Saturday, 28 March 2015

Miami Tennis Picks 2015 (March 28th)

The early matches managed to get through Miami, after a slight rain delay, but a lot of the later ones were unfortunately cancelled as the rain returned to Crandon Park. The next few days should be a lot better when it comes to the weather, but it also means Saturday is a packed schedule as the tournament looks to get back on track.

Victor Troicki v Simone Bolelli: After his long ban from the Tour, Victor Troicki made it very clear that his ambition was to try and get back into the top ten of the World Rankings, but he has hit a slight block on that path. Returning to within the top 40 is still very impressive, but Troicki needs to kick on again if he is to continue to move onwards and upwards.

Some disappointing losses over the last month of the season has curtailed his progress, but I am still surprised to see him set as the underdog in this match against Simone Bolelli. The Italian wasn't banned from the Tour, but had a serious loss of form that saw him taking part in a lot of Challenger events to rebuild confidence.

Bolelli has seemingly done that and could soon find himself overturning Troicki in the World Rankings and form guide is very similar between these two players. One aspect that might have made Bolelli the favourite here is his impressive First Round win over Marcos Baghdatis as well as Troicki's surprising early loss at Indian Wells, but I am not completely buying that.

They did play a close match in Sydney earlier this season and this is likely to be one that could go the distance too. However, I am not convinced Troicki should be the dog and will back him to win.

Jeremy Chardy - 2.5 games v Jurgen Melzer: Jeremy Chardy has not been in the best of form over the last month, but I still think the Frenchman should be too good for the veteran Jurgen Melzer who is seemingly slipping down the Rankings.

You have to respect how Melzer has played over the last couple of tournaments after qualifying for the tournament in Indian Wells and earning a strong looking win over Ryan Harrison in the First Round here. However, Melzer hasn't been producing that kind of level on a consistent basis and there is not the same bite on the serve nor the same athletic ability to get to the net to finish points off as a few seasons ago.

In saying that, Chardy will have to play a lot better than he has recently and all the losses he has suffered does have an impact on the Tour. His early defeat in Irving in a Challenger event last week would have been another disappointment and he could be vulnerable early in Miami too.

I still think he has more upside than Melzer these days and I believe Chardy can battle through to a 76, 64 win as long as he stays with the Austrian in the first set.

Grigor Dimitrov - 2.5 games v Vasek Pospisil: Vasek Pospisil had to dig deep to beat Juan Martin Del Potro in the First Round and he will have to raise his level if he is going to beat Grigor Dimitrov even if the latter has struggled in recent weeks.

Since the Australian Open, Dimitrov has been beaten by Gilles Muller, Ryan Harrison and Tommy Robredo and none of those players should really be capable of doing that against the Bulgarian who is on the brink of getting back into the top ten of the World Rankings. I can't put my finger on what is wrong with Dimitrov because a lot of his problems seem to come from complacency on the court or not being ruthless enough to put away opponents when they are on the ropes.

That's strange to say about someone who has played in Grand Slam Semi Finals, but I think Dimitrov can do enough to beat Pospisil in this one. As good as the Canadian's serve can be, I would expect Dimitrov to get enough balls back into play and I'd expect him to be the better player off the ground quite considerably.

Dimitrov has to serve better than he has to keep the pressure off himself, and I don't think he is far away from having a really strong tournament. Stay focused and Dimitrov should come through with a 76, 64 win against an opponent who has been beaten fairly comfortably by all the top 20 players he has played this season.

Alize Cornet + 3.5 games v Carla Suarez Navarro: One of the most improved players on the WTA Tour is Carla Suarez Navarro who is very close to breaking into the top ten in the World Rankings. I will openly tell you that I never thought the Spaniard would be able to pull her game to that level and get as close to doing that and she continues to surprise me which is a very good reason to have respect for what Suarez Navarro produces on a tennis court.

However, there is no doubting that a lot of her game is about outlasting opponents in rallies and producing consistent tennis rather than overpowering them and that gives opponents a chance to dictate points. On this occasion it might not matter as Alize Cornet is not a player that will look to power through Suarez Navarro and I think the match up could produce some very good tennis for viewers.

The match up has been a good one for Cornet in the past with three consecutive wins over Suarez Navarro including in two matches last season, although I do think the latter is markedly improved since then. Suarez Navarro has definitely been in the better form with a lot of wins produced over the last six weeks, but Cornet will have confidence of her own knowing she has got the better of this opponent in recent matches.

It looks like it could be a close, competitive match which will feature a lot of breaks of serve both ways. I'd guess that Suarez Navarro outlasts Cornet and snaps her losing run to the Frenchwoman, but this number of games could be tough for her to overcome.

Ekaterina Makarova - 4.5 games v Elina Svitolina: Ekaterina Makarova has always come across as something of an introvert and I think that showed on the tennis court when she would struggle for consistency. However, that has changed over the last eighteen months and Makarova looks comfortable in the top ten of the World Rankings.

