Australian Open 2013: Statistics suggest Ferrer the value over Djokovic

Ferrer, with a consistent record in recent years in Melbourne, is value to go far at the Australian Open.

Assessing overall form from the preceding season, rather than looking to recent accomplishments, is the key to finding value in the Australian Open, writes Jack Houghton, which is why Murray and Federer are better value than Djokovic to pick up the first grand slam of the year, and why Ferrer and Kohlschreiber are solid back-to-lay propositions.

"Surprisingly, perhaps, is that it is not the high-profile, million-dollar, Qatar Open that scores most highly when predicting Australian Open success. Rather, it is the lowly Heineken Open, in New Zealand, that gives us the best early-season indication of form."

Recent history doesn't give you much choice when picking the winner of the men's singles at any grand slam. In the last five years, one of the big four of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray have filled 35 of the potential 40 final berths, winning 19 out of 20 of those tournaments. If past results were a perfect predictor of future chance, then, you might expect it to be overwhelmingly likely that one of those four will win the Australian Open.

Past results can only tell you so much, though, and anyway, things are different this time around. Nadal's absence - because of a stomach virus, or because he hasn't fully recovered from the knee problems that saw him miss the second half of last season, depending which reports you believe - means our Fab Four becomes a Thrilling Three. Still, it's easy to understand why, when coupled, the trio are available at combined odds of 1.192/11. And when you consider that our crude historical statistics suggest those odds should actually be somewhere closer to 1.051/20, some might consider the 1.192/11 to be good value.

The Australian Open, though, is always a more nerve-wracking betting proposition than the later grand slams. With many having been absent from top-flight competition for a couple of months or more, it's hard to determine who will be at their best, and who will be arriving in Melbourne with some match rustiness to rid themselves of.

With this in mind, I've spent some time trying to work out what gives the best indication of success at the Australian Open. Are you best to look for a player who has performed well in one of the ATP Tour warm up events at the start of January? Or is it better to look at form from the tail-end of the preceding season? Or perhaps it is best to ignore recent form and instead concentrate on the players who were consistent throughout the whole of the precious season?

To find out, I've looked at three periods of player performance: early-season tournaments prior to the Australian Open; previous season tournaments after the US Open; and, finally, performance in all tournaments from the previous season. Using ATP ranking points scored in each of those periods, and comparing that to how players progress at the Australian Open, provides an interesting perspective of what is most likely to predict success in Melbourne.

The results? Well, when searching for the winner of the Australian Open, it seems that you are far better to use performance across the entirety of the preceding season, rather than looking for more recent form. The winner of the Australian Open in the last six years was neither a finalist in any of the Tour warm-up events, nor a finalist from the preceding year's ATP Finals, telling us that players who were perhaps burnt-out at season end, and take a while to get moving in January, are more than capable of finding top form in Melbourne.

That's why Djokovic, at 2.0621/20, for all he may have been scintillating when beating Federer at the ATP World Finals in November, might be the worst value of the market leaders. Although his 2012 season was stunning by normal standards, his form seemed to dip after the French Open, and, although he still collected more ATP ranking points than any of his rivals across the year, the performances of Murray and Federer at the Olympics, which carries ranking points below its importance, suggest the three were hardly separable. Given the choice, then, of virtual even-money on Djokovic, compared to the 4.804/1 and 7.006/1 available on Murray and Federer respectively, the statistics suggest opposing the current favourite is the value call.

With the back-to-lay options that Betfair offers, though, it's not entirely necessary to be able to find the winner of this year's Australian Open. Instead, finding which big-priced player might progress late in to the tournament could be enough to turn a tidy profit, and, for this, the pre-Melbourne tournaments do offer some clues.

I looked at every finalist from one of the Tour warm-up events (the Brisbane International, the Chennai open, the Qatar Open, the Sydney International, and the Heineken Open) in the last ten years, and tracked the progress they subsequently made at the Australian Open, against the progress they would have been expected to make according to their world ranking, to see if there were any patterns.

Surprisingly, perhaps, is that it is not the high-profile, million-dollar, Qatar Open that scores most highly when predicting Australian Open success. Rather, it is the lowly Heineken Open, in New Zealand, that gives us the best early-season indication of form.

In previous years, the likes of Ferrer, Del Potro and Robredo have used the Heineken as a platform for going deep in Melbourne, and so it's worth considering David Ferrer and Philip Kohlschreiber - finalists in New Zealand this year - as potential dangers in Melbourne.

Ferrer, especially, finds himself in a relatively straightforward part of the draw, and, at 34.033/1, represents huge value. Kohlschreiber, similarly, should have an unencumbered first few rounds, and, last traded at 880.0879/1 at the time of writing, but likely available at 1000.0 at some point before the action starts, could well progress further than his odds suggest he should.

2-point lay Djokovic at 2.0621/20.
2-point back Ferrer at 34.033/1, with view to laying later in tournament.
1-point back Kohlschreiber at 1000.0, with view to laying later in tournament.

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