Featured post

Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (February 8-17)

The English Winter Break is in play for the first time this season and I think it has not gone as well as the Premier League and the top clu...

Thursday, 31 May 2012

French Open Day 5 Picks (31st May)

It has been more than a disappointing start to this Grand Slam for me and the worst since covering the last four over the previous 12 months. It has been my own fault as I have shortlisted plenty of picks that have turned out to be winners, but I have a knack of finding the losers and making sure they are all picked.

It's been a little frustrating too as players picked seem to fall apart at the merest hint of pressure, while their opponents seem to have all the mental toughness. Still, I still believe I have the right system in place and it is a matter of time before things turn around (and hopefully beginning today and before the tournament comes to a close).

Venus Williams sadly exited today, although that was the smallest interest I had in the outright stakes. It was more of a shame seeing a once great player just not look herself and I would not be surprised if this the last season we see her on the Tour unless she can get something to help her physical issues out.

Roger Federer dropped a set today, but Novak Djokovic has yet to lose one and that is good news for one of my outright picks in the Men's draw. I also think Federer is definitely looking vulnerable at the moment and his potential match with Tomas Berdych in the Quarter Final is beginning to look like being a real test of his credentials.

Day 5 Picks:

Andy Murray - 8.5 games v Jarkko Nieminen: This is definitely a step up for Andy Murray following his First Round win, but it is a winnable match as there isn't anything that Jarkko Nieminen can offer that will scare the World Number 4.

I have a lot of respect for Nieminen simply for getting the very best out of his game, although he is just a really solid player all round without being exceptional in any one area. A concern for the Finn will be his own serve which can be a liability at times and that spells trouble against one of the most effective returners on the Men's Tour.

There is some concern with how Andy Murray is doing physically, but he should be too good for Nieminen here having won their previous three meetings. They last met a couple of years ago at Wimbledon when Murray won by 9 games and I think something similar will happen in this match.

Hopefully Murray can make the fast start to this match as he did in the First Round and put himself in a strong position to cover.

Mikhail Youzhny - 1.5 sets v Robin Haase: I was going to favour Mikhail Youzhny to cover the big spread against James Blake in the First Round and it didn't take long for me to regret not pulling the trigger as he dismantled the veteran American.

Youzhny is one of the most talented players around, but he can be a little inconsistent at times, particularly as his career is winding down. The Russian hasn't played a lot of tennis this year down to injuries, but has been winning more than he has lost, while it has taken the best players to take him down on the clay courts.

Losses to Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic are no real disgrace on the surface and I think he is still too effective for Robin Haase despite the Dutchman favouring the clay over other surfaces.

Haase did enjoy a good run at Monte Carlo, but has since lost to Stanislas Wawrinka and Juan Carlos Ferrero while another to Santiago Giraldo is a little more concerning. He lost the only previous meeting with Mikhail Youzhny and was beaten by Mardy Fish in this Second Round last season.

I can see the first set being close, possibly even the first two sets, before Youzhny takes control and gets through.

Richard Gasquet - 6.5 games v Grigor Dimitrov: If you haven't heard of Grigor Dimitrov, just to let you know that he is a talented youngster that has been compared to Roger Federer in his style of play and potential, but one who has failed to live up to lofty expectations at the moment.

Dimitrov also has the habit of letting his head drop when things are going against him, while some of his defeats on the clay this season have been puzzling to say the least. Last week he was beaten comfortably by Gilles Simon, but it is the defeats to Aljaz Bedane and Xavier Malisse that are much more troublesome.

Richard Gasquet had to work hard to get through his First Round match, but he should have enough consistency to extract the errors from Dimitrov in this match and help himself to the cover as well as a place in the Third Round. The Frenchman will believe he can win this match and seems to perform better when under those conditions than when playing players he doesn't have the same belief against.

I expect Dimitrov to at least push Gasquet at first, but perhaps fall away if he falls behind and allow Gasquet to win and cover.

Petra Kvitova - 6.5 games v Urszula Radwanska: Petra Kvitova may not be the most comfortable on a clay court, but I expect her to take care of the younger Radwanska sister on the Tour behind her own big groundstrokes and solid serve.

Kvitova won easily in the First Round and has all the tools to punish Radwanska who is not as good a defender as her big sister. If the Czech player can make a fast start, she could be well on the way to a cover by the end of the first set.

Radwanska did well to win in the First Round as the underdog, but this is a completely different test for her. Losses to Heather Watson and Melinda Czink on the clay courts will be a concern coming into this match. The Pole has also not been the most comfortable on the clay courts in her young career, so I expect the Wimbledon Champion to be too strong for her.

Tommy Haas to win 3-1 in sets v Sergey Stakhovsky: Sergey Stakhovsky caused one of the surprises of the First Round as he beat compatriot Alexandr Dolgopolov in five sets and he now faces a veteran who is having one more run here in the form of Tommy Haas.

Haas will be most famous to the casual fans of being the man who held match points against Roger Federer at the 2009 French Open the day after Rafael Nadal had been beaten by Robin Soderling. He has already had a successful week by qualifying and winning a round in the main draw, but Haas is unlikely to want to end things here.

I do think he is favourite to win the match, but the German is a little inconsistent these days and it is entirely possible that he could have a lapse in concentration that allows Stakhovsky to take a set in the match.

The Ukrainian has a decent serve and good movement so is comfortable on the clay courts. However, he could be a little tired mentally after a five set contest in the last round and may fall away if he goes 2-1 down in sets.

I think the first two sets are likely to be split, but that is when Haas' mental belief will see him through in what will be a tight match.

MY PICKS: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - 8.5 games @ 2.40 Pinnacle (2 Units) Play suspended with Tsonga receiving serve at 6-2, 4-6, 1-1 (15-15)
Andy Murray - 8.5 games @ 2.17 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Mikhail Youzhny - 1.5 sets @ 2.17 188Bet (2 Units)
Richard Gasquet - 6.5 games @ 1.92 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Petra Kvitova - 6.5 games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Tommy Haas win 3-1 in sets @ 3.75 Bet Victor (1 Unit)

FRENCH OPEN UPDATE: 6-11, - 7 Units (31 Units Staked)

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

French Open Day 4 Picks (May 30th)

Last season, I had around three bad days when making picks from this tournament, but I have had two bad days from three already this season so I have to be careful that I don't dig a big hole for myself early in the event.

There have been some surprisingly lacklustre performances from players that seem happy just to get through rather than spending as little time on court as possible. The underdogs also continue to make hay in the handicap markets meaning the layers are the ones that are currently dominating the event.

Yesterday was an awful day for the picks as they went 2-4 on the day, but the one saving grace was the exit of Serena Williams which has opened up the bottom half of the draw.

I like Serena Williams and have always admired her game, but with Na Li and Maria Sharapova both picked in the outrights, the American's exit leaves me in a solid position with those two players. In fact, Sharapova is no better than 3.50 to win the tournament from here (backed at 9.00) and Li is down to 7.00 (backed at 15.00) and that looks good considering they have only moved on one Round.

Rafael Nadal also moved through without any problems and that is good news with him being my main back in the Men's tournament, while the fact that none of the top 4 have dropped a set yet is also a bonus, although there is still plenty to go in this event.

Day 4 Picks:

Marin Cilic - 1.5 sets v Juan Carlos Ferrero: A few seasons ago, I would have favoured the Spaniard in this clash, but I think he is on the lower point in his career curve than Marin Cilic is right now and I think the Croatian player will do enough to win this one in 3 or 4 sets.

Both players recorded comfortable First Round wins, but it is Cilic that has shown the brighter form in recent weeks as he looks to get back up the Rankings after starting the season with an injury.

He is solid off the ground and has the better serve and that could be the key to him going through in this one.

Juan Carlos Ferrero lost in 3 sets to Roger Federer in Rome recently, but that tournament has been the high point of his 2012 season, while defeats to the likes of Leonardo Mayer, Igor Andreev and Thomaz Bellucci are a worry.

Cilic won their own previous meeting in straight sets on the hard courts of Cincinnati three years ago, and I think he can double his wins over Ferrero here.

Michael Berrer v Nicolas Devilder: This is a surprise Second Round match as both players got through the First Round with upset wins.

Michael Berrer had the tougher day in the office as he had to recover from 0-2 down in sets to win the match against Jurgen Melzer, but that kind of result can inspire a man who reached the Third Round here last season despite not having the tools to suggest he would be that good of a clay court player.

Nicolas Devilder had to come through qualifying, as did Berrer, and lost just 4 games in his First Round win over Filip Krajinovic, but he generally competes at a lower level than his German opponent and he has also lost his last 2 meetings with Berrer.

