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Boxing Picks 2018- Jamie McDonnell vs Naoya Inoue (May 25th-May 26th)

There have been some memorable fights already in 2018 and last weekend provided another when Adonis Stevenson and Badou Jack fought out to a...

Sunday, 27 May 2018

French Open Tennis Day 1 Picks 2018 (May 27th)

The French Open, the second Grand Slam of the season, gets underway on Sunday with a number of First Round matches scheduled.

This is the only Slam on the Tennis calendar which begins on a Sunday and that means the First Round is spread over three days rather than the traditional Monday/Tuesday you will see at the other Grand Slams.

I've put together an outright preview of the French Open with my outright picks which can be read here.

The Day 1 Picks follow.

Nicolas Jarry - 1.5 sets v Jared Donaldson: It has been a breakthrough season for Nicolas Jarry on the main Tour and his best results have unsurprisingly come on the clay courts. That is part of the reason he is favoured to beat Jared Donaldson in the First Round on Sunday and I do think Jarry will get the better of his American opponent who has struggled on this surface all season.

It won't be straight forward for Jarry because of the lack of real experience at this kind of level, but a lot of factors have pointed him out as the right player to back here.

While Jarry has had some strong runs in clay court events in South America and Europe in 2018, his opponent Donaldson's most memorable moment may have been the argument he got into with an umpire over a mark on the surface. That's not a particularly good thing for Donaldson who has struggled in a lot of aspects of his game on the clay.

Life will be that much tougher for Donaldson playing against an opponent who has carried his tremendous serving numbers onto the main Tour events in 2018. The serve is key for Jarry because it gives him some freedom to attack on the return of serve although Jarry will know he has to be better at creating break point opportunities and subsequently taking those.

Donaldson's struggles on the serve may help and I think Jarry is going to come through this in three or four sets with his own ability to hold serve in cleaner fashion the key to the outcome. It should be a big hitting match between these two and the break point chances may not come that often, but Jarry has looked the more comfortable on the clay and can use that to a strong First Round win.

Lucas Pouille - 5.5 games v Daniil Medvedev: There isn't as much hope around a home winner at the French Open as there has been in recent times in Paris, but Lucas Pouille could be the most likely to at least offer a French presence in the men's draw into the second week.

It may be something of a surprise to read that when you consider how rough this clay court season has been for Pouille, but I really do think he has been unfortunate at times. Pouille has played some very good tennis, but his consistency has not been at the level he would like and the Frenchman has also been a little unfortunate in close matches.

This First Round match should be a good one for Pouille against the talented Russian Daniil Medvedev who has had a really tough time on the clay over the last couple of years. There have been moments it looks like Medvedev has gotten to grips with the surface, but he has fallen away in matches when things have begun to go wrong for him and Pouille is capable of pulling away if Medvedev loses belief.

Neither player returns as well as they would hope on the clay which should mean this is a serve dominated match, but that is where Pouille has an edge. He wins around 75% of his service games over the last four years on the clay, but compared to Medvedev those numbers are very strong.

In 2017 Medvedev held around 60% and he has only improved that to 66% in 2018, and that only underlines the problems he has on the return of serve which could show up in this match.

Pouille is not easy to trust with the big number, but I can see him covering even if he drops a set because of some of the collapses Medvedev has had on the surface.

Federico Delbonis - 1.5 sets v Thomaz Bellucci: Any time a player comes through three Qualifying Rounds to enter the main draw of a Grand Slam there has to be some respect for them. Thomaz Bellucci has done that in Paris this week and he is facing an opponent he is very familiar with and certainly will feel he can win this type of match.

The Brazilian has really fallen down the World Rankings as loss of form coupled with injury has affected his ability to win the number of matches he needed to stay in the top 100. At one point Bellucci would have been considered a really tough opponent on the clay, and he has beaten Novak Djokovic on the surface during the Serb's run to the top of the men's game, but these days he spends his time on the Challenger circuit.

Putting some wins together at that level will at least have given Bellucci some confidence to take into this First Round match against Federico Delbonis.

Delbonis is also very comfortable on the clay courts and he has been producing some solid tennis in the build up to the French Open as he made his own return from injury.

The two players have some very similar numbers on the clay in 2018, but you have to factor in Delbonis has been playing at a higher level than Bellucci. The latter's numbers take a significant impact when he has played against top 100 Ranked players and that is what Bellucci will be facing on Sunday and I think Delbonis is going to get the better of him.

It may need four sets to separate them, but I think Delbonis able to win this in three or four sets and I will back him to cover the set handicap.

David Goffin - 6.5 games v Robin Haase: One of the more steady players on the clay courts in recent seasons is David Goffin and it is no surprise that one of his two career Slam Quarter Finals has come at Roland Garros. That run came in 2016 and Goffin will be hoping that his play can help produce another chance at the business end of a Grand Slam.

Being steady means Goffin can wear down some of the lesser lights on the Tour, but he has yet to really make the leap to beat the better players on the clay courts. In the First Round the Belgian faces a dangerous Robin Haase whose best results have been on this surface and who crushed Goffin in Gstaad last season.