Makarova is yet to have a really consistent run in a tournament since the Australian Open, but her losses have come against some of the very best players on the WTA Tour as well as one in Timea Bacsinszky who is in exceptional form.

I would expect the Russian to have a more productive time against Elina Svitolina who has shown she has the talent to progress up the World Rankings, although her consistency within matches is tough for her to maintain. That has been the case when Svitolina has faced the best players this season and she has lost a lot of those sets either 61 or 62 which will give Makarova every chance to surpass this spread.

Svitolina has lost those types of sets in matches she has even taken a set and her margin of losses against the top players have all been very wide. She has been beaten by Maria Sharapova (8 game margin), Makarova (5 game), Serena Williams (8 games), Petra Kvitova (4 games), Victoria Azarenka (7 games) and Timea Bacsinszky (8 games), but has taken a set in four of those matches.

This might be a similar case with Makarova coming through with a 63, 46, 61 win.

Venus Williams - 3.5 games v Sam Stosur: Venus Williams and Sam Stosur haven't played each other since 2012, but it is the American who remains in the better form and could increase her strong head to head record against Stosur.

Despite health issues and age perhaps getting the better of her, Venus Williams is still entrenched in the top 20 of the World Rankings and has been playing very well in 2015. There is some physical issues preventing her from really becoming a threat at Grand Slam level, but Williams is a very dangerous opponent because she can still rally and produce some exceptional tennis.

She will always be helped by the serve, when it is working, and I think she can keep the pressure on Sam Stosur in this one. The Australian is going to start slipping down the Rankings as her inconsistent results has meant she has yet to win two matches in a row in 2015.

Stosur's serve remains a weapon, but her groundies can be erratic at times and the backhand remains a significant weakness. I'd expect her to stay with Williams for a while in this one, but eventually I think Venus will get her eye in and force Stosur to win more points off the ground which could prove to be her undoing.

After a battle in the first set, I am looking for Venus Williams to progress to the Fourth Round with a 75, 63 win under her belt.

MY PICKS: Victor Troicki @ 2.10 Coral (2 Units)
Jeremy Chardy - 2.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov - 2.5 Games @ 1.73 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Alize Cornet + 3.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Ekaterina Makarova - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Venus Williams - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Adrian Mannarino - 2.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units) Already Advised
Fernando Verdasco - 3.5 Games @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units) Already Advised

Miami Update: 8-5, + 5.22 Units (26 Units Staked, + 20.08% Yield)

Friday, 27 March 2015

Euro 2016 Qualifiers Picks 2015 (March 27-29)

I am not a big fan of the international breaks, but the Euro 2016 Qualifiers are almost reaching very important times for some of the teams looking to make their way to France next summer. For the majority of the 'big' nations, it looks plain sailing, but teams like Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium have some work to do and games this weekend are very important for them to get back on track.

There is a range of games being played for television coverage over the next three days so you're bound to find some entertainment, but I can't wait to roll back with the Premier League next weekend.

England v Lithuania Pick: I don't think there is anything wrong in saying that England are not always the most entertaining team to watch and this game is not one that looks set to get the pulse racing for fans on a Friday night. The tension of qualification has almost gone thanks to wins over Switzerland and Slovenia and the additional places to qualify for the extended Euro 2016 tournament in France and attendances to England games have dropped.

All credit to Roy Hodgson for getting on with things, but the only way he will keep the media off his back is if England run out comfortable winners on Friday.

And they should do just that... Lithuania are not the best travellers and have found the best teams they have played to be far too good for them for the most part. Heavy losses in Bosnia and Switzerland over the last two qualifying campaigns suggest England shoul be routine winners, while England themselves have scored at least three goals in 5 of their last 6 qualifiers at Wembley Stadium.

In Harry Kane, England have someone in red-hot form and the home team should show the difference in levels between these teams and win by at least three goals I feel.

Kazakhstan v Iceland Pick: This is the kind of qualifier that Iceland have to circle as a 'must win' game if they have serious ambitions of qualifying for their first major international tournament, especially knowing they have to visit Turkey and the Netherlands later in the Group.

Kazakhstan are a competitive team, but they have struggled defensively which should mean Iceland have chances to score the goals to carry them to three points in this one. However, Kazakhstan have also scored against the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Turkey which makes them a danger to a team like Iceland who have to play pressure-free football.

I seriously considered backing Iceland on the Asian Handicap considering Kazakhstan have lost their last three games by two goals each, but the attacking threat the home team clearly has can't be under-estimated. They have scored in 7 of their last 13 home qualifiers and a fair few of those have come against teams of Iceland's level.

On the other hand, Kazakhstan have lost a lot of those games and backing both teams to score in a game Iceland win has to be worth a small interest.

