Sat, Jan 14, 11:36am by Senior Writer
Novak Djokovic has won five of the past eight Grand Slam titles, so it is hardly surprising that he goes into 2017’s first major tournament, the Australian Open, as a $2.62 favourite with Sportsbet.
What is surprising to some is that despite that dominance, Djokovic is not the top seed for the tournament, with Andy Murray, now Sir Andy Murray, having taken over the world No.1 spot for the first time late in 2016.
The Djokovic-Murray battle has been the highlight of men’s tennis over the past two years since it became apparent that the two great champions of the previous generation, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, were in decline. We may never see a tennis era like this one again.
Murray is $2.75 to win his first Australian Open having failed in the final on five previous occasions, four of them to Djokovic. The reason Murray has been able to overtake Djokovic in terms of rankings in the past 12 months appears to be his desire to become a genuine superstar in his own right.
Djokovic has had distractions, both personal and fitness wise in that period, and after losing in the third round to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon, then bowing out in the first round in the Olympics, he was beaten in the final of the US Open. Murray then beat him in the Tour finals in London to cap his ascension to the top ranking.
WATCH: Our Preview of the 2017 Australian Open
The challenge is out there to the 29-year-old Serbian to prove he too is not on the wane. This is a statement tournament for him.
His opening match will be the toughest of his first week as he faces former finalist Fernando Verdasco, who pushed him to the limit in the season-opening tournament in Doha. Verdasco held five match points in that encounter but Djokovic hasn’t lost to him since 2010.
Should he survive that – it is worth noting that Verdasco beat Nadal in the first round last year – then Djokovic’s next major challenge will be in the fourth round likely against one of Richard Gasquet ($151) or Grigor Dimitrov ($51). Rising Austrian star Dominic Thiem ($67) is a likely quarter final opponent, with third-seed Milos Raonic, who is $23 to win the title, the highest seed in Djokovic’s half of the draw.
Nadal, the man the Serbian beat in that epic 2012 final and a $15 fourth favourite here, is also in that half of the draw and has a super kind run through the early rounds. The Spanish star, a winner here in 2009, has a new coach and a renewed focus after being sidelined by injury for much of 2016.
Murray’s side of the draw was challenging enough for bookies to move him out from equal favouritism. The main roadblock is possible quarter-final clash with Federer, who despite being seeded 17 here, is a $20 fourth pick having won at Melbourne Park on four occasions.
Federer, who also sat out much of 2016 with injury, has the prospect of a third-round clash with Tomas Berdych ($151), to worry about before that.
Murray’s path to the quarters looks straight forward, although could feature a clash with giant-killer Querrey in the third round. The man who looms largest in terms of preventing him making a sixth final is fourth-seed Stan Wawrinka.
Wawrinka is now a three-time major winner – the same as Murray – having shocked Djokovic in the final at Flushing Meadows, and won here in 2014. Given that record, it is somewhat surprising that he is $13 to win the title.
Wawrinka’s first big challenge looks like being a fourth-round clash with Nick Kyrgios, who is $36 to become the first Aussie since 1976 to win their home Grand Slam.
Kyrgios endured a dramatic finish to 2016, sitting out a suspension for failing to try in a match at Shanghai. If he can sort out his temperament and overcome a niggling knee injury, he’s a chance to go far in this tournament.’
It looms as a fascinating two weeks for the men at Melbourne Park. I feel both Djokovic and Murray could be vulnerable to upset here early in the year after such a brutal 2016. Nadal at $15 looks good value particularly because he is fresh and looks re-focussed.
Suggested Bet: Back Nadal to win the tournament at $15.
Australian Open – Men’s champion – (Sportsbet)
N Djokovic $2.62
A Murray $2.75
S Wawrinka $13
R Nadal $15
R Federer $20
M Raonic $23
K Nishikori $34
N Kyrgios $36
G Dimitrov $51
M Cilic $51
Others: $67 or longer
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