Australian Open Betting: Who will be this year's Dark Horse?


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Dec 2, 2008
Australian Open Betting: Who will be this year's Dark Horse?


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The first major of the season seems to throw up more surprises than other Grand Slams and, if the last three years are anything to go by, another 'dark horse' could ride all the way to the final of the Australian Open a fortnight on Sunday, writes Barry Millns.

Against the odds Marcus Baghdatis, Fernando Gonzalez and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took it in turns to get a crack at the Australian Open title and, although they all came off second best in the end, their sensational runs in Melbourne are evidence of what is possible for rank outsiders.

Okay, Gonzalez was ranked No.9 in the world when he entered the draw in 2007. But Baghdatis was ranked No.54 twelve months previously and Tsonga was ranked No.38 this time last year.

In fact, over the last 10 years Melbourne has seen four other players ranked outside the Top 16 make it all the way to their solitary Grand Slam singles final. Thomas Enqvist in 1999, Arnaud Clement in 2001 and Rainer Schuettler in 2003 were all runners-up while Thomas Johansson was victorious in 2002 when ranked 18th in the world.

Although the French Open has also produced some surprise finalists and even champions in recent years, the first major of the season does seem to come up with more than the rest. But is it possible to determine why?
Coming hot on the heels of the Christmas break and just two weeks into the new season some players find it harder than others to get back into top gear. Travelling to Australia (even in first class) and adjusting to the significant time change, for most who take part, certainly has a bearing.

For many getting match-tough again after a five or six-week break takes time and if they haven't worked hard enough on their pre-season fitness they can quickly be found wanting. That is even more the case in the brutal conditions in Melbourne, which invariably feels like a furnace at this time of year and which can also be subjected to all four seasons in a day depending which way the wind is blowing (from the desert or the Antarctic)!

Looking back at those I've mentioned there is no hard and fast rule about which tournaments to play in beforehand or whether their results in those necessarily pointed to what followed. While Enqvist won the first tournament of the year in Adelaide, Gonzalez did not compete until her arrived in Melbourne and last year Tsonga made the semi-finals in Adelaide only to lose first round in Sydney.

As the main draw for this year's Australian Open is not made until Friday, right now picking three 'dark horses' outside the top six in the betting who could go far in the fortnight is fraught with danger. But at the risk of them all falling at the first let me suggest Juan Martin Del Potro currently trading at 65.0, Marin Cilic 240.00 and, at a very long shot, Kei Nishikori 450.00.

Although his two previous visits have ended with second round retirements, Del Potro's second half of last season helped him break into the Top 10. Currently ranked ninth, the Argentine's strong seeding should help him through the early rounds. He is certainly hungry to succeed, as he said this week in Auckland: "I learned many things in the last year's big tournaments, and my goal now is to get to the final in Australia," he said. "I still have many things to improve, but I feel ready to win the Open. I don't know if I'll be able to do it in 2009 or the following year".

Cilic started his season in style
by winning Chennai and will also be seeded having reached a career-high ranking of 20. Coached by the canny Australian Bob Brett many are expecting great things of the level-headed young Croat and few will want to face him early on.

As for Nishikori, who only turned 19 after Christmas, it is asking an awful lot of the likeable Japanese to deliver on his debut ranked at a career-high No.59, especially as he pulled up during his first round match this week in Auckland with a sore right forearm! But he said he should be fit for the Open and if he is, then, at an event which prides itself on being the Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific, support could surge behind him should he produce some early fireworks.

Tottenham's woes continued when Wigan scored in the 91st minute to crush the north Londoners.

Wigan were backed at a high of 12.5 to win the match, with the final score backed at 15.0.

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