Australian Open Betting Preview: Djokovic, Murray, Serena favorites

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The two men who met for the 2016 Australian Open singles title are the co-favorites to win this year in Melbourne, as defending champion Novak Djokovic and runner-up Andy Murray are both listed at +150 (bet $100 to win $150) at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Murray beat Djokovic at the ATP World Tour Finals last November to take over the title as the top-ranked player in the world from his rival for the first time. Last year, Murray won Wimbledon and the gold medal in men’s singles at the Rio Olympics while Djokovic won the Australian Open and the French Open.

Stan Wawrinka upset Djokovic for the 2016 U.S. Open title, and he is the third choice to win the 2017 Australian Open at +1100 ahead of other contenders like Rafael Nadal (+1200), Milos Raonic (+1600) and Roger Federer (+1600). Nadal and Federer are former champions.

Wawrinka is the only other player besides Djokovic to win the men’s singles championship at Melbourne since Federer last won it in 2010 over Murray, who has been the runner-up in five of the previous seven years and gone more than three sets twice.

Federer is a four-time Australian Open champ and lost to Djokovic in one semifinal last year as the third seed while Raonic fell to Murray in the other semifinal.

On the women’s side, six-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams is the +200 betting favorite, but she has only one title in Melbourne over the past six years, with the last coming in 2015. Williams was upset last year by seventh-seeded Angelique Kerber, who won 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 for her first Grand Slam title.

Kerber followed that up by winning the U.S. Open last September after Williams fell in the semifinals to Karolina Pliskova.

Kerber is the +350 second choice on the tennis betting lines for the Australian Open while Pliskova, Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza are all +800. Halep reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne each of the last three years and is still seeking her first Grand Slam title. Muguruza won last year’s French Open for her first Grand Slam title, defeating Williams in straight sets.

The lone Grand Slam title for Williams in 2016 came at Wimbledon, which she has won seven times.

Serena falls to Pliskova in Aussie Open quarters

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Karolina Pliskova says her “mind was in the locker room” when she was down 5-1 in the third set of her Australian Open quarterfinal against 23-time major winner Serena Williams.

In one of the most stunning comebacks at the Australian Open, the seventh-seeded Pliskova saved four match points as she rallied to win the last six games to clinch a 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 victory and a semifinal spot against U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka.

“I didn’t have too many chances in the third set. I was a little bit too passive. Obviously mentally down,” Pliskova said. “So I just said, ‘Let’s try this game, on 5-2, maybe I’m going to have couple of chances.’

“She got a bit shaky at the end, so I took my chances, and I won.”

Pliskova’s win over the seven-time Australian Open titlist means there’ll be a first-time women’s champion at Melbourne Park this year.

In the other semifinal, two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova will play Danielle Collins, who had never won a Grand Slam match before this tournament. Kvitova’s best previous run at Melbourne was to the semifinals in 2012.

‘Barbecued chicken’: Tiafoe’s Australia run ended by Nadal

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal is back to feeling healthy. Probably not a coincidence that he’s back in the Australian Open semifinals.

Playing his familiar brand of court-covering, ball-bashing, opponent-frustrating tennis, Nadal claimed 20 of his first 23 service points and saved the only two break chances he faced, ending American Frances Tiafoe’s best Grand Slam run with a dominating 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory Tuesday night.

“I feel lucky to be where I am after all the things I went through,” said Nadal, who quit during his quarterfinal at Melbourne Park a year ago because of a right leg problem, again during his semifinal at the U.S. Open in September because of a painful right knee, and then had offseason surgery on his right ankle.

“Not easy situations,” he said, summing it up.

Nadal, 32, reached his 30th major semifinal and prevented Tiafoe from getting to his first, two days after he turned 21.

“I knew he was going to bring crazy intensity. I knew the ball was going to be jumping. I knew if he got hold of a forehand, it was going to be barbecued chicken,” Tiafoe said. “But point in, point out, I’ve never seen someone so locked in.”

The two hadn’t played each other before, though they did practice together at Roland Garros back in 2014, when Tiafoe was a teen in the junior competition.

Entering this year’s Australian Open, the 39th-ranked Tiafoe had never been past the third round at a major. But he knocked off two-time Slam runner-up Kevin Anderson and 20th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov on the way to the quarterfinals, drawing plenty of attention for his play – and his bare-chested, biceps-slapping celebrations inspired by LeBron James.

As usual, Tiafoe was animated and talkative Tuesday. He lamented missed shots with a self-admonishing “Oh, Frances!” He marked good ones with a shout of “Let’s go!”

But it all came to a screeching halt against Nadal, a 17-time major champion.

Tiafoe, who is from Maryland, was broken the initial time he served in each set, which was all Nadal needed, given how well he handled his own service games. He’s been reluctant to go into detail about a recent tweak he made to his serve, saying it’s “nothing drastic, nothing dramatic.”

He spoke after Tuesday’s win about going for winners on his first forehand following a serve, something he called “very important … at this stage of my career.”

Whatever he’s doing is working. And how. Nadal has won every set he’s played in the tournament, the first time he’s done that en route to the semifinals in Australia since 2009, the only time he won the championship.

“I am playing well,” he said. “I did a lot of things well during the whole week and a half.”

Now Nadal goes up against another opponent much younger than he is, 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas, who upset Roger Federer in the fourth round.

The 14th-seeded Tsitsipas became the first player from Greece to earn a semifinal berth at a major, beating No. 22 Roberto Bautista Agut 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2) earlier Tuesday.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Tsitsipas said about his matchup against Nadal. “I feel all right with my game. I feel like I can do something good against him.”

Asked about all of these kids trying to elbow their way to the top of tennis, Nadal smiled and said: “They can wait a little bit.”