Andorra v Bosnia and Herzegovina Pick: There is a lot of pressure on Bosnia and Herzegovina heading into this latest qualifier as another failure to win might be enough to put them out of the European Championship. They have had some disappointing results in the qualifiers so far, but this would be the ultimate embarrassment if they ended Andorra's run of 48 straight qualifier losses.

However, it has to be remembered that Andorra are unlikely to just roll over and play dead as the have troubled plenty of visitors to them in recent games. The fact remains that only 4 of 12 visitors have scored three or more goals against Andorra, although Bosnia do have the attacking talent to get to that number.

The big question for Bosnia is whether the change in the calendar year has been enough to change the mindset and finally put the World Cup to the back of their minds. This is a team that scored a lot of goals in wins in Liechtenstein and Latvia in the World Cup qualifiers and they are capable of putting Andorra to the sword in this one.

An early goal would definitely settle the Bosnian minds and I like them to prove they are still alive in this Group with a routine and comfortable win in Andorra.

Belgium v Cyprus Pick: This is an important week for Belgium who are looking to get their qualification campaign back on track as they face Cyprus and Israel in the coming days. Wins in both of those games will make Belgium the favourites to top the section, but dropping any points and the pressure really is on as they look to finish in one of the top two places in the Group.

To be honest, the two automatic qualifiers and third place being sent into the Play Offs means it would take a huge upset for Belgium to fail to have the chance to play in France next summer, although they can't allow complacency to set in and just think they have to turn up to right the situation.

They should be far too strong for a Cyprus team that has a number of injuries affecting the squad they were able to pick for this qualifier as well as the fact that they have been a poor traveller in competitive games. Cyprus have lost 9 of their last 10 away qualifiers, although they have to be respected for keeping the score down in the majority of them.

Belgium are not exactly a team that is going to put up big numbers in terms of goals themselves, but the injury crisis for Cyprus may make things easier for them in this game. If Belgium get their noses in front early, this could be one-way traffic for much of the ninety minutes and I will back the home team to really get qualification back on track with a convincing win.

Netherlands v Turkey Pick: This is a huge game for both the Netherlands and Turkey where the winner will feel their European Championship qualifying campaign is back on track, while the loser would begin to wonder if they are going to make it to France next summer.

It is a bigger game for Turkey, but home advantage should give the Netherlands the edge in the match and I expect they will prove too strong. For all the disappointment of losing to the Czech Republic and Iceland, the Netherlands know destiny is still with them as they host both of those teams later in the Group, while they have won 17 home qualifiers in a row.

Most of those wins have come with some relative comfort and the Netherlands beat Turkey 2-0 at home and away during the World Cup qualifiers for the tournament in Brazil. While they have struggled to match the results they achieved last summer, the Netherlands have been very good at home in these kinds of games and I will back them to win this one with room to spare.

MY PICKS: England - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.04 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Both Teams to Score and Iceland to Win @ 4.75 William Hill (1 Unit)
Bosnia and Herzegovina - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)
Belgium - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.96 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Netherlands - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.87 Bet Victor (2 Units)

March Update27-16, + 27.96 Units (79 Units Staked, + 35.39% Yield)

February Final20-24-2, + 3.19 Units (75 Units Staked, + 4.25% Yield)
January Final10-22-1, - 10.54 Units (57 Units Staked, - 18.49% Yield)
December Final25-19-1, + 18.70 Units (81 Units Staked, + 23.09% Yield)
November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
October Final8-18, - 14.79 Units (47 Units Staked, - 31.47% Yield)
September Final12-18, - 2.28 Units (41 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/15100-144-4, - 26.23 Units (421 Units Staked, - 6.23% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Miami Tennis Picks 2015 (March 27th)

There were a number of surprising results through the tournament at Indian Wells and it doesn't look like things will be changing in Miami if Maria Sharapova's exit in the Second Round is anything to go by. I really thought she had a chance to go deep into the draw over the next two weeks, but Sharapova has disappointed this week, although she might feel the turn to the clay courts favours her more than she would have in previous years.

The Second Round of the Masters event will begin on Friday which means the top players are all making their first appearance at Crandon Park this week and that can be a dangerous time for them. They will be playing opponents who have at least one win under their belt and will have dealt with the conditions already this week and might find a way to surprise any of the Seeded players they run into.

It was a mixed bag of results for the picks on Thursday as the four ended up with two winners and two losers, although it was a bad start with the first two both losing before the recovery on the day. In that regards I have to say I am not too disappointed, and it is still a good start to the week.

Andy Murray - 5.5 games v Donald Young: I backed Andy Murray to beat Donald Young handily when they met on the indoor hard courts during the Davis Cup earlier this month and the British Number 1 didn't disappoint. That continues his dominance over Young since being surprised by him at Indian Wells four years ago and Murray has won the next four matches all very comfortably.

The problem for Young is that his serve, despite being an awkward left-handed one, is not the best and players like Andy Murray return enough balls back into play to extract errors from his game. It sounds harsh, but I think Young is guilty of over-estimating what he can produce on a tennis court and that leads him to going for 'Hollywood' shots that have little chance of actually coming off.

