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Boxing Picks 2021- Canelo Alvarez vs Billy Joe Saunders (May 8th)

There have been some solid cards over the last several months, but the largely absent fans has been a big miss for Boxing as much as other s...

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Midweek Football Picks (January 29-30)

All I have read over the last couple of days is how the 'romance' of the FA Cup is back following a number of surprise results in the Fourth Round over the weekend, but personally I thought it was an absolute nightmare.

For the first time this season when it comes to the football picks, I seemed to be on the wrong end of a number of late goals that screwed a number of picks I had made. It all began with a late Manchester City winner at Stoke City, followed by another late winner for Everton in their game at Bolton Wanderers.

Then Manchester United conceded a goal to a player that averages a goal every 50 appearances in a game the home side dominated- I honestly think Fulham had about two shots all day and still United couldn't keep a clean sheet.

While I had backed against a couple of favourites going through, the teams I did favour all decided to throw in stinkers as Middlesbrough struggled to see off Aldershot Town and both Norwich City and Tottenham Hotspur were surprise losers.

Those kicks in the nuts and other results has not helped the cause at all for the month and it just seems to be one of those weeks- hopefully the Premier League games will turn around some of those fortunes during a crowded midweek schedule of games.

Aston Villa v Newcastle United Pick: This is an absolutely huge game for two sides that are sitting just outside the relegation zone in the Premier League and both teams are under real pressure to get results following some big setbacks.

Aston Villa are clearly the big story with defeats against Bradford City and Millwall in the Capital One Cup and FA Cup respectively, while they have failed to win in 6 Premier League games, losing 4 of those. They have actually failed to score in their last 4 home games in the League and that has to be a big concern for Paul Lambert who continues to insist he has no room for a proven goalscorer like Darren Bent.

On the other hand, Newcastle United also suffered a shock FA Cup exit when beaten at Brighton in the Third Round and Alan Pardew's men have now lost 5 of their last 6 games in all competitions. Newcastle have failed to win an away game in all competitions this season, although they did snap a 7 game losing run on their travels with a draw at Norwich City last time out.

Stopping the rot has got to be the first call for both of these sides and it wouldn't be a big surprise if we see the points shared. Newcastle are getting healthier in their squad, but they have a number of players who have just joined the club and may need some time gelling this squad together.

I think the draw is a major player in this one and that is what I'll be recommending.

Queens Park Rangers v Manchester City Pick: Harry Redknapp has made his Queens Park Rangers side a little tougher to play against over the last month and I would ignore the 2-4 loss to the MK Dons as there were a number of changes made to the team. Redknapp essentially said he knew the players were not good enough, but he sent them out there with the belief that they were going to show the rest of the country why they were not being picked for the team.

That probably isn't best for morale, but Redknapp is aware that he doesn't need a massive squad, but just 16 players that he can trust to their best for the club- he is also trying to bring in a number of reinforcements to help out the squad, but this game is going to be about making life difficult for Manchester City.

City have picked up some real form of late and look a lot more like the side that won the Premier League last season rather than the one that has struggled for form and results in the first five months of the season. They have won 4 of their last 5 games away from home in the Premier League and should be a little too good for QPR.

However, I wouldn't be surprised if they have to wait and are pushed all the way in this contest and it looks like a game where they could settle the win by the odd goal. They managed to do that at Stoke City over the weekend in the FA Cup and a similar 0-1 scoreline might be the result today.

Arsenal v Liverpool Pick: Every Liverpool fan I know seem to get over-excited about a couple of positive results, but they were brought back down to earth with a bump as the side were knocked out of the FA Cup at Oldham Athletic over the weekend.

It will be interesting to see how they respond to that setback, although it also has to be noted that Liverpool have not beaten any of the sides above them in the Premier League table.

It won't be much easier for them to break that run against Arsenal, another inconsistent team that haven't been able to string a number of positive results together. Arsenal, like Liverpool, seem to suffer setbacks just when it looks like they are getting going.

The results between the teams here have been close in recent seasons, but I think Arsenal are going to have a little too much for Liverpool in this one and may just pick up the three points in a tight game.

Everton v West Brom Pick: Everton could be a surprise package making the Champions League places this season, but that means they must improve their record at Goodison Park where they have failed to win more than half of their League games this season.

The problem Everton seem to have is that they don't put away teams easily, winning a number of games by the odd goal, while also being a little vulnerable at the back.

West Brom may not be able to take advantage of those vulnerabilities fully as they have just hit the buffers after a really positive start. It will be interesting to see how the squad feels after Peter Odemwingie's attack on the club, but the bigger concern may just be their poor run of form.

The home win is far too short in my opinion, especially considering the way Everton can struggle to finish teams off- however, I do think the home team will win this game by the odd goal in three.

Manchester United v Southampton Pick: Manchester United can't really have got a bigger boost than watching Manchester City fail to win at Loftus Road last night and I expect the squad to come out and put on a big performance against Southampton in this one.

The big guns should be back in action following the weekend win over Fulham in the FA Cup, while it will be interesting how Southampton approach this game.

The Saints have a big game against Wigan Athletic on Saturday and it is conceivable that they are already more focused on that one- at the end of the day, they are more likely to get points from that fixture, a big relegation six pointer, than a game at Old Trafford where United have been dominant this season.

To be fair to Southampton though, they have rarely been flattened in the Premier League this season, but this could be one of those rare occasions and I wouldn't be surprised if United recorded a 3-0 or 4-1 win.

Fulham v West Ham United Pick: Both of these sides have been in terrible form in recent weeks and both Martin Jol and Sam Allardyce are a little concerned that their sides are going to be dragged into a relegation battle, especially with the sides at the bottom beginning to pick up points.

With the way both have been playing, this could be a fairly entertaining game at Craven Cottage- West Ham do have a lack of goals on their travels, but they do create chances and Fulham have been regular scorers as well as failing to keep clean sheets in their home games.

