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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Australian Open 2012 Outright Picks

It feels like only yesterday that Novak Djokovic was wrapping up his 3rd Grand Slam title of the season at the US Open but here we are just a day away from the start of the first Grand Slam of 2012 at the Australian Open.

Anyone who followed this blog at all in the last year knows I like my tennis and I usually have picks on a weekly basis. I haven't made any to start this season as the early weeks of the season are all about players getting their fitness up to scratch and focused completely on this tournament. That leads to pull outs (even Roger Federer has pulled out of a tournament this year, his 2nd pullout in his career) and surprise winners of tournaments so I decided it was best to start the picks from this tournament.

I am going to make my outright picks on this page and I will have daily picks from the tournament through the next couple of weeks.

Men's Tournament
First Quarter
This is the quarter in which the World Number 1, and favourite to win the tournament, Novak Djokovic is placed. I think Djokovic is going to be fairly happy with his early part of the draw, not really facing anyone that can cause too many problems until the 4th Round.

At that stage he could be paired with either Andy Roddick or Milos Raonic, the latter winning the tournament in Chennai coming into this one. Roddick could already be battle hardened by the time his 3rd Round clash with Raonic comes about, facing Robin Haase and potentially Lleyton Hewitt before that.

Either way, I don't think Djokovic will have too many problems getting through to the Quarter Finals, possibly dropping a set or two at most along the way.

At this stage, Djokovic is seeded to face David Ferrer, the Spaniard still showing his talent despite coming towards the latter part of his career. Ferrer won the tournament in Auckland before this one was to begin, and has also beaten Nadal this season at the exhibition in the Middle East. Even though the players split their meetings last season 1-1, I think Djokovic has too much consistency for Ferrer and demolished him for the loss of 3 games in a meeting earlier this season.

Ferrer will also have to negotiate a potential 4th Round clash with either Janko Tipsarevic or Richard Gasquet with the former being the bigger threat to Djokovic in my opinion, especially if he can bring the form that took him to the US Open Quarter Finals into Australia.

Overall, I do think Djokovic will be too strong for this section, although Tipsarevic could provide a stern test in a potential Quarter Final despite needing to negotiate a couple of tricky matches before reaching that stage.

Second Quarter
The top seed in this Quarter of the draw is Andy Murray, but he has also been the most unfortunate of the top players with a number of tricky matches standing in his way. The first two rounds are likely to see him face Ryan Harrison and Xavier Malisse, both winnable contests but ones that could take a little longer than someone would want to spend on the courts in a hot Australia.

However, it is the 4th Round that brings a big challenge in the form of Gael Monfils, a player that looks set to finally fulfil some of the potential he has always had. Monfils is playing aggressive tennis at the start of this season, tennis that saw him reach the Final in Doha while beating Rafael Nadal on the way. This could easily be the match of the Round and one that could go either way.

The player that may take advantage of a titanic 4th Round game between Monfils and Murray is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga- Tsonga has previous at the Australian Open where he reached the Final in 2008 and he has what looks like a straight forward draw to the Quarter Final against the winner of the match above.

I don't see Tsonga having too many issues in the first 3 Rounds of the tournament and I don't really foresee him losing more than a set in that time. His biggest problem could be facing Kei Nishikori in a potential 4th Round clash- Nishikori has won the 2 previous meetings against Tsonga, but he has been very inconsistent in his career so far and it would not surprise me if he lost to someone like Matthew Ebden before that time.

Murray has a very good record against Tsonga, winning 5 of their 6 clashes, although his one loss came in this tournament in 2008. However, it will be interesting to see how much the clash with Monfils has taken out of the World Number 4, while Tsonga has a much stronger record against his fellow countryman.

Murray is rightly expected to come out of this Quarter, but I wouldn't be surprised if Tsonga can punish his way through the Brit after his tough game with Monfils and go through to the Semi Finals instead.

Third Quarter
Roger Federer has been placed in the Third Quarter here at the Australian Open and can't be overly disappointed with his opportunity to work his way into the tournament despite concerns about his back that forced a pullout in Doha. I don't think Federer will have too many issues getting through the first 3 Rounds of the tournament, but there are a couple of potential dangermen lurking in the 4th Round.

Alexandr Dolgopolov, Fernando Verdasco and Bernard Tomic are all potential opponents at that stage for Federer. The most likely to face him, in my opinion, is Dolgopolov as I feel he has been given the best draw. However, I wouldn't be overly confident in picking a player that has had the habit of throwing in disappointing performances and it would be no surprise if he did exit the tournament earlier than expected.

Barring any lingering back issues, I think Federer will be strong enough to at least continue his run of reaching the Quarter Finals of Grand Slams over the last 7 years.

