The hunter has finally become the hunted.
We’ve accustomed to seeing Sir Andy Murray perform miracles as the perpetual underdog, chasing down tennis legends Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic for what seems like the entirety of his career but now, for the first time at a Grand Slam tournament, the Scot is seeded number one at the 2017 Australian Open.
Scotland’s finest is the man to beat in Melbourne.
With the fit-again but rusty Roger Federer or Tomas Berdych to negotiate in the quarters, and fourth seed Stan Wawrinka a possible semi-final opponent, Sir Andy is a strong fancy to reach his sixth Australian Open final in a fortnight’s time.
If like me you believe he’ll land a fourth career Slam, it may be best to take the 7/4 on offer right now. Those odds will get skinnier as the competition progresses.
Who will he meet there?
For me it’s a straight shoot-out between Djokovic and the hottest prospect of the next generation, Canadian Milos Raonic.
The fast improving 26-year-old was 12th seed this time last year (he’s now ranked 3) and he led Murray 2-1 in last year’s semis before bowing out; backing up a last eight appearance in 2015.
Six-time champion Djokovic loves this event though, and after beating Murray in the Qatar Open Final last week, is very much a worthy frontrunner at 6/4. He practically owns Melbourne Park!
His route is complicated though.
First up the Serb faces the dangerous Fernando Verdasco, whom he had to save five match points against in the Doha semi-finals last week. The charismatic Spaniard has giant killing form too; he eliminated Rafa Nadal in Round One of this tournament in 2016.
It’s asking plenty, but the 10/1 on Verdasco to shock Djokovic is a seductive price.
Looking further ahead, the rejuvenated Grigor Dimitrov may also lie in wait in R4, and he won’t be an easy obstacle to overcome.
Since teaming up with new coach Daniel Vallverdu (Murray’s ex-mentor) the gifted Bulgarian has been on fire, winning last week’s Brisbane International. En route to that title he dispatched higher seeds Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori.
If Djokovic makes it to the final, and that’s a big ‘if’, I predict he’ll have played a lot more sets than Murray. That could give our new Knight the edge.
Can Konta Go Even Further In 2017?
If you fancy a Team GB double Down Under, look no further than Johanna Konta, who is a whopping 25/1 to win her debut Grand Slam.
That may sound fanciful but the in-form Brit has just won the Sydney International, and we know she’s comfortable on the hard courts at Melbourne Park. Twelve months ago the 25-year-old stunned us with a sensational run to the Australian Open semis, losing to eventual champion Angelique Kerber.
As always, Serena Williams will begin as favourite (11/4) but don’t be shocked if she slips up early on. The American looked out of practice last time out and has been handed a devilish start; former world number 7 Belinda Bencic, and Lucie Safarova may fancy their chances of pulling off shocks in R1 or R2.
I’m not completely sold on number one seed Angelique Kerber’s (7/2) prospects either. The defending champion was a beaten quarter-finalist at the Brisbane International, and hasn’t looked tip-top since returning from the close season break.
Will this be Karolina Pliskova’s moment in the sun?
The 24-year-old former junior champion at this event has come on leaps and bounds, reaching the US Open final in 2016, eliminating Serena Williams in destructive fashion in the last four.
She’s aggressive, she’s got a strong mentality, she’s hungry, and she’s bang in form, winning in Australia last week. At 7/1 Pliskova could provide excellent value for money.
I’m still dreaming of a Murray/Konta double though…
Keep up with all the tennis odds right her at Grosvenor Casinos!