titles, including four wins in 2012, two coming in consecutive weeks at the Erste Bank Open in Vienna and the Swiss Indoors in Basel. He plays his best tennis on hard courts, and his screaming forehand is tailor-made for venues such as Melbourne.
Del Potro is on top of his game, playing at the highest level of his career since his title-winning 2009 campaign, and he has shown that he has all the tools necessary to win a Grand Slam on a hard court.
Men's No. 6: Tomáš Berdych
TomáŠ Berdych has long circled the Grand Slams, reaching at least the quarterfinals six times, with two semifinal exits and a finals loss at the 2010 Wimbledon.
Berdych had a successful 2012 season, winning two ATP events (the Open Sud de France and the Stockholm Open), and losing in the finals of two more, while leading the Czech Republic to a Davis Cup title. As a result of his strong play, he is currently enjoying the highest ranking of his career, and seems poised to make an impact at a Grand Slam in the near future.
While Wimbledon is the most likely venue for Berdych to find success—he plays best on grass due to his size and power—he has had success on every type of surface, winning ATP events on clay, carpet, grass and hard courts. Berdych reached the quarterfinals in each of the two most recent Australian Opens, and based on the quality of his recent play, he should reach at least the semifinals this year.
Men's No. 5: David Ferrer
David Ferrer has long been able to maintain a high ranking despite failing to be much of a presence at Grand Slams, mostly by playing well in an extraordinarily large number of relatively minor ATP tournaments. In his career, he's reached 33 ATP tournament finals, winning 18, but has yet to reach a Grand Slam final.
Throughout the 2012 season, it seemed that Ferrer might end this slump. He reached the quarterfinal round in each of the year's four majors—the first time he'd ever reached the quarterfinals more than twice in a season—and reached the semifinals of the French and U.S. Opens.
Ferrer's tenacious and grinding style of play has earned him the love of tennis fans, and he has shown the ability to wear out even the best of opponents. The chips would have to all fall the right way for Ferrer to make it past the semifinals in Melbourne, but as the top-ranked player outside the Big Four, he certainly cannot be counted out.
Men's No. 4: Rafael Nadal
After missing much of 2012 due to injuries, Nadal decided to pull out of the 2013 Australian Open due to a stomach virus. Nadal's knee likely was in no hurry to return to the plexicushion surface of Melbourne, and instead will likely return to his favorite major, the French Open.
Nadal's withdrawal is certainly good news, not only for the trio of Federer, Djokovic and Murray, but also for all of the top men's players outside of the Big Four, who now have one less hurdle to overcome in their quest for a Grand Slam title.
Men's No. 3: Andy Murray
Now that the monkey is off his back and Andy Murray has won a Grand Slam, tennis fans are eager to see what he can do in 2012. Murray's inability to win a major always appeared to result more from lack of focus and mental toughness than talent, and the confidence that comes with a major victory could carry Murray to even greater heights in 2013.
Of course, Murray's success in 2012 wasn't limited to his U.S. Open title. He took home a gold medal at his home Olympics (not to mention a silver medal in the mixed doubles event), and was the runner-up at the Shanghai and Miami Masters and won the Brisbane Invitational. He is off to a hot start in 2013, repeating at the Brisbane International in his warm up before the Australian Open.
With only defending champion Novak Djokovic offering lower odds, Andy Murray is handicapped as the second biggest favorite to win in Melbourne, a victory which would seal Murray's inclusion in the Big Four of men's tennis.
Men's No. 2: Roger Federer
In 2012, Federer won three Masters titles, two additional ATP tournaments, a silver medal at the London Olympics and Wimbledon. Not bad for someone who many wrote off as past his prime at the start of the year.
After dropping the gold-medal match to Andy Murray at the Olympics, Federer closed out the year with solid but unspectacular performances, at least by the measure he has set for himself. His best performance was at the ATP World Tour Finals, where he reached the final before losing to Novak Djokovic. Though he gave up his No. 1 ranking by withdrawing from the Paris Master, he still is the No. 2 ranked player in the world, and almost no one would dare repeat the mistake of counting him out in Melbourne.
Federer is a four-time winner of the tournament, and has progressed to at least the semifinal round every year since he first won the tournament in 2004. Though he has won more at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows, he has been more consistent in Melbourne than at any other major.
With Nadal out due to illness, Federer escapes the challenge of defeating his longtime rival, but Andy Murray's ascent as a true threat to win means that Federer has more to worry about than just Djokovic.
Men's No. 1: Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic has earned just about even odds at the Australian Open, due both to his overwhelming success at the major in recent years (three titles in five years) and dominant play in recent months.
