Welcome to one of the most hectic weeks in tennis history, as four different ATP and WTA events occur in the same week at Melbourne Park. The WTA fields at the Gippsland Trophy and Yarra Valley Classic are absolutely loaded, featuring eight of the world’s Top 10 players. The ATP events, by comparison, are less star-studded due to the ongoing ATP Cup, and feature no Top 10 players.
Will the tournament favorites who avoided the mandatory 14-day quarantine prevail? Is it possible someone actually improved by practicing against a dusty mattress? Let’s discuss from a betting perspective.
*Odds via Bovada Sportsbook and are subject to change*
ATP Great Ocean Road
Oddsmaker’s favorite: Jannik Sinner +400
It’s astounding to see the 19-year-old Italian as the oddsmakers favorite so early in his career, but while many players were stuck in their hotel rooms, Sinner was training with Rafael Nadal and playing Novak Djokovic in an exhibition match. Unlike the oddsmakers sixth favorite, Vasek Pospisil, who was subject to the full 14-day quarantine, Sinner’s preparation was downright ideal.
It’s not often that the oddsmaker’s favorite also has some of the best value, but given his draw, Sinner appears poised to reach the semifinal round. Sinner broke through to win his last tournament of 2020 in Sofia, so he ought to have plenty of confidence. At +400, there's no argument against picking Sinner to win the tournament. In terms of pure talent and ball-striking, he is heads and shoulders above the rest of the field.
Best Value: Kevin Anderson +1400
According to a coach in Melbourne, the courts are playing quicker than last year and the lively Dunlop balls are flying through the air. Instead of fluffing up, the balls are losing their fuzz—and going bald in the process.
That’s great news for huge servers and flatter hitters like Anderson. After two brutal years marked by knee and elbow surgeries, there is tremendous value in the 6’8” South African, who is also the most decorated competitor in the tournament. If his body holds up, Anderson is a fantastic bet to capture his seventh career singles title in Melbourne.
ATP Murray River Open
Oddsmaker’s favorite- Stan Wawrinka +400
Last year in Paris, Wawrinka admitted that his career is winding down, but he’s gearing up to go out on top. Instead of making gains during the holidays, however, Wawrinka lost valuable prep time thanks to a case of coronavirus.
"I was really feeling bad for five days but the symptoms, you keep it, and are really more tired every day. That lasts a few weeks and there is still some symptoms that you get and wonder why," he said. "It was not a good experience, I had a tough time at home. Now I finally start to see that I am feeling better, but it can touch you badly and it’s important to be really careful."
We’ve seen athletes in all sports struggle to overcome the virus, and while Wawrinka is the only major champion in the draw, it’s unrealistic to expect him to win the tournament. I expect Wawrinka to focus more on finding his footing ahead of the Australian Open, and would avoid betting on the Swiss at +400.
Best Value: Ugo Humbert +800
In addition to avoiding the mandatory 14-day quarantine, Humbert finished the 2020 season with wins over Daniil Medvedev, Pablo Carreno Busta, Alex de Minaur, Marin Cilic and Stefanos Tsitsipas. The 2020 Auckland champion is no stranger to starting the season with a bang, and is undoubtedly one of the most talented players in the draw. If Humbert can survive a probable quarterfinal clash with Grigor Dimitrov, he would likely become the favorite to win the tournament. Should he continue this rapid rise up the ATP rankings, you won’t find this kind of value on the talented lefty much longer. At +800, Humbert is the best bet on the board.
WTA Gippsland Trophy
Oddsmaker’s Favorite: Simona Halep +250
While one should never underestimate the WTA’s most consistent performer in the past decade, it’s worth noting that Halep’s last hard-court tournament was nearly a year ago in Dubai. Halep excels on all surfaces, and spent her off-season training on hard-courts, but the fact that her last three tournaments came on clay is a negative for the world No. 2. It doesn’t make sense that Halep is favored over Naomi Osaka, who won her last hard-court tournament at the US Open in September. Not only is it Halep’s first hard-court event in a year, the draw is loaded, featuring three total Top 10 players along with rock-solid competitors like Elise Mertens, Karolina Muchova, Ekaterina Alexandrova, and reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek. Halep is capable of winning any tournament she enters, but at +250, her odds of overcoming this incredible field are simply not rewarding enough.
Best Bet: Aryna Sabalenka +450
Not only has the Belarusian won three consecutive tournaments, she also avoided the 14-day lockdown. While many other players were confined to their hotel room for two weeks, Sabalenka was in a group that was allowed two hours of on-court training and two hours of gym time. For the first time in three years, Sabalenka has translated her end-of-year form into a successful start to the season. When firing on all cylinders—like she is now—Sabalenka can render any opponent helpless with her overwhelming firepower. Given her 15-match win streak, I am surprised to see her as the oddsmaker’s third favorite. In a tournament filled with so many capable champions, I believe her hot-handed approach is the best way to attack this loaded field.
WTA Yarra Valley Classic
Oddsmaker’s favorite: Ashleigh Barty +400
If anyone can win their first tournament in over 11 months, it’s the supernaturally talented Barty, but given the importance of high-stakes match play, I believe Barty, at +400, is a bet you should avoid. In addition to her lack of matches, Barty was unable to work in-person with her coach Craig Tyzzer from March to October. Tyzzer watched her practice sessions via video, but it’s yet another reason to take a wait-and-see approach with the world No. 1.
If that’s not enough reason to avoid Barty at +400, she switched strings over the offseason to natural gut. If Barty can win in her first tournament appearance since last February, with a new set of strings, and no direct coaching from March to October, it would be one of the most impressive feats you could ever see. Her talent is undeniable, but there’s no reason to peg her as the outright favorite.
Best Value: Shelby Rogers +4000
This tournament is full of incredible competitors like Sofia Kenin, Garbiñe Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova, Petra Kvitova and Serena Williams—all with solid odds between the +400 and +900 range.
But Shelby Rogers really stands out at +4000. If Rogers can defeat Rebecca Peterson and Petra Martic in the next two rounds, she has a good chance of upsetting Barty in a probable quarterfinal match.
Rogers kept her game sharp by competing in ITF Pro Circuit events in October and November, and kicked off the tournament with a convincing 6-2, 7-5 win over No. 12 seed Fiona Ferro. The quick conditions in Melbourne are well-suited to her aggressive, first-strike tennis, and the oddsmakers have appeared to overlook her US Open quarterfinal run, where she defeated Elena Rybakina and Kvitova before falling to eventual champion Naomi Osaka. Any one of Muguruza, Pliskova, Kenin or Kvitova are solid bets to win the tournament, but at 40 to 1, Rogers has the best value of any player in the draw with a realistic chance of winning.