West Ham do have a pretty special record at Craven Cottage, only losing 1 of their last 10 visits to this ground, and I am expecting both sides to push for the win in this game and to keep a nice buffer between themselves and the relegation zone.

The 1-1 draw is in play in this one, but I am liking someone to win the game and so I'll take goals in this one.

Reading v Chelsea Pick: This is an interesting game as the two teams seem to be going in opposite directions with Reading winning 4 in a row, while Chelsea were knocked out of the Capital One Cup Semi Final and then were almost embarrassed by Brentford in the FA Cup.

Reading have also been a tough prospect at the Majedski Stadium this season, but Chelsea seem to play with a little less pressure away from home in the Premier League and have won 4 in a row on their travels.

This match has all the makings of a tight contest, but Reading are a little suspect at the back and I do think Chelsea will find a way to keep the fans off Rafa Benitez' back with a win.

However, it may come by the smallest of margins and that looks the call in this match.

MY PICKS: Aston Villa-Newcastle United Draw @ 3.40 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Manchester City to win by 1 Goal @ 3.75 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Arsenal @ 2.30 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Everton win and 3 or 4 total goals in the match @ 3.40 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Manchester United - 2 Asian Handicap @ 2.25 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Fulham-West Ham United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea to win by 1 Goal @ 3.80 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)

January Update8-17, - 7.99 Units (35 Units Staked, - 22.8% Yield)

December Final17-24-1, - 0.83 Units (53 Units Staked, - 0.02 % Yield)
November Final8-21, - 8.25 Units (37 Units Staked, - 22.3% Yield)
October Final9-9, + 5.44 Units (27 Units Staked, 20.1% Yield)
September Final17-11, + 21.19 Units (46 Units Staked, 46.1% Yield)
August Final12-13, + 1.29 Units (40 Units Staked, 3.22% Yield)

Season 2012/13+ 18.84 Units (203 Units Staked, + 9.28 % Yield)

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Australian Open Men's Final Pick 2013 (January 27th)

The last match of the Australian Open Grand Slam tournament involves who I consider to be the two best players in the World at the moment.

It should be a fascinating match between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, two players who know each other's game inside out and both have a chance of making history. Novak Djokovic will become the first male player to win 3 in a row in Australia if he wins, while Andy Murray can become the first player to win his first 2 Grand Slam titles back to back.

I don't believe fatigue is a real factor in the contest as both players have had some time off since their Semi Final and this isn't the scheduling problem that the US Open encounters over the years when they try and play the Men's Semi Finals on the Saturday and then the Final on the Sunday- clearly that is unfair to the winner of the second Semi Final, especially if they are involved in a long match, but I don't believe that factors in here.

Novak Djokovic win 3-1 v Andy Murray: I think both of these players are capable of winning this tournament, but I liked Novak Djokovic at the start of the tournament and there hasn't been a lot to make me think that won't be the case on Sunday.

Both players will likely have a fair bit of success when the other is serving, but I just believe the Serb is mentally tougher than his opponent and that may end up being the difference between the players.

I can't imagine either being whitewashed and there is probably a higher chance of seeing a deciding set than a 3-0 win for either player in my opinion. However, I just feel Djokovic is going to win the bigger points and come through in this one in four sets and so I'll have a small interest in him to do so.

MY PICK: Novak Djokovic win 3-1 @ 4.33 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)

Australian Open Update: 17-26, - 11.92 Units (78 Units Staked, - 15.3% Yield)

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Weekend Football Picks (January 26-27)

It is FA Cup Fourth Round weekend as the Premier League takes a little break before two rounds of matches over the next week.

Obviously, checking out team selection is a big key for success as some managers decide they don't want to risk a long Cup run in favour of what their League goals are, while others are just resting players with one eye on up coming games.

However, these are the picks I am making from the action this weekend:

Stoke City v Manchester City Pick: Technically, the FA Cup Fourth Round started on Friday night when Millwall beat Aston Villa, but this is the opening TV game of Saturday which will really get the fans going in this Round.

Stoke City manager Tony Pulis has enjoyed considerable success in this competition over the last couple of seasons, reaching the Final in 2011 and then following that up with a Quarter Final appearance in 2012 and I do believe that the side are safe enough in the Premier League to at least give the competition another run this season.

There is no doubt that this is a very tough task to knock out Manchester City, a team that won the FA Cup a couple of seasons ago and one that will take the competition seriously with no European commitments down the stretch and already chasing Manchester United in the Premier League.

I expect both sides to send out the strongest teams they have available and this ground has regularly been one where Manchester City have struggled since Stoke returned to the top flight.

They drew here earlier this season and the 1-1 has been a very common score when they have met each other at the Brittania Stadium, the games finishing with that scoreline in 5 of the last 6 at Stoke City. I know Chelsea won here 0-4 recently, but that scoreline was harsh on Stoke to say the least and they have proven how tough they are to beat here.

I think Manchester City will eventually come through the tie, but don't be at all surprised if it needs a replay for that to happen and so backing the draw looks the call from the game.

Bolton Wanderers v Everton Pick: Just last season, this would have been an established Premier League game and it will be interesting to see how Everton respond to their tepid performance at St Mary's on Monday night.

It is very clear that David Moyes is desperate to add a bit of silverware to his CV for his time at Everton and they have come close in the FA Cup a couple of times, reaching the Semi Final last season before losing a one goal lead in a loss to rivals Liverpool.

I do expect to see a strong Everton side come out at the Reebok Stadium, even though there is perhaps a chance that some players will be rested as Everton will want to pick up points from their Premier League games and keep the pressure on the teams above them for the Champions League places.

They are also facing a Bolton Wanderers team that have picked up some form under Dougie Freedman and one that has had the taste of knocking out Premier League opposition with their 0-2 win at Sunderland in a Third Round replay. Freedman was also the manager of Crystal Palace when they surprised Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Capital One Cup last season so he is no stranger in getting his side up for a surprise result.

