2022 Men’s Australian Open Preview & Picks: Our Favorite Futures Bets for the First Slam of the Year
Andy Cheung/Getty. Jannik Sinner celebrates at the ATP Cup.
The Australian Open will kick off on Sunday afternoon for viewers in the United States, and the first slam of the year is shaping up to be one of the most open in a long time.
With Novak Djokovic unlikely but not out of the picture to play, the door is opened for players such as the man who beat Djokovic at the US Open last year, Daniil Medvedev, or rising stars like Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Here’s where our tennis analysts see value in a tournament that projects to have plenty of it.
Note: Due to the ongoing situation with Djokovic, odds to win each quarter are not yet available, so analysis for quarter selections were made without odds.
Avery Zimmerman: There are a couple of guys that stick out to me in a field that looks so promising for some breakout opportunities. I’ll be focusing on Jannik Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz and Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Starting with the Italian, this is the best spot in the futures market for me. Sinner dropped a tough battle to Andy Murray in Stockholm towards the end of the year, but since then he’s shown just how dangerous he can be on tour.
A win against Hubert Hurkacz at the ATP Finals to go with a third-set tiebreaker loss to Medvedev showcased his capabilities, and he only built on that with three wins at the ATP Cup two weeks ago. Sinner’s Elo rating on hard courts is 1931, or third-best among the players that are likely to be playing in the event. Look out for Sinner to have his breakout slam tournament and compete for a title.
The next player to look at is Alcaraz, who my colleague Kenny disagrees with me on. I don’t mind the Spaniard’s strategy of training through practicing in advance of the tournament, as by all accounts it appears that he’s been grinding away over the offseason.
Alcaraz reached the quarterfinals in just his second hard-court slam at the US Open, and with the fifth-highest Elo rating in the world and an ability to peak in key moments, why can’t Alcaraz shock the world again and go one step further? At this price (48-1), it’s worth asking the question.
— Next Gen ATP Finals (@nextgenfinals) November 13, 2021
Finally, the long odds that are being placed on Felix Auger-Aliassime (66-1) feel a bit disrespectful to me. Sure, the young Canadian still has the ability to throw in a perplexing performance and lose to nearly anyone on tour, and he’ll have his hands full with Emil Ruusuvuori in the first round, but if Auger-Aliassime can find his footing, he has the potential to be lethal.
A key for the 21-year old will be limiting his unforced errors, both on the ground and in terms of double faults. If he can remain just one notch more consistent than he was at the ATP Cup, he can aim for his result at the US Open, or maybe do even better.
Kenny Ducey: Things may just be breaking in the Italian’s direction here. Berrettini won’t have it easy early on in the tournament with Brandon Nakashima and Carlos Alcaraz on the horizon — but few in this field will. You’d expect his power to be too much for the American to handle, though, and Alcaraz has yet to play a match this year and lacks the Grand Slam experience that Berrettini has. Fatigue played a part in his exit from the US Open, and he’ll have his hands full with Alejandro Tabilo and Marton Fucsovics.
Assuming Berrettini avoids an early-round upset, he’s surely the favorite to come out of this quarter should Novak Djokovic be replaced by Andrey Rublev. His game is perfectly suited for the fast courts down under, and he debuted a new swinging backhand at the ATP Cup which could really take his game to the next level. If he can establish some confidence with the shot, he could quickly move into contention with no clear weakness in his game.
I love backing guys who put in the work over the off-season to eliminate their biggest weaknesses, and it appears Berrettini has done that. He’s already reached a Grand Slam final and made several runs at the year’s biggest tournaments, so why can’t he win one here in a field missing Djokovic?
Pick: Matteo Berrettini, 48-1 (FanDuel)
Kenny: This quarter should be Berrettini’s to lose. Andrey Rublev — the likely replacement for Novak Djokovic — was a massive disappointment last season after seeming to establish himself as one of the most reliable names on tour and really struggled behind his serve. Cameron Norrie has looked unrecognizable after his win at Indian Wells. A bout with COVID over the offseason has caused him to start the year flat. Pablo Carreno-Busta and Alcaraz lack the weapons of Berrettini.
Should Djokovic play, I’m projecting a Djokovic-Berrettini semifinal in a win for the chalk bettors. Without him, you’re probably looking at Monfils-Berrettini or Paul-Berrettini. Either way, it’s hard not to back the Italian with so much uncertainty here.
Avery: As Kenny noted, without Djokovic, this draw is completely wide open. Berrettini and Alcaraz, along with Rublev, are the real contenders for the quarter, but Sebastian Korda could also serve as a surprise contender.