After winning the 2012 Australian Open, Djokovic reached the final at both the French and U.S. Opens, losing to Nadal and Murray. While nearly any other player would be thrilled by a year consisting of a major victory, two additional major finals and three Masters trophies, some claimed that it was a disappointing year for the superstar.
Djokovic put such talk to rest with performance at the end of the season, winning the China Open and taking back the No. 1 ranking with Federer's withdrawal from the Paris Masters. Djokovic finished off the year with a victory over Federer in the final of the ATP World Tour Finals.
The absence of Nadal, Djokovic's greatest rival, significantly eases the path he must navigate to win his sixth Grand Slam, but Federer has been nearly as significant of a rival and Murray has proven himself to be a worthy foe. Djokovic is the favorite to win, but by no means will he have an easy time doing so.
Women's No. 10: Caroline Wozniacki
Between 2009 and 2011, Caroline Wozniacki was one of the very best tennis players in the world, reaching at least the third round of every Grand Slam tournament she played in, with a runner-up finish at the 2009 U.S. Open and three more semifinal exits.
2012 wasn't as kind to Wozniacki. After playing well enough to reach the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, she was defeated in the third round of the French Open, and then lost in the first rounds of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. She finished the year strong, however, winning the Korea Open and Kremlin Cup before finishing as the runner-up at the WTA Tournament of Champions.
Wozniacki's tune-ups for the Australian Open haven't gone according to plan, as she lost in the first round of the Brisbane International and then lost in the second round of the Apia International Sydney to Svetlana Kuznetsova. Wozniacki will enter the Australian Open with a total lack of momentum, but with strong performances at the last two Australian Opens, Wozniacki has a reasonable chance of turning things around in Melbourne.
Women's No. 9: Samantha Stosur
Over the last four years, Samantha Stosur has been a dominant presence at the French and U.S. Opens, finishing as runner-up in the former in 2010 and winning the latter in 2011, yet she has been largely invisible in her home tournament, the Australian Open. Her best finishes came in the 2006 and 2010 tournaments, in which she reached the fourth round, failing to reach the quarterfinal round in ten tries. Even in the doubles tournaments, where Stosur truly excels, she has only reached the final of the Australian Open once, her worst record of any of the Grand Slams.
Stosur hasn't won a tournament since her 2011 U.S. Open victory, though she was runner-up at two events in 2012, losing to Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki.
Despite her lack of success in Melbourne, there's no reason Stosur cannot do well at the tournament. Her hard top-spin is well-suited to the plexicushion surface, and she excels on similar courts. It seems that her best days are behind her, but it seemed that way before her 2011 U.S. Open victory, as well. With semifinal and quarterfinal appearances at last year's French and U.S. Open, respectively, Stosur has proved that she is still at the elite level, and with the hometown crowd behind her, she could surprise people with a deep run.
Women's No. 8: Petra Kvitová
Since winning Wimbledon in 2011, Petra Kvitová has continued to be in the hunt at almost every Grand Slam she has played in. After a first round exit at the 2011 U.S. Open, she reached at least the fourth round in every 2012 major, including semifinal finishes in the Australian and French Opens. In the process, she also picked up victories at the Canadian and New Haven Opens in 2012, raising her tournament victory total to eight in 2011 and 2012 combined.
Kvitová has played well in Melbourne, reaching the quarterfinal round in 2011 and then the semifinal round in 2012, and could very well advance deep into this year's tournament. If someone other than Serena Williams wins in Melbourne, it could very well be Kvitová.
Women's No. 7: Sara Errani
One of the finest doubles players in the world, Sara Errani racked up four WTA singles titles in 2012, in addition to a runner-up finish at the French Open. These victories, the primary reason behind her high ranking, are not enough to convince skeptical handicappers that she can contend for the title in Melbourne, since each came on clay surfaces.
Errani's odds will certainly be much better at the French Open, where no one player has managed to dominate since Justine Henin's run in the mid-aughts, but with a career-best quarterfinal appearance in the Australian Open, not many are willing to bet on Errani's chances in Melbourne.
Women's No. 6: Li Na
Since missing the 2009 Australian Open with a knee injury, Li Na has played excellently at the tournament each year, reaching the semifinal round in 2010 and reaching the final in 2011. In 2012, she looked dominant through the first three rounds before falling to Kim Clijsters, who squeaked by her in the fourth round.
Though she failed to reach the quarterfinal round at any of the majors in 2012, her win in Cincinnati was a nice coda to the season. Li has started off 2013 well, with a title at the Shenzhen Open.