The other factor to consider is that Everton are one of these sides that have often been involved in a surprise defeat in the Cup competitions and recent years have seen them lose at the likes of Brentford and Shrewsbury Town. This could be a tough one for them to win outright and I wouldn't be totally surprised if Bolton can at least force a replay and get to go to Goodison Park in a couple of weeks time.

Macclesfield Town v Wigan Athletic Pick: This is actually a local derby and it will be interesting to see the kind of team that Roberto Martinez sends out to Moss Rose, although I doubt he would want the embarrassment of being beaten by a non-League club.

Macclesfield Town have been in decent form since surprising runaway Championship leaders Cardiff City in the Third Round here and they'll feel they can give their Premier League neighbours a tough test. With Wigan expected to make some changes to their side, there is a chance that we could see a surprise in the contest.

However, we saw a professional performance from Wigan when they beat Bournemouth 0-1 in a Third Round Replay at Dean Court and I wouldn't be surprised if they need to win this one by the minimum of margins.

I expect it will be tough, I expect Macclesfield will make it tough for a while, but I think it is worth a small interest for this game to be level at half time before the Premier League fitness tells late in the game and Wigan grab the win in the second half.

Middlesbrough v Aldershot Town Pick: The next couple of picks are both going to take the same kind of thinking for my reasoning for taking them.

The first is Middlesbrough to beat Aldershot Town by a couple of goals in this one. I think the Championship side will at least take this game seriously and try and get some momentum for their League game. The fact that they don't have to play again for a week means Tony Mowbray doesn't have to worry about resting players and I think the 4-1 win over Hastings United here in the Third Round shows that intention will likely remain the same.

I don't want to under-estimate an Aldershot Town side that have been playing better in recent weeks, but it is a big ask for them to come here and earn a draw as they did at Wolves in the Capital One Cup earlier this season. The side do concede a fair few goals and they meet a Middlesbrough team that have been scoring heavily at the Riverside Stadium all season.

You just have to think the higher League club will show their class when it is all said and done and so I will back them on the handicaps.

Norwich City v Luton Town Pick: Much like I said for the Middlesbrough pick, you have to think that Chris Hughton is going to try and build some momentum for his Norwich City side by putting together a positive Cup run. Norwich have not been playing that well of late, so a defeat against a non-League opponent will not serve anyone at the club very well and I do expect a team to be put out to do the job.

I was happy for Luton Town when they beat Wolves in the Third Round of the FA Cup as the club have really hit on some hard times with a quick relegation down the League pyramid into the Conference. However, this does look a step too far for them and they can concentrate on earning promotion back to the League.

The fact Norwich are home should erase the chances of a surprise, and Luton have been on the end of some heavy beatings on their travels in the Conference so you have to expect Norwich will eventually show their class and win this by a couple of goals at the least.

Manchester United v Fulham Pick: Manchester United fans are all hoping for a FA Cup run this season as it has been far too long since the most successful club in this competition actually lifted the Cup. The draw for the Cup has regularly paired United with fellow Premier League clubs and this season is proving no different as they face Fulham off the back of seeing off West Ham United in the Third Round.

Sir Alex Ferguson played a pretty strong team in both games against West Ham and bringing on Robin Van Persie to score the equaliser in the initial tie at Upton Park shows how much this competition still means to the manager.

I am expecting a strong team out in this one, despite facing Southampton and Fulham, again, in the Premier League in the next week as United will want to complete their way into the Fifth Round at the first attempt and not have another replay to add to the fixture list.

The biggest problem for United in this game will be the returning Dimitar Berbatov, if he is selected, but Fulham are not the same side of even twelve months ago as they haven't really replaced Clint Dempsey or Mousa Dembele effectively in my opinion.

We did see a 3-2 win for United earlier this season against Fulham, but those were the first goals the away side had scored at Old Trafford in 5 visits and I am going for United to go back to basics and win this one without conceding.

Leeds United v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: This looks like a match where an upset is very possible, but I believe Tottenham Hotspur are going to be too strong for a Leeds United side that are much more concentrated on their League form.

Usually going to a lower League club means a bit of culture shock for Premier League players, but visiting Elland Road certainly does not fit into that criteria and the space for Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon should be enough for the away side to win the game.

Andre Villas-Boas has taken Cup competitions seriously in his short time in English football and he clearly sees the benefit of adding silverware to a trophy cabinet so I don't expect wholesale changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Manchester United last weekend.

However, I have to respect a Leeds side that have earned some big results in the FA Cup in recent seasons and keep my interest to a minimum. I would be surprised if there weren't goals in the game and taking Spurs to win with either 3 or 4 goals scored looks the call to me.

MY PICKS: Stoke City-Manchester City Draw @ 3.75 Stan James (1 Unit)
Bolton Wanderers-Everton Draw @ 4.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Draw-Wigan Athletic HT-FT @ 5.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Middlesbrough - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Norwich City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Manchester United Win to Nil @ 2.25 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Tottenham Hotspur Win and 3 or 4 total goals in the match @ 3.50 Paddy Power (1 Unit)

January Update8-10, + 2.01 Units (25 Units Staked, + 8.04% Yield)

December Final17-24-1, - 0.83 Units (53 Units Staked, - 0.02 % Yield)
November Final8-21, - 8.25 Units (37 Units Staked, - 22.3% Yield)
October Final9-9, + 5.44 Units (27 Units Staked, 20.1% Yield)
September Final17-11, + 21.19 Units (46 Units Staked, 46.1% Yield)
August Final12-13, + 1.29 Units (40 Units Staked, 3.22% Yield)

Season 2012/13+ 18.84 Units (203 Units Staked, + 9.28 % Yield)

Australian Open Woman's Final Pick (January 26th)

Victoria Azarenka - 2.5 games v Na Li: This is a very close Final to call and it is no surprise that the layers are having trouble separating them at the moment.

It is going to be interesting to see how Victoria Azarenka is going to react to the last couple of days when she has been heavily criticised by almost every single person involved in tennis. Her 'injury time out' has been the big talking point in Australia and there is little doubt that the Melbourne crowd are not going to be on her side in this one.

