Australian Open Predictions & Tips

Hannah Wilks:

The 2021 Australian Open takes place from 18-31 January in Melbourne, Australia as Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Naomi Osaka, Rafael Nadal and Ashleigh Barty lead the field.

Australian Open 2021 Predictions

It’s traditionally known as the ‘Happy Slam’, but the 2021 Australian Open might not be its usual ebullient self thanks to the travel restrictions and quarantine enforcement of the global health crisis.

But organizers, led by tournament director and Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley, are insistent that the 2021 Australian Open will take place as planned at its traditional venue of Melbourne Park from 18-31 January. And unlike other tournaments, the Australian Open has an advantage: As the first major of the season, players are able to travel to Australia in plenty of time to satisfy health requirements and compete in warm-up tournaments, which may even be relocated to Melbourne itself if border restrictions remain in force.

We can expect, as a result, something tennis hasn’t seen since the 2020 Australian Open: A full cast of the best players in the world competing at the same tournament, for one of the biggest prizes in the sport.

Now the undisputed greatest men’s champion in Australian Open history, Novak Djokovic returns to Melbourne in 2021 looking for his ninth singles title, as well as revenge on Rafael Nadal for the latter’s crushing victory over him in the French Open final. Roger Federer will be competing after an almost year-long absence from competition, while new US Open champion Dominic Thiem leads the pack of challengers jostling to unseat the ‘Big Three’.

On the women’s side, defending champion Sofia Kenin is joined by world no. 1 and home hope Ashleigh Barty and former winners Serena Williams, Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka.

Australian Open Men’s Predictions: Nine for Novak?

Winner of eight of the past 13 editions of the Australian Open and reigning world no. 1, Djokovic triumphed in 2020 when he defeated Federer in straight sets in the semifinals and Thiem in a titanic five-set final.

Djokovic would go through to the French Open final in September 2020 before losing a comleted match, only to be squashed 0-6, 2-6, 5-7 by Nadal – a match which the Spaniard admitted was partly revenge for the 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory for Djokovic in the 2019 Australian Open final.

With three months to lick his wounds and plot revenge, Djokovic should be expected to be more dangerous than ever at the 2021 edition of a tournament he’s increasingly made his own over the past decade and a half.

The GOAT Race: Federer and Nadal to do battle in Melbourne?

Last time Federer took most of a season off to undergo surgery and do rehab, he came back rejuvenated and defeated long-time nemesis Nadal in a spectacular Australian Open final in 2017. Will history repeat itself when the six-time winner comes back to Melbourne in 2021, now 40 and having not competed in 2020 after losing to Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinals in January?

Federer has more motivation than ever to come back restored after Nadal tied Federer’s all-time record of 20 Grand Slam titles by winning a thirteenth French Open in September 2020. One of the two could take the lead at the 2021 Australian Open – and prevent Djokovic, currently on 17, from closing the gap – and both men have made the finals two of the past four years in Melbourne, so it looks very likely we could see the titanic trio going head-to-head in the closing stages of the tournament once more.

Thiem’s time to Domi-nate at the Australian Open?

Dominic Thiem’s run to the final of the Australian Open in January 2020, when he defeated Nadal in the quarterfinals, Alexander Zverev in the semifinals and took Djokovic the distance in the final, was a significant step forward for the Austrian as he proved two things: That under the tutelage of Nicolas Massu, he could be as much of a force to be reckoned with on hard courts as he is on clay; and that he was not so much hammering on the door of the exclusive Grand Slam champions club as he was threatening to kick it down.

Fast-forward 12 months and Thiem will be returning to Melbourne as a Grand Slam champion, having won his maiden title at the US Open. With that monkey off his back and wins under his belt over Nadal and Djokovic in best-of-five, the Austrian with the brutal baseline power could batter his way into the closing stages of the Australian Open once again.

Zverev, Tsitsipas, Medvedev, Rublev: Time to Rise?

The one-time Next Gen have all showed signs of challenging for Grand Slam titles. Alexander Zverev, once a notorious best-of-five under-performer, reached the US Open final in 2020 and even served for the title before narrowly falling to Thiem. Temperamental Medvedev, the 2019 US Open runner-up, made it back to the semifinals in 2020. Stefanos Tsitsipas, whose initial breakthrough run came when he beat Federer on his way to the Australian Open semifinals in 2019, reached the final four at Roland Garros, and Andrey Rublev, whose rise was delayed by a back injury, has won four titles in 2020 at the time of writing as well as making Grand Slam quarterfinals in New York and Paris.