The last of those came on the clay courts of Casablanca last season and it saw Berrer come through 6-3, 6-3 on that occasion. We have seen other French players become inspired behind a partisan home crowd, but I don't think that will be enough for Devilder in this one and I think Berrer will get through, likely in 4 sets.

Michael Llodra + 7.5 games v Tomas Berdych: I was pleasantly surprised that Michael Llodra has been given so many games against an opponent he has relished playing in the past.

Llodra is not a clay court expert by any stretch of the imagination, but his serve-volley tactics can make life awkward for anybody, especially when he is serving well. I expect him to put the pressure on Tomas Berdych as soon as he has a chance and it can be mentally exhausting for an opponent to continuously try and find the passing shot, even more so against an accomplished volleyer as Llodra.

Berdych is definitely a dark horse on the clay courts, but this match is taking place on one of the courts that seems to have the lower bounces, unlike the two main show courts. That should give Llodra a chance to perhaps steal a set on his way out of the tournament.

It is also worth bearing in mind that Llodra has won the last two meetings against Berdych, both in Grand Slam events and once at the French Open in 5 sets. With the possibility of tie-breaks, the 7.5 games looks a lot to me.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - 8.5 games v Cedrik-Marcel Stebe: The big handicaps have not been covered much by the favourites so far this tournament, but this looks a good possibility as long as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga can serve well.

Cedrik-Marcel Stebe much prefers the faster surfaces and was the beneficiary of a retirement in the First Round here, while Tsonga punished Andrey Kuznetsov after losing the first set.

I expect Tsonga will be able to pressure Stebe if he is serving well and that could lead to mistakes. The German was comfortably beaten by Sam Querrey on a clay court last week when he just couldn't get enough points off the big serve and something similar may develop here.

Stebe's serve can also be erratic and lead to a double break in one set that should be enough to get this spread covered as long as Tsonga can fight through for a straight sets victory, something I would expect of him.

MY PICKS: Marin Cilic - 1.5 sets @ 2.25 188Bet (2 Units)
Michael Berrer @ 1.73 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Michael Llodra + 7.5 games @ 1.90 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - 8.5 games @ 2.40 Pinnacle (2 Units)

FRENCH OPEN UPDATE: 5-9, - 5.50 Units (25 Units Staked)

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

French Open Day 3 Picks (May 29th)

It was a much better day yesterday for the picks as they went 2-2, although that still meant they produced a small profit, while Tommy Haas is up 2-1 in sets and 4-2 in the third set and that could be the key difference between getting back into the black for the tournament so far.

Before I get on to the picks for the new day, I have a quick question: What links the following players together? The players are Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, David Nalbandian, Victoria Azarenka, Venus Williams, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Fernando Verdasco?

Some of you clever sorts out there would have picked up on the fact that all were short favourites with big handicaps and all failed to cover those handicaps. It is something to keep in mind when making your own picks as the top players seem to be over-rated at the moment, although that is a trend likely to get back to the mean sooner than later as the layers adjust.

It is funny that many of those were not just given big handicaps to cover, but they also were quoted at odds-on to do so, and that is why I have ignored most of those players in my own picks as there is no value in picking them to cover massive spreads when a routine 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 win will get them through to the next Round.

Day 3 Picks are as follows:

Florian Mayer - 5.5 games v Daniel Gimeno-Traver: Florian Mayer is one of the most awkward players to meet on the Tour and he has his quirks that can make him tough to read on the court, especially when you have not played against him before. This is very much how Radek Stepanek picked up so many wins in his career and Mayer is of the same ilk.

The German won a couple of matches in Dusseldorf last week and said he was feeling better about where is game is at and the clay courts do suit the way he plays.

Daniel Gimeno-Traver enjoys his best form on the clay courts, but he has won just 1 of 6 matches on the Main Tour on this surface this season and even that was on the controversial blue courts in Madrid. He did push Novak Djokovic to three sets at that event, but he has lost to lesser players than Mayer on the red dirt at other events this season and I think the Spaniard will be befuddled by his opponent and may struggle for the rhythm needed to win a match like this.

Nicolas Almagro - 9 games v Paolo Lorenzi: After all I have said above about the big handicaps getting the better out of a lot of the top players, you would think I would stay away from this match, but I like the match up and that makes the difference.

Nicolas Almagro doesn't really come into these Grand Slams with the real belief that he can win the event and that is probably why he went to Nice last week, although clearly showing his form by winning the event. While he won't think he can win the tournament here, I think Almagro is a lot more comfortable with his top 20 Ranking and feels he should take care of opponents like Paolo Lorenzi these days.

Lorenzi predominantly plays on the clay courts, but his successes have really come in the events a step below the Main Tour and his last three defeats have shown the difference between the Challenger events and the ATP 250 events. Richard Gasquet has beaten the Italian twice in recent weeks and has given up just 7 games in 4 sets against him, while Flavio Cipolla gave up just 3 games in a straight sets win over Lorenzi.

Nicolas Almagro will feel he is a better clay court player than both of those that have beaten Lorenzi in recent weeks and he has more than the capabilities to win a couple of these sets with a couple of breaks and that should be enough to see him through to the cover despite the large handicap.

Albert Ramos - 5.5 games v Benoit Paire: Benoit Paire will be enjoying the support of the home crowd in this one, but I think Albert Ramos is the better clay court player and will make that tell in this match.

Paire has played well on the clay courts, but generally at the lower level than the Main Tour and he was also beaten comfortably by Ramos in Barcelona meaning he has lost both meetings against his opponent, failing to win a set in any of those matches which took place on clay courts.

The left handed Ramos has a decent serve and is a little more consistent with his game, while Paire can fluctuate up and down and that should be the difference between them. The mental edge is also with the Spaniard having never lost a set to Paire in their previous meetings, including earlier this season, and I think he is going to be too strong for the Frenchman despite the home support he will be getting.

Julia Goerges - 3.5 games v Lucie Hradecka: Julia Goerges is one of the most frustrating players to watch on the WTA Tour as she seems to have all the tools to be a consistent top 20 player, but she seems to mentally check out of matches and make them closer than they should be at times.

However, when Goerges is on, she can be virtually unplayable no matter which player is standing on the other side of the court and she can begin to hit winner after winner. The clay courts seem to really favour her game, while it has taken some really top players to stop her runs this season.

Lucie Hradecka is a tough opponent, but she has not had a great time on the clay courts this season outside of her run at the tournament in Madrid with the blue courts. The Czech player reached the Semi Final there and beat some impressive players including Sam Stosur and Petra Kvitova, but she is just 2-3 on the clay courts in 2012 outside of Madrid.

Defeats to the likes of Heather Watson, Stefanie Voegele and Alexandra Panova are not so impressive and this looks a real tough test for her against Goerges.

It is possible that this match goes to three sets, but I am counting on Goerges to win at least one set impressively as she gets going and that could be enough to ensure the cover.

Yanina Wickmayer - 4.5 games v Tsvetana Pironkova: Yanina Wickmayer has not really reached the heights that she did between the 2009 and 2010 season and she is now very inconsistent in her results as shown by her 18-12 record on the season.

Wickmayer has struggled on the clay courts this season and has lost more matches than she has won, but she is 23-10 on the surface in the three previous seasons before this one and I think she is a better player on the surface than she has shown.

The Belgian should be able to take care of Tsvetana Pironkova who has had a losing record on the clay courts over the last couple of seasons and one who seems to float through the Tour without really going deep in any tournament (apart from Wimbledon where she has been successful over the last couple of seasons).

Pironkova has a win over Nadia Petrova from last week, which is impressive, but heavy defeats to Kaia Kanepi, Vania King and Anabel Medina Garrigues show a different side to her. The Bulgarian doesn't strike me as someone who will really work hard to overturn a deficit and you would have to fear for her if Wickmayer makes a fast start.

If Wickmayer can make that fast start, I will be expecting her to cover in a 6-2, 6-4 win.

MY PICKS: Tommy Haas to win 3-1 in sets @ 4.00 Stan James (1 Unit) To be completed with Haas leading 2-1 in sets and 4-2 in the fourth set
Florian Mayer - 5.5 games @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Nicolas Almagro - 9 games @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Albert Ramos - 5.5 games @ 2.14 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Julia Goerges - 3.5 games @ 1.92 Bet365 (2 Units)
Yanina Wickmayer - 4.5 games @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)

FRENCH OPEN UPDATE: 3-5, - 2.5 Units (14 Units Staked)

Monday, 28 May 2012

French Open Day 2 Picks (May 28th)

It was one of those days when things were so close, yet so far when it came to the picks. Fernando Verdasco actually served for the match at a point when he would have covered the spread, while Igor Sijsling was leading 1-0 and 2-1 in sets before suffering an injury and losing in five sets.