We saw how they reacted to Tomas Berdych last season when he refused to shake Nicolas Almagro's hand after their match in the Fourth Round and I believe the crowd are going to be fully behind Na Li in this one.

The big point is whether Azarenka is going to come out with the siege mentality she has often displayed (mainly against the criticism of her 'grunts' during points on court) or whether she is going to crumble under the weight of pressure the last couple of days would have provided.

I also think you have to make your own mind up about whether Azarenka was really injured on Thursday or whether she had the nerves- I believe it was the latter and she will be absolutely fine to come out in this Final and play her usual game.

While I have said a lot about Azarenka, being the main talking point of the last couple of days, Na Li can't be underestimated as she has been playing some exceptional tennis, particularly in her Quarter Final and Semi Final wins over Agnieszka Radwanska and Maria Sharapova respectively.

This is some of the best tennis Li has played since winning the French Open in 2011 and there is no doubt that she is confident she can get the better of Azarenka in this one.

However, she has lost 4 matches in a row against the World Number 1, including all 3 matches in 2012, and that is a tough mental hurdle to overcome. Some of their matches have been close, but I think the difference here is that Azarenka is the better return of serve and her movement is also a little better than the older Li.

Li also doesn't have the variation that can trouble Azarenka at times and I think her groundstrokes are more likely to break down of the two players. It could be a tough three set tussle, but I do think the World Number 1 will rubber stamp that position by retaining her title from a season ago.

MY PICK: Victoria Azarenka - 2.5 Games @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 16-26, - 14.12 Units (76 Units Staked, - 18.6% Yield)

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Australian Open Day 12 Picks 2013 (January 25th)

The Woman's Final was set yesterday and we will see Victoria Azarenka get the chance to win back to back Australian Open titles when she faces Na Li.

It was a day full of big stories, the first of those being the way Li completely dismantled Maria Sharapova in possibly her best performance since winning the French Open in 2011. However, that story was put to the back burner thanks to the controversy surrounding Azarenka's win over Sloane Stephens in the second Semi Final.

Most people would know the story- Azarenka choked 5 match points and decided to take a medical time out which lasted 10 minutes. She then came out and subsequently broke Stephen's serve to win the match.

The controversy then started when Azarenka seemed to imply the only reason for her medical time out was because she was 'overwhelmed' and had basically taken the time out to get her emotions in check. Obviously that led to a Twitter blow up, as is the case these days over every major incident in sports, and has irritated many tennis writers around the World.

It is a fact that the medical time out has regularly been used by players to break up play and that is mainly because there is no real consequence to taken one- there was a point when players would go for a 'comfort break' between sets to slow down an opponents momentum, but that has seemingly been replaced by this new method of 'gamesmanship'.

Clearly there are some situations where you need to take a medical time out so it is hard to distinguish between those players who just feel 'overwhelmed' and those who have definite concerns. I heard one commentator say that a good idea would be to use the same rules as they do in boxing.

In boxing, you get one minute between rounds to get your senses- at the end of that minute, you either can get up and continue the fight or you have the choice to quit. That wouldn't be a bad idea for tennis, although the argument does go that spectators could be punished with poor quality matches or players withdrawing with minor issues, especially in smaller events.

This is a real issue for tennis with the bad press Azarenka's decision has made- I really don't know if she was playing the rules or whether something was really wrong, but she is going to be given a lukewarm reaction at best on Saturday in the Final.

After he drama of the Women's Semi Finals, the Men's Semi Final between Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer was a real anti-climax that Djokovic won without really breaking a set. It was a dominating performance from the World Number 1 and I think he is rightly the favourite to win the tournament now, especially if the Andy Murray-Roger Federer Semi Final goes the distance on Friday.

Roger Federer v Andy Murray: I have been thinking about this Semi Final for a couple of days since it was set they were going to meet one another and I have decided that it is worth backing Roger Federer to beat Andy Murray in what could be a classic match.

Both of these Men will be supremely confident they can win, but I just feel Federer won't mind the conditions here and I think he can be a little too good for Murray.

The biggest problem for Federer at the moment are those players that can take the racquet out of his hand and I am not sure Murray is going to be aggressive enough for long enough to do so. I know Murray can get to the Federer serve, but the Swiss man will also have success against the Murray serve, particularly if the British player doesn't reach at least 60% first serves.

I think a lot is being made of the Olympic Final win for Murray, but Federer was absolutely exhausted in that match, both physically and mentally, and I think he is going to be fine with a couple of days rest from his five set win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. I'll be the first to admit that Federer didn't play that well in that match, but Tsonga was playing above expectations too yet it is Federer who has got through to the Semi Final.

This is a ridiculously close Semi Final so taking the underdog does look the call- I can make cases for either player to win the tournament, but I think Federer is a little more battle tested than Murray and that could see him over the line, possibly in 4 sets.

MY PICKS: Roger Federer @ 2.38 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 16-25, - 12.12 Units (74 Units Staked, - 16.4% Yield)

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Australian Open Day 11 Picks 2013 (January 24th)

This has easily been my worst Grand Slam performance for over five years, a tournament where I just seem to missing my feelings as each Round goes by.

Thankfully there is a long season ahead, although this is a disappointing result for the thread which has been so effective during these events over the last two years. Some things you can blame on luck, others were just bad picks on my part, but the tennis season has these ups and downs. Obviously I am most disappointed that a down period came through the first Grand Slam of the season.

At least we are finally getting to see some good tennis with a couple of very good matches between Sloane Stephens and Serena Williams and Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a tournament which has been lacking the drama that usually comes with Grand Slam events.

The Sloane Stephens win was particularly impressive as she is one of the young players on the Tour that you just know will have a big future- many have tipped her up as a future Slam winner and I think she will succeed in that, although her run should also give Laura Robson some confidence having played her fairly close earlier in the tournament.

