Australian Open 2018 Men's Singles Preview: Several opportunities to take on injury-doubt Nadal

Roger Federer is the outright favourite to win the Australian Open...
Roger Federer is the outright favourite to win the Australian Open...
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The Australian Open men's singles draw is now known, and after injury doubts surrounding numerous players, the field is set. Our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, checks out the outright value prior to the start of the tournament on Monday...

"Opposing Rafa in quarter one could be a viable option. The Sportsbook consider him to be a virtual shoo-in, at 4/9 to progress to the semi-finals by winning that quarter, and without a single warm-up event under his belt, it would be a brave man to back that price"

Big names with injury doubts in advance of the Australian Open

After speculation regarding the appearances of a number of the bigger names in the field, Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori are two of the higher profile late withdrawals in the men's event. Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic take their place in the first round draw, although to varying extents, all four have plenty to prove with regards to their fitness.

The latter two certainly have significant doubts. Wawrinka hasn't played since the first round of Wimbledon at the start of July, while Raonic's comeback last week wasn't nearly good enough, facing 10 break points in defeat in his first match back against youngster Alex de Minaur.

We haven't seen Rafa in action this year, although belatedly we did see Djokovic take to the courts, and the Serb got the better of Dominic Thiem in straight sets in an exhibition match several days ago.

Federer as a solid favourite to win his 6th Australian Open title

These issues that most of the illustrious players on tour are facing means that Roger Federer takes pre-event favourite status at [3.1] on the Exchange, with the world number two going for his sixth Australian Open title. Rafa, at [6.4], and Novak, at [9.8] join Federer in being single digit odds, at the time of writing.

Given these injury doubts, my preference with both of these players is to evaluate their initial levels, although it's worth noting that should Djokovic exhibit anything towards his peak value, his price will shorten markedly.

The market has been quite cautious regarding Djokovic winning quarter three as well (Alex Zverev is the main seed in this quarter), making him [2.14] on the Exchange, with Zverev at [4.0] to make the semi-finals.

It's difficult to dispute Federer's status as tournament favourite, or his price to win the event, so taking him on either outright or in quarter four cannot be considered.

Taking on rusty Rafa in option one can be considered

However, opposing Rafa in quarter one could be a viable option. The Sportsbook consider him to be a virtual shoo-in, at 4/9 to progress to the semi-finals by winning that quarter, and without a single warm-up event under his belt, it would be a brave man to back that price, even with opening matches against Victor Estrella, and either Nicolas Jarry or Leonardo Mayer to ease him in to the competition.

Out of form Cilic tends to beat worse opposition in big events

The 9/2 about Marin Cilic to win that quarter looks a touch skinny, so perhaps the best option might be to look at the Croat as a back-to-lay at [40.0] on the Exchange. Cilic certainly hasn't played his best tennis post-injury sustained at Wimbledon, but has a tendency to beat those worse and lose against better opponents.

There's an extremely strong chance that Cilic will face worse players than himself until at least the quarter-final, and should Rafa get defeated, he would only face Pablo Carreno-Busta as a top ten opponent in the quarter. Despite Cilic's recent poor record, this trading spot doesn't look bad at all.

Numerous big names in quarter three helps us find a bet to take on Nadal

Quarter two looks largely between Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios, although Kevin Anderson is also a threat, while quarter three looks a tough one to predict, with the main seed Zverev joined by Djokovic and Wawrinka, as well as Dominic Thiem, Gael Monfils and Roberto Bautista-Agut. As I mentioned previously, Djokovic in any semblance of his best level, should be a heavy favourite to progress, but that's a big if.

Another bet worth a mention with regards to taking on Nadal would be The Sportsbook's offer of 8/11 about the winner coming from the bottom half of the draw. This enables us the option of the plethora of candidates (including Djokovic) in quarter three, as well as Federer in quarter four, and bettors who aren't put off by backing odds-on shots can consider this possibility.

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Follow Dan on Twitter @TennisRatings

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