They have since met at the Madrid Masters which ended in a very easy win for Goffin and I think that is the more likely outcome of this match.

As dangerous as Haase can be on the clay when he is serving at his best, it has to be noted that he is winning under 60% of points behind serve in 2018. Against someone who can be as effective returning the ball as Goffin that is not going to be good enough and proved to be Haase's downfall when these players met at the Madrid Masters.

Goffin's serve has been stronger than Haase's so far in 2018 and the Dutchman's limited return is unlikely to be good enough for him in this First Round match.

It could be a dangerous match for Goffin, but I think his style will help him work through to a comfortable win and a cover of a very big number.

Anett Kontaveit - 5.5 games v Madison Brengle: One of the potential dark horses in the women's French Open draw is Anett Kontaveit who has some strong numbers on the clay courts which highlight the danger she could pose in the draw.

Twelve months ago not many would have picked Jelena Ostapenko as a potential winner in Paris which shows it can be done, although Kontaveit has to find a little more consistency if she really wants to win seven matches in a row over the next two weeks. Two runs to the Semi Finals in a couple of big tournaments will give Kontaveit some belief though and I like her to get the better of Madison Brengle in the First Round.

There isn't a lot to like about the Brengle game, but she puts in plenty of hard work on and off the court and the American will be hoping to extract errors from the Kontaveit game with her ability to play very strong defensive tennis. Forcing her opponent to hit one more ball has been the way Brengle has looked to work her way to winning positions in points, but she will need Kontaveit off her game.

Her return game has been a very strong part of her performances on the clay courts in 2018 and Brengle will look to get enough Kontaveit serves back in play. However it is going to be tough to get into a strong position in rallies if Kontaveit can get enough first serves in play which is a shot on which she can lay the foundation for success.

The return game is strong enough to get the better of Brengle who has really had a tough time serving on the clay courts and I think it is Kontaveit who is going to find her way to the win. The First Round match looks like one in which Kontaveit will be able to pull away with at least one set where she produces a couple of breaks of serve more than Brengle and that should be good enough to cover this number.

Elina Svitolina - 6.5 games v Alja Tomljanovic: One of the leading contenders to win the French Open in the women's draw is Elina Svitolina and she gets her title bid underway on Sunday in the First Round. It may have been easier for Svitolina, but she has to be confident she can see off Alja Tomljanovic.

There are no doubting some of the strong numbers Svitolina has produced on the clay courts over the last few seasons and retaining the title in Rome will give her a huge boost of confidence to take into the second Major of the season.

We have previously seen Svitolina come up short in the highly pressurised situation of playing deep into the second week of a Grand Slam, but the Ukrainian is still young and will believe there is room to improvement.

The serve in general has improved and Svitolina continues to put up solid returning numbers which makes her a threat to Tomljanovic despite a couple of very strong tournaments on the clay in 2018. The Australian has reached the Final in Marrakech and also the Third Round in Rome, but this is a step up and Tomljanovic has not played well when facing the top players on the clay.

It is clear the numbers take a serious decline when Tomljanovic faces top 50 Ranked players on the clay where her serve becomes a real vulnerability and it has been that much more pressurised on the return of serve. While I think Tomljanovic can get into some of the Svitolina service games, I think she will be put under constant pressure on her own serve and even this big number of games can be covered by the higher Ranked player.

Tomljanovic has taken some heavy losses to Daria Kasatkina, Donna Vekic and Elise Mertens on the clay courts in 2018 and I think Svitolina wins with a statement result that has her competitors sit up and take notice.

Johanna Konta - 4.5 games v Yulia Putintseva: Johanna Konta has really struggled to find her form on the clay courts, but confidence is not in short supply as she told a national media outlet that she is a danger at the French Open to win it all. That looks a long shot, but she can beat Yulia Putintseva in the First Round and I think Konta will be able to do that despite a poor history here.

Konta may only be 3-3 on the clay courts this season, but the numbers in general have been decent enough and certainly good enough to win this kind of match.

The serve remains a huge weapon for Konta and she has been returning well enough which have aided her confidence even if she is just 3-3 on the clay this season.

You have to give Putintseva some respect too having had some decent performance on the clay courts in 2018 despite a poor 2017. There has been some joy from the first serve which is going to be a key to the outcome of this match as Putintseva can stun Konta if she is working well behind the first serve.

However that is asking for a lot from the smaller player who doesn't generate the same type of power from the serve as her opponent. Putintseva can improve her game when she is facing the best players on the Tour, but Konta should have the edge behind the serve and she is returning well enough to cause problems for her opponent.

Consistency has been a problem at times for Putintseva, but I still think she will have her moments in this one. However I do think Konta will prevail and win a rare match at the French Open while covering this number.

