The Longshot: Women a better bet down under as Novak plots 10th win

Wimbledon champ Rybakina is an outsider worth a look at for first Grand Slam tournament of the year
The Longshot: Women a better bet down under as Novak plots 10th win

Novak Djokovic said his deportation from Australia last year will stick with him for the rest of his life but he is happy to be back in the country and hoping for a good reception from the public.

NOVAK Djokovic returns to the Australian Open - which begins on Monday - aiming to equal Rafael Nadal on 22 Grand Slam wins by winning a 10th title Down Under.

He was infamously sent home last year, which allowed Nadal to add an unexpected title to his growing record. It seems likely that the Serb will eventually pass out the Spaniard on the all-time list, not simply because he is a year younger, but is far healthier when it comes to injuries.

He is 5/6 to win again in Melbourne, turning odds-on after US Open winner and rising star Carlos Alcaraz was forced to pull out with a hamstring injury. The 19-year-old Spaniard looks like the only likely aspirant to the sort of greatness achieved by Nadal, Djokovic, and Roger Federer in the past two decades.

Daniil Medvedev was two sets up on Nadal in last year’s decider before he was reeled in, the third consecutive year when such a comeback occurred in a Grand Slam final.

The Russian is 6/1 to add a second major title to his 2021 US Open, where he defeated Djokovic when the Serb was attempting to capture a first calendar Grand Slam for a man since Rod Laver. However, Djokovic swatted Medvedev away in two sets in Adelaide last week and looked miles ahead of the second favourite.

Let’s not ignore Aussie meltdown master Nick Kyrgios, who Djokovic beat in the 2022 Wimbledon final. Kyrgios is 14/1, the same price offered on Nadal.

Women’s tennis is far more open than the men’s game these days, which is great if you are competing at the top level, but the lack of a distinct personality or two emerging from the top few players has seen general interest decline.

Last year Ash Barty became the first Australian woman to win her home title since 1978 when she defeated American Danielle Collins. Barty retired at just 25 after that win.

Iga Swiatek is 2/1 to claim her third Grand Slam and the 21-year-old Pole is the likeliest candidate to become a fan favourite (or at least become dominant enough so we can have someone to root against). She wins over a half of her return points, an outstanding achievement for any player on the tennis court.

World No 5 Aryna Sabalenka (9/1) won in Adelaide in her warm-up event but has never made it past a Grand Slam semi-final and has made back-to-back Australian Open round-of-16 exits so I’d look further afield for value.

Wimbledon runner-up Ons Jabeur is 16/1 and worth taking notice of. She let the occasion get the better of her in London last summer but the highest-ranked African and Arab tennis player in WTA and ATP rankings history can make a real impact this year.

Wimledon winner Elena Rybakina was playing impressive tennis as recently as the end of December, when she earned wins over Swiatek and Sabalenka and someone who is half her price at 12/1, France’s Caroline Garcia. She was eliminated in her second match in Adelaide but having a slam win under her belt just last year means that 25/1 looks great value for the Kazakhstani.

Derbies may play crucial role in destination of the title

TWO interesting derbies down for decision in the Premier League this weekend and perhaps the opportunity to see a rising Irish star test himself against a depleted and Virgil-less Liverpool defence.

There was fanciful if slightly disturbing rumours this week that England U21 boss Lee Carsley might try to tempt Brighton’s Evan Ferguson to do a Rice and Grealish and switch allegiances to our neighbours, based on the flimsy conjecture that his mother is English.

Considering Carsley is being tipped by some to take over from Stephen Kenny as the next Ireland boss, that might be one of the most self-defeating moves he could make.

Gladly, it seems very, very unlikely the talented young Dub has even considered such treachery.

He has more pressing concerns trying to establish himself as a Premier League striker anyway, something he has been doing with some aplomb, scoring in his first two league starts.

Liverpool are next in his crosshairs on Sunday afternoon.

The Seagulls thumped Middlesbrough 5-1 to progress to the fourth round of the FA Cup last time out (following a 4-1 league win over Liverpool’s Merseyside rivals Everton, when another Irishman Andrew Moran made his debut).

Jurgen Klopp’s men were forced into a replay in the cup after drawing 2-2 with Wolves.

Sixth-placed Liverpool cannot usurp Tottenham just above them no matter what transpires this weekend, and they are only ahead of Fulham —who have played a game more — on goal difference before the Cottagers faced West London rivals Chelsea last night Similar to their hosts on the south coast, Liverpool have scored and conceded in each of their last six games in all tournaments, but they have accumulated just two top-flight wins away from home all season.

A 2-2 draw at 12/1 is not beyond these two.

Whisper it: Man United might have some title ambitions, especially if they can take three points at home to city rivals City tomorrow.

They are in to 25/1 for the title and that might drop again with a win and if Spurs can put some brakes at home against Arsenal on Sunday.

United are just four points behind City and nine behind the Gunners.

Back-to-back defeats at the beginning of the campaign had some immediately questioning Erik ten Hag, but since then United have won a remarkable 35 points from 15 matches.

Spurs will likely go behind against their rivals but rescue a late draw.

Napoli odds on to pass Juve test

WE’VE never been shy of mentioning our long-term fondness for Napoli in these pages during the past few months.

They face their biggest test on a domestic front tonight when Juventus visit the Gulf of Naples, trailing their hosts by seven points.

Napoli slipped up on their first game back after the World Cup break, losing away to another of the north Italian giants Inter 1-0 at the San Siro but have since bounced back by beating Sampdoria away 2-0.

Napoli are odds-on favourites for this clash, with Juventus priced at 3/1 to get the win away from home.

The game will be the last in the Andrea Agnelli era for Juve, which leaves a lot of success (nine consecutive league titles, as well as reaching the Champions League final twice) but also a massive negative financial legacy — including a loss of over €230m for 2021-22. Agnelli was the fourth member of the family associated with the Fiat car company to run the club, going back to his grandfather a century ago.

Happy belated birthday to England's Ian Poulter.
Happy belated birthday to England's Ian Poulter.

Poulter chips in on Ryder Cup’s Garcia snub

THE Hero Cup is currently under way, a European tour event that pits a Britain and Ireland combined golf team against the rest of Europe.

It is seen correctly as a new warm-up event for the Ryder Cup in Italy later this year.

A former stalwart of that competition took umbrage of the Ryder Cup’s official Twitter account posting a video of a wonderful chip by Francesco Molinari with the caption ‘Incredible touch’ on Tuesday, while failing to wish former teammate Sergio Garcia the day before.

“What’s really an ‘incredible touch’ is the Players that helped build the @RyderCupEurope Brand with other players as well. You just can’t bring yourself to say a simple Happy Birthday. @TheSergioGarcia B’day Yesterday. Unfortunately this says so much,” fumed Ian Poulter.

Nice to see Poulter getting so aggrieved on the Spaniard’s behalf, although it is worth pointing out this response might actually have had more to do with someone else whose birthday was actually on Tuesday itself, when the English golfer turned 47.

The Bet

WE’LL advise Elena Rybakina at 25/1 for the women’s Australian Open as Djokovic seems a lock for the men’s title at a prohibitive price.

A treble for the weekend is a draw between both Liverpool and Brighton (which should see a few goals), Spurs and Arsenal and United to defeat City for a 64/1 treble.

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