The big question on the men’s side coming into this year’s Australian Open was if the “Big Three” would continue their dominance in Grand Slams, or if the “Next Generation” would be able to breakthrough. With our two semifinal pairings, we will get to find out. The finals will be a matchup of a “Big Three” member against a younger “up and comer.” Let’s take a look at who has the advantage in each semifinal.
Here are the best bets for the Men’s Australian Open semifinal round. (odds courtesy of FanDuel)
#3 Roger Federer (+600) vs. #2 Novak Djokovic (-850)
Tennis fans are treated to a semifinal between two of the best to ever play the game. Roger Federer continues his attempt to tie Novak Djokovic’s seven career Australian Open titles. Between the two of them, they have won 36 Grand Slams and 13 Australian Opens combined. However, their paths to get to this round could not be more different.
Roger Federer has labored through his first five matches of the tournament. Though he has yet to face a seeded opponent, he has been pushed to five sets twice thus far. He has played as many five-set matches as matches won in straight sets, which is highly unusual for a player of Federer’s caliber. Federer needed a fifth-set tiebreaker to defeat Aussie John Millman. His latest match was his best Houdini-like performance yet. Federer saved seven match points in the fourth set, en route to a grueling five-set victory over Tennys Sandgren. Federer was hampered by a tight groin throughout the match. He left to receive treatment in the third set, and clearly was not 100% the rest of the match. His average velocity on his serve was way down and culminated in just five total aces throughout the five sets.
Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic has cruised through his first five matches in Melbourne. He has dropped just one set though he has faced a much tougher draw than Federer. Since dropping the third set in his first match to Jan-Lennard Struff, Djokovic has beaten Tatsuma Ito, Yoshihito Nishioka, 14th seeded Diego Schwartzman and 32nd seeded Milos Raonic all in straight sets. Perhaps even more impressive is in his 13 consecutive sets won, he has needed a tiebreak to win the set only once. Djokovic has won 15 of the last 36 Grand Slam events and is the overwhelming favorite to make it 16 of 37.
Given how hampered Federer appears at the moment and how much more tennis he has had to play in the last two weeks, Djokovic winning seems all but a foregone conclusion. However, odds of -850 are way too steep to lay. To get creative, the odds that Djokovic will win in straight sets are much more enticing. Djokovic’s serve looks untouchable at the moment, and his return game is in top form. Djokovic has beaten Federer in four of their last five matches, including their last five meetings in Grand Slams. Look for the fresher Djokovic to continue his dominance, beating Federer in straight sets.
PICK: Djokovic to beat Federer in straight sets (-105)
#7 Alexander Zverev (+164) vs. #5 Dominic Thiem (-194)
It was argued before the tournament started that Alexander Zverev was not in his best form. He was considered a big underdog to even make it out of his own quarter, as he was on a collision course to face Daniil Medvedev. Medvedev was upset by Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round, which is the same player Zverev easily disposed of in the quarterfinals. Zverev lost the first set to Wawrinka, then cruised in the next three to advance to the semifinals. That first set was the only one he has lost all tournament. Zverev has been forced to just two tiebreaks in the 15 sets he has won. His path has been tough, but he has made it look easy.
Dominic Thiem’s path to the semifinals has been an interesting one. It can be argued that he had more trouble in his first three matches than he has in his last two. His last two wins have come against tenth seeded Gael Monfils and top seeded Rafael Nadal. In these two matches, he dropped just one total set. However, Thiem was pushed to five sets in the second round by Australian Alex Bolt, and dropped another set to American Taylor Fritz in the third round. Thiem has been returning serve beautifully all tournament. He was able to withstand a comeback by Nadal last round after breaking him three times in the match.
With such a tight turnaround before the semifinals are played, the more fit player will have a huge advantage. In addition, the player who has been on the court less will throughout the tournament will likely have fresher legs and more stamina. That advantage goes to the 22-year-old Zverev. Having played just one more set than he should have, he will be energized and ready for this match.
Zverev’s serve has been dominant all tournament, never having a first-serve percentage lower than 74%. One advantage Thiem has is that he has been to two Grand Slam finals, whereas this is Zverev’s first-ever Grand Slam semifinal. Thus, nerves could play a part early on for Zverev. However, as he showed against Wawrinka, once he gets settled in his game right now is tough to beat. Zverev would be wise to keep away from Thiem’s forehand and expose the other areas of his game. The other thing I worry about for Thiem is if there will be a hangover effect after beating a player the caliber of Nadal. Defeating a proven champion like Nadal requires extreme focus and concentration. Thus, Thiem could be suffering from as much mental exhaustion as physical.
If Zverev can overcome the early nerves on the big stage, he should have enough to triumph over Thiem on a surface he is more comfortable on.
PICK: Zverev (+164)