MY PICKS: Nicolas Jarry - 1.5 Sets @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Lucas Pouille - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Federico Delbonis - 1.5 Sets @ 2.25 Paddy Power (2 Units)
David Goffin - 6.5 Games @ 1.83 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Anett Kontaveit - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Elina Svitolina - 6.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Johanna Konta - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Sporting Bet (2 Units)

Saturday, 26 May 2018

French Open Tennis Outright Picks 2018 (May 27-June 10)

The second Grand Slam of the Tennis season is here and the next couple of weeks should be very interesting... At least on the women's side of the draw.

Once again it looks like Rafael Nadal is going into the French Open as the undisputed favourite to win the title and I just can't see someone who is going to be able to play the type of tennis needed for three or four hours and win a best of five set match against the Spaniard.

The draw could not have been much kinder to Nadal and I think he is going to be feasting on an opponent who would have got through a tremendously tough bottom half when the Final is played on Sunday 10th June.

On the other hand the women's draw looks wide open again with a number of players who will feel this is their time to win a Grand Slam title. A maiden Slam for someone like Simona Halep is long overdue, but Karolina Pliskova has been in good form and there are a couple of dark horses like Kiki Bertens who could go close.

Maiden winners in Paris like Petra Kvitova will also be feeling confident and a deep draw is highlighted by the prices in the outright market. The favourite is going to go off at 6-1 and I think the women's draw is the most interesting from the outright point of view.

The matches that are set to go should provide some classics if they all come together, and I am looking forward to the two weeks in Paris to round out this part of the season before the majority of the Tour move onto the grass in preparation for Wimbledon which begins in a little over a month from now.

Men's Tournament
It won't surprise anyone that the men's tournament at the French Open is dominated by Rafael Nadal at the top of the market having once again produced some strong tennis over the last two months on the clay courts.

Coming back off an injury there were some doubts about Nadal, but he has erased those and he is clearly the player to beat in the draw.

That position was only strengthened on Thursday evening when the draw was made as Nadal was placed in the top half and the closest rivals he has on the clay courts were all placed in the bottom half.


I mean Nadal has seen Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin, Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem (the one player who has beaten Nadal on the clay this season) and Alexander Zverev (pushed Nadal all the way in the Rome Masters Final) all placed in the second half of the draw and the Spaniard could not have hand picked a better draw for himself.

There are always some dangers lurking in a Grand Slam draw, but Nadal looks absolutely nailed on to reach the Final in two weeks time barring an injury.

A path that consists most likely of Alexandr Dolgopolov, Joao Sousa, Richard Gasquet, Denis Shapovalov, Diego Sebastian Schwartzman and Marin Cilic to reach the Final is one that Nadal should negotiate as comfortably as being disappointed if he drops more than two sets overall.

As I have said, the prices have reflected Nadal's position and it is almost impossible to back him here.

More interesting may be trying to pick someone to come out of the loaded bottom half of the draw to challenge Rafael Nadal in the Final in two weeks time. All of those names I mentioned are leading the way in the 'Reach The Final' market, but it is the Number 2 Seeded Alexander Zverev that offers the most interest.

Zverev has started to show he is a real threat at the Masters 1000 level having reached back to back Finals in Madrid and Rome with a title secured in the Spanish capital. The question marks remain about this Grand Slam temperament though as Zverev has yet to make a Quarter Final at this level which is a stunning stat for a World Number 3.

He isn't an overrated Number 3 either and it does feel a matter of time before Zverev not only makes an impact in the Slams, but actually goes on and wins one. Once that happens I think the young German is going to become a multiple Slam winner, a World Number 1 and perhaps the leading name in men's tennis in the years after the likes of Nadal and Roger Federer move on.

The lack of success at the Slam level is a legitimate concern for Zverev, but he could not have asked for a much better draw to get his teeth into the tournament. I'd make Zverev a very strong favourite win any of the potential first three matches he faces, while Lucas Pouille is a player whose limited return shouldn't pose a lot of problems as a potential Fourth Round opponent.

Stan Wawrinka is another who potentially waits in that Round, but he is only recently back from a long standing injury and Zverev should be good enough to at least reach the Quarter Final for the first time.

Things get much more interesting for him there with some solid looking players that could potentially await- Dominic Thiem is a former Semi Finalist at Roland Garros and arguably the third best clay courter in the world right now behind Nadal and Zverev; Kei Nishikori has had a strong clay court season again and has twice reached the Quarter Final here; Stefanos Tsitsipas looks a promising player for the future but this tournament is likely too early for him.

The hope for Zverev is that Thiem and Nishikori take something away from one another in their potential Fourth Round clash and the winner may not have enough to beat the in form German over five sets in any Quarter Final.

The Fourth Quarter of the draw does look the most likely to provide any Finalist to oppose Rafael Nadal although there are some solid players in the Third Quarter too.

However I would have a little more doubts about the ability of those to make the Final.

Novak Djokovic (still finding his best tennis, although improving all the time), Grigor Dimitrov (weak clay court pedigree compared to others), David Goffin (tougher draw than most) and Pablo Carreno Busta (erratic clay court season).

Picking someone to come out of this section is no easier with some of the doubts surrounding those involved and the player most likely to reach the Final looks to be Alexander Zverev who is set to announce himself as a major player in the sport.

