Gambler's Corner: The heat is on for the year's first tennis slam

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The Independent Online

It's been stormy in Australia and the weather's not been good either. As the great cricket row rumbled on, torrential rains hit the east coast. The organisers of the Australian Open, the first tennis slam of the year, will hope for Melbourne's usual climate – 40C, with matching humidity.

These conditions are tough, so surprises crop up. The likes of Marat Safin (2005), Thomas Johansson (2002), Yevgeny Kafelnikov (1999) and Petr Korda (1998) – all stamina-laden types – did the bookies a favour. Roger Federer (8-13 favourite) has won three of the last four championships but a stomach virus is not ideal preparation. The alternatives are the Argentine David Nalbandian (pictured, 10-1, Paddy Power) and Spaniard David Ferrer (25-1) both of whom ended 2007 in prime form. Neither will mind the heat.

The women's tournament is headed by Justine Henin (5-4, totesport), who won it in 2004. Her big threat will be three-time champion Serena Williams (5-1).

In America, three of our selections won through to the NFL divisional play-offs. Jacksonville now face the unbeaten Patriots but are worth a nibble on the handicap (11-10 + 11.5 pts, Ladbrokes); San Diego (7-2) won at Indianapolis in the regular season; and the Giants (11-4) could trouble an out-of-sorts Dallas. Elsewhere, Seattle should be frozen out at Green Bay (1-4), where it's 40 degrees colder than Melbourne.

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