The Andy Roddick pick was horrible as he was beaten in four sets and I think he is now very close to falling onto my 'black list', although I am interested to see how he will do on the grass courts which he favours much more than the clay courts.

On to the picks from Day 2:

Tommy Haas to win 3-1 in sets v Filippo Volandri: Tommy Haas looked imperious while coming through the qualifiers to reach the First Round of the tournament and I think his familiarity with the conditions this season will give him the edge over a gritty veteran in Filippo Volandri.

Volandri plays his best stuff on the clay courts, but he has been beaten by the likes of Steve Darcis, Mikhail Kukushkin and Matthias Bachinger in recent weeks on the surface and I believe Haas, even at this stage of his career, is a better player than those on this surface.

Haas has also been playing well in the last couple of tournaments and should not have exerted too much energy in the qualifiers as he came through fairly comfortably.

The problem Haas has these days is maintaining his concentration for long periods, something he will have to do on the clay courts in a best of five set match, and I can see him dropping one set on his way through to the next Round.

Alexandr Dolgopolov win 3-1 in sets v Sergey Stakhovsky: Alexandr Dolgopolov had to retire from his match in Rome with a stomach complaint and I expect he will be in better shape as he takes to the court here in Paris for his First Round match.

Both of these men come from the Ukraine so I have to assume they know all about how the other wants to play the game. Dolgopolov is rightly the favourite as Sergey Stakhovsky is a solid, yet unconvincing performer on the clay courts as far as I am concerned.

I expect Stakhovsky will be able to push Dolgopolov at times, and the younger man is also capable of throwing in poor sets of tennis as he struggles with consistency, but I do expect Dolgopolov to progress through to the next Round after dropping one set on the way.

Na Li - 5.5 games v Sorana Cirstea: The defending Champion will start her defence on Monday and I do like Na Li to come through the contest with a little room to spare, although her young Romanian opponent should not be under-estimated.

Li has started to look really tough again in recent weeks and her run to the Rome Final in her last event will only inspire her confidence further. She also has the ability to blow through sets when she gets going and can really overpower an opponent when she finds her range and that could be the difference in this one.

Cirstea has caused a surprise in a Grand Slam event already this season when she beat Sam Stosur at the Australian Open in the First Round, but she hasn't shown great form on the clay courts so far this season and Li will be focused knowing what Cirstea did earlier in the season.

They have met once before- that match was at this event last year with Li winning 2 and 2.

Ekaterina Makarova - 4.5 games v Sloane Stephens: Ekaterina Makarova has not really played that well since falling in Miami a couple of months ago an the clay courts are not really receptive to what she wants to do on the court. However, the conditions here in Paris are likely to be a big help for her and I expect she will be too strong for Sloane Stephens.

Stephens comes into the event having played a lot of tennis recently while reaching the Semi Final in Strasbourg last week, but the better players she has faced on the clay courts generally take care of her fairly comfortably.

Francesca Schiavone, Flavia Pennetta and Kaia Kanepi have all handed heavy losses to Stephens this year, while she was comfortably handled by Elena Baltacha last year at this same stage of the tournament.

Makarova hasn't had great success herself on the clay courts, but did reach the Fourth Round here in 2011 and I expect she will be too strong for Stephens on this day.

Nadia Petrova - 3.5 games v Iveta Benesova: Nadia Petrova is very inconsistent in her game and that is a real worry, but I do believe she will be far too strong for Iveta Benesova in the First Round and come through.

Petrova seems to win well when she does, however she can have the tendency to fall away if she gets behind on the scoreboard. The Russian has enjoyed favourable results on the clay courts for the most part down the years and it has taken better players than Benesova to put her away so far this season.

She does need to get the mental demons exorcised following a First Round loss here last season, but an opponent that may not be at 100% is a great way to do so.

Benesova has struggled to a 3-11 record on the clay courts since January 2011, and she has struggled to make the matches competitive when facing players that can blow you off court as shown by comfortable defeats to Na Li, Venus Williams and Marion Bartoli this season, while Sam Stosur lost just 5 games on the way to beating Benesova in the First Round last year.

If Petrova can put in a similar effort to the one she had when only just failing to beat Serena Williams recently, I think she can come through with the minimum of fuss in this one.

MY PICKS: Tommy Haas win 3-1 in sets @ 4.00 Stan James (1 Unit)
Alexandr Dolgopolov win 3-1 in sets @ 3.75 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Na Li - 5.5 games @ 1.83 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Ekaterina Makarova - 4.5 games @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Nadia Petrova - 3.5 games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)

French Open Update: 1-3, - 3.16 Units (7 Units Staked)

Sunday, 27 May 2012

NBA Conference Final Picks

I am going to use this thread to collate my picks from the NBA Conference Play Off Final games that will be taking place over the next two weeks.

My preview of the series can be found here

May 27th
Oklahoma City Thunder @ San Antonio Spurs Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14350-Oklahoma-City-at-San-Antonio-Spurs.htm)

May 28th
Wow, I have taken some bad breaks while also having my fair share of luck in the Play Offs, but that meaningless three from James Harden probably hurt a little more than the LA Clippers blowing a 24 point lead as the 5 point underdogs against San Antonio in the Semi Final Round.

With so little time on the clock, the usual would be for the Oklahoma City Thunder to throw the ball out and run out the clock and move to game 2, but Harden decided to go for a buzzer beating three which made zero sense at all as far as I am concerned.

Let me hope that I can grab a beat like that at some point to even out that misfortune.

Boston Celtics @ Miami Heat Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14351-Boston-Celtics-at-Miami-Heat.htm)

May 29th
Oklahoma City Thunder @ San Antonio Spurs Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14355-Oklahoma-City-at-San-Antonio-Spurs.htm)

May 30th
Boston Celtics @ Miami Heat Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14360-Boston-Celtics-at-Miami-Heat.htm)

May 31st
I have been thinking about the Oklahoma City Thunder-San Antonio Spurs game 3 all day today (and a lot of yesterday), but I just can't find an angle I feel comfortable taking on this one. The spread is tempting to take the points and hope the Spurs keep it close, while the total points looks a touch high as I expect better defensive performances from both teams.

Aside from that bullshit three from James Harden in game 1, it has been a good start to the Conference Final picks and I will just take a watching brief in this one and research game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals which takes place in Boston tomorrow night.

June 1st
Miami Heat @ Boston Celtics Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14361-Miami-Heat-at-Boston-Celtics.htm)

June 2nd
San Antonio Spurs @ Oklahoma City Thunder Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14363-San-Antonio-Spurs-at-Oklahoma-City.htm)

June 3rd
Sorry that this pick has come out later than usual, I have just been enjoying the tennis too much today and that seemed to go forever... There is still plenty of time before the game starts so good luck if you are on.

Miami Heat @ Boston Celtics Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14364-Miami-Heat-at-Boston-Celtics.htm)

June 4th
Oklahoma City Thunder @ San Antonio Spurs Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14367-Oklahoma-City-at-San-Antonio-Spurs.htm)

June 5th
Boston Celtics @ Miami Heat Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14370-Boston-Celtics-at-Miami-Heat.htm)

June 6th
San Antonio Spurs @ Oklahoma City Thunder Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14381-San-Antonio-Spurs-at-Oklahoma-City.htm)

June 7th
Miami Heat @ Boston Celtics Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14390-Miami-Heat-at-Boston-Celtics.htm)

June 9th
Boston Celtics @ Miami Heat Preview (http://goonersguide.com/basketball-pick-14408-Boston-Celtics-at-Miami-Heat.htm)

MY PICKS: 27/05 San Antonio Spurs - 5.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
28/05 Miami Heat - 8.5 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
29/05 San Antonio Spurs-Oklahoma City Thunder Over 201.5 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
30/05 Miami Heat-Boston Celtics Over 177 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
01/06 Boston Celtics-Miami Heat Over 180.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
02/06 Oklahoma City Thunder-San Antonio Spurs Over 201.5 @ 1.92 Bet Victor (2 Units)
03/06 Boston Celtics-Miami Heat Over 179.5 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
04/06 Oklahoma City Thunder + 5 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
05/06 Miami Heat-Boston Celtics Over 179 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
06/06 Oklahoma City Thunder-San Antonio Spurs Over 202 Points @ 1.95 188Bet (2 Units)
07/06 Boston Celtics-Miami Heat Over 179 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
09/06 Miami Heat-Boston Celtics Over 178 Points @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)

Final Round Update: 9-2, + 13.28 Units

Semi Final Round Results: 10-11, - 2.40 Units
First Round Results: 17-8, + 16.68 Units

NBA Conference Finals Play Off Preview

So we have reached the Conference Finals in the NBA and three of the big favourites since the beginning of the post-season are all still involved as the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder will begin to feel the Championship.

