The weather at Melbourne Park is expected to be excellent, and not unduly hot, with sunny conditions expected to reach no higher than 30 degrees Celsius. Given that the climate is on the warm side of hot, it is reasonable to expect that there will be fewer retirements than some other years, where oppressive conditions made for a real test of fitness.
Primarily, bettors should exercise caution in first rounds of events, and many statistical modellers tend to avoid betting - particularly for large stakes - in the opening matches. Generally speaking, this is mainly due to questionable fitness and motivation of players, and whilst motivation is almost guaranteed in Grand Slams, some players are arriving in dubious physical shape.
One player that has these fitness issues is Lucas Pouille. I've made the point many times in the last six months or so that I feel that the Frenchman is extremely over-rated and flattered by his ranking, and even his most optimistic supporters, who would use six-month hold/break data as opposed to my preferred 12, would concede that holding serve 79.5% and breaking opponents 21.5% (comnined 102.0%) is not the level of a top 20 player.
Pouille retired in his last match against Kyle Edmund, in Auckland, suffering from foot blisters and takes on the promising young Russian, Alexander Bublik, who doesn't even turn 20 years of age for another six months. I've made no secret that I like to keep younger players onside, given the frequent dramatic improvement that they exhibit, and Bublik, who already can boast expectation of around 95% combined hold/break percentage on hard court, certainly can test Pouille - who looks extremely short at a current 1.261/4 on the Exchange - overnight.
Vulnerable Short-Priced Americans
Other heavy favourites that look a little vulnerable include the similarly over-rated Steve Johnson 1.3030/100 and Jack Sock 1.222/9 .
The American, Johnson, faces the Argentine clay-courter Federico Delbonis, in a match where few breaks of serve are anticipated. Given this, and Johnson's poor recent form, it wouldn't be a shock if Delbonis kept the match close at least.
Johnson's countryman Sock won the Auckland warm-up event on Saturday morning and has had just 48 hours to travel to Melbourne and acclimatise before his match with Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Both players are also accomplished doubles players and it is perhaps fair to say that Herbert has prioritised that side of Tennis of late, but he is a solid hard court player too, with his surface data not far from 100% combined hold/break percentage.
Value around even-money
However, in our quest for betting profits I prefer one player in particular around the even-money mark.
As I mentioned above, I am keen to keep young players onside and one in particular that I extremely like the look of is Karen Khachanov. The young Russian is already ranked around the top 50 and he can despatch the talented but erratic Frenchman, Adrian Mannarino.
It is arguable that Mannarino has received a little market support following his win at the Noumea Challenger, but with all his five wins coming at prices below 1.40, he almost won the title by default. A 6-4 6-4 defeat to the injured Marcos Baghdatis followed in Auckland and whilst Khachanov is yet to get his season up and running in earnest, he has been incredibly unlucky, losing two tiebreaks in both matches to Ivo Karlovic and Yen-Hsun Lu.
My model rated Khachanov as solid value, pricing him at 1.608/13, as opposed to the current 1.875/6.
Back Karen Khachanov to beat Adrian Mannarino at 1.875/6
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