If it wasn't for some injury doubts, I would really favour Marin Cilic to come out of the Second Quarter of the men's draw, but even then I think the Croatian has the chance to complete his set of Semi Final appearances at all four Majors played.

Cilic played well in Rome when reaching the Semi Final before narrowly going down to Zverev, and the Second Quarter looks considerably weaker than the ones that follow.

There are some interesting names in the section including Fabio Fognini, Kyle Edmund, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro, but the latter two have had serious injury issues which tempers enthusiasm for them.

Fognini has been far too erratic this season, but Kyle Edmund could be the danger in the section.

Edmund is very comfortable on the clay courts and the Semi Final run at the Australian Open will have given the British Number 1 plenty of belief in his ability to cause waves in Paris. The Quarter Final and Third Round run at the last two Masters shows Edmund is in good nick and he is certainly capable of making it back to back Slam Semi Finals if on his game.

My fear for Edmund is he has a tougher run to the potential Fourth Round match with Marin Cilic with Fognini and Marton Fucsovics potential opponents before then. Both of those players have reached at least the Semi Final of events in the lead up to the French Open which shows they are in some form and Edmund has had a couple of poorer results on the clay courts which makes him vulnerable in this section.

The men's tournament doesn't look as intriguing as the women's event when breaking down the draws in the outright view, but there are some top matches that could be played over the next couple of weeks. The bottom half of the draw is so loaded that barring upsets galore there are going to be some huge matches in the second week of the tournament.

That'll bring excitement into an event that I expect ends with Rafael Nadal picking up an eleventh French Open title.

Picking the top two Seeds to make the Final looks boring, but I do think that is the most likely outcome of this tournament as Alexander Zverev makes his breakthrough at the Grand Slam level.

With the draw being the way it is, I think Zverev will be the freshest of those players in the bottom half of the section when it comes round to the Quarter Final and Semi Final matches, while he has already been playing like the second best clay courter in the world.

Picking Zverev to 'Reach the Final' is one of my outright picks from the men's draw.

The other is Marin Cilic to win the Second Quarter at a big price even though I was intrigued by Kyle Edmund's position in the draw. Injury concerns aside, Cilic looked stronger in Rome and he has the returning ability on the clay coupled with a big serve to come through an open section.

Cilic has regularly reached the business end of Slams and I expect he will be good enough to see off Edmund in a tough Fourth Round match which should see him in a very winnable Quarter Final.

The Croatian is a big price to complete his set of Semi Finals at the Majors and worth a small interest.

Women's Tournament
While Rafael Nadal goes into the French Open as strong odds on favourite, the Number 1 Seed and favourite to win the women's event is Simona Halep at 6-1.

That just underlines how open the women's Tour has been ever since Serena Williams stepped away to have a child.

Serena is in the draw this week in Paris, but her lack of clay court tennis has to be a negative against her despite Williams showing many times in the past that she can win big events with little tennis behind her.

Despite that lack of tennis, Williams is the fourth favourite in Paris as the layers don't want to take chances with a player who will be tough to stop if she builds up some momentum. However I would find it hard to back the American considering the rust she showed in her two appearances in North American at Indian Wells and Miami, while Williams has also been placed in what looks an incredibly tough section of the draw.

It is possible Serena gets through the first couple of tough looking matches before going on and dominating, but neither Kristyna Pliskova or Ashleigh Barty look like players to take lightly. Even then a potential Third Round clash with the feisty Dominika Cibulkova looks a tough one to predict, while the likes of Maria Sharapova or Karolina Pliskova could wait in the Fourth Round.

That is a tough road for Serena Williams and the draw has also not been kind to Pliskova who looked a real dark horse to win here despite clay not being her favoured surface. While she begins with a Qualifier, the potential to face two former winners in Paris in Sharapova and Serena in back to back matches is a tough draw and that is simply to make the Quarter Final.

Instead the section could be left at the mercy of another former Champion here in Garbine Muguruza, but I don't think anyone can back the Spaniard with confidence after a poor clay court season. To be fair to Muguruza she did not look in great nick in preparation for Wimbledon last season and went on to win the tournament and the clay court pedigree does make her dangerous.

The draw could have been a little kinder to Muguruza too, but she does have the quality to make her Seeding count in this section of the draw, especially if she can get past First Round opponent Svetlana Kuznetsova.

It is a decent looking draw for Simona Halep as the Number 1 Seed and the two time former Finalist in Paris is hoping this is the year she finally goes one better and wins her first Grand Slam. Losing at the Australian Open in the Final against Caroline Wozniacki has raised the doubts whether Halep has the mentality to win the big one, but she is a worthy favourite here with the way the draw has panned out.

Facing home favourite Kristina Mladenovic in a potential Third Round will give Halep the chance to prove she can cope with the pressure that comes in these Slam events, but it may be another Frenchwoman who poses the biggest threat in the First Quarter of the draw.