The latter two of those will meet in the Western Conference Finals, while the Heat will take on the Boston Celtics for the Eastern Conference.

Eastern Conference Final

Miami Heat (2) v Boston Celtics (4)
This is going to be a fascinating series as the older and experienced Boston Celtics have felt good about this potential match up throughout the season.

That is because they do have a clear edge when it comes to the Point Guard position in Rajon Rondo compared with the Miami Heat's Mario Chalmers, but the key will be how attacking Rondo plays. In the last series with the Philadelphia 76ers, we saw games where Rondo was a little passive, but then also saw him turn game 7 in the Celtics favour with a run of points after Paul Pierce had fouled out of the game.

If Rondo can take over games in that manner, the Celtics can cause Miami plenty of problems and that can only be furthered by the news that Chris Bosh is 'indefinitely unavailable' for the Heat.

That does means the onus is on Dwyane Wade and LeBron James to continue playing at the high-level they found in the series with the Indiana Pacers. They haven't got a great support around them unless the likes of Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers can chip with some decent three point shooting, although the extra days rest will have helped them a lot more than the Celtics who have had to play a long, tough series with Philadelphia.

Boston can pick up confidence from the fact they beat Miami the last 3 times they played in the regular season, including a win on South Beach and a blow out at home.

Prediction: You know the Celtics will be fully confident they can get through this series, but I think the Miami Heat will be too strong for them and take this series in 6 games.

Western Conference Final

San Antonio Spurs (1) v Oklahoma City Thunder (2)
This is the series that a lot of folks would have been looking forward to and we have had a few days to think about it as both teams managed to get through their Semi Final tilts against the LA Clippers and LA Lakers with little fuss.

The San Antonio Spurs have been the surprise package of the season with very few expecting them to be in this position when the shortened schedule was released, but they have shown tremendous depth in their rotation, while Tony Parker has been playing at a high level and finding his open shooters all over the court.

Parker has already set the fires for this series by telling Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder that he is the best player he would have played against in the Play Offs so far. He is looking to get into the head of Westbrook and perhaps try and force him to win games rather than giving the ball to Kevin Durant.

Durant is the best pure scorer in the NBA as far as I am concerned and he has shown he can handle the pressure by making some clutch baskets against Dallas and the Lakers in the first two series. With James Harden also coming off the bench and scoring his points, the Thunder will feel they can beat any team. However, I just feel their edge with Harden is negated somewhat by the deep rotation the Spurs have and I think the Number 1 seed has the slight edge in the series.

San Antonio won the last two games in the regular season between the teams and I think their shooting talent and experience gives them the edge.

Prediction: Tough, tough series, but I think the San Antonio Spurs are going to find a way to win it in 6 games.

French Open Day 1 Picks (May 27th)

The French Open decides to split the First Round matches at the event over the first three days so we begin on Sunday with 16 Men's and 16 Women's matches taking place.

Below you can find my picks from the first day:

Andy Roddick v Nicolas Mahut: Now I have been saying for a while that I think Andy Roddick will retire after playing the US Open this year and some of his performances recently have shown how far he has fallen as a force in the Men's game.

However, I still think he will be too good for Nicolas Mahut who has barely played any clay court tennis this season and one who has never really enjoyed playing on the surface as indicated by his 9-13 record since 2008.

The biggest issue I have with this match is how much Andy Roddick is motivated to win a couple of Rounds here. I think he will want to so he can ensure he is seeded when it comes down to the events at Wimbledon and the US Open later this year as he won't want to end his career by being drawn with a top ten player in the First Round of a slam.

Roddick has won all 4 previous meetings with Mahut and I think he can do enough to earn his way into the Second Round.

Fernando Verdasco - 8.5 games v Steve Darcis: With the longer matches on the Men's side during the Grand Slams, the bigger spreads are less of a concern and I think Fernando Verdasco is going to be too strong for Steve Darcis here.

Verdasco beat Darcis 6-1, 6-3 in Barcelona earlier this season and I think he has far too much know how on a clay court for the Belgian player.

I expect Verdasco will be able to create enough pressure on the Darcis serve and should be able to move through this contest 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

Igor Sijsling v Gilles Muller: I am a little surprised that the Dutch player is considered the underdog in some places as this is a pick 'em contest for the most part. Igor Sijsling has come through qualifying so will be used to the conditions here, while Gilles Muller was forced to retire from his last match a couple of weeks ago.

Sijsling's best results have come on the clay courts, although he spends most of his time off the Main Tour. However, he should have the edge over Muller who does not spend a lot of time on the slower surfaces and I expect that could be the difference.

The Dutch player also holds a 2-0 head to head lead over Muller and looks worth taking for a small interest.

Ana Ivanovic - 6.5 games v Lara Arruabarrena-Vechino: Ana Ivanovic has been showing some decent form on the clay courts so far this season and she should be confident in this match having won the French Open before.

She is playing a young Spanish player that spends almost all of her time exclusively on a clay court, but I think Ivanovic is a level too high for Lara Arruabarrena-Vechino.

Arruabarrena-Vechino has really lost heavily when she has been beaten and Ivanovic has handed out a few heavy defeats and this looks like a chance for the Serbian to move through with a 6-2, 6-2 win.

MY PICKS: Andy Roddick @ 1.83 Coral (2 Units)
Fernando Verdasco - 8.5 games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Igor Sijsling @ 2.00 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Ana Ivanovic - 6.5 games @ 1.92 Bet365 (2 Units)

Saturday, 26 May 2012

French Open Preview and Outright Picks (2012)

The second Grand Slam of the tennis calender is upon us and this is the beginning of a hectic few months where the French Open, Wimbledon, the Olympic and the US Open titles will all be decided.

I will preview both the Men's and Women's events below and any outright picks recommended and the daily picks from the tournament will begin on Sunday as we have the First Round split over the first three days of the event.

Men's French Open Preview
First Quarter
The World Number 1 and top seeded player at the event is Novak Djokovic and that means he is given the honour of sitting on top of the draw.

2012 has not been as good as 2011 was at the same stage, but Djokovic can make history in becoming the first player since 1969 to hold all four Majors at the same time having already won in Australia earlier this season.

I was more than a little surprised to read a report on ESPN that Djokovic has some dangerous players in his section, although it did seem it was written by someone who may not have seen much tennis since 2009. It was mentioned that the likes of Jurgen Melzer, Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Verdasco are 'dangerous floaters' in this section, but none of those three can really be expected to cause a surprise against Djokovic in the form he has shown over the last 18 months.

I mean Melzer has won just 2 of 7 matches on the clay courts this season, while falling in the Second Round last year at this event, Davydenko is far removed from where he was when he won the 2009 End of Year Championships, and Verdasco's belief against the best players struggles to last more than a set these days (I am ignoring his win over Rafael Nadal on the Madrid blue courts).

Djokovic shouldn't have too many problems in this section with the Fourth Round clash with Verdasco his biggest challenge ahead of a Quarter Final with either Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Stanislas Wawrinka or Gilles Simon.

Again, I don't expect any of those three players to pose too many problems for Djokovic, although Tsonga could have his best showing at his home tournament if the conditions stay as they are which will favour his big serving game. The Frenchman may have to beat Wawrinka in the Fourth Round if he is to reach his first Quarter Final here and earn some revenge from the five set Third Round loss to the same player last season.

The biggest news in this section could involve Brian Baker, a former junior Finalist at this event but one who has come back from injuries to earn a Wild Card spot in the draw. Baker reached the Final in Nice last week and his story will be one I am sure you will read if he can beat Xavier Malisse in the First Round and set up a potential meeting with Gilles Simon in the Second Round.

Prediction: I would be absolutely gobsmacked if Novak Djokovic has dropped more than a couple of sets let alone not get through to the Semi Final

Second Quarter
The biggest question in the early stages of the draw is to see how the top four players have been split in the draw and it is Roger Federer who joins Djokovic in the top half of the draw, although this does look the toughest section so far.

That is down to the fact that Juan Martin Del Potro and Tomas Berdych have both been placed in the quarter, two players that were potential dark horses before the draw was even made. I was seriously hoping Berdych would have been in the same section as Andy Murray as I would have heavily favoured the big serving Czech player to get through to the Semi Final but this is the worst case scenario as far as I am concerned.

Roger Federer may feel a little disappointed with the draw, but he can't have too many complaints as his section within the quarter looks fairly straight-forward for him to solve. A potential Second Round clash with David Nalbandian will be one for the purists, but there is nothing before the Quarter Final that will bother the Swiss man as far as I can see.

The likes of Andy Roddick, Radek Stepanek and Feliciano Lopez are much more dangerous on faster surfaces.

