In his usual sideways look at tennis statistics, Jack Houghton picks out some early-round matches where we are likely to see some unexpected reversals, and he thinks Wawrinka and Nadal might have some fiery early-encounters.
"Nadal plays Fernando Verdasco in the first round (who he battled for over five hours in a semi-final in Melbourne seven years ago), before possibly facing any one of Becker, Sela or Chardy in the next two rounds, all of whom rank highly in the world of causing upsets..."
As someone who spends more time than doctors advise mining for data that will uncover a betting opportunity, it's a rare treat when you find that someone has already done the work for you.
For a while now I've been a huge fan of the Tennis Abstract website, which involves a user-driven effort to record statistics for all tennis matches. In a sport where the official bodies have the ability to record so much data, but choose not to (or at least choose not to share it), the Tennis Abstract project is, to a data-worm like me, a beautiful place to burrow for a few hours.
One Tennis Abstract metric that I have especially enjoyed this week is their Upset Rate. This looks at the number of times a player has beaten a player who is ranked higher than them.
The reason I like the metric is that it can give you an indication as to how confident you should be in making a bet.
Like lots of tennis punters, I use a type of Elo rating to assess the relative form of players. Prior to a match between Djokovic and Federer (a likely semi-final in this year's Australian Open), for example, I would take their latest ratings, say 2592 and 2356 respectively, divide each of these by the total of their ratings, thereby returning a percentage chance of either player winning the match, in this case making Federer a 48% (or [2.10]) shot.
What these raw number don't tell you, though, is how likely Federer is to be able to overcome someone ranked above him. If Federer is available at, say, [2.40], is he really value to cause an upset? Or will he simply capitulate, bowing reverently to his caste superior?
The example of these two players, of course, is not a very good one, because for Federer for the majority of the last year, the only player ranked above him has been Djokovic, and so you hardly need a fancy-pants metric to decide whether an upset is likely - Federer has beaten his latest nemesis three times in the last year and it would be no big surprise if he did so again.
Where it is useful, though, is in assessing the chances of upsets in less high-profile matches. Thinking it was time to put myself to work, rather than relying on the toil of the good folk at Tennis Abstract, I cross-referenced the players with the best upset record to those who are playing someone ranked above them in the first round of the Australian Open. Here they are (first-round opponent in parentheses):
Leonardo Mayer (D Thiem)
Simone Bolelli (B Baker)
A Ramos (B Coric)
A Mannarino (S Groth)
I have also had a lot of fun cross-referencing these upset records against the draws of seeded players. Which of the seeds have a run of early-round opponents who know their place and will play accordingly, and which will have to deal with the most revolutionary upstarts?
What this analysis throws up is that Rafa Nadal could be in for a torrid time. He plays Fernando Verdasco in the first round (who he battled for over five hours in a semi-final in Melbourne seven years ago), before possibly facing any one of Becker, Sela or Chardy in the next two rounds, all of whom rank highly in the world of causing upsets.
So whilst it isn't necessarily the bravest prediction these days to say that Nadal might struggle, anyone who feels the Spaniard is value at [23.0] to win the Australian Open, on the basis that he may be able to recapture some of his old form, may want to think again.
I would also hold off Sean Calvert's back-to-lay tip of Stan Wawrinka.
Whilst I agree with (the always brilliant) Calvert's analysis, and whilst it looks, on first sight, as if Wawrinka has an easy draw amidst a bunch of qualifiers, he has a few potential upsetters lurking in the third and fourth rounds. It might, then, be wise to hold off for a few rounds: Wawrinka is unlikely to be much shorter than his current [15.0] by the time he reaches the second week, but will be a much safer proposition when he has.