Williams withdrawal ensures no dominant favourite for the ladies singles
With the late withdrawal of champion Serena Williams, the ladies event in Melbourne Park has a rather predictable, open, feel, similar to the last few Grand Slams of 2017 - and there will be at least a dozen players who strongly fancy their chances of a major title.
Svitolina marginal pre-event favourite with the Exchange market
This is obviously reflected in the outright betting, with no player priced below 8.808/1 on the Exchange.
This player is Elina Svitolina, and it's interesting to see the Ukrainian given favourite status considering that she's never even reached a Grand Slam semi-final. However, she is in form, with a win in Brisbane last week, and does also boast the best hard court combined service and return points won percentage in the field across the last 12 months (108.9%).
Such a figure marginally gives her superiority over the likes of Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova and Caroline Wozniacki - all between 107% and 108% - as well as Maria Sharapova (106.4%). These look to be the main contenders, although Ashleigh Barty, Madison Keys, Johanna Konta and Garbine Muguruza - the latter two have had fitness issues already this year, while Keys did several times in 2017 - aren't far behind either.
Serve-orientated players likely to perform well in fast-medium conditions
This starts to give us a reasonable idea of who the main contenders are for the title, although there will be other players who have their supporters. One of those at the forefront of these are this week's Sydney champion Angelique Kerber (103.2%), whose stats have taken a beating following a woeful 2017, and it would take a leap of faith for backers to assume she will return to the levels which saw her get to world number one.
Other players likely to enjoy the fast-medium conditions in the event are the big-serving trio of Coco Vandeweghe, Caroline Garcia and Julia Goerges - all three will be tough to beat in conditions which will benefit them - while the evergreen Venus Williams (last year's runner-up) will also have her supporters, as will Petra Kvitova, although her stats - particularly on return - have dropped badly since her return to tour.
Wozniacki and Keys receiving gentle draws in opening rounds
With the main contenders now listed, evaluating the draw is critical. I graded the difficulty of each main player's opening three matches, with Caroline Wozniacki (probable opponents Mihaela Buzarnescu, Jana Fett and CiCi Bellis) and Madison Keys (Qiang Wang, Polona Hercog, Heather Watson) receiving two of the easiest draws.
Statistics make it easy to like Wozniacki at prices
It's easy to be drawn to Wozniacki at a current price of 12.011/1 on the Exchange. The Dane has the stats, winning 61.0% of service points on hard court in the last year, and an excellent 47.0% on return (108.0% combined), and a very solid 17-10 record against top 20 opponents in this time period - one of the best on tour.
With this in mind, it seems utterly illogical that Wozniacki struggles so much in finals in general and is still yet to win a Grand Slam title at the age of age of 27, although she was a heavy underdog to Kim Clijsters and Serena Williams in both of her Slam finals.
It does take some belief that she can turn matters around in this department to back her, but there are also some trading possibilities with a pre-tournament back, and she can be considered.
Keys with many positives despite lack of recent matches
Keys, at 27.026/1, goes into the event a little rusty, after defeat to Konta in her only warm-up event, but it was a high quality encounter where Keys actually had more break point chances in the match in fewer return games played.
Elevne aces also showed her serve was working well, and taking a punt on the American - a player with decent upside in general given her liking for quick conditions, her age and false ranking - can also merit consideration.
Out of 'form' Pavlyuchenkova with an nice draw at a big price
Finally, looking at extreme long-shots in the field, the out of form Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova at 180.0179/1 might be worth a trading position.
The Russian is much better than her recent results suggest and she's also had a very poor break point save percentage, frequently attributable to variance. A possible round three draw against Kateryna Kozlova, Kateryna Bondarenko and Magdalena Rybarikova is as good as any in the field, and shouldn't have her particularly concerned.
For those looking for a trading position at a big price, Pavlyuchenkova can be considered - she's also another one with a half-decent record in quicker conditions.
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