The Fourth Round may provide the epic battle between Del Potro and Berdych and you have to think that Federer may be presiding over scraps in the Quarter Final no matter which of those players comes through the draw.

Marin Cilic could be a potential spoiler for Del Potro in the Third Round, while Berdych needs to erase memories of his First Round exit last year, but I would expect the top seeded players to meet in the Fourth Round and then the winner to face Federer.

Prediction: At first glance, this looks a horrible quarter for Roger Federer, but the draw has panned out in such a way that I think he will be able to breeze through to the Quarter Finals and take advantage of a tired opponent in the Quarter Final to move through.

Third Quarter
The third quarter has been the one that most consider a surprise can be sprung as Andy Murray has not had much clay court tennis in his locker this year and has been vocal about issues with his back that he believes he has had to play through since December.

That has had people scrambling for other players to back to come out of the quarter, but I think those players have their own issues to address if they are to take advantage of any lingering issues Murray has.

The main player people will focus on is the tenacious David Ferrer, but he has flattered to deceive throughout his career on the clay courts of Roland Garros and has not been beyond a Quarter Final despite achieving so much success on other clay courts. I don't think there are too many people out there that would have predicted Ferrer having greater success at both the Australian and US Opens than he has had in Paris.

Ferrer could have a couple of tough tests to negotiate if he is to make it to the Quarter Final here as a potential Third Round clash with Mikhail Youzhny could pose problems as well as a Fourth Round clash scheduled against John Isner.

However, both of those players have had their own problems this season, although Isner is an interesting character with the conditions at Roland Garros generally making their courts a little faster than other clay courts. With his serve, Isner will cause problems for opponents, although I don't know how he will handle the heat in Paris if he is involved in some long matches, something that is a possibility when he struggles in his returning game and can be involved in plenty of tie breaks.

The other player that people seem to be enamoured with is Richard Gasquet- Gasquet beat Andy Murray en-route to a good run in Rome recently, but he is under immense pressure in his home tournament and has flattered to deceive in the past.

The Frenchman did have his best showing here in Paris last season when he reached the Fourth Round and, while the first couple of rounds favours him, he does have an awkward match with Alexandr Dolgopolov scheduled for the Third Round and then would have to play Andy Murray in the Fourth Round.

It is Gasquet's win over Andy Murray in Rome earlier in the month that has inspired people to believe he can come out of the quarter, but I think they are under-estimating the pressure on his shoulders in front of a public that are not shy about showing their unhappiness with a performance. Murray can also point to the fact that he had MANY chances in their clash in Rome, a venue where Gasquet also reached the Semi Final in 2011 so clearly enjoys, and he also recovered from two sets down to beat Gasquet here in 2010.

Prediction: There are enough doubts about other players in this section to think Andy Murray will make it through, although I would favour David Ferrer against him IF he can find his form here after struggling so often in the past.

Fourth Quarter
I was going to start this section off by saying that Rafael Nadal could not have picked a better draw himself... But then remembered that he DID pick the draw himself so I guess he couldn't be happier.

The highest seeded player in the section is Janko Tipsarevic, a personal favourite of mine, but Nadal won't have to see him until the Quarter Final at the earliest and I see almost no problems for him before that stage.

The first three rounds here look to pose few problems, with the biggest threat being a potentially awkward Third Round meeting with Ivo Karlovic. However, the big serving Croatian is not the same problem as a couple of years ago and Nadal will not be overly concerned about that clash if it happens.

One player who could be an issue if the conditions stay as they are is Milos Raonic- the Canadian has already caused problems for the likes of Roger Federer on a clay court this season, and he has the tools that can make life very difficult, especially at Roland Garros where the balls tend to move faster and the courts really play quick when they are under a hot sun.

Raonic would have to beat Juan Monaco in the Third Round, no easy task in itself these days, and there are also some concerns as to how he would handle best of five matches in the heat that is expected in Paris, and overall it would seem Nadal cannot be happier.

While the draw says Tipsarevic would meet Nadal in the Quarter Final, I would suggest that Nicolas Almagro is the most likely opponent for Nadal. Almagro comes into the event having won the tournament at Nice last week and he seems to be playing with much more belief this season than he has previously.

The Spaniard doens't have an easy draw, but I think he is playing with enough confidence to see him through to a Fourth Round with Tipsarevic and I would favour him to win that match.

Prediction: Rafael Nadal... Nothing more to say!

I am not going to offer you any surprises here and I am going to suggest that Rafael Nadal wins this tournament- he has been playing well on the clay courts and has also got the mental belief back in his game having beaten Novak Djokovic in two clay court Finals already this season.

Ignore the result at Madrid when he clearly was unhappy with the blue courts and played as such, but take into consideration the relative ease in which he won at Rome and Monte Carlo.

It is funny to think Nadal was odds against to win this tournament last year, but he has to remain the call with the way he has been playing despite his price shortening since the draw was made.

The other Semi Final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic would be harder to call, although the fact that Djokovic has won 6 of their last 7 meetings, including at the last two Grand Slams, has slightly edged me towards the Serbian. However, the conditions in Paris will favour Roger Federer and the way he wants to play the game and he will also have the mental edge after beating Djokovic here last season.

Last season I tipped Federer at 17.00 as an each-way selection, but he looks a little short at 11.00 this year considering his record against Djokovic and the fact he has a tough looking Quarter Final in prospect.

While I will take Nadal on the outright, I am also going to have an interest in a market put up by Bet Victor where they are offering 3.00 that the Champion, no matter who it is, will lose less than 3 sets... I favour Nadal to win, and I don't see him dropping too many sets along the way if I am honest and that looks a decent price considering Federer and Djokovic also have some pretty straight-forward matches before the Final. It looks a pick that can be laid off at the appropriate time, if at all, and will be my second selection from the Men's event along with Nadal.

Women's French Open Preview
First Quarter
The World Number 1 and Number 1 seed at the French Open is Victoria Azarenka and she has been given a kind draw to get up and running in the tournament. Azarenka had to pull out in Rome with a shoulder injury and there have been real concerns about her fitness ahead of this tournament.

There is also a potential threat looming in front of her as diminutive Dominika Cibulkova is a potential Fourth Round opponent. After a couple of great seasons on the Tour, Cibulkova has not really played up to that level in 2012 so far, but she has proven to be more than just a thorn in the side of Azarenka in the past.

Their last 5 meetings have all gone to the full three sets distance and although Azarenka has won 4 of those, Cibulkova has really pushed her all the way and reached match points in a couple of those contests. If Azarenka is not feeling at 100%, there is a big chance that this could be the end of the road for the World Number 1.

Cibulkova will have a tough Third Round match to negotiate if she is to get to Azarenka, likely facing either Lucie Safarova or Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, but a win there could be the downfall of Azarenka this time.

With Azarenka's health a little doubtful, Sam Stosur may be the biggest beneficiary in this section having reached a Final at Roland Garros before. The Australian could have a really tough contest against Nadia Petrova in the Third Round having lost 5 of their 7 meetings against her, but a win there could see her take advantage of this section.

If not Stosur, a dark horse could be Ekaterina Makarova, but her consistency can be a real hindrance and that is why I do feel Stosur could be the key to opening up the top half of the draw.

Prediction: Victoria Azarenka is the favourite, but I have a feeling that Sam Stosur could be the one reaching the Semi Final.

Second Quarter
This is by far the most difficult section of the draw, but it is one from where we could potentially see a surprise come through at a big price.

Agnieska Radwanska and Marion Bartoli are the top seeded players in the draw, but take your pick from Ana Ivanovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Angelique Kerber or Flavia Pennetta as choices to be made from this quarter of the draw alone.

All of those players will feel they can get a run going in the Championships if they can get 'hot', but one who may really surprise is Venus Williams.

Granted, Venus Williams has only reached the Final once in her career at Roland Garros and is yet to win this tournament, but she has the added motivation of playing for a place in the Olympics, while she has shown some decent form on the red dirt in recent weeks.

Wins over the likes of Sam Stosur, Jelena Jankovic and Ekaterina Makarova have shown that Venus is in a good place with her game, but it is the potential Second Round clash with Agnieska Radwanska that will either see the end of her tournament or the chance to open up the draw.

Williams has the game to see off Radwanska, particularly if the courts are playing as quick as expected in the early days of the tournament, while her defeat to the Pole in Miami earlier this year was clearly because Williams was struggling with an injury.

I can see a situation where Venus Williams wins that match and, outside of Radwanska, only Angelique Kerber would be a real threat in the quarter. However, Kerber doesn't have an easy path herself and potential Third Round clash with Flavia Pennetta could decide which of those players is playing in the Quarter Final.

