Australian Open Tips - Women
Serena Williams is the strong favourite for the Australian Open title, but the current world number one has looked vulnerable at this event in recent years and it may pay to look elsewhere rather than take Paddy Power's best odds of 3/1.
The five-time champion has failed to get beyond the fourth round since registering her most recent Melbourne success in 2010, and although she continued her dominance of the US Open with a third straight victory in 2014, she suffered earlier than expected exits in the other three Grand Slam events. Since beating Justine Henin in the 2010 final, Serena has lost to Ekaterina Makarova, Sloane Stephens and Ana Ivanovic at this event, with Ivanovic the highest ranked of those opponents at 14.
It would be wrong of course to rule her out of the equation, but at the age of 33 and making her 15th appearance at this tournament, she won't find the going as easy as a couple of years ago, when she won Wimbledon, the US Open and the French Open around a quarter-final appearance here.
Maria Sharapova is seen by the bookmakers as the most likely alternative, but the 27-year-old Russian has had mixed fortunes in Melbourne. In 11 visits she has reached three finals but has won the title only once, beating Ivanovic in straight sets in 2008. Bet365 and William Hill go 5/1.
The five-time Grand Slam winner is one of only three previous champions in the field, following the retirement of last year's winner Li Na. Alongside Serena, the other is Victoria Azarenka, who won back-to-back Australian Open titles in 2012 and 2013.
Azarenka goes into this event unseeded - for the first time at a Grand Slam since 2007 - after a troubled 2014 season beset by injuries and off-court problems. The 25-year-old clearly has the talent to win here, but with just one match under her belt since September it would be a surprise if she could find the required consistency and best odds of 18/1 (also Paddy Power) probably don't reflect her situation accurately.
World number three Simona Halep enjoyed her best season last year, reaching the final of the French Open and the semi-finals at Wimbledon. She also reached the last eight here for the first time, but odds of 7/1 look a little on the short side.
A better option may be Eugenie Bouchard, who had great success in a breakthrough year in 2014. The 20-year-old Canadian reached the semi-finals here and at Roland Garros before going one better at Wimbledon, where she lost out to Petra Kvitova in the final. Bouchard is rapidly gaining experience and can be backed at 14/1 with Bet365 and Coral. Kvitova is a 10/1 chance, but she lost in the first round here last year and in the second round 12 months earlier.
Ivanovic lost her way after a hugely promising start to her career, which included a final here and a French Open title in 2008, but she has battled back to fifth place in the rankings - her highest season-ending ranking since 2008. A quarter-final place in Melbourne helped - including that victory over Serena - but she consistently comes up short against the best and best odds of 25/1 with William Hill reflect that.
At the same price with Bet365 and Ladbrokes it would be better to take a look at Agnieszka Radwanska, who has proven ability to go a long way in this tournament. The world number six was a semi-finalist last year, following on from three quarter-final exits. Wimbledon is probably her strongest Grand Slam, but this is a close second.
If you prefer a punt on an outsider at a big price, then consider Makarova, who looks to be something of a late developer. A strong season in the Grand Slams, which began with a fourth round appearance in Melbourne and ended with a semi-final at Flushing Meadows, lifted her to 10th in the rankings. The 26-year-old Wimbledon quarter-finalist is a best price of 100/1 with Sportingbet, paying half the odds if she reaches the final - not bad considering Coral and Ladbrokes have her at 50/1 to win the tournament outright.
We will also be posting daily tips throughout the Australian Open, so check back for our best bets each day.
|Eugenie Bouchard (ew)
||14/1||Bet365 & Coral|
|Ekaterina Makarova (ew)
|£200 bonus||£50 risk free bet||£20 free bet|