Caroline Garcia has been in fine form on the clay courts the past two months and there won't be too many concerns until the Fourth Round when either Kiki Bertens or Angelique Kerber await. The head to head with Halep would always be a concern for Garcia if she was to reach the Quarter Final, while Bertens and Kerber have shown flashes of their ability on the clay courts, but could have hoped for better paths through to the later stages of the tournament.

It does feel like Halep is going to come out of this section of the draw, especially when you think she has reached the Quarter Final in five of the last seven Grand Slams. Both exceptions have come in First Round losses, but Halep should be good enough to take care of Alison Riske and then make her way through to another Quarter Final where she should be a significant favourite to reach another French Open Semi Final.

The player considered the biggest threat to Halep in taking the title home is also another who is searching for a maiden Slam success having proved herself on the Tour around the Majors. Elina Svitolina heads up the Third Quarter of the draw and has plenty of clay court pedigree which puts her amongst the favourites to win the title in Paris.

There is no doubt Svitolina has to be one of the top Seeds who is very pleased with the way the draw has panned out and I like her chances to make the Quarter Final without too many scares. Naomi Osaka and Madison Keys are big hitting opponents who have to be respected, but neither are at their best on the clay courts and Svitolina should be confident of beating either in any potential Fourth Round match.

Two players who have to be paid attention to in this section of the draw potentially meet in the Second Round- Jelena Ostapenko is the defending Champion and Victoria Azarenka may have been one of the most dangerous Unseeded players alongside Serena Williams.

Azarenka has had a tough couple of years with injury and a custodial battle which has prevented her return to the Tour after giving birth. That has seen her drop down the World Rankings but this is a player who is capable of beating the very best when performing at her best and needs to be respected.

The winner of the potential Second Round match between Ostapenko and Azarenka is likely to be the opponent for Svitolina in the Quarter Final and both of those players would be tough match ups for the Number 4 Seed.

It certainly tempers my enthusiasm for Svitolina, while her failure to reach a Semi Final at Grand Slam level may also mean nerves go against her against two players who have won Slams.

The player I have been most intrigued about in the women's draw is a surprisingly big price considering she has won a couple of clay court titles in 2018- Petra Kvitova made her return to the Tour a year ago following a knife attack in her home in December 2016, but she is looking back to her best and a real danger against anyone she faces.

Kvitova did win the title in Madrid on what is considered one of the faster clay courts out there and she has not had a lot of success at the Grand Slam level since winning her second Wimbledon title. In twelve Slams since then, Kvitova's best performances have been two Quarter Final runs while she has not reached the Quarter Final in Paris since her Semi Final run here in 2012.

Confidence looks to be restored though and Kvitova has the big hitting game which can carry her past a number of opponents in the bottom half of the draw. The style can be a little close to the margins though which is why I think Kvitova has not done better on the clay, especially when you have to hit more balls than she would on the grass or hard courts and thus leading to more mistakes in her play.

The Czech lefty will be playing a couple of players who are comfortable on the clay courts immediately and that is going to be a challenge for Kvitova to show where she is. Her performances in Prague and Madrid were very good, but playing on the courts in Paris have proven to be tough for her.

If she can negotiate the first couple of Rounds, Kvitova will be a favourite to get through to a Fourth Round against either Anastasija Sevastova or Sloane Stephens when she will once again face a tough challenge.

The draw could have been kinder to Kvitova which would have made her an intriguing price, especially in a section where the highest Seed is Caroline Wozniacki who has had limited success on the surface. The Australian Open Champion is unlikely to win her second Slam here in Paris and the failures of the two leading players in the section could open the door for Daria Kasatkina.

Kasatkina is very comfortable on the clay courts, but the serve can be vulnerable and that makes it hard to really believe she can reach her first Slam Semi Final. The Russian has reached one Fourth Round at this level which makes it tough to back her with any confidence and I think the entire women's draw has enough question marks for the leading players to answer to make it hard to predict.

The women's draw looks very interesting on paper, but I am finding it very difficult to back a player with any semblance of confidence. Even picking section winners is tough, although I will be surprised if Simona Halep is not able to reach the Semi Final here and the Romanian is my main source of interest in the tournament.

Halep is odds against to win the First Quarter which looks a big price even if she has a couple of awkward looking matches to negotiate, but this is a player who knows how to get to the business end of big tournaments even if she has struggled to get over the line in those events.

The other Quarters of the draw are much closer and I am not convinced about the favourites in any of those. However finding alternatives is not easy with the doubts about so many of the top names and picking Halep to reach the Semi Final is the only selection from the women's event in Paris.

MY PICKS: Alexander Zverev to 'Reach the Final' @ 3.75 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Marin Cilic to Win Second Quarter @ 4.33 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Simona Halep to Win First Quarter @ 2.50 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Friday, 25 May 2018

Champions League Final 2018- Real Madrid v Liverpool (May 26th)

Champions League Final 2018- Real Madrid v Liverpool
I can't believe how many so called Manchester United fans are talking about 'wanting' to see Liverpool win the Champions League this weekend.

I can't imagine too many have actually been to see United play Liverpool and the way their European Cup success is used as a stick to beat us with else you would never think that is what you want let alone openly tell people.

