Australian Open Men's Singles Day Ten: Nadal expected to get past Thiem
After drama in the opening men's singles quarter-final on Tuesday, the remaining two are on the schedule for Wednesday. Our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, previews the action...
Federer again fights back from the brink
Following his dramatic win over John Millman, where he fought back from 8-4 down in the final set tiebreak to win that decider 10-8, Roger Federer was even closer to elimination in his quarter final played earlier today against Tennys Sandgren. The American was 2-1 up and had three match points on Federer's serve in the fourth set, as well as a further four in the fourth set tiebreak (he was 6-3 up and 7-6 up). Sandgren hit 1.03 to win the game on the Betfair Exchange but somehow Federer dug deep and prevailed in five sets.
I'll be discussing time spent on court on Friday in the men's semi-final preview but clearly the two lengthy five-setters Federer has played against Millman and Sandgren will do him no favours for his clash with Novak Djokovic who will be much fresher after getting the better of Milos Raonic in straight sets (albeit longer ones) earlier today and dropping just one set in the entire tournament. The opening market is extremely bullish about Djokovic's chances, and the Serb is just 1.15 to get the win at the time of writing.
Prior to this meeting, however, we need to discuss the quarter finals on Wednesday's schedule, and both match-ups look interesting in different ways.
Zverev accurately priced as favourite over Wawrinka
The opening match on the card will take place not before 3:30am UK time with Stan Wawrinka meeting Alexander Zverev, and Zverev is the 1.72 market favourite to make the semi-finals. Neither player was particularly fancied to win the quarter, with Daniil Medvedev the strong favourite to progress and Zverev coming into the tournament having struggled in the ATP Cup warm-up event.
Perhaps surprisingly, the duo have only met twice previously, with Zverev having the better of proceedings on both occasions, although I will point out that their last meeting was almost three years ago.
Across the last 12 months, Zverev has a better hard court combined service/return points won percentage (106% to Wawrinka's 102%) while across the last six months the difference is a little smaller (106% to 104%), but either way, he does have a reasonable edge and those numbers completely justify the market pricing. I'd also note that Zverev has better tournament data here in the four matches to get to this stage.
Thiem with struggles on serve in previous meetings
With the market looking spot-on in the opening match on the card, we move on to the night match featuring Rafa Nadal and Dominic Thiem, with Rafa a solid 1.42 favourite. I actually make that a little big, and I'll try and justify my stance below.
One area which has little weighting to my decision-making is the previous head-to-head meetings, which took place almost exclusively on clay (12 out of their 13 meetings) with only one hard court clash, which Rafa took in five sets at the US Open in August 2018. However, I will make the broader point that Thiem has generally struggled on serve against Nadal, holding serve less than 70% of the time and winning fewer than 60% of service points in their previous match-ups.
Nadal performing at a higher level so far
Against an elite-level returner such as Nadal, this isn't a huge surprise and while Thiem's level has been impressive to get to this stage (113% combined service/return points won percentage across his four wins so far), Nadal has been even better (119%) and the world number one has dramatically underperformed on break points as well, which probably makes him look worse than the level he actually is exhibiting.
Over the last 12 months on hard court, Nadal has a large advantage when looking at this metric (114% combined compared to Thiem's 106%) as well as again, underperforming at key points. He's lost just twice in this time period from 27 main tour matches (losses to Djokovic and Kyrgios) and I don't anticipate another defeat tomorrow - he should simply put a great deal of consistent pressure on Thiem's serve.
Handicap options worth considering
In the run-up to the game, I expect we will see around even money on the Nadal -4.5 game line and I like this way to try and exploit the pre-match value. Given that I expect a rather return-orientated match-up, there's more likelihood on Nadal winning at least a set via a double-break margin which would help hugely here.
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