Someone like Murray can make Young play a lot of shots to win points and can grind him down and I would expect a fairly comfortable time for him in this match as long as he serves well. It was Rafael Nadal's serving that kept Young in the match against the Spaniard at Indian Wells and Murray can be guilty of being sloppy in that aspect of his game.

However, the match up is clearly one that he has enjoyed and a routine 64, 62 win could be on the cards.

Adrian Mannarino - 2.5 games v Albert Ramos-Vinolas: Two left-handed players meet in this Second Round match and I have to favour Adrian Mannarino to find a way to get past Albert Ramos-Vinolas on the hard courts.

The latter is a decent player that has produced some good performances on the hard courts in the past, but Ramos-Vinolas is definitely much happier on the clay courts. However, Ramos-Vinolas has to be respected having put together three solid wins over the last two tournaments at Indian Wells and here and he pushed Novak Djokovic much closer than anyone would have expected in the last Masters event.

In saying that, Adrian Mannarino is an improving player on the Tour who is Seeded at events of this level which shows how far he has come. He has been serving better than what I believed he was going to be capable of, while the return game continues to be one of his strengths.

I expect Mannarino will find a way to get his teeth into the Ramos-Vinolas service games and will end up using that pressure to come through with a 63, 57, 64 win.

Fernando Verdasco - 3.5 games v James Duckworth: This is another rematch from Indian Wells as Fernando Verdasco looks to take out James Duckworth for the second time in a row and I do believe the Spaniard will find a way to get that done.

All credit to Duckworth for qualifying for the second Masters tournament in a row and also coming through his First Round match which should improve his Ranking again having cracked the top 100. That will mean he could find himself automatically in the draw for the Grand Slam events upcoming which has to be one of his goals for the coming year.

Unfortunately for the Australian, tennis can be all about levels and I don't believe he has the serve to really trouble the better players. That also means someone like Fernando Verdasco can dictate the points off his return and I still believe Verdasco is playing well enough to beat Duckworth for a second time this month.

Their match at Indian Wells ended with a 62, 76 win for Verdasco and I think he will have a similar kind of margin of victory in this one with more chances to break serve than Duckworth is likely to have. However, Verdasco has to stay focused to get the job done as the second set was closely contested at Indian Wells, although I do fancy him to do that.

Lucie Safarova - 5.5 games v Johanna Larsson: The last two months have been very good for Lucie Safarova as she gets closer to cracking the top ten of the World Rankings having won the tournament in Doha. The Indian Wells Premier Event has to be something of a disappointment to Safarova with a Third Round exit under her belt, but I expect a reaction in Miami and think she will be too strong for Johanna Larsson.

Larsson had a good solid win in the First Round against Yaroslava Shvedova, but Safarova is another step up in opponent and the Swede has struggled to raise her game in that regard. She is generally a much better clay court player than a hard court one and part of the reason is that Larsson tries to play with the same margin on error on the latter and is out-hit.

There is no doubting that Safarova is capable of doing that, while I also think she has the more consistent serve that will make it hard for Larsson to break. Not impossible mind you because Larsson will play from deeper in the court and try and extract errors from Safarova, which can be a problem for her at times, although allowing Safarova to dictate play isn't expected to be the right way to approach this match.

It is unlikely that Larsson takes a different approach though and the result should be a fairly comfortable 62, 64 win for Safarova.

Victoria Azarenka - 4.5 games v Jelena Jankovic: It is still very strange to see Victoria Azarenka outside the top 32 in the World Rankings, but a strong week in Miami could see her at least return to the Seeding positions for the big tournaments coming up.

As dangerous as Azarenka can be for any player on the WTA Tour, I think she would definitely prefer to ease her way into tournaments and not remain outside the Seeding positions and face early matches with the likes of Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova as she has had to already this season.

There are still some inconsistencies in the Azarenka game as she looks to recover from an injury-plagued 2014 when she was never at full tilt, but I do think she will be too good for Jelena Jankovic who had a long week at Indian Wells.

It was a surprising week for Jankovic who hadn't played that well in 2015, but who somehow dug deep to escape a couple of matches and use it to a run to the Final. Even with four days rest since that Final, Jankovic might still be feeling all the three set matches she had to play over the last two weeks as well as all the physical exertions she put into the Final against Simona Halep before ultimately coming up short.

Azarenka's serving hasn't been the best with too many breaks given up, but I still think she finds her way through to the Third Round following a 64, 63 win.

Madison Keys - 2.5 games v Sloane Stephens: Two young, hard-hitting American tennis players meet in this Second Round match that should bring in quite a bit of media attention. Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens are supposed to lead the next generation of American WTA stars once Serena Williams decides to hang up her racquet and both are expected to be at the forefront of the Tour.

