WTA Australian Open Post-Draw: Serena value at the top of the market
With the Australian Open starting overnight on Monday, our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, returns to finalise his post-draw outright positions for the women's singles tournament...
Williams the current standout player on the WTA Tour
While it is extremely difficult to see past the top of the market in the men's singles event, there is considerably more scope to look at longer odds opportunities in the women's tournament, with there being little to split around 20 players from a statistical standpoint.
There is one exception to this point of view though - Serena Williams. After winning in Auckland last week, the veteran is running at over 114% combined service/return points won in the last six months. With Bianca Andreescu injured, Williams is the standout player on tour by some distance, both when looking at this metric, and also 12 month hard court data.
Question marks around a lot of quarter two rivals
Certainly, my stats suggest there is a markedly bigger ability gap between Williams and second favourite Naomi Osaka than there is between Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal in the men's, yet Djokovic is priced at 2.24 currently, and Williams can be backed at5.20.
Williams has been drawn in Quarter Two and it's interesting to note that the two tournament favourites both come from this bracket, with Osaka her main threat. In truth, I'd be hugely shocked if one of these two failed to make the semi-finals, and I make Williams a strong favourite to do so.
There are some question marks over the better players in this quarter, with fitness doubts over Caroline Wozniacki and Jo Konta, while the young duo of Sofia Kenin and Dayana Yastremska still have plenty to prove. They're clearly improving, but stats wise, are still notably behind Williams, and indeed, Osaka. It might be unoriginal, but Williams at 5.20 looks a decent price.
Vondrousova capable of making latter stages
In my pre-draw preview, I mentioned three players who have strong stats and scope to perform well at a big price - Marketa Vondrousova, Karolina Muchova and Elise Mertens and all have slightly shortened in the outright market since I wrote that preview, but I still see little in the way to suggest they aren't decent value.
After writing that pre-draw preview, Vondrousova subsequently lost to eventual winner Ashleigh Barty in Adelaide in straight sets, but what the scoreline doesn't tell you is that Vondrousova actually created more break point chances in the match - she was competitive. She faces a potentially tricky run of Kuznetsova/Giorgi/Kerber in her first three matches but all of this trio aren't performing close to their best currently, and Kerber in particular has shown a marked drop-off in her service numbers in the last six months. Vondrousova at65.00 looks some value to me.
Improving Mertens a potential long shot
Muchova and Mertens got drawn together in Quarter Three - they're scheduled to meet in the third round - and at80.00 I have marginal preference for Mertens purely given Muchova's lack of warm-up matches. I think it is wise to take on Simona Halep (who they'll need to get past to win the quarter) with the Romanian showing a drop in level across the last six months and while there are also some threats in the top half of the bracket, such as Belinda Bencic and Aryna Sabalenka - who may well be the biggest threat - I think Mertens at a long price has a chance.
Alexandrova and Rybakina could test Barty
I also like the chances of Ekaterina Alexandrova in Quarter One, with the Russian showing a very strong, and improving level in recent months. However, after winning Shenzhen last week she's seen market support and been backed in from 190.00 to a current120.00. She'll need to get past Ashleigh Barty to do so, but is showing an excellent level currently, while the improving Kazakh player Elena Rybakina, at180.00 could also give Barty a tough test in round three.
However, it's Vondrousova and Mertens for us as long-shots here, and I can't look past Williams to lift her first Grand Slam trophy since she beat her sister Venus here in 2017. Stats-wise, she's as good as she's been during these three years without a Slam final win, and against a field capable of beating each other on any given day, she has a very strong edge in my view.