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The 2021 Australian Open, like any sporting event put on in the past 12 months, will inextricably be linked to the many Covid-19 procedures, off-court shenanigans, and untraditional aspects involved in conducting this year’s tournament. However, by vast contrast to everything else, the on-court results produced by the event have been relatively, and surprisingly, par for the course.
In a shock to literally no one that follows tennis closely, top-seed Novak Djokovic will seek to win a record-extending 9th Australian Open title in Sunday’s Men’s Singles Final. Djokovic has now reached the final in Melbourne in eight of the past eleven seasons and carries an 8-0 record in Australian Open Finals with him into Sunday’s contest.
Fortunately for tennis fans and gamblers alike, perhaps no player in men’s tennis is riding better form than Djokovic’s opponent in Sunday’s Final, fourth-seeded Daniil Medvedev. Currently amidst a 19-match win streak that features twelve (!!!!) victories over Top 10 players (including wins over both Djokovic and Nadal), Medvedev possesses both the confidence and skill set to sincerely test Djokovic, and perhaps even defeat him on Sunday. At a minimum, fans can and should expect a physical, high-quality battle between the two unequivocal best (Hard Court) men’s players in the game right now.
The same can be said about Saturday’s Women’s Final, as it features a rematch of the 2020 US Open Semifinal between third-seeded Naomi Osaka and twenty-second seeded Jennifer Brady. Osaka enters the final on a 20-match win streak of her own, and has looked dominant throughout her run in Melbourne. She has not lost a WTA Tour match in more than a year, and has dropped only one set in her six victories at this event.
Though Osaka carries a significant experience advantage over Brady on paper (this will be Osaka’s 4th Final in the last 9 majors vs. Brady’s 1st ever), perhaps the only player as hot as Osaka since the WTA Tour’s resumption last August has been Jennifer Brady. Brady carries a 22-6 overall record since that date, and has now reached the semifinals or better at back-to-back Hard Court slams.
While she’s dropped sets in her past two matches, Brady’s power-centric gamestyle and go-for-broke mentality are two significant prerequisites needed to pull off an upset against Osaka. Osaka certainly enters the match as the heavy favorite, but it would be naive to look at the ranking/experience disparity between the two players and anticipate a blowout.
With all of that in mind, here are the most appetizing plays for the Australian Open Men’s and Women’s Singles Finals. To hear a more extensive breakdown of each Singles Final, checkout the Cracked Racquets’ Mini-Break Podcast previewing each match
It’s clearly the least sexy pick, but allow me to make the case for why both favorites will emerge as 2021 Australian Open Singles Champions.
Let’s start with the easier of the two: During her last 52 weeks of competition, Naomi Osaka has won 78.4% of her 1st serve points, 52.8% of her 2nd serve points, and held serve 87.1% of the time. For comparison, Serena Williams, unanimously considered the greatest server in the history of Women’s tennis, has averaged splits of 74.4%/49.7%/80.65% in those categories for her career. In her best statistical serving season (2012), Serena had splits of 78.8%/55.6%/85.3%.
In other words: Right now, Osaka is serving at a level equal to, or perhaps even better, than the highest level of the greatest server in women’s tennis history. She’s also won 20 consecutive matches, is 3-0 career in Grand Slam Finals, and just made a semifinal victory over Serena freaking Williams look like a walk-in-the-park for herself.
Jennifer Brady’s certainly no slouch, and possesses the sort of fire power on her serve/groundstrokes needed to make Osaka uncomfortable during the match. If Brady can put enough first serves in the box, she can absolutely keep pace with Osaka and continue to hold serve throughout the match. She’ll also certainly look to play aggressively and go for broke with big cuts on her return of serve. If she can land enough of them in the court, she can absolutely scrape out a break of the Osaka serve, and perhaps even steal a set.
Brady’s the real deal, and it should surprise no one to see her ascend to a Top 10 ranking at some point this season. However, both the eye-test and the analytics indicate that Naomi Osaka is in full control of her game right now. And, simply put, when that’s the case, there’s no one in the women’s game that can keep up with her.
As for the men’s match: it really is a pick ‘em sort of affair. I mentioned Medvedev’s current form in the intro, but a deep dive into the analytics reveal just how impressive he’s been during his past 52 weeks of competition.