I just don't get it.

Personally I have very little love for Real Madrid and was desperately hoping Bayern Munich beat them in the Semi Final as they deserved to but that was mainly because I also thought Bayern Munich had a 'better' chance of beating Liverpool of the two teams.

However it is what it is and while I think I am being overrun by the horrible feeling of inevitability this Liverpool run has had, I also believe in my gut that Real Madrid have enough to win the trophy on Saturday.

Expected Real Madrid Team: Navas, Carvajal, Marcelo, Varane, Ramos, Modric, Casemiro, Kroos, Isco, Benzema and Ronaldo

Expected Liverpool Team: Karius, Alexander-Arnold, Robertson, Lovren, Van Dijk, Henderson, Can, Milner, Mane, Salah, Firmino

This might not have been the Champions League Final that many predicted back in August, but it has the makings of a good one when Real Madrid meet Liverpool.

Real Madrid have plenty of recent pedigree in the competition as they have won three of the last four editions of the Champions League. There have been some questions raised in the performances of Real Madrid to get through to the Final this season, but what they have displayed is plenty of experience at key times of matches.

They have also rode their luck in the last couple of Rounds and you have to feel that luck is going to run out on them at some point.

A team like Liverpool have the capabilities to create chances and score against this Real Madrid team with the front three using a lot of pace and movement to put Real Madrid in some difficult positions. They will be encouraged by the chances and goals scored by Juventus and Bayern Munich against Real Madrid and the general style of play employed by the European Champions should suit Liverpool who will have spaces to exploit on the counter attack.

Much will depend on how well Liverpool cope with what is a very good Real Madrid attack, especially having seen the English side struggle to deal with Roma in the Semi Final Second Leg

The first goal feels like it is going to be very important as it will allow the team who scores it to take their time and look for the counter attacking opportunities.

My gut feeling for weeks has been Liverpool are going to win the Champions League, but I do wonder how much that has got to do with me being a Manchester United fan and preparing myself for what feels inevitable.

However Liverpool have lost 2 of their last 3 Finals and they are playing a team who have coped with these situations better than most. Real Madrid have to use all of their experience and they will create chances against Liverpool, but there is that fear that they will finally be exposed defensively and punished by a Liverpool attack who are fine finishers.

Even then you have to lean towards Real Madrid on their experience and ability to win the big competitions which has yet to be matched by Liverpool. I think the latter will play their part and this could be a high-scoring game like the Final was last year, but like last year the reigning Champions may have a little too much know-how for their opponents.

At odds against I will look for Real Madrid to win this one and I won't be surprised if the fixture producing at least four goals on the night. While the usual stance is that Finals produce tense matches, I think these teams match up well and 3 of the last 7 Champions League Finals have produced at least four goals in regulation time.

MY PICKS: Real Madrid to Win @ 2.20 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Real Madrid-Liverpool Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.15 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Tennis Picks 2018 (May 25th)

The final week before a Grand Slam begins is a tough time to be making daily picks from the Tennis Tour and it is no surprise I have only had three picks all week despite four tournaments being played.

The last two have both come back as winners but I didn't see anything I liked to follow those up from Wednesday and had a day away on Thursday.

Instead I had a quick look through the French Open draw which was made on Thursday evening- the tournament begins on Sunday, the only Slam to begin on a Sunday, and I will have my break down of the draw and any outright picks ready to go on the site on Saturday.

Day 1 Picks will also be out on Saturday evening with the First Round matches scheduled for that day and I am looking forward to two good weeks in Paris. I wish I was going this year and it is now five years since I visited the French Open which is a remarkably long time considering how close I actually live to the event.

The French Open remains one of my favourite tournaments though and I can't wait for the start this weekend.

Before that I have some Tennis Picks from the Semi Final matches in Geneva and Strasbourg which can be read below.

Fabio Fognini - 3.5 games v Peter Gojowczyk: This is a rematch between these two players from the Rome Masters last week where Fabio Fognini was able to get the better of Peter Gojowczyk in straight sets.

It was a deserved win for Fognini who was a little fortunate to come through his Quarter Final match here in Geneva although he is arguably the favourite to win the title now Stan Wawrinka is out of the draw.

Fognini has not been as strong as previous years on the clay courts, but his return has been in good shape and he should have success against Gojowczyk like he enjoyed in Rome last week.

On the other hand Gojowczyk has room for improvement on his own return of serve despite putting three solid wins together here in Geneva. His return of serve could be more effective and I think that is going to be a difference maker between these two players on Friday with Fognini more likely to produce the break points and subsequently take those opportunities when they come his way.

It could be a tight match if Fognini is as erratic as he can be, but I think he may win in a similar fashion to Rome when he got the better of Gojowczyk with a break more in each set of a straight sets win.

Steve Johnson v Marton Fucsovics: Both of these players deserve a lot of credit for making it through to a Semi Final on the clay courts at Tour level, but it does look like Steve Johnson is playing the better tennis of the two.