Both of those girls are the future, but the main talking point from the Wednesday matches is the next battle between Andy Murray and Roger Federer which was set up after both Men came through their respective Quarter Final.

That Semi Final has the pride of place as being the only match to be played on Friday as today's schedule has the first Men's Semi Final in the evening and the two Women's Semi Finals played earlier in the day in the Rod Laver Stadium.

Maria Sharapova - 5.5 games v Na Li: Maria Sharapova has barely been extended in the first five matches she has played at this tournament and she looks capable of taking home the title, especially without Serena Williams in her path.

It could very much be a repeat of twelve months ago when she met Victoria Azarenka in the Final and that is what I believe will be the end result.

First, Sharapova has to negotiate a tough Semi Final with Na Li, who was an impressive winner against Agnieszka Radwanska in the Quarter Final. Li has opened the 2013 season with a tournament win in China and she has yet to drop a set at Melbourne Park, the venue where she really made her breakthrough as a Grand Slam contender two years ago.

Both players are in very good form, but I do think Sharapova is a little too good on the ground- while Li was capable of 'out-hitting' Radwanska, she will be faced with the same, or higher, level of power coming back at her in this one and that could put a lot of pressure on her consistency with the groundstrokes.

They met three times last season and only one of them was a close game on the clay courts in Rome, although Sharapova won that won. The other two were one by the Russian much more comfortably on the hard courts in Miami and Beijing and Sharapova actually dropped just 5 games in those two wins.

I just feel one set will be close, but Sharapova runs away with the second, as she did in Miami and Beijing, to cover.

Victoria Azarenka - 5.5 games v Sloane Stephens: Sloane Stephens showed real heart, determination and courage in her win over Serena Williams yesterday, but I think it will be tough to back that up against the World Number 1.

Victoria Azarenka is playing very well at the moment and she is a lot more careful with her returns of serve and I doubt Stephens is allowed to get away with so many free points as Williams let her in their match. Whether that was down to Williams hurting and trying to shorten points, I doubt Stephens opens with 3 service games without dropping a point in this one.

Azarenka puts a lot of pressure on her opponents by attacking their serve and I think she will do the same to Stephens in this one. I expect the World Number 1 to win more of the battles in the rallies and I think she will be far too strong for the teenager at this stage of their careers.

So often we see a player produce a real upset and then fail to back that up- Stephens won't have a lot of time to digest what she has done and it is entirely possible that she is suffering from nerves ahead of her first Major Grand Slam Semi Final. I don't think she is ready to go toe to toe with Azarenka in this one and I think we will see a 6-3, 6-2 scoreline.

Novak Djokovic - 7.5 games v David Ferrer: David Ferrer is one of the biggest warriors on the ATP Tour and he proved the point once again with a 5 set win over compatriot Nicolas Almagro despite being 2-0 down and Almagro serving for the match on THREE separate occasions.

However, Ferrer is coming up against another warrior on the Tour in Novak Djokovic who many would have forgotten went through a 5 set match himself in the tournament as he dismantled Tomas Berdych in the Quarter Final.

This does look like a high spread, but I think the problem for Ferrer is that he is going to have to battle for every point on the ground as his serve doesn't get him enough cheap points. Playing the best returner on the Tour means he is usually under pressure on his own serve and there is every chance that Djokovic can win a set with 2 clear breaks of serve.

You can see from their matches that Novak wins a lot of sets either to love, 1 or 2 and that should set him in a good place to cover the spread in this one. There is a chance that Ferrer can come out and dominate a set, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see something similar to twelve months ago when Djokovic won in straight sets, 6-4, 7-6, 6-1.

I just feel that Djokovic was given a real wake up call by the performance of Stanislas Wawrinka and he is focused and motivated- the way he beat up Berdych was mightily impressive and I think he can do enough to cover in this one.

MY PICKS: Maria Sharapova - 5.5 Games @ 2.25 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Victoria Azarenka - 5.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Novak Djokovic - 7.5 Games @ 2.15 Pinnacle (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 14-24, - 14.26 Units (68 Units Staked, - 21% Yield)

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Australian Open Day 10 Picks 2013 (January 23rd)

It's been a bad tournament for me, there is no escaping that fact, but sometimes you do have to scratch your head at the way the breaks fall.

Agnieszka Radwanska and David Ferrer both had their chances, but faced inspired opposition on Quarter Finals day- Radwanksa served for the first set before completely crumbling in the face of the pressure brought by Na Li, while Ferrer was dominated for the first couple of sets by Nicolas Almagro.

However, Ferrer still had some chances although perhaps fortunate to still be in the tournament with Almagro having three service games to book his place in the Semi Final. In all honesty, it wasn't a great performance from Ferrer and anything similar to that in the Semi Final against Novak Djokovic will see him beaten comfortably in my opinion.

Speaking of Djokovic, he was absolutely dominant in his performance against Tomas Berdych and I still believe he will be in better physical shape than the winner of the bottom half of the draw where it seems inevitable that Andy Murray will meet Roger Federer in the Semi Final.

It has been a pretty uneventful Grand Slam for the most part to be fair, although I think we could see some really good matches in the next six days to close the event.

Victoria Azarenka - 5.5 games v Svetlana Kuznetsova: Svetlana Kuznetsova still holds a winning record against Victoria Azarenka, but I do expect that to be squared in this Quarter Final.

Azarenka has come through her matches fairly easily, barring a tough encounter with Jamie Hampton, while Kuznetsova has shown some real toughness to win her last two matches.

Both should be feeling comfortable on the court now, but I think Azarenka's going to be the fresher of the two players and I think she has far more power and control than Caroline Wozniacki who couldn't quite get over the line against Kuznetsova in the last Round.

The last four matches between the pair have all been fairly close, although there was one comfortable win for Azarenka thrown in. This is likely to be a close match for a while, but I do think Azarenka will win more of the bigger points and possibly end up with a 6-3, 6-2 win.

