By Andrew Robinson
Reigning champion Andy Murray faces local hero John Millman on Thursday as the ATP Brisbane International kicks off the 2013 tennis season ahead of the Australian Open on January 14.
Millman (23) is a rising star on the Aussie circuit given a wildcard into the Australian Open after taking his ranking from 541 to 199 in the past 12 months.
Top seed Murray – who broke his Grand Slam duck in the US Open last season is 11/5 second favourite with Paddy Power in the first tennis Major of the season in two weeks time.
The Scot won this tournament on debut last year – his 22nd ATP event to go alongside his London 2012 Olympic gold medal and US Open title – beating this year’s fourth seed Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-1, 6-3 in the final.
The World No.3 has spent the off-season training in Miami and said:
I probably just feel a little bit more relaxed maybe the last few weeks than I normally do a few weeks out from a Grand Slam. I prepared very well in Miami and trained hard to get myself ready for the new season, and I hope can be successful here.
Canadian Milos Raonic is the No 2 seed in Brisbane and faces Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov while French No. 3 seed Gilles Simon will play Marcos Baghdatis in the semi-final.
Australian Open: Men’s draw
Despite 2009 winner Rafa Nadal (26) crying off with a virus – the competition in Melbourne is going to be fierce.
Defending champion and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has put his court jokes and mimicry behind and established himself as the best player in the world. Paddy Power make the Serbian their 5/4f to make it three Aussie Opens out of three while the evergreen Roger Federer will have his supporters at 4/1.
Japan’s biggest tennis export Kei ‘Special Kei’ Nishikori could be the surprise package this season. The Japanese youngster got to the quarter-finals of the Aussie Open last season after beating – Jo Wilfried Tsonga – a 33/1 poke this time around – in the third round that was watched by 55 million in Japan.
The 23-year-old already has Djokovic’s scalp to his name and is targeting the Top 10 this year – from World No 19 – and is 150/1 for the Aussie Open with Paddy Power.
French Open champion and World No. 2 seed Maria Sharapova was forced to pull out of the Brisbane International to rest a collarbone injury ahead of the Women’s Australian Open on January 14.
Chief grunter Sharapova has a history of succeeding in major tournaments with little match practice and pulled out of the Brisbane tournament last year but went on to make the final of the Australian Open before losing to Victoria Azarenka.
The Belarusian World No. 1 is 7/2 to retain her title in Melbourne and the top seed and defending champion in the women’s draw is on course for a possible semi-final clash with Serena Williams in Brisbane.
Last season’s Wimbledon, Olympics and US Open champion Serena Williams recorded a straight sets win over Varvara Lepchenko earlier in the tournament and gave French world No.44 Alize Cornet a lesson with a 6-2 6-2 exhibition that lasted exactly an hour on Wednesday.
World No. 3 Williams (31) recorded a serve of 200kph (124mph) in the win over Cornet and is aiming to become the oldest World No. 1 since Chris Evert (30 years 11 months) in 1985. The American rolled her ankle in the tournament last season and will be determined to pick up the season’s opening Grand Slam to help in her quest to become World No.1 again.
Former World No.1 Caroline Wozniacki made a shaky start to the new WTA season with a shock defeat to Kazakhstan qualifier Ksenia Pervak (2-6 6-3 7-6) in the first round of the Brisbane International last Monday.
Cheered on by boyfriend and World No. 1 golfer Rory McIlroy – the Dane now heads to Sydney to get in some match practice ahead of the Australian Open where she’s a 33/1 shot.
China’s Li Na will look to her 2011 form – when winning the French Open and making it to the Australian Open final. At 18/1 with Paddy Power she could be a bit of value to lift the trophy if rediscovering her form of two seasons ago.
- Betting: WTA Brisbane International
- Betting: ATP Brisbane International
- Betting: Men’s Australian Open
- Betting: Ladies Australian Open