At that stage, the former World Number 1 could be paired with either Mardy Fish or Juan Martin Del Potro, two of the real dark horses in this tournament. I expect both of these players to make their way through the draw to a potential 4th Round clash and that could be another titanic clash.

Fish leads the head to head between the players 3-2, but I think Del Potro was showing a lot of flashes of his old form towards the end of last season and I would fancy the big Argentinian to find his way through, perhaps in a good old-fashioned 5 set match.

A Federer-Del Potro clash would be their first in a Grand Slam since the US Open Final of 2009 and could be really difficult to decide. However, if Federer's back is giving him any kind of lingering pain, Del Potro may just be able to make his next big breakthrough at this tournament and knock off one of the World's top 3 players.

Fourth Quarter
The final Quarter is where Rafael Nadal will reside and I think he will be more than happy that the likes of Fish, Del Potro and Tsonga have not been placed in his section. A quick look at his draw suggests the Spaniard should be too good for his first 3 opponents, including an Ivan Ljubicic who is definitely in the final couple of years of his career.

The 4th Round could see Nadal paired with a couple of players that are not the force of old in Nikolay Davydenko or David Nalbandian, but his most likely opponent will be John Isner. The big American doesn't have many matches under his belt this season, but his serve and groundstrokes should be well suited to this surface, and I think he will be too strong for the opponents he is likely to face in the early Rounds.

Isner will also feel he is more than capable of knocking off Rafael Nadal here after pushing him to 5 sets at the French Open last year and I would give him a shot in this game if he hasn't expended too much energy in the early Rounds. That was what done for Isner when he met Andy Murray in the 4th Round here in 2010, but I still think he could give Nadal plenty of issues.

The other seeded player for the Quarter Finals is Tomas Berdych and I think he has been given a kind draw to reach the 4th Round at a minimum. Kevin Anderson could be a dangerous 3rd Round opponent, but I expect the big Czech player to have too much consistency for Anderson and get through potentially in 4 sets.

It is hard to gauge who Berdych would meet in the 4th Round as there are some players that are out of form (Stanislas Wawrinka), inconsistent (Marcos Baghdatis), or not as good as a hard court as they are on a clay court (Nicolas Almagro). Wawrinka has beaten Berdych in the last 3 times they have played, but he has not been the same since becoming a father and I can't say I fully trust him to even get as far as the 4th Round.

I can see either Nadal, Isner or Berdych coming through this Quarter and reaching the Semi Final.

Semi Finals and Beyond
The Semi Finals, as far as I am concerned, could see a couple of fresher guys taking on players that have come through a couple of really tough Rounds, particularly when it comes to whoever Novak Djokovic gets to play.

It is hard to see anyone other than Djokovic going on to win this tournament and he will be the first player that I will keep on my side, placing a heavier load on the World Number 1's shoulders to retain his title.

On the other side of the draw, I am going to have a small interest on either Juan Martin Del Potro or Tomas Berdych at least making the Final by playing e/w on them. I like Del Potro's chances to take advantage of the ailing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and it is a similar reasoning behind taking Tomas Berdych, who has been given a fairly kind draw before the Quarter Final.

Women's Tournament
First Quarter
This section of the draw is reserved for the World Number 1, Caroline Wozniacki, a player that anyone who has followed this blog for any time will know that I do not rate very highly. While Wozniacki is the Number 1 seed, the bigger stars in this section are surely the two Finalists from 2011, Kim Clijsters and Na Li.

Neither one of those Finalists are givens this season to reach the same stage simply because of injuries to Clijsters, while Li has struggled to deal with the expectations that come with being a Grand Slam Champion since winning at the French Open.

One player that could cause both Finalists a problem is Daniela Hantuchova, a Runner Up in the tournament at Brisbane to open the season and one who had some real success at Grand Slam level last season. Hantuchova is scheduled to meet Clijsters in the 3rd Round, if they both get there, and Li in the 4th Round so all 3 players could have a tough road just to get to a Quarter Final.

Wozniacki has been given a decent draw here and I don't expect too many issues before she is seeded to meet Jelena Jankovic in the 4th Round. However, the Serb former World Number 1 is not the same player of old and I would expect Wozniacki to move forward.

I don't know which of the 3 women I have highlighted from the bottom of this section will get through to the Semi Finals, but I think all 3 would be too strong if they got to meet Wozniacki at this stage, except for Hantuchova perhaps, as all would be a lot more battle-hardened. Kim Clijsters has said she is feeling very good at the moment, despite pulling out in Brisbane, and I would suggest she is still the one to beat in this section.

Second Quarter
The star in this section is the controversial Victoria Azarenka, a player that I find to be pretty good to watch and someone who could potentially win a Grand Slam this year if the cards fall right. She has been given a pretty decent draw, although with a couple of awkward looking early matches. I expect Azarenka to come through the opening 4 Rounds here, especially if she brings her form from Sydney into the tournament with her biggest threat being a 4th Round clash with Shuai Peng.

