Dimitrov the danger man Down Under

The mercurial Roger Federer is a piping hot favourite with the bookies to retain the Australian Open crown he won in Melbourne last year, with the Swiss maestro shorter than 2/1 for glory.

That’s an incredible price given that Federer is the grand old man of the ATP Tour these days at 36. Yet it’s a price that has everything to do with the fact the 19-time Grand Slam champion has arguably the most complete game the sport has ever seen.

He also won all four singles matches during Switzerland’s successful Hopman Cup campaign last week so it’s easy to see why the layers want to keep him onside. 19/10 looks plenty short though about a man whose peak was undeniably a decade or so ago and it’s not a price that sets the pulses racing.

He’s in a tough looking half of the draw too with the likes of David Goffin, Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic lurking.

Djokovic will have his backers having already won an amazing six Australian Open titles. His odds however are drifting like a barge after being forced to take the second half of 2017 off through injury.  The Serb spent over four months without even being able to hit a ball in anger after surgery on his elbow and despite a fine record at Melbourne Park looks one to swerve.

Zverev enjoyed a seismic rise up the ATP rankings last year and is being touted already as a future world number one. A pounding serve and a blistering forehand makes him easy on the eye but his record against the game’s truly elite players does not yet stand up to scrutiny and his moment might not be yet.

One player who the stars could be aligning for, however, is Grigor Dimitrov. His surge back up the rankings last season was one of the stories of the year and he truly now looks to be playing at the very peak of his powers.

Previously, when his forehand was off, Dimitrov could get down on himself and lose focus mentally. However there is an added mental toughness to his game these days and this, allied to his astonishing athleticism and mesmeric single-handed backhand makes him a serious player over the next two weeks.

His form line is good too. Last year he went all the way to the last four and was very unlucky to lose to Rafael Nadal in five, titanic sets here.

However, he shrugged that disappointment off to record his best year on the Tour. He didn’t quite get over the line in terms of winning a Major but won the ATP Tour Finals and a Masters Series in Cincinnati.

So what changed for the player nicknamed ‘Baby Fed’ in 2017? Well he was obviously helped by injuries to the likes of Djokovic and Andy Murray but he also became far more consistent.

Dimitrov just seems to play the big points better these days and his ATP Finals win in London at the back end of last year will have done wonders for his confidence. He is in the same half of the draw as Nadal, who if rumours are to be believed may not be fully fit. And Dimitrov won’t be losing much sleep at the prospect of facing the likes of Marin Cilic, Jack Sock and Nick Kyrgios, who are also in his half.

Kyrgios has talent to burn and on his day has the game to take down absolutely anyone. Indeed just last week he won his first ever ATP title on home soil so has to be respected. However, the Aussie firebrand is as well known for his on-court meltdowns than he is for serving aces and the fact he didn’t make it past the second round of a Major last season tells its own story.

If you are looking for a big price outsider though Juan Martin Del Potro fits the bill. He may be in the same quarter as Federer but he is one of the few players who doesn’t fear the Swiss when he is healthy and firing.

Del Potro has been terribly unlucky with injuries in recent years but looks to be fit again and proved as much by winning the Auckland Classic on Wednesday. If the big Argentine brings his ‘A Game’ he could make a mockery of current 10/1 odds.

Bilko’s Banker: Grigor Dimitrov to win the Australian Open at 10/1 (Bet Victor)
Best of the Rest: Juan Martin Del Potro to win the Australian Open at 20/1 (Paddy Power)

By Deggsy Bilton