Roger Federer - 6.5 games v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: I am taking the larger spread in this one as I feel it is actually under-estimating how well Roger Federer is playing at the moment and the fact that I believe Jo-Wilfried Tsonga may need a bit more mental work before he is ready for this one.

Tsonga has started working with Roger Rasheed, but I don't think the full effects of that will be seen until the French Open or Wimbledon later in the season. The biggest problem for the Frenchman is not his ability, but the stuff between the ears and whether he really believes he can beat Federer with the way the former World Number 1 is playing right now.

I wasn't sure Federer was being ruthless enough on the big points early in the tournament, but the way he played against Milos Raonic was very impressive. I also think the slower conditions in the evening may just favour Federer all the more in this one.

Surprisingly, they haven't met for a couple of seasons on the main Tour, although they will be familiar with one another having played in some exhibitions with one another during the off-season.

Federer beat Tsonga by 7 games at the US Open when they last met at a Grand Slam, while he was an even more comfortable winner in the 2010 Semi Final here at the Australian Open. I believe we could see another 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 win for Federer in this one and the chance to see a classic Semi Final between him and Andy Murray in a couple of days time.

Serena Williams - 7.5 games v Sloane Stephens: These two players met a couple of weeks ago in a match that Serena Williams won 6-4, 6-3, but that was the first time she would have seen Sloane Stephens' game and I think it could be a lot more comprehensive this time.

I was foolish enough to think Maria Kirilenko could keep it close against Serena in the last Round, but I won't make that mistake again- there is little doubt in my mind that Serena is fully on her game at the moment and I expect her to put a lot of pressure on Stephens for much of the match and that should lead to a fairly routine win.

I have been impressed with the way Stephens has played so far in the tournament, but she was pushed to the limit in the last Round and it is a big ask for her in her first Quarter Final at Grand Slam level. It is all the tougher when you know she is going to be facing Serena Williams and I think the latter will have seen Maria Sharapova's performance on Monday and will look to match, or improve, on that.

We will need a bit of luck for this one as I can imagine a couple of the games coming down a to a couple of key points, but I will look for Serena to record a 6-2, 6-2 win in this one.

MY PICKS: Victoria Azarenka - 5.5 Games @ 1.90 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 6.5 Games @ 2.40 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Serena Williams - 7.5 Games @ 2.14 Pinnacle (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 13-22, - 12.06 Units (62 Units Staked, - 19.5% Yield)

Monday, 21 January 2013

Australian Open Day 9 Picks 2013 (January 22nd)

It was more disappointment for the picks on Day 8 of the Australian Open as things came close to being successful, but once again fell apart as the day developed.

I have to say, Roger Federer and Serena Williams were both in imperious form and you could make a serious case for both to win their respective tournaments. I will be honest- I am still not convinced that Federer will beat Andy Murray and I think he is going to be severely tested by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

On the other hand, Serena Williams looks head and shoulders above the rest of the competition and she is certainly the player to beat... For all of what you hear about Maria Sharapova, the mental edge is with Serena and the ability is with Serena and I think she will be taking the trophy home on Saturday.

David Ferrer - 6.5 games v Nicolas Almagro: I have little doubt that we are going to see David Ferrer in yet another Grand Slam Semi Final now, especially considering he has never lost on the professional Tour against Nicolas Almagro. Further to that, this is the first time Almagro has made the Quarter Final at Slam level outside of the clay court even held at the French Open and that brings another set of pressure on him.

The Spaniards will both know each other very well and I expect it could be close for spells in the match- Almagro has a serve that is capable of providing enough cheap points, but Ferrer definitely has the edge in extended rallies.

Any time we see the rally go to 7 plus shots, I think Ferrer will win the point more often than not and that should be the difference between the players.

Despite thinking it will be close for spells, I do think Almagro is the kind of player that can throw the towel in mentally, especially when he falls behind- Ferrer is someone who fights for every point and it won't be a huge surprise to me if he wins one of the sets with a 6-2 scoreline to ensure the cover.

Agnieszka Radwanska - 2.5 games v Na Li: These two players have played a number of close matches over the last couple of seasons, although there was a period last Summer when Na Li was thumping Agnieszka Radwanska without too many problems.

Both players have been in form with Radwanska still unbeaten in 2013, while Na Li's sole loss this season came against her opponent here in straight sets in Sydney.

You have to take it a little further with Radwanska too as she has won two tournaments without dropping a set and has yet to be really tested at this tournament.

I am expecting breaks of serve and I am expecting this to be tight, but I just feel Radwanska is going to be a little too mentally tough and less erratic with her groundstrokes and that should see her book her place in the Semi Final. I think the scoreline could eventually be 7-5, 6-4 in favour of the Pole when it is all said and done.

MY PICKS: David Ferrer - 6.5 Games @ 2.05 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Agnieszka Radwanska - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 13-20, - 8.06 Units (58 Units Staked, - 13.9% Yield)

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Australian Open Day 8 Picks 2013 (January 21st)

Finally, we have had a memorable match at the Australian Open and the one between Novak Djokovic and Stanislas Wawrinka was a real classic filled with crazy winners.

You know a tennis match has you drawn in when you are exclaiming loudly without realising you're doing it, and that was the way it went today- the point Wawrinka won to save match point and delay the end in the final set with a backhand winner was just ridiculous.

Maybe that will be the sign of a week of top quality tennis ahead of us, although most people will be wondering how Djokovic will recover from that epic match. I think he has shown in the past that he does have some real powers of recovery, for example at this event last year when he came through gruelling back to back matches against Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal to win the tournament.

Novak will play Tomas Berdych in the next Round and that certainly isn't a gimme as Berdych is playing some sublime tennis this week and has barely been extended. Granted, Djokovic has dominated their head to head, including a crushing win here a couple of seasons ago, but that could be a lot of fun to watch.

It was a pretty horrendous day for my picks if I am honest, although there is nothing you can do about some of the bad luck I felt I also got. Kei Nishikori started brilliantly against David Ferrer, but was clearly hampered by a left knee issue, but decided to fight through that and finish the match, even though he was being pummelled.

