Level playing field makes for a potentially superb women's tournament
Having just written about the top contenders for the title in the men's tournament, with the usual names at the forefront of the market, we have a stark contrast in prospect for the women's Australian Open with a very level playing field in prospect.
I made the point in a previous Slam preview that you'd be forgiven for just putting all the names of leading players into a hat and pulling one out, and there is still no outstanding player in the field. In fact, there are an incredible 15 players are priced at 50.00 or below on the Exchange, at the time of writing.
In truth though, this is what will make for a potentially magnificent women's tournament. The fact that at least 30 players can realistically take to the courts in Melbourne with reasonable confidence that they will be able to meet the latter stages of the event is something that the top-heavy men's field cannot boast, and purely from a neutral perspective, I'd be much happier watching an even-money women's match as opposed to Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer school a world ranked 100 player when being priced as 1.01 to do so.
Serena an uneasy favourite to take the title
Serena Williams has market favourtismat5.30 on the Exchange and personally I'm not convinced of her merits at that price. Statistically, she lacks a little on return - although of course is dominant on serve - and perhaps one of the main positives for the American is the fitness doubts surrounding rival players such as Simona Halep and defending champion Caroline Wozniacki.
Market lacking faith in fitness doubts Halep and Wozniacki
Halep18.50 actually leads the tour for combined service/return points won percentage on hard court in the last 12 months (107.4%), narrowly eclipsing Wozniacki (107.3%), who is currently available at a much bigger 38.00 - the market really has little confidence that the Dane can retain her first Grand Slam title.
With such an open field, I'll be trying to profile a winner after the draw in an attempt to find a value pick in advance of the tournament, although at this stage, prior to the draw, I'll only be shortlisting players. I could quite possibly add to this list if I feel that specific players have what I perceive to be a gift draw as well.
Svitolina heading pre-draw shortlist
Players I'm keen to keep onside include the following players:-
Elina Svitolina 15.50- has struggled in Grand Slams previously but took her biggest title in the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore at the end of the season. This could well give her a huge confidence boost on the biggest stage and she has a strong combined service/return points won percentage on hard court in the last 12 months, at 106.6%. In addition, she has a solid 10-6 record against top 20 opposition in the same time period - a decent record against high-level opposition is vital, given that a WTA player will likely face at least three top 20 opponents en route to the title.
Qiang Wang 85.00- the form player in the last quarter of the WTA season, Wang's data is now very impressive indeed, on her favoured hard court. She reached at least the semi-final in all of her five events post US Open, and if she can maintain that level, will make a mockery of this price.
Kiki Bertens 34.00- a year ago, I wouldn't have dreamed that I'd rate Bertens so highly away from clay. However, the Dutchwoman has made huge strides on all courts in 2018 and her hard court data is now top 10 level. With a kind draw, she could quite conceivably be a big threat in Australia.
Pliskova, Stephens and Kvitova looking overrated
I'm also keen to avoid a number of players as well, with a number looking quite over-rated at current market prices, and of the leading players in the market include Karolina Pliskova, currently at16.50, whose data has taken a bit of a hit during 2018, Sloane Stephens 22.00, who aptly illustrated her incredible inconsistency today against Yulia Putintseva and Petra Kvitova 30.00, who I feel as similarly about as her Czech compatriot, Pliskova.
Those who are priced a little bigger than this trio, who also do not boast decent hard court data include Daria Kasatkina 75.00, Jelena Ostapenko110.00 and Belinda Bencic 90.00. It is more than possible that I will be keen on opposing these players in individual matches in the coming fortnight.
I'll be back in a day or two to discuss the draw in depth and finalise our outright selectionsahead of the first Grand Slam of 2019.