Tennis expert Tim Clement previews the men's Australian Open, where tournament favourite Novak Djokovic looks to have everything in his favour.
Novak Djokovic looks an irresistible bet at odds-against to win the 2019 Australian Open as he looks to claim an unprecedented seventh title Down Under.
Both he and Roger Federer are looking to achieve that feat but it is the Serb who commands worthy favouritism as he attempts to land a third successive major.
A top price of 5/4 might look short to some for a 128-field event, but Djokovic stands head and shoulders above when at his best at Melbourne Park.
That had not been the case in the two years following his career grand slam-completing 2016 French Open win, but the switch was flicked back on in ominous fashion for the second half of 2018.
Motivation has clearly been the issue for Djokovic, who won all of his four titles last year at Masters or grand slam level and with Federer in the field.
That means we can dismiss his recent semi-final Qatar Open loss to Roberto Bautista-Agut as little more than a lack of focusand he's a strong fancy.
Swiss superstar Federer stands as second favourite and will capture the interest of plenty at 5/1 following another imperious showing at the Hopman Cup.
He achieved something Djokovic failed to do in the final of the World Tour Finals, beating the game’s most promising young player Alexander Zverev in Perth, but the gruelling format will ask far more questions of the 37-year-old’s body.
Mild temperatures have preceded the season’s opening Slam, but are cranking up for the opening rounds, with a forecast of 34c on Monday rising to 37c by Tuesday.
Again, that nudges us towards Djokovic’s superior conditioning.
Unfortunately we cannot say the same for fellow greats Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.
Nadal arrives without a tour-level contest in four months after withdrawing from the Brisbane International with a thigh strain, while a climb back to the top of the game for Murray had looked unlikely even before Friday's announcement that this could be his farewell tournament.
We’ll look more closely at the array of intriguing opening-round contests before action begins, but for now we can suitably assess neither will produce their best tennis over the next fortnight, with Murray in particular having been handed a shocking draw.
Nadal’s section of the draw does open up some outright interest, with potential third-round Australian opponent Alex De Minaur capable of providing some home hope.
The level-headed 19-year-old, who reached the NextGen Finals final, has a well-rounded game and could go further than his top price of 150/1 suggests.
Recent Maharashtra Open winner Kevin Anderson looks a more sensible shout to benefit from questions surrounding Nadal’s condition and, at 33/1, he's a strong each-way shout.
The fifth seed is protected from another 50-game, fifth-set encounter following Tennis Australia’s decision to opt for a ‘championship tie-break’ at 6-6 in the decider.
There’s little to suggest fresh legs would see him take out Federer and then Djokovic, but he’s arguably the most likely beneficiary if the stars fail to shine at Melbourne Park.
Posted at 1515 GMT on 11/01/19.