On the other hand, Janko Tipsarevic felt his ego was too much to finish the match and called a retirement while being easily handled by Nicolas Almagro- so instead of having one winner and one loser, I have one void and one loser which is just unfortunate.

Ekaterina Makarova also comfortably beat Angelique Kerber, which was a bad pick on my part as I had mentioned Makarova maybe being in a 'horses for courses' situation at Melbourne Park.

Just to complete an ugly day, Kevin Anderson missed a number of chances to steal the third set against Tomas Berdych as he fell to a straight sets defeat.

Caroline Wozniacki - 2.5 games v Svetlana Kuznetsova: This is going to be a very close contest in my opinion, but I think Caroline Wozniacki turns around the result from last week in Sydney when she was beaten in three sets by Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Wozniacki has quietly been going about her business in the tournament and while I still don't think she is good enough to win the tournament, I think she can take care of Kuznetsova who struggled in the last Round.

The Dane also has a strong record against Kuznetsova, winning 4 in a row against her before the loss against Sydney. Coming back from a long injury lay off means all this playing time could catch up with Kuznetsova in my opinion and I just think Wozniacki will be a little too strong.

There is a chance of seeing three sets, but I can see Wozniacki coming through with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 win.

Maria Kirilenko + 7.5 games v Serena Williams: I must be crazy to go against Serena Williams on a tennis court, but I am only taking a small interest in this one as it does look like Maria Kirilenko is being given one too many games on the handicap in my opinion.

Serena has won all 5 of their previous matches on the Tour, although only 1 of those wins would have seen her cover this spread. They didn't play on the Tour last season, but I do think Kirilenko is an improved player, one that can at least hold her own for long enough to get the cover.

I also have to appreciate that Serena has played brilliantly so far this tournament, but I do believe Kirilenko has the angle in her shots and the movement to at least test the state of the Williams ankle that was rolled on the First Round.

Like I say, I am probably crazy for going against Serena, but a 6-3, 6-2 win wouldn't be beyond the realms of possibility.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - 2.5 games v Richard Gasquet: There won't be any surprises for these players when they meet one another in their Fourth Round contest, but I am favouring Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to get the better of his compatriot, most likely in 4 good sets of tennis.

The big question is whether Tsonga's backhand can hold up against the pressure that Richard Gasquet will place on it, but I believe it will be Tsonga's mind that wins out in this contest.

Surprisingly, they haven't actually met on the Tour for almost two and a half years, although I actually caught them practising with one another at the O2 Arena at the End of Year Championships last November, so you have to think they know one another fairly well. Also, being in the same Davis Cup team means they will be more than a little familiar with one another.

I think this will be a fascinating contest, but Tsonga will be able to get a little more from his groundstrokes and serve and that will be the ultimate difference between them. Both have come through the opening rounds easily and both have opened 2013 in strong fashion so I don't think confidence will be a real issue.

However, Gasquet has regularly struggled to impose his game on those he feels are 'better' than him on Rankings and that mentality can be an issue. If he continues playing from ten feet behind the baseline, he will be giving Tsonga too much room to operate his big shots and control the match.

Tsonga beat Gasquet in 4 sets here at Melbourne Park back in 2008 on his way to the Final and I think he replicates that result here.

Roger Federer win 3-1 v Milos Raonic: There really isn't a lot to say for this pick except simply that I like the chances of seeing at least one, possibly two, tie-breaks in this match and there is every chance the big Canadian Milos Raonic is able to clinch one of those against Roger Federer.

There is no doubt the big man is hard to break with his monster of a serve, but Federer will draw on the fact that he beat him 3 times in 2012 and that he did end up finding a way of getting the job done against the serve.

However, he did drop a set in each of their matches last season, all best of three affairs, and I think there is a real chance he continues that trend in their first best of five.

As I have mentioned previously, Federer's break point conversion rate has been disappointing in the last two rounds of the tournament and that may make it tougher for him to close this one in straight sets, priced ridiculously low in my mind at odds on.

I think Federer is still too knowledgeable for Raonic in all aspects on the court which will lead to the win and I would be surprised if the match goes the distance so this looks the logical course of action for me.

MY PICKS: Caroline Wozniacki - 2.5 Games @ 2.10 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Maria Kirilenko + 7.5 Games @ 1.83 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - 2.5 Games @ 1.90 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Roger Federer win 3-1 @ 4.33 Stan James (1 Unit)

Australian Open Update: 12-17, - 5.86 Units (52 Units Staked, - 11.2% Yield)

NFL Play Off Championship Games 2013 (January 20)

Well, well, well, we have finally made it through to the penultimate weekend of the NFL season (I don't count the Pro Bowl) and it has been a positive Play Off run for the picks in what was a disappointing and tough regular season to negotiate.

The run in the Play Offs has reached 7-1 thanks to Seattle and New England covering last Sunday and hopefully that will continue through for three more games.

Just before I get on to the picks, I have to say a little about the Manti Te'o situation- it is very worrying to think someone as intelligent as Te'o was catfished so comprehensively, but there is enough gnawing at me to think there is more to the tale.

I have little belief that he didn't know it was a hoax sooner and there are a lot of interviews that contradict what he is now saying. It is a shame, as he looked a lock for a top 15 pick in the NFL Draft, and I do see that stock falling. What makes it worrying is that someone would think it is correct to perpetuate a lie, to almost go out of their way to let the lie develop and there are so many questions to be answered.

The story shows little to no sign of slowing down at the moment and I think a lot is going to be revealed as to how much Te'o knew about the 'hoax'.

Personally, I think there has to be an opportunity for Jeff Ireland to interview Te'o and see if he can put his foot in his own mouth any worse than when he interviewed Dez Bryant.

San Francisco 49ers @ Atlanta Falcons Pick: The first thing I would say is that the spread is ridiculous as it should be much shorter, although I do believe the right side is being favoured and I do think San Francisco will cover in the win to book their place in New Orleans in two weeks time.