However, I do feel there is more upside and potential in the Madison Keys game as she seems to play with a clearer though process on the court and has other elements on the courts beside the booming serve and heavy forehand. Stephens will look to play that way too and those who love first-strike tennis could be in for a fun day, but I think Keys has the better control of her shots off the ground and will likely dictate more of the points.

Sloane Stephens had the better Indian Wells tournament of the two players, but that was a sharp contrast to her recent form and I think she lets her mind wonder a little more on the court than Madison Keys.

After a lot of powerful winners and some eye-catching tennis from both players, I think Keys can battle through with a 64, 67, 64 win.

MY PICKS: Andy Murray - 5.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Adrian Mannarino - 2.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Fernando Verdasco - 3.5 Games @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Lucie Safarova - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Victoria Azarenka - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Madison Keys - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Miami Update: 6-3, + 5.62 Units (18 Units Staked, + 31.22% Yield)

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Miami Tennis Picks 2015 (March 26th)

The Miami Open tennis tournament continues on Thursday and finally more recognised names for the casual fan will actually be taking to the court, including Maria Sharapova who will be desperate to finally get over the line and win the event. Sharapova also has to erase the poor run in Indian Wells last week by her own high standards and is the marquee name taking to the courts.

However, the bigger news story for most tennis fans will be the return of Juan Martin Del Potro for the second time in 2015- the last fourteen months have been horrific for the 2009 US Open Champion and I would love for him to have a clear few years from all the injury issues he has had to fight through. There should be a lot of eyes on him to see how he reacts on his return, but it might take a few weeks before Del Potro is once again comfortable on the court, while he might not have the confidence to really take on the best players on the Tour until much later in the season.

It isn't an easy draw for the Argentine either and I actually think Vasek Pospisil has the tools to take him out in the First Round.

Del Potro himself is most likely just hoping to feel good after the match, regardless of how it finishes, and get his season going at last.

The picks had a bit of good and bad luck yesterday- the good luck saw Jan-Lennard Struff somehow come from a double break down in the final set to beat Benjamin Becker, while the bad saw Juan Monaco blow a 75, 51 lead and fail to cover in his eventual win over Ruben Bemelmans. Alison Riske was a comfortable winner to make it back to back days with a profitable return and hopefully the beginning of a productive two weeks at the second Masters event of the season.

Borna Coric - 3.5 games v Andreas Haider-Maurer: Arguably the most exciting talent on the ATP Tour at the moment is Borna Coric with many tipping him to reach the very pinnacle of the men’s game. Even at his tender age of 18 years old, Coric has had victories over the likes of Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray and he has full belief in his own game and what he can achieve.

Of course there are inconsistencies in his game which comes with the inexperience he has, but Coric is steadily improving up the World Rankings and should be able to knock off Andreas Haider-Maurer for the second tournament in a row.

When they met at Indian Wells, Coric came through the First Round match with a 64, 64 win and he was the much better player on the day with his excellent return game proving to be a real issue for Haider-Maurer.

I would expect more of the same when they meet on Thursday as Coric is the better player and Haider-Maurer doesn't really change his game plan that much. The Austrian doesn't have an intimidating serve and he can mentally check out of matches if they are not going to plan and it might be the same scoreline as when they met earlier this month with Coric moving through 64, 64.

Vasek Pospisil v Juan Martin Del Potro: Juan Martin Del Potro is one of the more popular players on the Tour and I expect he is going to get a really loud reaction in Miami where there is also a large Latin community that love their South American players. The fans will be right behind Del Potro, but I still think Vasek Pospisil can make his way through the match and find a place in the Second Round.

A fully fit Del Potro would be far too good for the Canadian, but he would still likely have a few nervous moments as Pospisil has the kind of serve that can see him rattle through games. Del Potro's return game has never been his most accomplished aspect, but it will likely be under more pressure as he deals with his nerves on his return to the court.

There is also little doubt for me that Del Potro won't be going at 100% in this one. Yes he wants to win and there is no point going on the court without that mindset, but all of the injuries over the last fourteen months would make anyone a little more careful. Pospisil has to know this and can't self-destruct with a host of errors to help Del Potro out, but Pospisil also has to play his natural game as much as possible.

Those issues makes this match a close one to call, but I don't think the layers are right in pricing Vasek Pospisil as the underdog in this one and I will back him to overcome a nervy and perhaps a little careful Del Potro.

Karolina Pliskova - 5.5 games v Annika Beck: Karolina Pliskova is a definite dark horse to make a big breakthrough on the Tour and win the biggest title of her career over the next couple of weeks and I expect the Czech player to be far too strong for Annika Beck.

I do respect what Beck is able to do on the court as there have been times I have watched her produce some stunning tennis, but her serve is an absolute weakness and that is where Pliskova can make hay. On the other hand, Pliskova has a decent serve when she gets into a nice rhythm and that might be enough to keep Beck from really pushing forward on the offensive and allow Pliskova to dominate much of this match.