If quarter odds do eventually come out, I would like to see Alcaraz at 7-1 or better and Korda at 15-1 or better to make a play, but that may be wishful thinking given Djokovic’s legal proceedings are still ongoing.
Kenny: This one is the easiest to call. No one outside of Medvedev could touch Zverev by the time last season ended, and even Djokovic fell victim at the Olympics. I believe he’s the best player in the world at this moment in time, though it’s hard to back up considering the other two guys I mentioned won Grand Slams last year and Zverev didn’t.
His first real test won’t come until the Quarterfinal, where he’ll either face Rafael Nadal, Hubert Hurkacz or Aslan Karatsev — three guys who will have gone through some absolute wars on the way there. He has the most Djokovic-like corporate draw in the field. He should have no problems getting to that match, dropping maybe a set to Denis Shapovalov along the way.
Avery: I agree with Kenny’s faith in Zverev, and there really isn’t anyone in this quarter that would warrant anything less than a -350 line for Zverev. From Pablo Carreno Busta to Denis Shapovalov to Reilly Opelka, some players have the weapons that are required to pull off a shocking upset if Zverev fell into a double fault spiral as he has done in the past, but this iteration of the German is truly high level.
If we could get Zverev anywhere from -120 or better, that would be great value. This is tennis, and upsets often come out of nowhere, but as Kenny noted, Zverev could be the best player in the world right now. If Nadal was priced at 5-1 or better in this quarter I could see that being a value play, but this is such a poor tournament for him that it’s hard to see him pushing on to the semifinals. I wouldn’t mind watching Zverev-Nadal though.
Kenny: I don’t think anyone really believes in Tsitsipas right now, especially not after an elbow injury ended his 2021 season. It’s also hard to see Casper Ruud succeeding on a quick surface like this, considering he’s still very unproven off of clay compared to a guy like Sinner. That’s exactly who I have coming through this one.
Outside of Zverev, I’d say Sinner’s path to the quarterfinals is the easiest in the draw. Judging by their match this week in Sydney, Andy Murray might not even make it out of the first round. Ruud should fall victim to Alex De Minaur, but neither man is at the level of Sinner on a hardcourt. Sinner’s also gone a combined 4-0 against the pair.
I see Taylor Fritz — a young American who continues to improve with each passing week — meeting the young Italian in the final of this quarter, but Sinner is far and away the best player in it.
Avery: It’s all about Sinner for me. The biggest threat in this quarter is Tsitsipas on paper, but it’s hard to see the Greek stepping up and going on a run at this Australian Open considering the lack of match fitness that he has following an elbow injury that has lingered into 2022 following surgery.
Ruud is a player that is hard to judge given he’s been handled easily by the best hard-court players in the world, though he’s held his own against the non-premier players on tour. A matchup with Sinner doesn’t project for the Norwegian well given their meeting in Vienna, but for me he has the capability of reaching that next level.
That won’t be enough to get by Sinner, though, who I’m all-in on.
Kenny: This is definitely my favorite quarter, because I think there are endless possibilities with how this one shakes out. I’m fading Medvedev here simply because he’s going to have to face Nick Kyrgios — who has beaten him in both of their meetings on tour — and then Ugo Humbert — who just beat him last week from a set and a break down. Even if you back the Russian to come through those matches, he is going to be a shell of himself should he reach the quarterfinal.
I’m willing to take a shot on Auger-Aliassime here. While he’s a problematic player to back because of his history with crumbling in the big moments, he has seemed to improve his mental game thanks to coach Toni Nadal. He went to the quarters at Wimbledon last year and the semis at the US Open, which has to have you feeling good about his chances of making a run down under.
This is a very crazy quarter, so I’d recommend taking a shot on someone like Auger-Aliassime or even Humbert. Kyrgios is in play, but it’s unlikely his body would hold up even in the event he beat Medvedev given his lack of matches.
Avery: I’m obviously high on Auger-Aliassime’s chances here as Kenny is, but I can’t back Kyrgios given the fact that he just plays no tennis. We saw at tournaments like Wimbledon and the Aussie Open last year that Kyrgios can show up and go toe-to-toe with anyone, but playing best-of-five matches for a week and a half to get to the semis? I can’t buy it.
At -120 or better, much like Zverev, Medvedev could be a valuable pick. As much as I believe in Auger-Aliassime, Medvedev would still be a heavy favorite in that match, and there aren’t many players at all in this section that can push the Russian, bar maybe Humbert.
I’m bearish on the Russian as a whole, but in this quarter it comes down to him and Auger-Aliassime in my opinion.