Ahead of day one of the Australian Open, our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, gives his thoughts on the opening day's play and tries to identify some pre-match value...
"Bublik is highly rated by some, but at 23 years of age, still hasn't really converted this potential to strong numbers, and he was still at below 100% combined service/return points won in 2020."
Caution advised on the opening day
We have action from the top half of the draw at Melbourne Park on the opening day on Monday, with matches starting at midnight UK time on Sunday night - rather unsociable hours for European watchers. Saying that, the second half of the day's play should be taking place when most Europeans get up, so there should still be plenty of opportunity to watch a number of matches throughout the next two weeks.
As I've said many times before in Grand Slams, the tournament is more of a marathon than a sprint, and getting involved too much in round one, where there are often question marks over fitness and particularly this year over a lack of match activity for many players, is often quite a high-risk proposition. There are a couple of spots which I think the market has wrong, but I certainly wouldn't advocate big stakes on the opening day.
Bedene looking like value against Bublik
My pick on day one in the men's tournament is a slight underdog, Aljaz Bedene, for his match against Alexander Bublik. Bedene eased himself into the third round of this week's Great Ocean Road warm-up event, before losing as a heavy underdog to the Italian teenager and eventual tournament winner Jannik Sinner who looks set for an illustrious career.
Bublik, after struggling past Challenger Tour player Christopher O'Connell in the same tournament, lost as a favourite to the surprising finalist, Stefano Travaglia, and also retired in Antalya in the opening week of the season.
Despite this, we can get 2.0421/20 about the Slovenian, Bedene, who has a better 18-month hard court record than Bublik, with relatively similar post-lockdown data. Bublik is highly rated by some, but at 23 years of age, still hasn't really converted this potential to strong numbers, and he was still at below 100% combined service/return points won in 2020.
Tiafoe looks short even with Travaglia potentially fatigued
The aforementioned Travaglia picked up three underdog wins en route to the Great Ocean Road final, but couldn't do it a fourth time, falling to Sinner 7-6 6-4. Fatigue could well be a problem for the Italian, but I'm very surprised to see so much market faith in opponent Frances Tiafoe, who is 1.351/3 to get the victory. In my view, Tiafoe joins Bublik in struggling to realise his potential so far in his career at a similar age.
French duo offering potential value
In other matches, two French players look in reasonable shape to get opening day victories. Corentin Moutet is a young player on an upward curve and at 2.789/5, is capable of giving home favourite John Millman a real test. There's not much between the duo when looking at data from when the tour resumed, and Moutet also started his season well this week in the Murray River Open, reaching the semi-final and beating Grigor Dimitrov en route to that stage.
Adrian Mannarino is the other Frenchman, and if we get the anticipated slightly quick conditions, they will also be to his liking. He's 1.635/8 to get the better of Dennis Novak, which looks generous based on hard court numbers and post-lockdown levels. The Austrian, Novak, lost to the semi-retired Nicolas Mahut in the ATP Cup this week.
A number of big names also get their tournaments underway, including Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem. All are around or sub 1.101/10, and it would be a real surprise if any of them were beaten, although both Zverev and Thiem look a little short against Marcos Giron and Mikhail Kukushkin, respectively.
Some superb opening day clashes
We also see a couple of potentially superb opening round matches on Monday. Gael Monfils hasn't played to a high level in the last few months and the market has reacted, making him underdog against the talented young Finn, Emil Ruusuvuori.
Both Grigor Dimitrov and Marin Cilic haven't consistently exhibited their best level in the last couple of years, but meet on day one - Dimitrov is the justified favourite at 1.635/8 - while the Next-Gen clash between Jannik Sinner and Denis Shapovalov will be one to keep an eye on. Even after a long week, Sinner looks value as the 2.809/5 underdog, and in my view has more upside than Shapovalov in terms of progression throughout the event.
Follow Dan on Twitter @TennisRatings