Tennis purists may think the Australian Open is played way too early in the season, but in recent years that factor has helped to throw up some sensational storylines, and 2018 has delivered on that score once again.
Here’s our tennis odds expert Adrian Clarke with his view on a poignant Women’s Singles Final, and a fascinating second semi-final in the Men’s Singles…
Caroline to be crowned Queen of Melbourne
Women’s Singles Final | Simona Halep v Caroline Wozniacki | January 27 08:30
Expect a flood of tears from both women at the end of this sure-to-emotional 1st v 2nd seed Australian Open Final.
Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki have both been to hell and back to shake off the unwanted tag of being the best player never to win a Grand Slam – and thanks to a series of spirited performances in Melbourne, they’re now just one tantalizing match away.
This is not the time to choke.
The finalists are kindred spirits in many respects that share a remarkable amount of similarities.
Both reached world number one status without winning a major, both have bounced back from match points against them en route to the final, a third Grand Slam showpiece for each of them, and at 26 and 27 respectively they are very much in their prime.
Victory inside the wonderful Rod Laver Arena won’t just culminate in the dream of a first Grand Slam either. It really is winner takes all on Saturday night, because world number is also up for grabs.
Who takes the crown?
— Caroline Wozniacki (@CaroWozniacki) January 25, 2018
Recent history tells us that Wozniacki, a 23/20 underdog, may have the Indian Sign over her fabulous opponent.
She leads 4-2 in the head to head and has triumphed the last three times these two have shared a court.
Usually, they are close three-setters but at the WTA Finals in October, the Dane pulverized Halep 6-0 6-2, so psychologically the favourite is at a disadvantage.
In terms of physical fitness, I’d also lean towards Wozniacki too. She had a far easier semi-final and should be feeling fresher ahead of the main event.
Halep is great to watch. Although small in stature, she hits the ball at blisteringly hard speeds.
Her heavy groundstrokes are sure to get Wozniacki, a brilliant retriever, scrambling on the other side of the net. It’s how bold Halep is prepared to play, that could decide matters.
For me, I worry a little about the Halep serve. It’s nothing special, and providing the second seed is ambitious on her returns, it could be the Romanian’s undoing.
Among my tips would be Wozniacki to punish a nervy Halep serve to take the first set, (11/10) for the plucky Romanian to level things up at one apiece, (10/13) before succumbing to the second seed in a nerve-jangling third.
This has the makings of a sensational final.
Both women deserve the title, but cruelly one of them will have to be the bridesmaid again.
My forecast is Wozniacki to win 2-1, which comes in at a nice price of 4/1.
Just 18 months ago the Danish star was slumped down at No.74 in the world rankings. By the time her next match finishes I believe she will be top of the pile again.
Roger to march on
Men’s Singles Semi-Final | Roger Federer v Hyeon Chung | January 26 08:30
It’s always a treat to watch talents from two different generations collide in a sporting showpiece, and the second men’s semi-final serves up a classic case of old versus young.
The prodigious 21-year-old South Korean, Hyeon Chung (5/1), has been out of this world at the Australian Open so far.
As the reigning NextGen Finals champion, we knew this kid was blessed with great skill and temperament, but his run to the last four has still been unexpectedly mesmerizing to watch.
When disposing of his hero Novak Djokovic in the last 16, Chung played like a man possessed, returning everything in a defensive performance the former world No.1 would have been extremely proud of himself.
It was the kind of display that seemed to confirm he is a future superstar.
And ahead of this exciting match-up, Federer told journalists he sees a lot of Djokovic in his opponent. High praise indeed.
Will this be the end of the road for Chung, though? Logic says yes.
DYK❓If Hyeon Chung beats Roger Federer in tomorrow night’s #AusOpen semifinal, it will be the first time no member of the ‘Big 4’ (Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Nadal) has reached the final here since 2005, when Marat Safin beat Lleyton Hewitt. pic.twitter.com/vPmrJSRwyp
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 25, 2018
He is currently ranked 58th in the world for a reason and was beaten by David Ferrer and Kyle Edmund in the two tournaments prior to this one.
Expecting him to repeat his heroics against an in-form Federer is probably beyond his reach at this embryonic stage of his career.
These two have never let before so it’s a clash of styles that’s an unknown quantity, but my head says 3-0 to Federer (Evens) looks the pick of the bunch.
Having cruised to this stage without any major alarm bells, the Swiss magician should have too much class, patience and energy for his gifted young rival.
Marin Cilic will be a serious adversary in the trophy-deciding match, a repeat of the 2017 Wimbledon final, but I won’t be backing against Federer a stunning 20th Grand Slam.
He’s still in a different class.