Prediction: This is a great section of the draw for those that love to watch great tennis... Picking a Semi Finalist is really tough, but I think there is every chance that Venus Williams will be the surprise package at this stage judging by some of her recent wins.

Third Quarter
This is a quarter dominated by a couple of Grand Slam Champions from last year and includes the defending Champion in the form of Na Li. The Chinese player admitted that her life changed after reaching the Final in the Australian Open and following that with a win here at Roland Garros last year, but there have been signs recently that she could be returning to form at the right time to really give her defence a shot.

The biggest test before the Quarter Finals is likely to come from Mona Barthel, a young German player that can provide a real test for some of the best players on the Tour. Barthel has had some close losses this season against the likes of Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka and I think she can cause problems for Li, although I would expect the greater experience of the defending Champion to tell.

Petra Kvitova, the Wimbledon Champion, has not had the best 2012 season so far and I do struggle to believe she can have a real impact on the slower surfaces after seeing her inconsistent performances in tournaments leading to this one. The Czech player has been given a kind draw in the early rounds of the event, but a potential Fourth Round clash with Jelena Jankovic or Francesca Schiavone will be more difficult than some may imagine.

Jankovic would be the tougher test for Kvitova in my opinion, although Schiavone is a former Champion here and also finished as Runner Up last year so clearly enjoys her time in Paris. However, the conditions here may just favour Kvitova a little more than those opponents and I think there is a potential top Quarter Final in the offing.

Prediction: The quarter seems like it will be decided by the two top seeded players in the section and I am going to favour Na Li to keep her chances of retaining her title.

Fourth Quarter
This is the section of the draw that will have people salivating as the prospect of seeing Serena Williams take on Maria Sharapova in the Quarter Finals looks like being a real chance of deciding the winner of the whole French Open.

Out of the two of those players, I would say there is a 75% chance that Maria Sharapova will reach that stage and a slightly less chance that Serena Williams will with the draw being made as it was.

Sharapova has show what she is all about on the clay courts these days by winning events in Stuttgart and Rome, beating the likes of Venus Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Sam Stosur, Angelique Kerber, Ana Ivanovic and Petra Kvitova, who's who of players on the Tour. Her only defeat in that time has come at the hands of Serena Williams.

I really don't see any issues for the Russian before the Quarter Final, the most difficult test being Maria Kirilenko or Anastasia Pavyluchenkova in the Fourth Round, but neither should be a match for her at this moment in time.

The reason I believe Sharapova is more likely to reach the Quarter Final is the tough nature of the draw handed to Serena Williams. The first two rounds don't look like they will pose too many problems, but a Third Round encounter with Julia Goerges is a tough but winnable contest and then it is a potential Fourth Round clash with Caroline Wozniacki.

Wozniacki had to retire from her match in Rome through breathing issues, but she is expected to be feeling better for this tournament having had two weeks to recover. She does have a tough looking Third Round clash with Kaia Kanepi on slate, but she has 3 wins from 4 matches against the Estonian and will feel she can see her off again.

The Williams-Wozniacki match up is very interesting to me as the Dane is one of the few players that has really given Serena problems in the last couple of matches between the pair and also one of the few during Serena's 17 match winning run on clay to actually win a set against the American. Wozniacki also beat Williams in Miami in straight sets and I expect there is a 10-15% chance that she can take out Serena at a tournament where she has struggled throughout her career (compared with the other Majors).

Prediction: Serena is the right favourite to win this tournament, but I think Maria Sharapova may just be the surprise player to get out of this section.

This looks like a fascinating tournament all around and I have a sneaky feeling that we will see a Williams sister in the Final, but perhaps not the Williams sister that everyone would have predicted.

Venus Williams has shown a lot of heart in recent weeks and she has picked up some big wins on the clay courts. The Paris courts should also suit her if the conditions remain quick as it will allow her to attack the net and also put a little more behind her groundstrokes.

The Second Round clash with Agnieska Radwanska is the key, but 51.00 to win the tournament could look very big if she gets through that and is definitely worth the smallest of interests.

Venus' younger sister, Serena, is the favourite to win the tournament, but I think she could possibly have a bit of trouble getting out of her section. My biggest concern for Maria Sharapova against Serena is the mental side of the game and whether she believes she can beat her considering the Russian has lost 7 straight times to Williams now. However, Serena's potential match with Caroline Wozniacki could see a surprise result and so I will also take a small each-way interest in Maria Sharapova at 9.00.

The last player I will take an interest in is Na Li who is the defending Champion so clearly has to be respected here. Li will be looking to follow Francesca Schiavone who managed to reach the Final last year having won in 2010, and I think there have been real signs that she is finding her belief again.

Li lost a close Final to Maria Sharapova in Rome last time out and she has a respectable draw that I think she can take advantage of. The Chinese Number 1 is currently priced at 15.00 and that looks interesting in the hope that she may be in the Semi Final opposite whichever player comes out of the Fourth Quarter and may be a little better in fitness terms.

MY PICKS: Rafael Nadal @ 1.73 William Hill (7 Units)
Men's Champion to lose less than 3 sets @ 3.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Venus Williams @ 51.00 Bet Victor (0.5 Units E/W)
Maria Sharapova @ 9.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit E/W)
Na Li @ 15.00 Coral (1 Unit E/W)

Pre-Euro 2012 International Friendlies

I will use this post to put my picks from any international friendlies that catch my eye ahead of the Euro 2012 tournament that starts in a little under two weeks time.

Republic of Ireland v Bosnia Preview (http://goonersguide.com/football-pick-14346-Republic-of-Ireland-v-Bosnia.htm)

Norway v England Preview (http://goonersguide.com/football-pick-14345-Norway-v-England.htm)

MY PICKS: Republic of Ireland-Bosnia Draw @ 3.40 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Norway + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.75 Pinnacle (1 Unit)

Monday, 21 May 2012

Tennis Recap (May 13-20, Rome)

It was a horrible week in terms of picking daily winners, but the outright market proved very profitable with both Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal winning the Women's and Men's events respectively.

This is the last real important tournament before the French Open which begins next Monday, although we do have events in France and Germany this week. The problem with those events is the motivation of the top seeded players that may want to reserve some gas for the first week of the Grand Slam next week.

Anyway, below is just a few thoughts from the Rome event that was concluded today:

Rafael Nadal back up to World Number 2: I think Roger Federer would have been secretly hoping that Novak Djokovic could have won this event as soon as he was beaten in the Semi Finals to the Serbian.

Rafael Nadal's win in Rome means they have moved up to World Number 2 and that means, once again, that Roger Federer is likely going to have to beat the two best players in the World if he wants to win the French Open for a second time.

By moving up to Number 2, Federer can at least think he has a 50-50 chance of avoiding Rafael Nadal in his draw and know he could take his chances if Nadal and Djokovic were involved in an epic Semi Final, and those little things can make the difference when winning a Grand Slam or not.

It looks unlikely that Federer can get the Number 2 position back before Wimbledon, something I think he was looking for, unless there is a serious surprise at Roland Garros.

Andy Murray's back injury: Andy Murray exited the tournament in Rome with little fuss against Richard Gasquet and subsequently told the journalists at his press conference that he is suffering with a back injury that has been niggling him since December.

This doesn't bode well for him in an important year with the French Open, Wimbledon and the Olympics all coming up in quick succession and the US Open to follow. Murray has always made the first few rounds of a Grand Slam event much more difficult than they need to be and this back injury is only going to hinder his chances even more if he is  as uncomfortable as he suggested.

He will always need a nice draw, a bit of luck and the nerve at crucial times if he is going to win a Grand Slam, but an injury is not going to help his cause and I just can't see a breakthrough coming for him this season.

I've changed my mind, Serena Williams is the player to beat at Roland Garros: Last week, I said that Serena Williams was a little short as the favourite to win in Paris this season as the conditions in Madrid helped her win that tournament.

However, she looked imperious this week in Rome and was cruising through her matches and was only prevented from winning the tournament because she had to pull out with an injury. Williams has since said it was a precautionary pull-out and she expects to be fully ready for Paris.

With Victoria Azarenka's participation in Paris in doubt, the only player I would even consider backing to beat Serena Williams is Maria Sharapova, but if the American gets the right kind of draw, I can't look beyond her.

Williams has looked motivated and focused on what has been her worst surface to play on... Pencil her name in for Wimbledon if she stays healthy, especially with the form she has shown in the last month.

The Men's event is not much more open than the Women's: You get these big articles ahead of the Grand Slams that seems to list up to 8 Men that can possibly win the event and, while I don't agree it ever gets to that many, you can understand the excitement about these Slams.

The French Open doesn't exactly inspire me the same way to be honest as I can't look beyond the top two players in the World as to who will win this event.

