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Monday, 12 November, 2018

Grigor Dimitrov ready to make Grand Slam breakthrough

Del Potro is a threat in fourth quarter

Grigor Dimitrov lost to Rafa Nadal in the 2017 semi-finals
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Men's tournament preview
Eurosport 1 & 2, from midnight Sunday

Champion’s top tip
Grigor Dimitrov 11-1
The 2017 Australian Open will forever be remembered as the start of Roger Federer’s renaissance. The Swiss maestro was sent off a 25-1 shot for Melbourne glory in a market dominated by Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic but he defied the odds to claim his 18th Grand Slam title when defeating Rafael Nadal in a five-set epic.

Fast forward 12 months and Federer heads the betting with Nadal a well-supported second-favourite following a golden year which saw them share two Grand Slams apiece. But will their dominance continue in 2018?

Federer’s claims are obvious as he bids to retain the title. Injuries have tormented the best players on the ATP circuit over the last few months but the 36-year-old, a midsummer back injury aside, has proved immune to those problems despite his advancing years.

But perhaps he shouldn’t be so short in a field that contains a number of potential surprise packages. The Swiss was sent off a 9-4 favourite when winning Wimbledon last year and is set to go off at skinnier odds in Melbourne so he's worth taking on at the prices.

Nadal is not a solid option either. Old knee issues have resurfaced for Rafa recently and his famed movement is likely to be compromised if he’s not at 100 per cent. The draw has been kind to the 31-year-old but, with question marks over his fitness, Nadal is no certainty to make the final this time.

Djokovic looks set to play but the Serb has been plagued by an elbow problem since Wimbledon. The six-time Melbourne champ has been forced to remodel his service action to protect the injury and that, coupled with a lack of match fitness, looks likely to be the downfall of a player who has built a career out of running opponents off the court.

Grigor Dimitrov finished the best season of his career with a victory at the World Tour Finals and the flashy Bulgarian now has to step up and prove that he is ready to become a Grand Slam champion. This could be his best chance.

The 26-year-old won the Cincinnati Masters before taking London glory and has looked a much more complete player since teaming up with coach Dani Vallverdu halfway through the 2016 season.

A run to the semi-finals of the Australian Open last year gave the clearest indicator yet that Dimitrov has what it takes to be triumphant at the top level and he came so close to beating Nadal in a classic match.

Dimitrov returned to defend his Brisbane International title at the beginning of this season and was lacking in match sharpness before losing in the semi-finals against Nick Kyrgios. But the Bulgarian, drawn in the second quarter alongside Kyrgios in Melbourne, improved as the tournament went on and will hope to turn the tables if they meet again in the fourth round.

Aussie star Kyrgios is brilliant but fragile both physically and mentally and two weeks of best-of-five-sets tennis could prove beyond him.

Next best
Juan Martin del Potro 20-1
Juan Martin del Potro was beaten by Roberto Bautista Agut in the final of the Auckland classic on Saturday morning but the crowd favourite could go one better in Melbourne this week.

The giant Argentinian’s New Zealand trip demonstrated that he is healthy and that, more than anything, is the key to Delpo having a successful fortnight in Australia.

The Tower of Tandil has not played the first Slam of the year since 2014 due to recurring wrist complaints and just turning up in Australia is a statement.

Other players on the circuit fear Del Potro. His enormous forehand can wipe even the best players off the court, as it did when he knocked Federer out of the US Open last year.

Like Federer, he's drawn in the fourth quarter and is arguably the biggest threat to the 19-time Grand Slam hero. Delpo is adored by crowds around the world and can repay his fans' faith by going deep at a decent price.

Other selection
T Kokkinakis to win third quarter 66-1
The third quarter looks wide open and while others have stronger claims for a semi-final spot, it could be worth chancing Thanasi Kokkinakis at a big price.

The Aussie had the early part of his career wrecked by injuries and even considered retirement but recent signs have been encouraging for the 21-year-old, who opens up against potentially-fatigued Sydney champ Daniil Medvedev.

Kokkinakis downed Alexander Zverev, who is also drawn in the third quarter, in the Hopman Cup in the opening week of the season and there’s plenty of improvement to come if he can manage his fitness. The home hope could spring a surprise to delight the Melbourne crowd.

Others to note
Alexander Zverev Immensely talented but fell away after the North American swing and is yet to show his best form at Grand Slams. He must prove that he has the mental strength to cope on the biggest stages.

Dominic Thiem Drawn in that tricky third quarter but the winter break could have revitalised a player whose busy schedule has been widely criticised.

Stan Wawrinka Won his first Grand Slam title in Melbourne but, like Djokovic, will probably be short of match fitness on return from a spell on the sidelines.

David Goffin One of the most consistent players on tour but drawn in the same quarter as Federer and Del Potro.

Marin Cilic Capable of having a big fortnight if he’s in the right place mentally.

Recommendations
G Dimitrov
2pts each-way 11-1 Betfair, Paddy Power, Sky Bet
J M del Potro
1pt each-way 20-1 Betfair, BoyleSports, Paddy Power
T Kokkinakis to win third quarter

1pt 66-1 BoyleSports


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Federer was sent off a 9-4 favourite when winning Wimbledon last year and is set to go off at skinnier odds in Melbourne
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