Marton Fucsovics has had the best win this week when he was able to beat Stan Wawrinka, although Johnson managed to beat the Swiss player last week on this surface. Much of those wins are down to Wawrinka's recent return to the Tour, but Johnson has added solid looking wins over the likes of Guido Pella to add to his confidence on the clay.

His opponent has to be respected with the wins he has produced this week to reach the Semi Final but the numbers from the American have been very good. He has been serving at a high level on the clay and that had made Johnson tough to break, while he is doing enough on the return to get into a position to win matches.

A strong serve means opponents perhaps feel the pressure of their own serve against Johnson and I think Fucsovics will feel that too. His numbers behind the serve are simply not at the same level as Johnson and I like the latter in what is a pick 'em match.

Dominika Cibulkova v Mihaela Buzarnescu: After some injury issues, Dominika Cibulkova looks to be rounding into strong form and she has played really well in Strasbourg so far this week.

The serving has been very effective and Cibulkova has always been an aggressive returner who can enjoy playing on the clay courts. 2017 was a tough season for her on this surface, but 2018 has looked a lot better over the last couple of weeks as Cibulkova has restored some confidence with a number of wins in that time.

It will be a test of that confidence when Cibulkova takes on Mihaela Buzarnescu who has had a stunning rise up the World Rankings over the last nine months. She was dominant on the clay courts at the level below the main WTA Tour and Buzarnescu has taken that onto the main Tour with a run to the Final in Prague.

Her three wins this week have been very impressive, but Buzarnescu had lost three matches in a row on the clay before the tournament in Strasbourg began.

Both players do have similar numbers which is why the layers have this down as a pick 'em match and I think it is going to be a very close one. However I think Cibulkova has the more impressive wins this week and she is playing at a very good level at the moment which may be tough for Buzarnescu to match over the course of a couple of hours.

Ashleigh Barty - 3.5 games v Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: Ashleigh Barty has been a real success since returning to professional tennis and she has looked very comfortable on the clay courts over the last couple of months. Not many players will want to run into Barty at the French Open after close losses to Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova and those can be reversed in the form she has displayed.

Barty has really leant on her serve which is an underrated shot and she has a very strong return which is going to put some pressure on Anastasia Pavlychenkova when they meet in the Semi Final on Friday.

The Russian has been in good form this week herself, but the underlying numbers are not nearly as strong as the ones Barty has put on the board.

Pavlyuchenkova has a very good serve of her own which can produce plenty of cheap points, but her second serve is attackable. She also can struggle with her movement and I think Barty is the better defender of the two players which can be a key factor on the clay courts.

There is also a significant difference in the way the two players have returned and the success they have had on that side of the court. Barty looks to have a real edge in that department and I think the Australian will beat Pavlyuchenkova and be able to cover a big number in this second Semi Final in Strasbourg.

MY PICKS: Fabio Fognini - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Steve Johnson @ 1.83 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Dominika Cibulkova @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Ashleigh Barty - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 2-1, + 1.70 Units (6 Units Staked, + 28.33% Yield)

Boxing Picks 2018- Jamie McDonnell vs Naoya Inoue (May 25th-May 26th)

There have been some memorable fights already in 2018 and last weekend provided another when Adonis Stevenson and Badou Jack fought out to a draw.

It wasn't a fight I scored live myself, but it felt like a very close one and the draw was not a massive surprise. In the bout both Stevenson and Jack had been hurt at times although I do have to say it felt Jack won the clearer Rounds and so you could understand his frustration that he has ended up with another draw in a fight where he perhaps felt he had done enough to win.

An old school 15 Rounder would have likely given Jack the time to stop Stevenson and it was only a huge body shot in the Tenth Round which stopped the US based Swede in his tracks when he looked to be peaking in strength in the fight.

Most have called for a rematch but it looks like Stevenson will be going in another direction with the mandatory challenger for his WBC World Title unlikely to step aside.

Either way Stevenson looked a vulnerable Champion on Saturday night and is only going to lose a little more with his best years wasted with inactivity.

Stevenson has said he wants to be more active going forward, but I think his grip on the WBC Title is slipping all the time and a number of challengers will be looking to relieve him of his strap in the months ahead.

I can't move on without praising Josh Warrington and Gary Russell who both had big wins last weekend. Warrington has set himself up for some big domestic fights with the likelihood he shares a ring with Carl Frampton perhaps by the end of the year, while I just hope to see Russell fighting more than once a year.

Lee Selby will move on from the Warrington loss by moving up in weight which was long rumoured for him. The chance to become a two weight World Champion will offer plenty of motivation and I think Selby comes again even against some of the tough challenges that await in the Super Featherweight Division.

Jamie McDonnell vs Naoya Inoue
It is Friday afternoon Boxing for fans in the United Kingdom as Jamie McDonnell travels to Tokyo to take on 'Monster' Naoya Inoue with his WBA Bantamweight World Title on the line. There is plenty on the line for both fighters with the winner likely to be invited into the World Boxing Super Series tournament being set up which already involves three other World Champions.