The likes of Roger Federer, Juan Martin Del Potro, Tomas Berdych and Andy Murray could possibly throw a spanner in the works, but I would almost certainly think the player they trouble is Novak Djokovic rather than Rafael Nadal.

I would heavily favour Nadal against any of the four players listed on a clay court, and I think he has proven that he has the better of Djokovic on the surface after reversing his surprise losses to the Serbian last season including here at Rome.

One year ago, Nadal was a short odds against shot to win the French Open, but there is no chance of getting anything like that this year. Already, I do favour Nadal to take this tournament unless he gets a gruesome draw and even then I would just hope that his price comes out rather than expecting him to lose.

Weekly Update: 9-12, - 6.32 Units (41 Units Staked)
Outright Update: 2-1, + 8.75 Units (8 Units Staked)

Season Update: + 36.51 Units (403 Units Staked, 9.06% Yield)

Season 2011: + 82.02 Units

Saturday, 19 May 2012

English Play Off Finals

I am going to use this one post for my English Play Off Finals that are to take place over the next 8 days starting with the Championship game on May 19th.

Blackpool v West Ham Preview (http://goonersguide.com/football-pick-14301-Blackpool-v-West-Ham.htm)

Huddersfield v Sheffield United Preview (http://goonersguide.com/football-pick-14344-Huddersfield-v-Sheffield-United.htm)

MY PICKS: West Ham to win and at least 3 goals to be scored (Quatro) @ 3.25 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Huddersfield-Sheffield United Under 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Champions League Final 2012

The Champions League Final is in Munich this year and at least one of these teams has to be considered a real surprise Finalist. When the draw for the Quarter Finals were made, I think the majority of people out there would have thought this was going to be a Final between the two Spanish giants of Real Madrid and Barcelona, but both were ousted by Bayern Munich and Chelsea at the Semi Final stage.

I think the two teams need to be given absolute credit for reaching this stage and it is no surprise that Bayern Munich are considered the favourites with the Final taking place in their home stadium, but the last team given this right was Roma back in 1984 and they failed to win that Final against another English side, Liverpool.

Below you will find my keys to the game and what I believe will be the decisive factor when it is all said and done. I will also post a link to my preview of the game and my pick from the Final.

Keys to the Final

Can Chelsea defend as they did in the Semi Final: Chelsea were rightly given a lot of praise for their win over Barcelona in the Semi Finals, but I think they were given a little too much for their defensive performance as they did afford the Catalan club a number of chances to score in both legs, although the second half performance in the second leg with ten men was more than admirable.

Defending Bayern Munich in that manner may lead to more problems for Chelsea as they will be dealing with front man in Mario Gomez that Barcelona do not have. Gomez is very much a striker that will look to get on the end of chances and also gives Bayern a 'Plan B' as he is very good in the air and that is an element that Barcelona do not have.

That also meant that Chelsea could defend much narrower in the Semi Final with the confidence that Barcelona would not launch balls into the box and, even if they did, that they could defend anything that came in there. But Chelsea are missing some big defenders and that leads me to the second key for the game.

How will Chelsea cope in the absence of John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic: Both teams are misisng some players through suspension, but these two could be the absolute key for the London club as that means the likes of Gary Cahill and David Luiz are likely to make up the back four, two players that have not played much football recently through injury.

Without the calming influence Terry provides (at least when he is not kneeing opponents in the backside), it is going to be a tougher day in the office for the defence, while David Luiz in particular  has to show the discipline he did in the latter half of the season rather than what he was showing earlier in the campaign.

With the Bayern Munich wingers, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, being their main dangers, that is where the absence of Branislav Ivanovic could be huge as Paulo Ferriera or Jose Bosingwa, his most likely replacements, are a huge drop off in terms of defending class compared with the Serbian.

An unfamiliar back four is not the ideal way any team would want to start a Champions League Final.

The Midfield Battle: This is another area where Chelsea will be missing some key personnel like Ramires and Raul Meireles, but this is also a position where Bayern Munich will be missing Luis Gustavo who did a lot of good work in the Semi Final against Real Madrid.

The problem for Chelsea is they are missing two of their more dynamic central midfield players and they could find it hard to keep tabs on the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos when Bayern are on the attack.

Midfield is always an important part of any football game and it does seem that the German side have the edge in that department. Chelsea will need Frank Lampard, who will be Captain for the day, at his very best, but I do worry about the impact Jon Mikel Obi can have in a game of this magnitude.

Problems earlier in the season for Chelsea can from a tired looking midfield and that is something I worry about them here. I don't think they have the legs required there to keep the roaming Bayern players at bay.

However, the Bavarians will be missing Gustavo and he is the main player that looks to break the play for them. This will give Chelsea the chance to spring some counter attacks and try and expose a Munich defence that isn't the best.

Chelsea have to be quick on the counter and take any half chances coming their way: Much as they did against Barcelona, Chelsea need to make maximum use of the counter attack, and they have to take any chances that land to them.

Let's face facts- they literally had about 4 chances against Barcelona in the Semi Final and were very efficient by taking 3 of them, but they will need that type of production if they are going to win this Final.

I expect they will look to contain Bayern for large parts of this game, so they have to make full use of the speed they are likely to employ in wide positions and hope Didier Drogba is in the same mood he was for the Barcelona games in what could be his final appearance for the Blues.

The Bayern Munich defence is definitely the weakest aspect of their team and, like Chelsea, they are missing a couple of key players in Holger Badstuber and David Alaba. This is an area that Chelsea will be able to exploit as long as they are efficient and making the right decisions when they do have the ball going forward.

Dealing with the expectation: This is a big emotional factor in the game- all season, Bayern Munich have spoken about getting to the Final that will be held in their own Stadium and now that they are here, the question has to be asked as to how she deals with the expectations of their supporters and upper levels of management.

Bayern are the favourites almost every where you look and that is a big expectation to deal with for the players as they enter the biggest match of their careers (for a lot of them at least).

How they deal with it is a tough question to answer- I can tell you after I watch the game, but there is no real telling before kick off.but this will be a big key in the contest.

I will be expecting Bayern to make a fast start and try and ease their own nerves, but nerves do lead to mistakes and they have to be careful not to overplay the game in their minds.

Luck: Sometimes all you need is luck (I think that's what the Beatles were singing about)... Chelsea have had their fair share of luck already in this tournament, but they could win the trophy if they haven't used it all up.

Chelsea were fortunate in games against Napoli and even Barcelona to a certain extent, but that doesn't mean it is due to run out. I remember Manchester United's run to the 1999 Champions League trophy and we had our fair share of luck in wins over Inter Milan, Juventus and then against Bayern Munich in the Final when we could easily have been 3 or 4 goals down.

Is it their destiny to win the Champions League? I guess we will find out on Saturday.

Predicted Teams

Bayern Munich: Neuer, Contento, Lahm, Boateng, Tymoschchuk, Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Pranjic, Robben, Ribery and Gomez (4-2-3-1)

Chelsea: Cech, Bosingwa, Cole, Cahill, Luiz, Mikel, Lampard, Essien, Mata, Kalou and Drogba (4-3-3)


You can find my full preview of this game and why I am picking what I am here (http://goonersguide.com/football-pick-14299-Bayern-Munich-v-Chelsea.htm)

MY PICK: Bayern Munich @ 1.80 Coral (3 Units)

Friday, 18 May 2012

Tennis Picks May 18th (Rome)

Wow, was I frustrated yesterday... I couldn't believe the manner in which some of my picks went down and openly questioned whether the tournament had moved from Rome to Bizzaro World with some of the results and performances that were being put in.

You can't blame me for thinking that we had moved to an alternate reality as Richard Gasquet saved 15 out of 17 break points he faced- this is a player that has regularly struggled under pressure, yet managed to continuously fend off Andy Murray and managed to stay on serve... On another day he would have been beaten comfortably, but that was not to be today.

I then saw the Sam Stosur pick go down the drain as one of the best servers on the WTA Tour managed to win less than 50% of the points on serve.

Things were only due to get stranger as Juan Martin Del Potro blew a break advantage in the first set and was comfortably beaten by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, not exactly a major force on the clay courts usually.

Fortunately, I can at least point to the fact that Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal have both advanced in the tournament, although Victoria Azarenka had to withdraw with an injury and is in serious danger of missing the French Open.

The season so far has been very productive, but this has been a terrible last 24 hours and I did consider whether I would make any more picks this week and just move on to the next tournaments while the outright picks ran. However, I have decided to play a couple of the Quarter Final matches on slate tomorrow and look for an upturn of fortunes.