Defeating Nadal or Djokovic over the best-of-five sets has so far proved to be beyond them all, but time is on their side and the electric atmosphere (and sometimes brutal weather conditions) of the Australian Open have proved to be great levellers in the past.

Australian Open 2021 Men’s Tips

It isn’t quite the stranglehold that Nadal has established over Roland Garros, but it’s close: Djokovic has won eight of the past 13 Australian Opens – and like Nadal at the French Open, remains unbeaten in finals – and is currently the favourite to win in 2021 at 11/10 @ bet365.

Only Nadal was able to beat Djokovic in a completed match in 2020, and despite the truncated season, that’s still an incredibly impressive record. Nadal (6/1 @ Paddy Power) is the second favourite, partly because he did get that victory over Djokovic in such dominant fashion at the French Open and partly because, despite having not won the title since 2009, he has featured in a subsequent four Australian Open finals. Nadal has had some bad luck with injury in those finals, and been outplayed in others, but he keeps putting himself in position to challenge for the trophy.

A mark against Nadal however is that Thiem (7/1 @ SkyBet) has proven he can beat the Spaniard on hard courts over the best-of-five sets. After his run to the Australian Open final and his US Open victory in 2020, Thiem will be seen as almost as big an ‘X-factor’ in terms of where he lands in the draw as Federer; at the very least, the Austrian can be relied upon to drain the energy reserves of whichever of Nadal and Djokovic he should meet in the semifinals.

Despite a slightly disappointing 2020 season, Daniil Medvedev (7/1 @ SkyBet) is being considered as much of a favourite for the Australian Open title as Thiem, a testament to the perceived danger the lanky Russian with the grinding game and unexpectedly big serve poses to the top players. The 2019 US Open runner-up has beaten Djokovic more than once, but not in best-of-five, and he’s never beaten Nadal or Federer, however; he also has a poor record against Thiem. It’s much more of a stretch to see Medvedev winning the title than it is to see Thiem. It’s a considerably bigger stretch to see Alexander Zverev (30/1 @ 888Sport) winning the title after his nervy performance in the US Open final, even if by some miracle he doesn’t have to play a member of the Big Three; Stefanos Tsitsipas (17/1 @ Unibet) hasn’t proved he can make an impact on Nadal or Djokovic over best-of-five.

The biggest wildcard in all of this is Federer (10/1 @ SkyBet). The Swiss has proved that he can come back from a lengthy injury lay-off not just as good as, but better than ever; he did so in 2017 when he won the Australian Open and Wimbledon to boot. But there’s a big difference between 37 and 40, even for the all-time Grand Slam title leader; you can squint and imagine him beating Medvedev, Thiem, even Nadal perhaps, but not Djokovic. It’s difficult to envision anyone in the field beating Djokovic, and that’s why he’s justifiably the favourite once more.

 Australian Open Women’s Predictions: We Need To Talk About Kenin

The tenacious American became the WTA Tour’s latest Grand Slam singles champion when she beat Coco Gauff, Ashleigh Barty and Garbine Muguruza to claim the Australian Open title in 2020 – and lest anybody think that was a fluke, Kenin then went on to reach the final of the French Open where she finished runner-up to Iga Swiatek.

Kenin had a soft draw at Roland Garros, but she’s shown that she can be relied upon not to mess up if the draw opens up for her, and that’s an important quality in women’s tennis in these uncertain times. Her counterpunching game is also well-placed to neutralise big hitters like Muguruza and Petra Kvitova. How she will handle being the defending champion is less certain, but she’s someone not to forget about despite the presence of flashier players.

Another USO/AO Double for Osaka?

Last time Naomi Osaka won the US Open, she went on to win the Australian Open the following January, battling her way through a series of three-set matches before defeating Petra Kvitova in the final.

Osaka’s attempt to defend her Australian Open title in 2020 did not impress – she lost limply to Coco Gauff in the third round – but the Japanese-Haitian player returned from the lengthy shutdown later in the season fired up and claimed her third Grand Slam title in New York, defeating a resurgent Victoria Azarenka in the final.

