The first Grand Slam of 2017 is underway with pre-tournament favourite Novak Djokovic already knocked out leaving British number one Andy Murray favourite to win in Melbourne for the first time.
Current Best Priced Odds - To Win the Australian Open
Andy Murray - 5/6 with Skybet - £10 No Deposit Free Bet
Milos Raonic - 13/2 with BetVictor - Bet £10 for £60 Free Bet
Stan Wawrinka - 8/1 with Betfair Sportsbook - Bet £10 for £30 Free Bet
Rafael Nadal - 10/1 with Betfred - Bet £10 for £30 Free Bet
Grigor Dimitrov - 20/1 with William Hill - Bet £10 for £20 Free Bet
Roger Federer - 22/1 with Paddy Power - Bet £10 for £30 Free Bet
2016 is probably the year to top all of them so far for Andy Murray. His single-minded pursuit of excellence. Reaching three of the four Grand Slam finals, he won his second Wimbledon and followed that with a gold medal at the Rio Olympics.
He topped off the year by claiming the world number one spot and beating Novak Djokovic in the ATP World Tour final in London.
Now he has to do it all again, this time as the prey for rivals rather than one of the pursuing pack.
Last year was his fifth Australian Open final and his fifth defeat. To win in 2017, Murray knows he has to raise his game, although he has been hugely helped by the early elimination of Djokovic.
2016 was a miserable year for the Spaniard with injuries wrecking Rafael Nadal’s season. It’s going to be tough for the former number one to recapture his past glories, and that’s reflected in his odds with Betfair Sportsbook (Bet Here!) offering 14/1 on that happening in Melbourne.
It’s a big test of his abilities and character. Nadal hasn’t reached a Grand Slam final since the French Open in 2014, an almost unthinkable scenario in his heyday.
Dropping to number 9 in the ATP rankings, the Mallorcan endured 2016 rather than enjoyed the year with his surprise exits at the Olympics and Forest Hills typifying his luck. His confidence rocked, Nadal seemed unsure of himself and had no discernible gameplan.
With time to reflect on his future as injuries healed, Nadal may view this as his last hurrah. If 2017 shows no tangible improvement on the previous twelve months, will we be witnessing his final year on the circuit?
The 2014 champion has blossomed into the world number four, capping off a decent 2016 by winning the US Open. It’s hard to know which Wawrinka will turn up; he’s as capable of bringing a barnstorming game to the tournament as he is an intense disinterest in glory.
Despite being dogged by inconsistency, he is one of the few players who can genuinely upset the form book when facing the top two seeds. Winning a Grand Slam in each of the past three years underlines his ability. Triumphing in Melbourne could be the platform for him to move higher up the rankings.
At 31, age seems to be winning that battle although his strength and powerful serve are continuing to improve. It’s in Stan’s mind that the games are more frequently lost.
Is this the year Raonic steps forward and claims his first Grand Slam title? Having lost his debut final to Andy Murray at Wimbledon, the Canadian may view Australia as the tournament where he breaks his duck.
Beaten by Murray in last year’s semi-final, Raonic used the lessons well and climbed to third in the ATP rankings. Hugely talented, his biggest assets are mental strength and an unshakeable self-belief. If defeat crushes him, he never shows it.
That said, there is a lot of work to be done if he is to break into the top two. Murray remains his nemesis although Raonic may argue he should have beaten the Scot in Melbourne last year and also when he had match point at the ATP World Tour finals.
Roger Federer has returned to full fitness and is capable of moving through the field with his predatory instincts. If he can avoid an early meeting with Murray, he could get to the latter stages relatively unnoticed.
Of the upstarts at the tournament, Kei Nishikori poses the greatest danger to the top seeds. The Japanese world number five is improving steadily, and his bronze medal in Rio was no fluke. Winning here is beyond the Japanese but causing an upset or two is well within his capabilities.
It’s hard to look past Murray to win this tournament now Djokovic is out such is his form against all other rivals. Murray also possesses a clarity of purpose few can match. That grim determination will serve him well and put the anguish of five losing finals behind him as he wins his first Australian Open title at the end of the month.
Francois is one of Howtobet4free’s co-founders and has written many of Howtobet4free’s popular Betting Guides. Francois also helps run the @howtobet4free_ Twitter account