Tue, Jan 9, 1:17pm by Staff Writer
The first tennis Grand Slam of the year begins on Monday morning with the Australian Open in Melbourne.
The women’s draw features 128 of the world’s best female tennis players from around the world, with this year’s fields one of the most open in recent memory.
Seven-time and reigning champion Serena Williams has withdrawn from the tournament, not yet in top physical condition after the birth of her first daughter late last year.
World number 2 Caroline Wozniacki ($10) has regained top form after breakout seasons in 2009 and 2010. After losing the Auckland final last week to Julia Goerges, the Dane is every chance to make the Australian Open her first Grand Slam title and she is our pick for the 2018 Australian Open ladies champion.
Current world number 1 and reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza ($8) is joint favourite with big hitting Czech Karolina Pliskova ($8).
Neither has won the Australian Open, with Pliskova’s only Grand Slam final being the 2016 US Open final.
Veteran Simona Halep of Romania has only made the quarterfinals twice in Melbourne in 2014 and 2015 and at $8.50 would be a questionable pick for an outright winner this year.
Rising Ukrainian star Elina Svitolina ($9) who won the Brisbane International last week possesses the power and skill to excel on hard courts, but lacks experience deep in Grand Slam tournaments.
Ash Barty ($26) is the shortest priced of the Australian women in the main draw, with the youngster seeded for the first time in the main draw of a Grand Slam event. Barty may struggle to adjust to heightened expectations, but a run into the second week of the tournament is not out of the question.
Last year’s finalist Venus Williams ($23) possesses a wealth of Grand Slam form after playing professionally for nearly two decades.
The elder of the Williams sisters, Venus made two Grand Slam finals in 2017, when many had expected her decline to begin.
Williams is short of match practice, but possesses all of the big shots and cool temperament needed in Grand Slam matches. It will be interesting to see how Venus plays at this week’s Sydney International to gauge her fitness levels in particular.
2008 champion Maria Sharapova ($11) has slowly been making a comeback to professional tennis after a ban during the 2016 and 2017 for the use of a prohibited substance.
Sharapova has been plying her trade mainly in Asian hard court tournaments over the past six months, with her form at times erratic.
Sharapova has won all four Grand Slam’s and will trouble any player in the women’s draw, but her composure and stamina to play through a Grand Slam tournament is the biggest unknown for the Russian.
One of the rank outsiders which stand out in outright betting is young Croat Ana Konjuh ($81).
The 20-year-old had an injury plagued 2017 season, but made the fourth round of Wimbledon before falling to finalist Venus Williams.
Every year the Australian Open produces at least one or two surprising performances, and if Konjuh can draw an unseeded player in the first round, she has the skills to make it to the second week of the Open.
Best bet- Caroline Wozniacki to win the Australian Open at $10 at Sportsbet
Value bet- Half stake on Ana Konjuh to win the Australian Open at $81 at Sportsbet, with the potential to cash out if Konjuh reaches the 4th rounds for a profit
Stay away from Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova in outright betting
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