Li's strong performance in late-2012 and early-2013 have a lot of people believing that Melbourne could be her first serious run at a Grand Slam trophy since her victory at the 2011 French Open.
Women's No. 5: Angelique Kerber
It is hard to believe that just a little over a year ago, Angelique Kerber was rated 92nd in the world. A surprise run to the 2011 U.S. Open semifinal, including an upset win over Agnieszka Radwańska in the second round, bumped her all the way up to 34, and since then, Kerber has been inching toward the top of the rankings. Achieving the fifth spot in October of last year, Kerber once again has Radwańska in her sights as she continues to climb the rankings.
Kerber was playing well at last year's Australian Open before being unlucky enough to face Maria Sharapova in the third round, who defeated Kerber. Kerber came back strong to a quarterfinal finish at the French Open, followed by a semifinal finish at Wimbledon and a fourth round exit at Flushing Meadows. During 2012, she picked up tournament victories at the Open GDF Suez and the Danish Open, and was the runner-up in three more tournaments, including the Cincinnati Masters.
At 24 years old, Kerber is clearly one of the best young talents in the game, and she is currently enjoying the prime of her career. She is a significant threat to go deep at this year's Australian Open.
Women's No. 4: Agnieszka Radwańska
Agnieszka Radwańska seemed to be capped out at the quarterfinal round at Grand Slams, reaching and losing in the quarterfinals five times before her surprise runner-up finish at Wimbledon in 2012. Her Wimbledon result was no fluke, as Radwańska won three WTA tournaments in 2011 and 2012, including the Miami Masters in 2012. It appears that at 23 years old, Radwańska's game has reached a new level.
2013 has started off well for Radwańska, who won the ASB Classic in Auckland, the 11th overall title of her career. She plays well on Melbourne's courts, and she should improve on her two consecutive quarterfinal exits at the Australian Open. Of the top players not named Serena Williams, she has as good a chance as just about anyone of making the finals in Australia.
Women's No. 3: Serena Williams
Anyone who hoped Serena Williams' dominant run in the second half 2012 was a late career fluke was surely disappointed when she won the Brisbane International without dropping a single set.
While Williams was unimpressive in the first half of 2012, exiting in the fourth round of the Australian Open and the first round of the French Open, she still collected two tournament victories before her surprise win at Wimbledon. With momentum on her side, Williams then won a gold medal at the London Olympics, the U.S. Open, the WTA Tour Championships and one more regular tournament for good measure.
At this point Williams looks downright unbeatable, as reflected in the 10/11 odds handicappers are requiring to bet on her. Williams is 31 years old, and eventually she will begin to decline with age, but it doesn't appear that she is anywhere near reaching that point yet.
It will take a brave individual to bet against Serena in Melbourne.
Women's No. 2: Maria Sharapova
Though she appeared completely overmatched in her Olympic gold medal match against Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova turned in an outstanding performance in 2012. Aside from the obvious—winning the French Open—she reached the final of the Australian Open, took home an Olympic silver medal, claimed victory in Rome and Stuttgart and finished as runner-up at Indian Wells, Miami and the China Open.
Sharapova withdrew from the Brisbane International due to a collarbone injury, so the Australian Open will offer the first opportunity to assess Sharapova's game in 2013. With all of the ups and downs of her career, it is hard to believe she is only 25 years old, but Sharapova has reached at least the quarterfinal round in 18 Grand Slam tournaments, and has not exited before the third round since the 2010 Australian Open.
As a former winner of the Australian Open and two-time runner-up, Sharapova has a very strong chance of winning in Melbourne, particularly if she does not have to face rival Serena Williams.
Women's No. 1: Victoria Azarenka
Victoria Azarenka has to be feeling confident heading into the 2013 Australian Open: of the six WTA titles that she earned in 2012, two were won in Australia (the Australian Open and the Sydney International) and all were on hard courts.
Azarenka suffered a devastating and close loss to Serena Williams in the final of the U.S. Open, losing to Williams for the eighth consecutive time, and fell to Williams for a ninth time at the WTA Tour Championships.
As well as Azarenka has played in the past year, which included a fourth round run at the French Open and semifinal exit at Wimbledon, in addition to her Australian and U.S. Open successes, until she proves that she can beat Williams, it is hard to have much faith in Azarenka's chances. She came close to winning in the final at the U.S. Open, but Williams came back strong from behind in the final set. Azarenka's withdrawal from her semifinal match against Williams at the Brisbane International due to an infection surely will not do anything to help in this quest.
Azarenka is a tremendously talented player, and she is a safe bet to go very deep in the Australian Open. But if Williams is playing anywhere near her best, Azarenka will have to show something she has not yet shown if she is going to defend her title.