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Sunday, 10 July 2011

Tennis Outright Picks July 11th-17th

The ATP Tour returns to its usual format this week as the Davis Cup Quarter Finals are behind us and we have a couple of tournaments running in Bastad, Sweden and in Stuttgart, Germany.

Both of these events are played on clay courts and it is seen as a good chance for some of the players to build points before the hard court season kicks off in August. The likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray are not likely to have any action until the Montreal Masters that begins on August 8th, but that is not to say we dont have some strong fields this week.

There are a couple of doubts over the participation of players, but it should be a quality filled week of tennis on the circuit.

ATP Bastad
This tournament in Sweden sees 4 players from the top 15 taking part in the event and should be one of interest for the spectators as the top seed is Robin Soderling. Soderling pulled out of the Davis Cup tie against Serbia over the weekend and was ill the last time he took to the court when being defeated by Bernard Tomic at Wimbledon.

Soderling has really developed into a top class clay court player after it was considered his worst surface for much of his early career. This season it has taken the very best players to beat him on the surface and he has definite claims. However, he will likely have to face Tomas Berdych in the Semi Finals, although the Czech player has not been in the same form as last season.

The reason for Soderling's absence for the Davis Cup tie is also a concern, but the Swede does have a good recent record in this tournament, reaching the Final last year and finishing as Runner Up the year before.

The concerns surrounding Robin Soderling's health and Tomas Berdych's form means I will instead look at the bottom half of the draw for my pick.

David Ferrer's draw particularly stood out to me and it looks like the Number 2 seed has a fairly good chance of reaching the Final. However, the Spaniard was in the midst of a battle against Mardy Fish in the Davis Cup as I write this (Fish has just taken this match into a 4th set and we have already seen over 3 hours of tennis) and I am a little concerned that he will not take part in the tournament. Even though he has been given a bye into the 2nd Round, the mental energy being used in the Davis Cup may just work against him this week.

Ferrer has reached the Semi Final twice in his last 2 visits to the tournament, and was the Winner before that, but the issues surrounding his mental state, plus the long travel from Texas to Sweden makes the 2.75 being offered look extremely short.

Instead I will look at Ferrer's compratiot in the form of Nicolas Almagro in the outright market. Almagro is the Number 4 seed this week and is extremely comfortable on the clay courts.

Almagro is up to Number 13 in the World Rankings and has already won 3 titles this season, all the titles coming on clay courts. He too will be given a bye into the 2nd Round where he is scheduled to meet a Qualifier. The Spaniard is then seeded to meet Andrey Golubev, but either of the 4 possible opponents should be no match for him.

The biggest obstacle could be a potential Semi Final with Ferrer, a player that has beaten Almagro on all 7 occasions they have played, but there is no telling whether Ferrer is mentally ready to play this tournament and it could be another opponent on the line.

Another factor to help me feel a little more confident in backing Almagro is that he is the defending Champion here and has also reached the Quarter Final and finished as Runner Up in his last 2 appearances at the event.

Almagro is the 4th favourite to win the event, but he could find his path much clearer than the likes of Berdych and Soderling, especially if Ferrer is not quite up to his usual standards, and could be in line to win his 4th title of the season.

ATP Stuttgart
This tournament is headed up by Gael Monfils and it is no real surprise to see him at the top of the outright market too. However, Monfils has been handed a real tough 1st Round assignment against Victor Hanescu, even though the Frenchman has a 3-1 head to head record over him. Hanescu should provide problems, and actually beat Monfils the last time they played on a clay court.

The other seeds in the top half all have question marks against them- Florian Mayer was clearly suffering with some sort of injury during his Davis Cup defeat to Richard Gasquet so could have a couple of problems despite the relative ease of his draw through to the Quarter Finals.

Mikhail Youzhny has been handed a tough opener against Phillip Petzschner and also sees a potential clash with Juan Carlos Ferrero in the next Round, while Andreas Seppi has had a poor clay court season.

Therefore it seems best to concentrate on the bottom half of the draw where some significant players are in action.

Jurgen Melzer is the 2nd seed this year and is the 3rd favourite at the oddsmakers, but he has not had the best seasons so far. I do expect the Austrian to get through the early Rounds without too many problems but he does face a potentially tough Quarter Final regardless of who he meets there.

It seems the best section to pick a winner from could be the one where Nikolay Davydenko and Gilles Simon reside.

Now Nikolay Davydenko has always been a favourite of mine to watch, a player who is extremely consistent with his groundstrokes... Unfortunately, injury and lack of form has seen Davydenko fall away from the heights of around 18 months ago when he was one of the real dark horses in the Australian Open after winning the ATP End of year Championships.

There have been one or two signs that Davydenko may be coming back to form after he won in Munich on the clay earlier this season, but he seems to have taken a step back with 1 win from his last 4 tournaments played.

Davydenko has reached the Semi Finals here on a couple of occasions in the past, but the last 2 visits have been less memorable with a Quarter Final exit and a 2nd Round exit last season.

That leaves Gilles Simon as the player I like the look of the most. Simon is another player that has slipped from a career high ranking of 6 in January 2009 thanks to injury, although it looks like he is on the way back after moving back up to Number 18. It is unlikely that Simon reaches the dizzy heights of late 2008/early 2009 again, but he is once again competitive.

Simon does have 3 career titles on clay courts from the 8 he has won, and he did have a decent time during the clay court season and at the French Open.

The draw has also given Simon a chance to go deep in the tournament- he faces Albert Montanes in the 1st Round, but does hold a 3-1 head to head record against him with all the matches played on clay.

The Frenchman will then likely face Pablo Andujar, a clay court specialist, but one who should not have the consistency to derail Simon. He will then face Davydenko, a player he has beaten 5 times in a row before a potential Semi Final with Melzer.

Melzer leads the head to head with Simon 2-1, and did beat him in 5 sets on the clay in a Davis Cup match, but it is not exactly clear that Melzer will reach this stage with a tough Quarter Final in his way.

I believe if Simon can get through the Final, he will have the confidence to take on all of his prospective opponents, and he could make these odds on him winning his 2nd title of the season look silly.

OUTRIGHT PICKS: Nicolas Almagro to win Bastad @ 6.5 Stan James (1 Unit E/W)
Gilles Simon to win Stuttgart @ 8.0 Stan James (1 Unit E/W)
E/W is 0.5 the odds for the win and will pay out if the player reaches the Final

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