The conditions in Melbourne suit Osaka, currently much more at home on hard courts than on any other surface, down to the ground, and her big power game combined with athleticism remains a devastating and almost unbeatable formula for success when she gets on a roll.

Serena Williams: Stuck at Seven Australian Open Titles?

The 23-time Grand Slam champion is not among the top favourites for the Australian Open 2021 title, but she cannot be counted out completely nor excluded from the discussion.

Now 40 like Federer, Williams has yet to win a major since returning from maternity leave – her final Grand Slam came at the 2017 Australian Open – and although she has made four subsequent Grand Slam finals, none of them have been in Melbourne, where she fell in the 2019 quarterfinals to Karolina Pliskova and in an error-strewn third-round clash with Wang Qiang in 2020.

Williams’s greatest oponent now is her own body and fitness issues, and it looks increasingly unlikely she will be able to overcome them in Melbourne in January 2021.

Barty leads Strong Flock of Other Australian Open Contenders

Unlike the slim pickings in men’s tennis, the women’s Australian Open field is replete with potential challengers, led by world no. 1 Ashleigh Barty.

Barty did not defend her French Open title in 2020 and indeed sat out the remainder of the season after an 11-3 start to the year which included a run to the Australian Open semifinals, so she is certain to be much rustier than most other competitors after a lengthy lay-off which may affect her chances of becoming the first homegrown champion since Evonne Goolagong Cawley.

Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and Garbine Muguruza have all made Australian Open finals in recent years and been unable to lift the trophy, and will be among key contenders at the 2021 edition of the tournament – all three made a Grand Slam semifinal or better in 2020.

French Open champion Iga Swiatek will also be among the favourites, as will 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, who did not play at all in 2020 but has proved that she has a good record at coming back from lengthy periods of injury to win big titles.

Australian Open 2021 Women’s Tips

With women’s tennis so much more wide open than the men’s – 21 different women have won major titles in the past decade, with four women winning their maiden major title at the Australian Open – there are plenty of opportunities to win big even when backing one of the favourites.

World no. 1 Ashleigh Barty (9/1 @ bet365) and three-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka (9/1 @ 888 Sport) are currently joint favourites for the Australian Open 2021 title, and of the two, Osaka looks the much better bet. When the 2021 Australian Open begins on 18 January, Barty will have played, at best, two WTA Tour events since the previous February. The Australian prefers a lot of matches to get her rhythm, especially with her forehand at times so erratic, and she will also be under huge pressure to win her ‘home’ Slam.

Osaka, on the other hand, may have only played in the USA post-shutdown in 2020, but her results there were brilliant and she seems increasingly settled and comfortable in her role as a top player. The conditions in Melbourne also suit her game, as we saw when she won the title in 2019, and she has the tools to beat simply any other player in the field if she is playing well.

That’s not something that can be said for defending champion Kenin (12/1 @ Unibet). The American is fundamentally a counter-puncher with a devastating down-the-line backhand return and a willingness to finish off the point with a swing volley, and she added the drop shot to her repertoire during her run to the French Open final. But she can absolutely be overpowered by a player with a more explosive game – as can Simona Halep (10/1 @ William Hill).

Halep, who did not get the chance to defend her Wimbledon title in 2020, was a finalist at the Australian Open in 2019 and the overwhelming favourite to win the French Open, but the way she was shocked by Iga Swiatek (who also beat Svitolina in the final) showed the limits to her counterpunching game that still remain.

The current status of Bianca Andreescu (10/1 @ Unibet), who did not play a single match in 2020, is too unknown to make any predictions about the Canadian’s chances of winning at the Australian Open in 2021 – we do not even know if she is likely to play. Iga Swiatek (14/1 @ 888 Sport) was superlatively good at the French Open, but remains a raw competitor and an unknown quantity at just 19. Seven-time champion Serena Williams (13/1 @ 888 Sport) is likely to play at this point, but Williams has increasingly struggled with the demands of playing seven matches. A key point to watch out for when the draw comes out is whether Williams is in the side of the draw which will play quarter- and semifinals on back-to-back days; if she is, it will materially damage her chances of winning the title, and she is also certainly a threat to pull out with injury. Even though she remains the most dazzling power player in the game and gifted with the best serve the sport has ever known, Williams at 40 now looks vulnerable every time she takes the court – and the rest of the field knows it.

*All odds correct as of 17.27 BST on 19/10/2020