Rafael Nadal - 5.5 games v Tomas Berdych: The spread does look a little big considering the form that Tomas Berdych has shown on the clay courts over the last couple of seasons, but the big Czech player was very fortunate to get past Nicolas Almagro in the last Round and I don't think Rafael Nadal will be in such forgiving form.

Nadal was vocal about his disgust of having to play on a blue court in Madrid last week, particularly as the event is so close to Roland Garros, and he has looked like a player that is making a point now that he has returned to the traditional red clay courts. He comfortably progressed in the first two matches here and has always been a little more motivated when playing Berdych after their falling out in Madrid a few years ago.

The Spaniard has won all 9 meetings between the players since that match in Madrid, while he has demolished Berdych the last two times they have played on a clay court.

If Berdych serves as he did today, he will give Nadal too many chances and that should allow him to cover the spread.

David Ferrer - 4.5 games v Richard Gasquet: No, I am not just fading Richard Gasquet in this one, because I don't think he can show the same kind of resolve in this match as he did against Andy Murray yesterday.

I really would have backed David Ferrer to beat Andy Murray at this stage too if they had met as I think he is one of the more solid clay court players out there and I think he will give Gasquet fits with his game.

That has proven to be the case in the past with Ferrer taking 6 of their 7 meetings on the Tour, including a simple straight sets win at the Australian Open earlier this season.

The Spaniard has generally taken the sets he has won off Gasquet with a little bit of room to spare, holding him to 3 or fewer games in 9 of the 13 sets Ferrer has won against the Frenchman.

There is also every chance that Gasquet could have a let down performance after his big win today and all of that points to me taking Ferrer to cover the spread.

Na Li - 4.5 games v Dominika Cibulkova: Dominika Cibulkova was the immediate beneficiary of Victoria Azarenka's withdrawal, but the longer term player that could capitalise is Na Li who has a chance to move up the Rankings above Caroline Wozniacki if she can get through this match.

Na Li is the current French Open Champion so her credentials on a clay court don't need to be stated. However, she can be frustrating to watch as she mixes the sublime with the ridiculous far too often, but she does have the talent to beat Cibulkova in this one.

The diminutive Slovakian is a tough competitor and she did reach the Final in Barcelona recently, but a more recent defeat to Akgul Amanmuradova is much more troublesome.

Li has won the only two meetings with Cibulkova in the past, including on a clay court in their last meeting back in 2010. I expect the Chinese Number 1 will be too good today, but she could make things a little tougher for herself than they should be with her inconsistency.

MY PICKS: Rafael Nadal - 5.5 games @ 2.14 Pinnacle (2 Units)
David Ferrer - 4.5 games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Na Li - 4.5 games @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 8-10, - 4.22 Units (35 Units Staked)

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Tennis Picks May 17th (Rome)

Anyone who reads my Twitter account knows I was talking about Caroline Wozniacki earlier- it very much seems to be that she is going to be the latest former World Number 1 who loses all confidence as soon as she is knocked off that position, much in the same manner that Dinara Safina did.

I am not a big Wozniacki fan... In fact, I think she is very over-rated and has not received half the criticism that she should have because she is considered 'attractive' unlike Dinara Safina who was hounded in many sections for being the 'worst number 1 in history'.

It's funny, I always tell people to compare Wozniacki's record with Safina and explain why it is the Russian that gets all the criticism when she was much more successful in the big Grand Slam tournaments than Wozniacki has been.

But something strange happened today and much attitude towards the Dane softened a little bit. I don't like sportsmen or women to completely lose control of their game because their confidence has been shot to pieces, but I think that is what has happened to Wozniacki. It is almost like losing the World Number 1 status has made her doubt herself and her own ability to match up against the best players on the Tour.

I know she retired with an injury today, but she has already lost 10 times this season having lost a total of 17 throughout the 2011 and 2010 seasons. Since the Australian Open, Wozniacki has beaten Serena Williams once but the is the only really impressive win, while she has also lost to the American as well as Angelique Kerber (twice), Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, Julia Goerges and Lucie Safarova and I just feel some of those names would not have beaten the Dane if she was the World Number 1.

Wozniacki has also failed to win a tournament so far in the 2012 season and it is going to be interesting to see if she recovers from these setbacks, or falls irreversibly down the Rankings.

The picks I made yesterday sucked... The first two came in, but then three straight losers left me with a loss and has made this tournament very unprofitable so far. However, I can at least smile at the thought that all three outright picks are still moving ahead in the draw, although Serena Williams is looking a big threat in the Women's draw.

It is another packed schedule in Rome tomorrow as we reach the Third Round of the Men's and Women's events and my picks are as follows:

Nicolas Almagro v Tomas Berdych: These two acted a lot more civilised in their last meeting at Indian Wells which followed their handbags at the Australian Open, but the one thing to take from that match was how motivated Nicolas Almagro seemed to be compared with his opponent.

Berdych had played a lot of tennis going into that event at Indian Wells and struggled to cope with the motivation Almagro played with and I have a feeling the amount of tennis the Czech player over the last two weeks may catch up with him here.

Berdych did well to reach the Final in Madrid last week, and perhaps should have won the event, and he may just get caught out here. He also had a tough match yesterday against Lukasz Kubot and I think Almagro has a lot more belief these days that he can beat top 10 opponents.

The Spaniard won their last meeting on a clay court last season in straight sets and I think the 2.75 looks far too big a price that he can win this one.

Andy Murray - 3.5 games v Richard Gasquet: Andy Murray blows hot and cold so much that you don't know how easy he is going to make this early Rounds at any event, but playing the likes of David Nalbandian and now Richard Gasquet should get his competitive juices flowing and keep him focused on the task at hand.

Richard Gasquet is one of the players that has failed to live up to the expectation others had in him, while I don't think he can honestly say he has gotten the best out of his talent. He is a former Grand Slam Semi Finalist, but many expected him to be winning those events.

The Frenchman doesn't seem to have the confidence when facing the best players on the Tour, while generally handling those he believes he is better than with general ease, and his tactics seem far too passive to really cause problems for too long.

Andy Murray has the returning skills to cause Gasquet problems on serve and should be able to cover this spread as long as he doesn't serve like a chump.

Juan Martin Del Potro - 3.5 games v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga may be the higher ranked player of the two, but it is Juan Martin Del Potro who is the better clay court player and I think he will be able to take advantage of that fact here in Rome.

Losses to the likes of Tommy Haas and Gilles Simon on the surface doesn't bode well for Tsonga who does his best work on the faster surfaces. However, he is 5-1 down in the head to head to Del Potro and all but one of those has come on a hard court.

Del Potro also hammered Tsonga at the French Open, losing just 13 games as he progressed in 2009. The Argentine has played a lot of tennis in recent weeks, but he played to a high level when beating Mikhail Youzhny last night and will be confident he can get to yet another Quarter Final this season.

Sam Stosur - 2.5 games v Venus Williams: I like the Australian to get through against a tough opponent in Venus Williams and that is mainly because Sam Stosur will believe she can get the better of the American.

Belief cannot be under-estimated when it comes to playing the Williams sisters and we have seen that with Serena Williams who has an aura that makes it tough for other players to face her.

Venus has a similar aura, but is older and players feel she has maybe lost a step. All of this won't matter to Stosur who does feel she can beat anyone on her day.

Stosur beat Venus Williams on an American clay court last month and I just think the Australian is too solid on the clay courts for the older Williams sister. I don't like backing against the Williams', but this does look a good spot to do so.

Maria Sharapova - 3.5 games v Ana Ivanovic: Ana Ivanovic frustrates the life out of me as she is one of the players that I can never get a great read on- if I think she will win, she loses, but when I think she is going to lose, she plays out of her skin and wins.

So beware when I say that, as I am taking her on with Maria Sharapova, one of the form players and one who has come to embrace the clay courts after really struggling to deal with her movement on the surface in the past.

Reaching the Semi Final at the French Open last year has given her real belief, while winning the tournament in Stuttgart by beating Victoria Azarenka would only have built on her confidence. It took a solid performance by Serena Williams to beat Sharapova last week in Madrid, and I don't think Ivanovic can sustain such a level to win this match.

Ivanovic is definitely making a move the right way in the World Rankings, but she still has to overcome some mental barriers to beat a player of Sharapova's class, while she has lost her last three meetings against her. She did overcome the Russian in their one and only clay court meeting, but that was over 5 years ago and I think Sharapova proves too strong in a well-contested match.

MY PICKS: Nicolas Almagro @ 2.75 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Andy Murray - 3.5 games @ 1.92 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Juan Martin Del Potro - 3.5 games @ 1.83 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Sam Stosur - 2.5 games @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Maria Sharapova - 3.5 games @ 2.05 Pinnacle (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 7-6, + 0.68 Units (26 Units Staked)