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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Miami Tennis Outright Picks (March 21-April 1)

I had a horrible last day in the Indian Wells tennis tournament as I lost a little bit of faith in how things were going so I decided to take the rest of the week off from the Quarter Finals stage and take a watching brief on how things were going.

I would certainly not have expected John Isner to make the Final of the event, so I think I saved myself a little bit of heartache, while the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal is another where I might have gone a different way.

I will be providing a recap of Indian Wells in the next 24 hours or so, but the next big event is already upon us as the unofficial 'fifth major' begins in Miami. On this thread, I will break down the Men's and Women's draws and also pick a couple of players for my outright staking plan.

Men's Tournament
First Quarter
As usual these days, we see Novak Djokovic at the very top of the draw as he bids to recover from a couple of relative setbacks on his amazing 2011 season. This time last year, Djokovic had already secured another two titles at Dubai and Indian Wells, but he comes into this one having been beaten in the Semi Finals of both events.

Now I don't know how much we should read into these events at the moment considering he did win the Australian Open, but it is clear that the little bit of luck that was on his side last season is missing so far.

Djokovic has a potentially very awkward first match here in Miami as he could meet Marcos Baghdatis, but I expect the Serb will be a little too consistent for him and can then have a relatively straight-forward passage to the Quarter Finals.

At that stage, Djokovic is likely to meet the winner of the Juan Martin Del Potro and David Ferrer match, although I do favour the Argentine in that spot. Del Potro has made a real impact on the Tour this season as he looks to rediscover his 2009 form, but he has consistently found Roger Federer a little too good for him.

I expect the World Number 11 to beat Ferrer if they do meet, although that could be a gruelling encounter, one that should give Novak Djokovic the edge in any potential Quarter Final clash.

Second Quarter
The second quarter of the draw is where the most in-form player on the Tour, Roger Federer, is placed. To cut a long story short, I think Federer will be very happy with the draw and his route through to the Semi Finals.

He does potentially face Andy Roddick in the Third Round, but the American has fallen out of the Top 32 in the Rankings for a very good reason and I don't see him posing enough problems for Federer at this stage of their careers.

A potential Quarter Final with Mardy Fish will not worry Federer in the slightest considering the form Fish has been displaying in the early part of 2012 and I think we are more likely to see either Fernando Verdasco or Kevin Anderson at this stage, with neither player likely to cause Federer too many sleepless nights.

Third Quarter
The third quarter of the draw is perhaps the most interesting of all as we see players like Tomas Berdych, Andy Murray, Janko Tipsarevic, Milos Raonic and the rejuvenated David Nalbandian in the section.

Andy Murray had a terrible Indian Wells when he was beaten in the Second Round by Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, and he does not have the easiest of starts here as he will likely face Denis Istomin in his first match and quickly follow that with a match against Milos Raonic.

However, I do believe the Indian Wells result was a blip and I can see Murray given those two players plenty of problems with the mix of spin and variations he uses in his matches. Those two matches will also give the British Number 1 a lot of confidence, confidence that could take him through to the Quarter Final.

Tomas Berdych is his most likely opponent in that match as he has a couple of relatively straight-forward matches to get through before facing a potential Fourth Round match with one of Alexandr Dolgopolov, David Nalbandian or Janko Tipsarevic.

However, those latter three players will already have had a couple of real tough matches to get through to the Fourth Round and may, understandably, be a little fatigued.

With Berdych suffering with the flu in Indian Wells, I think I favour Murray to have a bounce back week at a venue where he has won the tournament before, but the first couple of matches is where he is going to be most vulnerable.

Fourth Quarter
The final quarter of the draw looks set for Rafael Nadal to make the Semi Finals for the second tournament in succession. The Spanish player could not have hand picked a much easier way to get involved in the tournament than the matches he is expected to face in the first three Rounds and I would be more than surprised if he doesn't make the Quarter Final.

His likely opponents at that stage are either the runner up from Indian Wells, John Isner, or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who have both been given what looks like a nice passage through to a Fourth Round clash with one another.

Isner could be a real danger for Nadal, but he has had fitness issues in the past and I think last weeks run at Indian Wells may just catch up with him despite the few days of rest he will have earned.

Tsonga has been a little hit and miss this season and I think Nadal would eventually wear him down through his own consistency and that should enable the Spanish player to make it through to the Semi Finals at the least.

Outright Picks
We have seen that the majority of the Masters Events over the last few seasons has been won by one of the top 4 tennis players in the Men's Rankings and I see no reason to believe otherwise.

I think it is telling that Juan Martin Del Potro is yet to win an event at this level, despite winning a Grand Slam, and I also believe the prices on Novak Djokovic have reached tempting levels.

