We got the sort of match I was expecting between Roger Federer and John Millman on Friday in Melbourne and for once I chose the right bet, with the +2.5 sets on Millman coming in very early on.
It was painful for the Aussie fans though at the death, with Millman blowing an 8-4 lead in the final set tie break on a day where two of the three underdogs I suggested (Cilic and Sandgren both won. Indeed, anyone that took the over 4.5 sets in Cilic v Bautista Agut would also have enjoyed a good day.
Unfortunately, RBA's defeat means we're out of outrights now and that was a little annoying because the second favourite in RBA's section, Stefanos Tsitsipas also lost on the day, but with Novak Djokovic looking in good shape and the weather not appearing likely to cause any problems this year it's looking good for the Serb again at the moment.
We’re set for a warmer day in Melbourne on Saturday, with temperatures reaching about 25C in the shade and not much wind is forecast, so it looks a good day for tennis.
Taylor Fritz vs Dominic Thiem
I’m still not convinced about Thiem in these Australian conditions and I’m happy to side with Fritz in some way in this fourth career clash between this pair.
Although conditions seem to be generally slower here when the balls start to fluff up the bounce is quite low and that won’t suit the heavy top spin game of Thiem, who of course excels on clay and slow, high-bouncing surfaces like Indian Wells.
In any case, the Austrian is yet to find Fritz a comfortable opponent to deal with, having lost to him in Laver Cup in September when Fritz stepped off the bench to beat Thiem in a deciding tie break.
Prior to that Thiem beat Fritz 3-1 at the 2017 and 2018 US Open as a heavy favourite each time (1.273 and 1.207) back when Fritz was ranked 74th and 108th in the world.
The stats of their career series show that in those three prior matches, Fritz has held serve 85.4% of the time and Thiem 88.6% of the time, and it’s actually Fritz that has created the more break chances (0.59 per game compared to the 0.49 per game of Thiem).
Thiem has taken more of them (30% converted by Thiem compared to just 19.4% taken by Fritz) but if Fritz is a little more clinical with his opportunities this time he has a fair shot of turning things in his favour.
Service points won between them is virtually identical at 66% for each man and return points won is also the same at 34% each, so the only difference has been Thiem taking more of his chances when they arrive.
The Austrian’s improved hard court play towards the end of 2019 has probably made his shorter than he perhaps should be here, but much of his success came on slower, higher bouncing surfaces.
Fritz at the moment is one of those players that tend to produce their best stuff against the elite players, with the American having gone 5-7 win/loss against the players I have listed as ‘top-10 quality’ in the past year, winning three of his last four and holding serve 83% of the time.
In his seven-match career at the Australian Open he’s held serve 90% of the time and unless Fritz is fatigued after coming back from 0-2 down against Kevin Anderson in the last round this looks a tricky day in prospect for Thiem.
But points were short in that match and at 3h 21m it was one minute quicker than Thiem spent on court in his own five setter against Alex Bolt in the last round.
It’s a day match on a sunny day and the courts are likely to start playing a bit quicker now, so Fritz +4.5 games at 1.79 looks the wager here.
Other underdogs who may fare well on Saturday include Ernests Gulbis, Fernando Verdasco, and Alexei Popyrin.
Ever the enigma, Ernests Gulbis looks to be getting back on track (again) at the moment and he may well be facing a very much below par physically Gael Monfils, who didn’t look in the best of condition in a struggle against 40-year-old Ivo Karlovic in the last round (he got 37-year old Yen Hsun Lu, who hadn’t played since 2017 on round one).
In typical Monfils style his most recent injury was a comedy one: suffering a bone edema while playing video games at the ATP Cup.
Last Sunday he said: “I was playing a video game in my bedroom and I hit my right hand against the headboard [of the bed]. The real treatment would be rest, but since I can’t, I have taken anti-inflammatory drugs and put ice on it. But it’s getting better, it’s pretty positive, even if some days after big sessions I have to take the next day off to recover.”
That may be only one of the many physical ailments that seem to plague Monfils week-in, week-out and it probably explains why he’s as big as 1.62 to beat Gulbis.
Monfils has won all three of their career clashes, but they were some time ago and this looks a fair chance for Gulbis to get on the board in this career series. Is it value on Gulbis though? Maybe not at this price.
Alexei Popyrin’s willingness to come to the net and finish off points, along with the raucous home support and a few tweaks he’s made to his game this year may well make him more competitive than the layers expect against Daniil Medvedev.
The Russian’s relentless baseline game will probably be enough here in the slower conditions at night, but I’d be tempted by the over 33.5 games in this one.
Fernando Verdasco at 36 years of age is still capable of causing big problems for most players and I’d expect another slam struggle for Alexander Zverev in this fifth career meeting between this pair.
Verdasco was sick when they met in Paris a few months ago, but I’d wager he’ll be much closer to the still-struggling Zverev, who at least showed an improvement in his win over Egor Gerasimov.
Nando was a 4.0 chance in Bercy though and now his price of 2.75 reflects the problems that Zverev is having, so I’ll pass at those odds.
David Goffin was having problems with his hip and his back in a five set struggle over his mate Pierre-Hugues Herbert and that lack of ability to put that match to bed far earlier than he eventually did may cost him against Andrey Rublev.
The Russian may be tired after his heavy schedule so far in 2020, but the prices look about right in this one.
I wonder if the five set battle that Stan Wawrinka had with Andreas Seppi that Seppi really should have won will have any effect on the ageing legs of the Swiss, too?
He faces John Isner and Stan has lost his last three against the big American, but only one was played in the last eight years or so.
Wawrinka has gone to 6-6 in a set in his last nine clashes against the big servers in my database and played 0.30 tie break per set on all surfaces against them in his career.
He might have to go long again, but Isner hasn’t shown any form off the ground so far in 2020 and this one doesn’t appeal as a betting contest.
Finally, Rafael Nadal will likely improve from a mediocre showing against Federico Delbonis when he takes on Pablo Carreno Busta, who looks up against it on the match-up, while Nick Kyrgios has a fine chance of progression (if he’s in the mood) against Karen Khachanov, who still is some way off his best level.
0.5 points win Fritz +4.5 games to beat Thiem at 1.79