The first tennis Slam of the year looks set to be an unpredictable affair in Australia, but where there’s unpredictability, there are big winnings to be had.
Ahead of next week’s Australian Open, the top six seeds in the women’s draw have all been battling injuries and illness that threaten to seriously hamper or derail their efforts in Melbourne.
World number one and reigning Aussie Open champ Serena Williams is the tournament favourite at 3/1, but pulled out of a Hopman Cup match in Perth last week with a knee injury.
Williams is just one shy of Steffi Graf’s open-era record of 22 Slam titles, but the American hasn’t played competitively since losing to Roberta Vinci in the U.S Open semi-finals last September.
Simona Halep – world no.2 – has been suffering with an Achilles problem in Brisbane, while world number three Garbine Muguruza suffered a foot injury at the same event.
Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova both withdrew from the Sydney International at the weekend with a leg injury and a virus respectively, while Maria Sharapova is battling to overcome a forearm ailment.
So, who are we looking to outside of the crocked top six?
Victoria Azarenka endured a troublesome foot injury for much of 2015, but sprung into this year nicely with victory in the Brisbane International – the Belarussian’s first title since 2013.
A two-time Australian Open champion, Azarenka could face some tricky early-round opponents due to a low seeding, but the 26-year-old has reached at least the fourth round in each of the last six seasons, and is 9/2 for a third title.
What about a shock win for 18-year-old Belinda Bencic? Switzerland’s teen star claimed her first two WTA titles last season and is 14/1 to become the youngest winner of a Slam for nearly 12 years.
American Madison Keys will also be eyeing a shot at glory, having reached the last four in Australia last year.
The 20-year-old also claimed a quarter-final spot at Wimbledon, and is a 33/1 shot for a first Slam title.
Another 33/1 hope is Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane failed to shine last year but will the 25-year-old take advantage with so many injuries elsewhere to claim that elusive first Slam?
Or are all the injuries and illnesses to the favourites just the opportunity Venus Williams needs for one more Slam success? The 35-year-old reached two quarter-finals last year, and is 50/1 for a first major victory since Wimbledon in 2008.
It’s a shame that the topped ranked players are heading to the first Slam fighting various battles, but it opens the door for a potentially very rewarding player to lift the trophy in three weeks’ time.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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