During Medvedev’s 19-match win streak, he’s won 79.6% of his 1st serve points and has a hold percentage of 90.6%. John Isner, a man 6 inches taller than Medvedev and perhaps the most effective server in men’s tennis history, carries career splits of 78.6%/91.8%. Roger Federer, considered by many the greatest server in men’s tennis history, has 77.3%/88.8% career percentages.
Add in the fact that with a 35.1% break of serve percentage, Medvedev is currently breaking opponents serve at a higher rate than the career averages of Novak Djokovic (32.0%) and Rafael Nadal (33.4%), and you see the outlines of a player ready right now to solidify his spot at the top of the Men’s Tennis game and earn his first Grand Slam Title. Medvedev also beat Djokovic as recently as November, and with a 3-4 career H2H against Djokovic, will not lack the belief that so many others feel when facing off against Novak.
With all of that said, I just cannot convince myself to pick against Novak Djokovic in an Australian Open Singles Final. Djokovic is 8-0 (!!) in Australian Open Finals, and has captured the title in each of the last two seasons. He’s steadily improved with each match he’s played this event, and receives two full days off before the start of the final (due to weird Australian Open scheduling, Medvedev only gets one day off).
I will be absolutely shocked if Djokovic wins the match in straight sets, as Medvedev is playing too well, and has too broad of a skill set to allow Djokovic to run away with the match. I also sincerely believe that, should the match reach a 5th set, Medvedev’s first serve and relative health compared to Djokovic would give him an advantage at that stage of the match. However, I’ve seen Novak Djokovic achieve far too much success in Australia to pick against him now.
The Most Likely-Scenarios
I may like this bet more than anything else on the board today, and let me quickly explain why: Over the past 52 weeks of WTA Tour play, Tennis Abstract (The tennis equivalent of Basketball Reference) rates Osaka and Brady as the two most effective servers in the women’s game. Whether it be the percentage of the points they’ve won in their service games, percentage of the time they hold serve, or the percentage of points they’ve won on their 1st serves, Osaka and Brady are leaders in all three categories. They also rank 2nd (Osaka, 9.0%) and 4th (Brady, 8.4%) in Ace percentage, a statistic measuring what percentage of the time the serves they hit are aces.
Additionally, Osaka has averaged 7.33 aces per match during the course of the event, while Brady’s at 5.33. Add those two up, and you obviously get less than 13.5. HOWEVER, heading into their 2020 US Open SF matchup just 6 months ago, both players were averaging fewer aces per match during that event than they are now, yet they combined for 19 total aces in that 2020 affair.
It’s an unquantifiable metric, but we all know prop bets make every gambling experience at least 10% more fun. Trust me when I say, this will be a fun prop to root for.
Set with the Most Games in the Women’s Final: 2nd set (+140), 1 unit to win 1.40
For any first-time Grand Slam finalist, the first 20 minutes of the match are a complete mess. And even on her best days, in a match without the pressures of a Grand Slam final, Jennifer Brady produces a ton of unforced errors. I do expect Brady to come out a bit sloppy/nervous at the start of this match, but eventually find her rhythm as things begin to progress. Her serve is too powerful, and she puts too much pressure on her opponents, to roll over easily against Osaka.
However, with that in mind, given that I think Osaka will win the match in straight sets, but Jennifer Brady will get better as the match progresses, logic dictates that the 2nd set will be the most competitive set of the match. At +140 odds, that logic works for me.
To hear more about the logic behind these picks, tune into my daily Cracked Racquets GSP: Ace of the Day segment, a series singularly focused on negotiating the many wagering opportunities happening every day in the sport. Also, if you’re interested in hearing recaps of each day’s Australian Open results or feel inspired to start following tennis more closely, tune into our Cracked Racquets “The Mini-Break Podcast” wherever you listen to your podcasts or follow @crackedracquets on social media.
Alex Gruskin is the Editor-In-Chief of Cracked Racquets and host of the “Ace of the Day” segment on the Great Shot Podcast – a Tennis Channel Podcast – which breaks down daily tennis prop bets, picks and parlays.