Beck does have a decent return herself though and will feel she can certainly find a way to break the Pliskova serve, but the key will be holding and she will have to be a lot better than in Antwerp when these players met and the German was broken 6/9 service games.

Beck has also been in poor form over the last month and she had to battle through a tough opening match here. She might have some joy being more familiar with the conditions than Pliskova who plays her first match, but I can see this being similar to their match last month and the Czech player moving through after a fairly comfortably 64, 62 win.

Alize Cornet - 3.5 games v Elena Vesnina: There is always something of a risk backing Alize Cornet who can quickly lose her way on the court, but she has shown better form than Elena Vesnina over the start of the season and I expect her to move into the Third Round.

Vesnina was a very good winner over Alexandra Dulgheru in the First Round, but she has only won back to back matches once this season and has spent a lot of time losing in Singles matches. There is a lot of talent in the Vesnina racquet, but she has slipped off the standards she had been setting a couple of years ago and the errors come much more frequently these days.

The Russian will have her chances against Cornet who can be erratic and mentally check out of sets when seemingly in control. However, Cornet can point to a very strong head to head against Vesnina and to better recent form than her opponent. My concern would be that Cornet has lost a lot of sets very easily and needs to be playing well to beat Vesnina who can get into a roll when she feels good on the court.

However, this looks like a 75, 64 kind of win for Cornet after a number of breaks of serve. I feel she will be the player making less errors in the match and getting plenty of balls back in play should see Vesnina start to give up a lot of mistakes which can give Cornet the edge in the contest in both sets to come through with a routine win.

MY PICKS: Borna Coric - 3.5 Games @ 1.73 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Vasek Pospisil @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Karolina Pliskova - 5.5 Games @ 1.92 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Alize Cornet - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Miami Update: 4-1, + 5.62 Units (10 Units Staked, + 56.2% Yield)

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Miami Tennis Picks 2015 (March 25th)

The Miami Open is underway, but I can best describe the Wednesday action as being qualifier loaded which also meant the matches had been set late and the layers were playing catch up when it came to prices being dished out.

Half of the matches scheduled for Wednesday involve a player that has come through the qualifiers and that can work in two ways for those players- the first is that they are tired after playing on back to back days and are then picked off by their First Round opponent, or two that they are battle hardened and can catch an opponent who is not as familiar with the conditions as they are.

Of course the majority of those coming through the qualifiers will be hoping it is the latter as the First Round action continues. The big names on the Tour won't be in action until the end of the week but that doesn't mean there isn't any potential for picks before that.

After the disappointment of Indian Wells for the picks, there is a feeling that this new week can be more productive after both picks came in on Tuesday. The Monica Niculescu pick had the element of luck that was missing at Indian Wells and hopefully that will be built upon over the next couple of weeks.

Alison Riske - 3.5 games v Mirjana Lucic-Baroni: These players meet for the second tournament in a row, but I would be very surprised if Alison Riske is able to dismiss Mirjana Lucic-Baroni as comfortably as she did in Indian Wells.

Well it was comfortable on the scoreboard at least, but could have been a completely different match if Lucic-Baroni had taken the chances that had come her way.

Neither player can really point to a lot of form to take into the match so the win at Indian Wells may be an important deciding factor and also means Riske has won the last two matches between these players. Both players can be erratic though and you can never be completely sure what you're going to see on the court when either takes to it.

Lucic-Baroni did had to pull out of the tournament in Acapulco with an injury and I do wonder if that is still a lingering concern for her and I will look for Riske to win a closer match than at Indian Wells. If Lucic-Baroni can take the chances that come her way, she has every chance of causing an upset, but I think Riske will have enough confidence in her return game to come through 64, 64.

Jan-Lennard Struff v Benjamin Becker: It has been a poor start to the 2015 season for Jan-Lennard Struff who may have felt it is the right time for him to really start pushing up the World Rankings. Instead he has slipped a little after winning just two matches since Auckland in January and now faces his compatriot Benjamin Becker.

Becker is another player that might have looked at his 2014 performances and expected himself to kick on up the World Rankings, but he too has suffered a lot more losses than wins in the first three months of the season. However, Becker may have gained some confidence from two wins at the Irving Challenger last week and I can understand that as being a reason he is favoured to win this match.

In saying that, I think Struff has been unfortunate not to have more wins under his belt as he has missed match points in a defeat in Rotterdam and lost a Davis Cup rubber 10-8 in the fifth set to Gilles Simon.

I do think Struff has some real upside about his game, but he has to cut out the sloppy errors that have put him in trouble in matches, but I expect him to be aided by Becker who is never far away from a sloppy service game himself. There is every chance this needs a deciding set to separate the players, but I will look for Struff to earn the breakthrough and perhaps set him up for a decent run in a kind draw in Miami.