All of the focus from the fans and the organisers will be on Naoya Inoue who is moving up in weight to become a World Champion in a third Division in just his sixteenth fight. Highlight reel stoppages have increased his exposure and Inoue has already fought in the United States, but he returns home having gotten the chance to bring Jamie McDonnell over.

McDonnell is perhaps fortunate to still hold the World Title having looked like he had lost the fight with Liborio Solis but he has the height and reach advantages against a fighter coming up in weight.

Back to back wins over previously unbeaten Tomoki Kameda will mean the Japanese audience are familiar with McDonnell but this is a much different test for the British fighter. He may proclaim to being the best Bantamweight in the world, but he won't have felt the power Inoue should carry up to this Division and I think McDonnell is going to do very well to see the final bell.

At first I expect McDonnell will try and frustrate Inoue by keeping out of range and boxing the shorter man, but Solis was able to close the gap and unload some big shots and I expect the Japanese superstar to be able to do the same. I can see Inoue breaking down McDonnell round by round and his power wearing down a fighter who could come again if he is not absorbing too much of a beating.

Solis should have beaten McDonnell and he is shorter than Inoue who still has some skills to learn which poses a question for me. He will need to find a way to close the ring off to McDonnell and I think that comes later in the fight as the body shots begin to take a toll and so any stoppage will come in the second half of the fight as far as I am concerned.

McDonnell has never been stopped, but Kameda put him down in their first fight and Inoue is the hardest puncher he would have faced. Not many have gone into the second half of the fight with Inoue, but I think McDonnell may get there before the power of his opponent breaks him down for a stoppage.

Khalid Yafai vs David Carmona
This is the US debut for Khalid Yafai and I think the British fighter can defend his WBA World Title and then put himself in line for some big fights in the Super Flyweight Division.

Some of those names have been thrown around for the future for Yafai, but the fighter himself knows the importance of looking good to make sure his name is truly placed alongside the best in the Division.

Yafai has a chance to look good against David Carmona who will come to fight, but the British fighter has to be careful against an opponent who will feel this is his last chance to become a World Champion.

He may get another shot down the line, but Carmona has found himself unable to beat the elite although he is a tough character that won't go down easily.

I expect the better boxing will come from Yafai and he will want to make a statement by stopping Carmona. However the last three wins have all come by Unanimous Decision and I think Yafai will end up putting another comfortable win in the books to keep himself in line for Unified Championship bouts going forward.

The layers expect the stoppage to come, but I will back Yafai to win on points.

MY PICKS: Naoua Inoue to Win Between 7-12 @ 2.87 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Khalid Yafai to Win by Decision/Technical Decision @ 3.25 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Tennis Picks 2018 (May 23rd)

The week before any Grand Slam event can be tough to get a real read of because players are going to be focusing on keeping something in the tank for the upcoming Slam.

Of course the majority of those players expecting to challenge for the title at the French Open are not playing this week and it does mean we have some open draws.

I haven't found a lot of options over the first couple of days at the four tournaments with a number of players in the draws that would not normally be playing at this level. As we progress through to the latter stages of the tournaments we should get more familiar match ups and we have reached the Second Round on Wednesday which has produced some options to be backed.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - 2.5 games v Natalia Vikhlyantseva: Two Russian players meet in a bid to find some form before the French Open as both Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Natalia Vikhlyantseva have struggled on the clay courts.

Out of the two players there does seem to be more room for improvement from Pavlyuchenkova who has previously had some success on this surface.

Pavlyuchenkova has definitely had the tougher draws during the clay court season compared with Vikhlyantseva and the latter has not had the same quality wins as her compatriot has had.

I expect in this match Pavlyuchenkova will have more joy from the return of serve than she has had in her clay court matches so far. That isn't a surprise when facing the quality of servers she has seen, but Vikhlyantseva has not been able to get the best out of her serve on the clay courts and it should mean Pavlyuchenkova has some success.

Her own serve is a little more consistent and I will look for Pavlyuchenkova to win and cover on Wednesday.

Sam Stosur v Daria Gavrilova: This is a virtual pick 'em set by the layers and that says a lot about the declining numbers Sam Stosur has been producing in 2018 overall and on the clay courts.

At one time Stosur was one of the best clay courters on the WTA Tour and she has enjoyed considerable success on the surface, but she has struggled for consistency this season. One of the major issues has been the lack of impact on the return of serve which has put more pressure to get it right when serving and allowed opponents to take control of matches.

The return should have a better outing against the Daria Gavrilova serve which is a vulnerable shot and forces Gavrilova into tough matches regardless of the opponent. She did reach the Final in Strasbourg last season but generally Gavrilova has been a little hard to predict on the clay courts.

That Final ended in a loss to Stosur and Gavrilova had to take another in Prague on the clay courts this season when she couldn't continue after being taken into a deciding set.

There should be a number of breaks in this match, but I do think Stosur may still be the superior clay court player despite the declining form. It will be close and may need a decider but I will look fo the veteran Australian winning this match.

MY PICKS: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - 2.5 Games @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)
Sam Stosur @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)