However, Azarenka leads the head to head 5-1, her only loss coming when she was forced to retire in the second set.

The bottom half of this Quarter has some decent players, led by Agnieska Radwanska and Francesca Schiavone, but I don't think either of these players will be capable of living with Azarenka if the latter is on form.

Radwanska has a tough opener against the American Bethanie Mattek-Sands and also a tough 3rd Round contest where she is seeded to meet Yanina Wickmayer. The Belgian player is an enigma that could cause plenty of problems for those in the bottom half of the section, but it all seems like it could open up for Azarenka to get through to another Semi Final at a Grand Slam.

Third Quarter
This is the Quarter that is dominated by the presence of Serena Williams, the American already accustomed to having a long lay-off and coming back to win this tournament. But don't think she is the only player in this part of the draw as there are some real threats in the form of Maria Sharapova, Sabine Lisicki and Vera Zvonareva to contend with.

Williams could face a tough test as soon as the 3rd Round thanks to her seeding, and she is set to meet Dominika Cibulkova at that stage if results go as they should. Williams also suffered a leg injury at a recent tournament in Brisbane, but has spoken about feeling better in the 10 days she has had to recover and I would expect her to beat a player that can struggle against the very best mentally and for physical power.

Zvonareva could be the next person in Williams way, or it could be Kaia Kenepi who won the tournament in Brisbane. I think an in-form Serena proves far too strong for either of those players and I would expect she would make the Quarter Finals if she is ready to play.

The bottom section of this Quarter has given Sharapova and Lisicki some problems to overcome- Sharapova has a tough 1st Round game with Gisela Dulko, but I expect the Russian can get through to the 4th Round if she wins that game.

Lisicki is likely to face the under-rated Svetlana Kuznetsova in the 3rd Round and that is never an easy task. With Lisicki having some injury issues, I think we could see a surprise here, and it could go a step further as Sharapova herself has not been at 100% for a while.

I think this section could quickly open up for Serena Williams, someone who is surely good to go if she has decided to take her place in the draw and one that has the beating of 90% of players even when she is not at her best herself.

Fourth Quarter
Petra Kvitova was an impressive winner at Wimbledon last year and she is the World Number 2 coming into this tournament and the favourite to win the event. Her style of play means she can take the racquet out of an opponents hands, but it also means that she can hurt herself if the groundstrokes are slightly off from normal.

Her biggest danger in this section before the Quarter Finals could be the up and coming Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who is a potential 4th Round opponent. Pavlyuchenkova has been steadily improving in the last 18 months, but could face a difficult game against Ana Ivanovic in the 3rd Round, a player she has yet to beat in her career.

There is one real threat at the top half of the draw in the form of home favourite, and reigning US Open Grand Slam Champion, Sam Stosur- she has had a similar problem as other first time winners of a Grand Slam in really struggling for form since winning at Flushing Meadows and it will be interesting to see how she deals with the expectation of the home crowd.

It will be interesting when she is seeded to meet Nadia Petrova in the 3rd Round, especially considering their epic at the US Open last September and that could be Stosur's undoing. Potentially facing Marion Bartoli will also not be an easy ask for Stosur in the 4th Round and I think it may be tough for her to replicate the form that took her all the way in New York.

While many will think Kvitova comes through this section, I think we could see the break-out performance of Anastasia Pavyluchenkova in this tournament and perhaps a surprise Semi Final berth.

Semi Final and Beyond
The Woman's draw looks to be dominated by those at the top of the market and I am not going to go too far away from those I think can win the tournament from the top half of the draw.

I think there are a lot of question marks over many of those in the bottom half of the draw, although I do think Serena Williams would be tough to stop if she is fighting fit. She could be given a chance to work herself into the tournament with the way the draw has panned out and I still think she is head and shoulders the best player in the World when she is fit to go.

Victoria Azarenka has really performed well here in the past although the heat has taken its toll on her. I think she is just about ready to make a real impact in a Grand Slam and perhaps go all the way and win it so I will have an interest in her to do so.

The other player I will keep on my side is Kim Clijsters as she has the pedigree of winning here and claims she is as healthy as she has been in months. Clijsters could be hard to stop at a double-digit price and I will keep her onside here too.

MY PICKS: Novak Djokovic @ 2.38 Bodog (4 Units)
Juan Martin Del Potro @ 17.00 Bet365 (0.5 Units E/W)
Tomas Berdych @ 51.00 Paddy Power (0.5 Units E/W)
Serena Williams @ 5.00 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Victoria Azarenka @ 7.00 Bodog (1 Unit)
Kim Clijsters @ 11.00 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)

2011 Season: + 82.02 Units

1 comment:

  1. Good to see your doing the tennis again, made a few quid following you picks last year. Good Luck.