Juan Monaco - 3.5 games v Ruben Bemelmans: He has come through the qualifiers and plays left-handed, but I struggle to make much more of a case for Ruben Bemelmans against Juan Monaco in this First Round match on Wednesday.

Any player that comes through the qualifiers has to be respected, especially as Bemelmans had to come from a set down to beat Dustin Brown in the final qualifying match. However, he won't be helped by the mistakes that Brown makes in this match as Juan Monaco is capable of sitting out on a court all day and playing long rallies.

Monaco is making his way back up the Rankings at a good time of the season for him with the clay court season not far away and the last month on the Tour has been particularly productive for him. The hard courts are not his favoured surface, but I think he can outlast Bemelmans in this First Round match, particularly as the Belgian player is not really accustomed to playing at this level.

As I said, you have to respect a qualifier, but I would imagine Monaco will wear down Bemelmans who has had a couple of days tennis under his feet already. Both sets should feature a number of break point chances for both men, but I expect Monaco is perhaps a little more ruthless in a 64, 64 win.

MY PICKS: Alison Riske - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Jan-Lennard Struff @ 2.15 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Juan Monaco - 3.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Miami Update: 2-0, + 3.32 Units (4 Units Staked, + 83% Yield)

Monday, 23 March 2015

Miami Tennis Picks 2015 (March 24th)

So a poor week in Indian Wells ended with the two Finals both going against the picks and just summed up the way the tournament went for me. I am not going to be too downhearted simply because the first three months of the season have been very productive and there are always times when things don't go as planned.

The real key is trying to prevent these losing runs from dragging on for too long and the Tour has quickly moved on to the Miami Masters/Premier Event which begins on Tuesday with main draw action. Like Indian Wells, the Premier Event First Round begins first and the Masters First Round matches will get going on Wednesday, while the big names are all Seeded to move through to the Second Round already.

One big name who won't be in Miami this week is Roger Federer who released his schedule last month and opted to miss this Masters event and instead return on the clay courts of Monte Carlo. It is an interesting decision, but Federer seems honed in on having a really strong clay court season, especially when you consider he is also playing an ATP 250 event in Istanbul before the Madrid and Rome Masters events.

I am not entirely sure what the thinking is except he is probably being paid a fortune to go to Istanbul, although I also guess that the new gap between the clay and grass court season played a part in him taking another tournament on board.

Serena Williams was a doubt when she pulled out of the Indian Wells Semi Final last week, but the rest between that decision and the start of the event in Miami seems to have worked and she is taking her place at the top of the Premier Event draw. The fact the organisers are highlighting her first match taking place during the Friday evening session suggests they are confident Williams plays this week too.

As with last week, we have two short priced favourites to win the events at Miami in both the Premier Event and Masters and it is hard to look beyond Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic as potential winners over the next two weeks.

Serena Williams has won the last two Miami titles and Novak Djokovic is the defending Champion who has won 3 of the last 4 here so how can you really look beyond either? The only doubts would be the Williams injury from last week and Djokovic trying to win back to back Masters in March, although he has done that last season and in 2011.

If you are looking for alternatives, Maria Sharapova could come out of the bottom half of the draw and finally breakthrough and win the title if Serena Williams is out of the draw. Sharapova didn't play that well in Indian Wells, but she has always preferred the second of the two Premier Events held in this month and has been a Runner Up in Miami five times before, including three times in a row between 2011-13.

The draw for the men's event isn't out at the time I am writing this, but someone like Tomas Berdych has had one of his few really successful tournaments at this level in Miami where he was a Runner Up in 2010 and Andy Murray is a two time winner of the event as well as being a Runner Up previously.

Both Berdych and Murray were in good nick last week and could go very deep into the tournament with the right draw.

Personally I will be steering clear of the outright markets again this week and won't return to those until the start of the clay court events at the beginning of April. My only concern for the Miami tournament is providing better picks than the ones at Indian Wells.

Once the schedule for the Tuesday play is released, I will start putting my picks down here and will have them all out during my lunch tomorrow.

Monica Niculescu - 4.5 games v Shelby Rogers: I am not a great fan of Monica Niculescu with her grimy brand of tennis, but it is effective and gives some of the very best players a problem when they haven't seen it before. That might be part of the issue for Shelby Rogers whose own confidence can't be very high after taking a number of big losses to open the 2015 season.

Rogers is yet to win a match on the main Tour at six previous attempts and she might be a little bamboozled by the range of variations that Niculescu throws on the court. From the slices to the drop shots to the simple change of pace and angle, the Romanian can be a real nuisance and I expect that to frustrate her young opponent.

The pressure of trying to win a match on the Tour has to be affecting Rogers too and the fact is she is barely winning games and sets let alone matches.

As long as Niculescu isn't playing too much within herself, I would expect her to be a fairly routine 63, 64 winner in this match.

