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Sunday, 13 May 2012

Tennis Outright Picks May 13-20 (Rome)

I haven't really made any outright picks in the tennis over the last month or so, sticking mainly to the daily picks, as I haven't really found much value that has had me interested in getting involved. The uncertainty of Madrid made that a no go area, while Monte Carlo and Barcelona were top heavy events with little or no value in the market (stole that last line from Fergie at Manchester United).

My one issue with this Masters event is why do they feel the need to start it on the same day as the Finals in Madrid? Surely they should keep the Sunday as the last day of qualifying and leave the First Round matches for Monday?

Anyway, that hasn't had much of an effect on the market considering the favourites are all in action later in the week.

Men's Tournament
Top Half
This is the quarter reserved for the Number 1 seed, in this case Novak Djokovic, as the Serb looks to recover from a pretty torrid week in Madrid when he was more worried about making a case for the poorness of the courts rather than actually concentrating on winning the event. He has made it clear that he is glad to be getting back to the traditional red clay courts and is feeling confident in his chances of doing well here in Rome as well as at the French Open which begins in two weeks time.

I don't think Djokovic will be too concerned with a draw that seems him face either Bernard Tomic or Santiago Giraldo in the Second Round and a likely Third Round meeting with Juan Monaco.

The biggest obstacle will surely come in the Quarter Final where he look set to meet Juan Martin Del Potro.

Del Potro continued his fine form in the 2012 season with a Semi Final berth in Madrid last week as well as winning in Estoril the week before and he does look the biggest threat to players in the top half of the draw.

The Argentine should be too good for Michael Llodra and Mikhail Youzhny in the first couple of rounds here before he is likely to meet Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. However, this is not the Frenchman's favourite surface and I would expect Del Potro to win 8/10 times they played on the slower surfaces.

I would expect Djokovic to be too strong in this position and be able to see off the challenge of Del Potro at this moment- I am still not convinced that Del Potro has the belief that he can beat one of the top three players in the World and until I am, I would favour any of those players to beat him.

With Djokovic likely to be one of the Semi Finalists, it will be Roger Federer who tries to make his seeding count to meet him there.

Federer won the event in Madrid as he handled the conditions very well throughout the week, coming through some hairy moments against Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych to pick up the title. However, the conditions in Madrid have always been favourable to Federer as the extra speed in the court really tallies well with what he wants to do on a clay court.

In saying that, Federer is still one of the best players in the World on the surface and I see almost no problems for him to get through to the Quarter Final here. He may have gone deep in the Madrid tournament, but his stamina has never been in question and I don't see any of his potential opponents being too much trouble for him.

Who he faces in the Quarter Final is a little less clear as John Isner, Philip Kohlschreiber, Janko Tipsarevic and Stanislas Wawrinka are all part of the eight players in the running for that right. I have a sneaky suspicion that Wawrinka could be the man to get through as the Swiss Number 2 has really been playing solid tennis on the clay courts recently, and it has taken the likes of Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin Del Potro and Rafael Nadal to stop his progress.

Wawrinka is also a former Quarter Finalist and Runner Up at this event, so he could be the main threat to Federer, although I still favour the Swiss Number 1 to have the measure of him.

The Semi Final between Federer and Djokovic will be very tough to call- even though Djokovic has won 5 of their last 6 matches, I think Federer has the absolute belief that he can beat this player and I think their matches are always very close and decided by one or two points in a lot of the cases in question.

Federer also holds the edge on the clay courts, leading 3-1 in the head to head between the players including a Semi Final at Roland Garros last season, but I could only make a real prediction on the match when and if it comes to fruition.

Bottom Half
The main person to focus on in the bottom half of the draw, and in every clay court tournament he enters, is Rafael Nadal- Nadal has a big point to prove after losing his 22 match unbeaten run on the clay courts last week in Madrid when he clearly was not in sync with the court from before the tournament started.

It looked the draw had not been kind to him as Milos Raonic was a potential first match for him here, but Nadal saw the Canadian knocked out on Saturday and instead will meet Florian Mayer, a player he should be beating every time on this surface (and pretty much any other surface).

It is very unlikely that Nadal will encounter any real trouble until the Quarter Final when he will face either Nicolas Almagro, Marin Cilic or Tomas Berdych in all likelihood.

Out of those three players, I expect Nadal is probably expecting a meeting with Tomas Berdych who is a definite threat on the clay courts and has the easiest path to the Quarter Final. Almagro and Cilic are actually meeting in the First Round and it does look tough to separate them, and the winner could be a touch vulnerable as the tournament develops if it is as close a match as it looks it may be.

Whatever happens, I would think Nadal is going to be so motivated to prove he is still the man to beat on the red clay courts that he should get through to the Semi Final.