Roger Federer is the obvious danger with his form being what it is, but it is tough to win these events back to back and I think he may fall to the Serb in a potential Semi Final meeting on what have generally been slower hard courts over the last few seasons.

I am also going to back Andy Murray each-way this week, despite him letting me down last time out at Indian Wells, as his price looks a little big IF he can negotiate the first couple of matches he has in his way. However, he has shown he can make a real impact at this event when he gets on a run by winning it in 2009, and he has shown good form with a run to the Semi Finals in Australia and the Final in Dubai before that surprise defeat at Indian Wells.

Rafael Nadal looked rusty last week in California, so I am happy to take him on with Murray.

Women's Tournament
First Quarter
The Women's tournament has already started at Indian Wells, but the prices remain steady as the big seeded players do not begin until Thursday.

Sometimes it can be easy to over-think things, but I refuse to let this be one of these occasions so it is hard pressed to look beyond Victoria Azarenka with the way that she has opened up 2012.

The only two players in this section that may surprise Azarenka are Angelique Kerber and Marion Bartoli, but it is hard to look beyond the World Number 1 after the way she played following a scare in her first match at Indian Wells.

Second Quarter
The second quarter is headed up by Petra Kvitova, but she looked out of sorts in her defeat at Indian Wells to Christina McHale and I am still unsure as to where the Wimbledon Champion is in terms of fitness, belief and confidence.

There are plenty of challengers on paper headed by Ana Ivanovic, Vera Zvonareva and Agnieska Radwanska, but all three of those players have had their own issues.

Ivanovic and Zvonareva have had a few injury problems to contend with recently so it is likely that Radwanska is the most likely beneficiary of the section, although she didn't look at her best in Indian Wells either.

Third Quarter
This is where we see the return of Serena Williams to the Tour (both Williams sisters miss the Indian Wells event after being racially abused there a few seasons ago) and I think we know she is capable of making waves even when she has not been playing as much tennis as her rivals before an event.

Serena has reached the Final of this event on the last three occasions she has competed in Miami (winning twice, but losing the latest to Victoria Azarenka) so she clearly likes the conditions here, although this is her first appearance since 2009 at South Beach.

There are some potentially tough hurdles in her way in the form of Sam Stosur, Julia Goerges and Caroline Wozniacki to contend with, but I would favour Serena to beat all three if it comes down to it.

Stosur has not been in the best of form to open up 2012 and the slower conditions may not favour her in a match with Williams, while Wozniacki is really struggling since losing her World Number 1 Ranking.

Goerges is an interesting character but blows hot and cold so often that it is tough to see her beating Williams in a match IF the German can reach that stage.

A real potential dark horse from this section is Kim Clijsters, another player that has shown her capabilities of competing on the Tour despite not playing as many tournaments as her rivals. She is in the same half of the section as Goerges and Wozniacki so could be battle hardened for a tilt with Serena Williams if it gets to that stage.

Fourth Quarter
The second best player on the WTA Tour at this moment in time is Maria Sharapova, a player that will be playing in her 'home' state of Florida and one that has only really found Victoria Azarenka too good for her this season.

She at least did me proud by reaching the Final last time out in Indian Wells and there is no reason to doubt her ability to do the same this week in Miami.

The likes of Na Li and Jelena Jankovic may cause problems for the Russian, but she has shown a lot of consistency in her game, while her belief is second to none that she can win matches and tournaments.

I doubt that Sharapova will be exiting this tournament prematurely and a potential Semi Final against Serena Williams would make wonderful viewing.

Outright Picks
The odds on Victoria Azarenka have become very short as the layers are worried they have another 'Djokovic season' on their hands, so the value potentially lies with one of her rivals, especially considering how close Azarenka came to losing her first match at Indian Wells in the last tournament.

With the belief that Azarenka is the most likely winner, I am looking at the other half of the draw for a couple of potential each-way shouts that could take advantage if the World Number 1 was to fall early.

You have to keep Maria Sharapova in the staking plans as she has shown the most consistency outside of Azarenka this season and she did reach the Final here in 2011 before losing to... yes, you guessed it, Victoria Azarenka.

At 9.00, an each-way shout on Sharapova looks worth risking.

I did consider picking Serena Williams too, but she has a tough section to get out of as well as the fact that the layers seem to be taking no chances with her prices, so I will stick with the Russian as my one and only play from the Woman's draw.

MY OUTRIGHT PICKS: Novak Djokovic @ 3.00 Totesport (2 Units)
Andy Murray @ 7.00 Totesport (1 Unit E/W)
Maria Sharapova @ 9.00 Sky Bet (1 Unit E/W)

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