Australian Open

Australian Open Day 1 Tips: Old heads to triumph in generation game

Marin Cilic
Can Marin Cilic turn back the clock at the Aussie Open?

Main draw action starts at the Australian Open on Sunday and our columnist Gavin Mair is opting for experience to triumph over youth in a set of intriguing generational battles...

  • Experience key on Day 1 in Melbourne

  • Former finalist value to extinguish rising star

  • Bogdan to bog down Czech wonderkid

Marin Cilic, runner-up in 2018, is on the comeback trail having missed the lion's share of the 2023 campaign due to a bothersome knee injury. He returned to tour in Hong Kong and was in pretty good form against Jan-Lennard Struff, outplaying an opponent on the fringes of the world's top 20 ranked players.

However, he became unbelievably tight as he tried to close it out squandering a sensational nine match points. To his credit, Struff dug in and found some ice cool tennis on the big points to turn the match around. Despite - call it what it was - a monumental choke, Cilic was positive in his post-match comments stating that his knee held up well and will only get better with more match play.

Encouraging signs

Having avoided entering a tournament this week, Cilic opted instead to gain more matchplay by playing an exhibition against Andy Murray. Obviously the Scot is a declining force but he still makes you work hard for the win and I was encouraged that Cilic produced a dominant display, holding serve throughout and avoiding any sort of break point drama.

Prior to his injury Cilic was enjoying a renaissance and clearly feels he has more left to achieve by prolonging his career. He's a former US Open champion and a proven talent.

First round opponent Fabian Marozsan is not an easy draw and the market views him as favourite - understandable given his performance levels over recent months.

Last week in Auckland he enjoyed a significant victory over Gael Monfils, outplaying the experienced Frenchman for long spells. However, Monfils whilst praising his opponent for the win stated that his own fitness wasn't up to scratch. The veteran Frenchman is one of the most liked professionals on tour and he didn't mean his comment as a slight, although it does reframe that result in my opinion.

After this big win Marozsan then stood opposite a fellow upstart in Ben Shelton and was handily defeated, punished for a timid approach to the encounter. What that tells us is that Marozsan is not yet the finished article, and provided his fitness is up to scratch Cilic will exploit any potential negativity from his opponent.

Cilic is currently priced as the outsider to win this one at 2.166/5 on the Betfair Exchange. Those of a nervous disposition may prefer to trade this market as Cilic's composure at the finishing line shows no signs of improving with age.

Back Marin Cilic at 2.166/5 on the Betfair Exchange

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Overconfidence in youngster?

In the women's draw I am not surprised to see 16-year-old wonderkid Brenda Fruhvirtova priced as favourite to defeat tour veteran Ana Bogdan. I do however question the wisdom of it.

Romania's Bogdan is a wily baseliner that has in the past few seasons asserted herself within the top 100 of the women's game. She is a disciplined baseliner, coached by Daniel Dobre who guided Simona Halep to Wimbledon glory, and possesses a highly impressive backhand, that stands out as a versatile and powerful stroke.

She certainly will not reach the heights in this sport that seems destined for her precocious rival who has been schooled since the age of 10 at the renowned Mouratoglou Academy, notable for its role in building the career of recent US Open champion - and very much a wonderkid herself - 19-year-old Coco Gauff.

Red flags

Despite the Czech's impressive talent there are a few glaring red flags that signal installing her as the likely winner over a canny operator such as Bogdan may be misguided.

Firstly, Fruhvirtova enjoyed her first top 100 victory only last week. Before then she was 0/7. Secondly, she is learning to adjust to the physical demands of the professional game having appeared on court in Auckland last week with a calf injury. Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, she has described playing at this level on hard courts as a new experience having concentrated her efforts on playing clay court tennis last season.

Fruhvirtova has qualified for this event and will have adapted to the conditions to some extent, but is it enough to justify her as the favourite against a seasoned pro?

Admittedly, Bogdan has a horrid record at this event, escaping the first round on only one occasion but over the years she has had some rotten draws losing to 14th seed Elena Vesnina in 2017, Iga Swiatek in 2019, Ann Li in career best form at the start of 2020 and future finalist Danielle Collins in 2021.

It is about time Bogdan was due some draw luck in Melbourne and if she can't beat a youngster still acclimatising to the tour then she should look back on it as one that got away.

Back Ana Bogdan to Win @ 2.47/5

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