Jack Sock v Taylor Fritz
The big concern for Jack Sock backers has to be the withdrawal from his last match against Roberto Bautista Agut when clearly struggling with an illness. That match was in Aucklandon Saturday having felt the symptoms for the first time on Friday, but this First Round match takes place on Tuesday and the feeling is that Sock will be relatively close to 100% for the contest.
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He will need to be as the heat is expected to be soaring in Melbourne again and Sock had that scary looking retirement at the US Open back in September thanks to the tremendous heatwave that New York City was going through. This match is at least taking place last on Court 14 meaning Sock should be able to avoid the really hot part of the day and also have that additional time to make sure he is ready to compete following the illness last week.
Sock had been in decent form prior to that retirement in the Final and 2016 figures to be a career year for the American. He has to be aware that losing a match like this would be a big blow as he takes on Taylor Fritz who was the Number 1 Junior player on the Tour last year but is making his Grand Slam main draw debut at this level having come through three Qualifiers.
That will give Fritz some confidence as will his Challenger win at Happy Valley to open 2016, but he is yet to really bridge the gap between the Juniors and the Professional Tour. Fritz has a big serve and forehand, the American way, but he has to cope with the mental side of things of facing a player he might have admired from afar as well as his first best of five set match and a real increase in level of competition he is used to dealing with.
All of that figures to make life tough for Fritz if Sock is ready to go and I will back the Seeded player to overcome a few factors in this win.
HANDICA BETTING PICK: Jack Sock – 4.5 Games @ 1.90 with Pinnacle Sports
Lleyton Hewitt v James Duckworth
It is going to be the end of an era at the Australian Open at some point over the coming two weeks as Lleyton Hewitt calls time on a very successful career. He might regret not being able to get over the line and win the Australian Open, but a multiple Grand Slam winner has been nothing to regret and Hewitt will be heavily backed by his home crowd every time he steps on the court in the next fortnight.
That will make it tough for James Duckworth, who is also Australian, and I do wonder how he will cope in trying to knock off a legend and retire Hewitt. There is no doubting that Hewitt is not the player of old, but he can still produce some pretty good tennis and Duckworth is just 4-12 in main draw matches at Grand Slams in the past which suggests the veteran can delay the inevitable for at least one more Round.
Hewitt has played here nineteen times in his career and has actually been beaten in the First Round seven times so you can’t rule out the upset. His lack of competitive tennis in recent months is another factor and four of his seven opening Round defeats at the Australian Open have come in the last seven seasons.
However, I still think there is enough fire in the belly to beat a player like Duckworth who is Ranked outside the top 100 and whose consistency is perhaps not to the level to win a match like this where the mental pressures will be very much weighing on his mind. Some players can be inspired to play their best in those circumstances, but it is tough for a young Australian to be in a situation like this knowing a win would put out a fan favourite from the same nation.
Duckworth has spent time in the media admitting he will ‘apologise’ to Hewitt if he wins and he ‘dreads’ sending Hewitt into retirement. I am not sure that is going to be the right mental approach for Duckworth who might be caught in a bad spot where he fails to bring his best and I think Hewitt will get this done in either three or four sets.
HANDICAP BETTING PICK: Lleyton Hewitt – 1.5 Sets @ 2.10 with UNIBET
Prices correct at time of writing.