The other quarter of this half of the draw is loaded with talent as the likes of Fernando Verdasco, Alexandr Dolgopolov, David Nalbandian, Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon, Andy Murray and David Ferrer all lie.

I do like Ferrer to get through to the Semi Final stage, but it is a tough draw in front of him, beginning with the winner of the Verdasco-Dolgopolov clash. However it is a very tough section with so many dangerous players involved and I think that could make life that much easier for Nadal.

The way the draw has panned out, I can't really look beyond picking Rafael Nadal to go and reclaim is Rome crown after losing to Novak Djokovic here last season. He has looked back to his best on the surface and has been fortunate with the draw while the rest of his rivals have some tough looking obstacles to overcome to reach the Final.

Stan James have been kind enough to offer Nadal at evens to win the event and I will be using a few units on him to do so with the potential of laying it off towards the end of the tournament.

Women's Event
Top Half
This is the section of the draw that will be headed up by Victoria Azarenka, who will be looking to get back on the horse after suffering a drubbing at the hands of Serena Williams in the Final in Madrid on Sunday. That loss aside, Azarenka continues to set the benchmark on the WTA Tour in 2012 and there are not too many players I would back to beat her in the form she has displayed for much of the season.

In saying that, I don't think Azarenka has too many issues getting through to the Semi Final in Rome with her biggest challenge likely to come from Na Li in the Quarter Final. The problem for Li is that she can blow very hot and cold and that leaves her vulnerable to a surprise loss before that Round.

I would also continue to favour Azarenka against her as we saw that Li does not have the consistency to play at the high level she needs for more than a set, and that means she is unlikely to knock off the World Number 1 at this moment.

Azarenka's biggest challenge is likely to come out of the other quarter in this half of the draw, a quarter that contains her conqueror from last week- Serena Williams.

Williams has shown she is in great form with her win in Madrid, her second on the clay courts already this season following Charleston, and her confidence is high. However, she could face an awkward Third Round clash with former World Number 1, Caroline Wozniacki.

The two players played out a three set match last week in Madrid and Wozniacki actually recorded her first win over Williams in Miami a couple of months ago so this is no easy task. The match also means I would look to avoid Serena as the favourite this week as it is a really tough one to call.

Even if Serena does get through that one, she could face the ultra-consistent Agnieska Radwanska in the Quarter Final and all that makes me feel there is a chance that Williams is out before the Semi Final.

If Serena does exit before the Semi Final, I think Victoria Azarenka will be the person that takes the most advantage and progresses through to the Final.

Bottom Half
This section of the draw is headed up by the World Number 2, Maria Sharapova, and she is definitely one of the players you would look to keep on your side as much as possible. The Russian has been consistent in getting to Finals this season, but also won her first title in Stuttgart on the clay a couple of weeks ago. After struggling on this surface for so long, Sharapova looks to have got to grips with it and is no a real threat on the slower courts.

Sharapova will have to deal with a potentially tough Third Round clash with Ana Ivanovic, and she is then seeded to meet Sam Stosur and either of those could be tough matches to overcome. However, Sharapova has a mental edge over both of those players and that is what should see her through to the Semi Final in this tournament at the very least.

If Sharapova can get to that stage, she would likely be the favourite against any of the players she could meet as the other quarter is full of women that have been out of form. The top two seeded players in the section are Marion Bartoli and Petra Kvitova, but neither can be considered trustworthy to come through the section.

One player that may take advantage is the ever improving Angelique Kerber- the German recently won a tournament in Copenhagen, on the indoor hard courts, while has reached the Quarter Final in Stuttgart and the Third Round in Madrid last week on the clay courts.

My biggest issue with Kerber is the fact she has not really had a break out week on the clay courts in her career, but she is definitely someone I would watch with interest this week.

With the uncertainty in the third quarter of the draw, I think Maria Sharapova looks worth backing to at least get to the Final from this section, although you may have a couple of heart in mouth moments before she does reach that stage with tough matches to overcome.

The Women's event looks an open one this week, but I am going to have an each-way interest in both Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova to get to the Final at the very least with the draws they have been given. Sharapova is definitely the player with the tougher draw, while I think Azarenka could be fresh for a Semi Final with whichever player comes through the second quarter and that could give her the edge.

Outside of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, I think Azarenka feels confident she can beat anyone on the Tour so she looks decent value at 5.00 to win the event, while Sharapova is also a nice looking 5.50.

MY OUTRIGHT PICKS: Rafael Nadal @ 2.00 Stan James (4 Units)
Victoria Azarenka @ 5.00 Ladbrokes (1 Unit E/W)
Maria Sharapova @ 5.50 Ladbrokes (1 Unit E/W)

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