Women’s Australian Open final, Saturday February 20

Jennifer Brady v Naomi Osaka (0830 GMT)

Having won her last 20 matches and now facing a first-time Grand Slam finalist, it’s no wonder Osaka is priced up a hot 2/9 favourite to win Saturday’s Australian Open women’s final.

The rankings might not say it, but the Japanese is the world’s best player right now and it seems unlikely she’ll slip up here.

Osaka has a proven track record of producing her best tennis when it’s needed and her record of having never lost a match in the second week of a Slam says much.

She impressed when dismissing Serena Williams in the semi-finals with the 23-time Grand Slam winner’s power dealt with comfortably; her serve broken four times.

Brady will also doubtless look to hit through the third seed and I see this being a battle of first-strike tennis.

Brady basically admitted as much after her semi-final win, speaking of the need to be aggressive and control the points. “I don’t want to be running,” was the key line.

Of course, Brady is not without hope.Garbine Muguruza went toe-to-toe with Osaka in the last 16 and was the better player for much of the contest. But she failed to take two match points in the final set as Osaka stepped things up, refusing to wilt.

Brady also brings the knowledge that she pushed Osaka all the way in last year’s US Open semi-finals, eventually losing 6-3 in the third set. That was their second tour-level meeting, Osaka also winning the other, on clay, in Charleston in 2018.

Brady lost her serve just once on that night in New York with the match being regarded as one of the best of 2020.

That service weapon, coupled with a big forehand, has the potential to damage Osaka, while it has also looked in Melbourne like her backhand has improved since that clash last September.

If Brady can perform at that level, this will certainly be closer than the odds suggest and therefore there’s potential value in her 4/1 price.

However, what she doesn’t bring to the table here is the experience of a Grand Slam final and up against a player who has played three (and won three) that is significant.

We’ve seen plenty wilt in these circumstances in the past – think Madison Keys at the 2017 US Open.

Perhaps that’s a negative way to look at things but Brady herself admitted nerves were an issue in her semi-final win over Karolina Muchova when she struggled to get over the line. I’d certainly be worried about a repeat if she gets close to the winning line in this one.

She also said she was guaranteed to be nervous at the start of this match and it’s not hard to see Osaka jumping into an early lead.

This factor is certainly enough to steer me away from backing Brady again – regular readers will know she’s already delivered a profit for my ante-post preview which put her up at 40/1 each-way.

While Brady is not without a chance, I do expect Osaka – the better all-round player – to win this but with the Japanese so short, what’s the best way of backing her?

Even in the set betting, Osaka is only 4/7 to win 2-0.

She’s 5/4 to win in under 19.5 games which doesn’t look too bad, although it’s the sort of bet which relies in part on the coin toss.

With serve likely to hold sway for much of the match – there were only two breaks in that US Open semi-final – Brady serving first opens up the possibility of a 6-4 6-4 Osaka win which would be an agonising way to lose.

Instead I’ll back UNDER 20.5 GAMES at 4/5, a bet which also leaves open the possibility of Brady blasting her way through Osaka’s defences.

Osaka revealed her big priority during the off-season was improving her returns and she’s certainly been able to trouble every opponent on that front so far.

Brady’s big delivery will be another test but one I suspect she’ll be able to pass.

Brady was unable to dominate Muchova and Jessica Pegula in the last two rounds and I believe she’ll need to get her first-serve percentage up around 60 per cent if she’s to win this – something she’s struggled to do so far. If she doesn’t, Osaka looks sure to get stuck into her second serve.

That said, it’s not impossible that Brady will be able to keep Osaka pegged back with the serve, as she did in New York last year.

On that occasion, there were NO BREAKS OF SERVE IN THE OPENING SET and with conditions quicker in Melbourne, it would be foolish to rule out a repeat.

Sky Bet appear to have done so though, pricing the possibility up at 50/1 (found under ‘RequestABet specials’).

Yes, it’s a rarity in women’s tennis but given it happened in literally their last meeting – a match which saw just two breaks of serve in three sets and only six break points in total – I can’t resist a small nibble at that price.

Posted at 1420 GMT on 19/02/21

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