It is without even a tremor of shock that we can say that Serena Williams is the 4/1 favourite to win the Australian Open in 2018. Serena, of course, won there in 2017. It was her seventh title in the season-opening Grand Slam, and few would bet against her doing it for an eighth time.
Steffi Graf thinks the American can break the Grand Slam record. She might not have competed since this tournament last year, but Williams is aiming to return in time for the Melbourne showpiece. Her greatness makes her one of the most iconic sports people in history, and winning another title after missing so much time due to the birth of her child would be just another chapter.
Her longevity and sheer dominance of the sport is remarkable. A fitness blip might be all that can stop her, but there is a very well-balanced women’s field ready to capitalise on any flickering of Serena weakness.
Three of the main contenders sit at 13/2. Gabrine Muguruza – the 2017 Wimbledon champion, Simona Halep, and Karolina Pliskova are yet to win the Australian Open. Muguruza and Pliskova made the quarter-finals last year, but their careers are only on the up. Halep is the current world number one, Muguruza is at two and Pliskova comes in at four.
Muguruza has struggled at times on the hard courts. Her run in Melbourne last year is the best of her career, but her Wimbledon victory will have provided potentially crucial second week experience. The Spaniard can be as good as unplayable on her day. Her consistency, however, is a real issue and makes the 13/2 price seem on the short side.
World number one Halep favours the clay courts, too. Her two Grand Slam final appearances have come at Roland Garros, and she has not got past the first round of the Australian Open since 2015. She has been a force on the circuit this year, but backing Halep to win in Melbourne is a bit of a leap and, just like Muguruza, not great value at that price.
Of the 13/2 trio, Pliskova is the one whose price stands out to me. She has enjoyed a breakout year of sorts at the Grand Slams, and has the powerful serving game to make light work of the early rounds.
The odds then lengthen quite dramatically to 11/1. Johanna Konta and Petra Kvitova are at that price, with Konta having enjoyed by far the best year of her career in 2017.
A trip to the semis in 2016 means the Brit has good memories of the Grand Slam curtain-raiser, and her lethal serve makes her a dangerous hard-court player. Her ranking has slipped in the latter weeks of the 2018 season, but Konta’s game makes her a threat to anyone in the draw.
Kvitova is a two-time Wimbledon champion. Her Grand Slam career away from the grass has been a struggle, though, with her 2017 quarter-final appearance at the US Open the first time she has made it to the last eight since 2015. Her 11/1 reflects the player that she can be, and signs are that she can return to that after the horrific knife attack she suffered earlier this year.
Either of the 11/1 pair are worth backing. Their prices look on the long side, making them the two best value picks from this market at this stage.
If it’s an even longer shot that would take your fancy, I’d suggest backing Caroline Wozniacki at 20/1, who has resembled something near her best at times this year and was victorious in the WTA Finals. The two US Open finalists, Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens, are a tempting 33/1 option, too.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*