Kristina Mladenovic - 2.5 games v Klara Koukalova: It has been a difficult season for both of these players, but the upside that Kristina Mladenovic possesses has to be taken into consideration for this match.

Neither player can point to any real form, but there is a definite feeling that age is catching up with Klara Koukalova and she has suffered some heavy defeats this season. Her serve has never been her biggest weapon, but she might just have lost half a step getting around the court too which means it is that much tougher for her to break back and really get into matches.

Mladenovic has a decent serve and is one of the 'young guns' on the Tour that are hoping to make a real move upwards in the World Rankings. She has yet to really bring in the form she displayed during the off-season at the IPTL, but Mladenovic has more room for improvement in my mind and I expect her extra power to be a difference in this match.

Expect a battle initially as both players try and find some consistency in their game, but I think would think Mladenovic takes control and comes through 64, 64.

MY PICKS: Monica Niculescu - 4.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Kristina Mladenovic - 2.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Indian Wells Picks Final19-24, - 13.24 Units (86 Units Staked, - 15.40% Yield)

Season 2015+ 30.63 Units (397 Units Staked, + 7.72% Yield)

Season 2014+ 45.05 Units (1586.5 Units Staked, + 2.84% Yield)
Season 2013+ 21.74 Units (1251.5 Units Staked, + 1.73% Yield)
Season 2012+ 49.21 Units (855 Units Staked, + 5.76% Yield)
Season 2011+ 82.02 Units

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Indian Wells Tennis Picks 2015 (March 22nd)

The two Finals will played at Indian Wells on Sunday and both look like they could be entertaining, although there is no doubt that the one most will be looking forward to is the Masters Final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

The Premier Event Final between Jelena Jankovic and Simona Halep should be a decent one, but I think most people at Indian Wells were hoping for the dream situation of Serena Williams returning to the tournament and competing on the final Sunday. Unfortunately Williams had to pull out before the Semi Final, although it is expected that she will take part in the tournament in Miami which will begin later this week.

Both Semi Final picks came in on Saturday, but it still hasn't changed the fact that it has been a poor tournament for the picks, although it is still a very good first three months. The second Masters/Premier Event begins in Miami later this week and hopefully it will be a more productive event for me personally.

Simona Halep - 4.5 games v Jelena Jankovic: This has been a really good tournament for Jelena Jankovic no matter how it ends for her as she has played herself into some sort of form to take into the next two months going into the French Open.

I still feel it might be a little too much for her to see off Simona Halep who benefited from the Serena Williams pull out in the Semi Final as I do think the Romanian will have the edge when it comes to the physicality of the match. Jankovic has had to spend a lot of time on the court and been in a number of very close matches, but winning those matches might have given her the belief that her destiny is to win the tournament.

She will have to come through some tough periods in this match if she is going to come out with the title because Simona Halep has been able to get a grip of matches and has been ruthless in making sure she takes her chances when they come. Both Madison Keys and Belinda Bencic missed their chances to earn double breaks of serve when they had Jankovic on the ropes and I don't expect Halep is going to let her off as they did.

Halep has won the last three matches between the pair, but they have been close in terms of needing to go the distance each time, although Halep has given Jankovic a bagel in each of the last two matches. I believe she is capable of earning a big enough win to cover these games as long as Halep doesn't let the nerves restrict her play.

This might need three sets to separate them again, but I think Halep will win and win one set either 61 or 62 to set the cover.

Roger Federer + 2.5 games v Novak Djokovic: Two of the big rivals on the ATP Tour will contest another big title between them in the Final on Sunday and Roger Federer has spoken of his desire to earn a measure of revenge against Novak Djokovic for the defeat at Indian Wells twelves months ago.

Federer did get the better of Djokovic in Dubai last month, but the conditions in Indian Wells are slower than in this tournament and it is going to be a lot more difficult for Federer to beat the World Number 1.

However, he clearly has a lot of belief in his game to win here after deciding to skip the event in Miami and I do think it will be incredibly close as many of their matches tend to be. Roger Federer has always gotten up for playing Djokovic and I do think he matches up very well against him with the sliced backhand particularly troublesome for the Serb.

The aggressive play from Federer in attacking the net when the opportunity arises has also seen him become very competitive against the best players in the best of three set matches, although physically it has been more difficult to put that game plan into action in Grand Slam best of five set matches.

Federer will have to serve well if he is going to win the title, but he has done that for the most part this week and I do think he will create chances against the Djokovic serve. Does Federer have enough to win the title? I am not sure to be honest, because Djokovic loves Indian Wells and showed in his win over Andy Murray that his eye is well and truly in.

However, I do expect to see this match to go the distance at the very least and there is every chance another final set tie-breaker is on the cards so taking the games might be the most sensible way to back Federer who is certainly capable of upsetting the odds and winning the title.

MY PICKS: Simona Halep - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Roger Federer + 2.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Indian Wells Update: 19-22, - 9.24 Units (82 Units Staked, - 11.27% Yield)