The problem for Atlanta is that they have shown nothing to think they can slow down Colin Kaepernick- both Russell Wilson and Cam Newton have carved up this Defense this season and Kaerpernick has the wheels and the arm to become the latest to make hay in that situation.

I have little doubt that San Francisco will be moving the chains in this one, almost at will, and my only concern is the situation with Michael Crabtree and whether he will be active for the game. I would be surprised if he wasn't, but if Crabtree was unavailable,  Vernon Davis will be given a bigger opportunity in the Offense.

That won't be a bad thing as Davis is more than capable of replicating what Zach Miller did last week for Seattle, although the loss of Crabtree would limit the Offense a little.

Another issue for Atlanta is that their Offense could be made fairly one-dimensional in this one... Michael Turner showed some life last week against Seattle, but the Seahawks are not as stout against the run as the 49ers and I expect all the pressure will be on Matt Ryan.

Ryan banished some of the demons with a come from behind win over Seattle last weekend, but this is a tougher Defense in my opinion and it won't be easy for him to torch the Secondary without a running game established. The likes of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez are top receivers so they will find spaces, but to do that consistently will be an issue for Atlanta in my opinion.

There are a lot of trends that do favour the Falcons in the game that worry me, particularly of sides coming off a huge Offensive output as the 49ers are (teams scoring at least 40 points in the Play Offs are 3-20 against the spread since 1996).

However, they look the better team and I do think the 49ers are going to be too good on both sides of the ball and pull the win.

Pick: Atlanta Falcons 24-30 San Francisco 49ers

Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots Pick: Is it destiny or something else? The Baltimore Ravens certainly feel that the whole season was going to boil down to them going back to Foxboro for the AFC Championship Game and a chance to earn some redemption from a season ago. Everyone remembers the Lee Evans dropped touchdown and the Billy Cundiff choke in a game the Ravens deserved to win.

That was the weekend when both Harbaugh brothers saw their team lose in the Championship Round to miss the chance of getting to the SuperBowl and I think they may both be in different situations this time around.

I have no doubt that Baltimore are banged up Defensively, but this unit has come together in the last couple of weeks as they rally around for one last run to the big game as a team. Ray Lewis is gone at the end of the season and I wouldn't be surprised if Ed Reed joins him, but they look like a team that feels they can put the exclamation point at the end of Lewis' career.

Baltimore should have some success through the air and on the ground against this Defense, particularly if Play Off Joe Flacco has another big game. He outplayed Peyton Manning last week and he outplayed Tom Brady last season, while Jim Caldwell has already shown he is a far better Offensive Co-Ordinator than Cam Cameron.

Rob Gronkowski is missing for New England, but I don't think that will have the huge impact that it would have done a season ago, especially with the Patriots playing down the stretch without him this season. Brady will still find a way to move the chains with his receivers and he will get the ball out quickly to avoid pressure, something that Baltimore have rattled him with in the past.

I also expect the Patriots to find some success on the floor with Steven Ridley and Shane Vereen, but something has to be said about how tough Baltimore have played New England throughout recent seasons.

I hate the fact that Bill Belichick is a covering machine when he faces a team he has lost to previously in the season (14-3 against the spread), but teams given at least a touchdown in Conference Championship Games are 8-3 against the spread since 1997.

Baltimore have also played New England tough in their last 3 visits here, going 2-0-1 against the spread in those games too and I'll take more than a touchdown start that they can do the same again.

MY PICKS: San Francisco 49ers - 3.5 Points @ 2.00 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Baltimore Ravens + 8 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Australian Open Day 7 Picks 2013 (January 20th)

Finally the Australian Open is up and running with close matches and shocks the order of the day yesterday as the Third Round matches were completed.

The biggest casualty has to Juan Martin Del Potro, an exit that surely makes life a lot easier for Andy Murray in that section of the draw. Murray himself won comfortably enough, although the level of performance was far below the first two rounds that he has come through, but I doubt the British player is worried at all.

Next he faces Gilles Simon, who came through an epic with Gael Monfils, and will then meet the winner of the Jeremy Chardy-Andreas Seppi match, hardly the most taxing way to get through to a Grand Slam Semi Final when putting the entire run together.

There, I still fancy Roger Federer to be his opponent although there has been one aspect of his game that has worried me a little- some people will think I am nit-picking, but it is something that could see him fail to reach the Final here.

That issue is the number of break points he is squandering and the poor conversion rate- he hasn't played those points particularly well and even against someone one like Milos Raonic that could be costly, let alone if he gets through to a Semi Final with Andy Murray. This was a slight problem for Federer around two years ago, during this same time no less, and I would be slightly concerned if I was on him to win outright. Other than that, Federer has looked majestic at times in this tournament and has played very effectively in the first three matches he has gotten through.

We almost saw a huge upset in the Women's draw when a one armed Jamie Hampton almost beat Victoria Azarenka as she led by a break of serve in the decider. However, Azarenka proved too strong and all of the big guns are still involved in the Women's Tournament this season.

Kei Nishikori + 6.5 games v David Ferrer: Anyone who has followed my pre-tournament picks will know we have Kei Nishikori to win the Second Quarter and that was with full knowledge that he would have to beat the top seed in the section in the Fourth Round.

I would never disrespect David Ferrer as I am a huge admirer of his work ethic and respect the way he has maximised his potential in a world where so many fail to deliver on their promise. The Spaniard is a tough out for any player on the Tour, but I think he is facing a player in Nishikori that has the wheels and stamina to keep up with him.

That has been shown in each of their three previous meetings which have been close affairs and Nishikori has ended on the winning side twice in those previous matches. Nishikori has also shown plenty of ability in this tournament so far and the games being offered on his side do look a lot considering that this could easily need 4 or 5 sets either way for someone to progress.

After watching Ferrer dismantle Marcos Baghdatis, I think there is a real chance that the Number 4 seed will have a little too much in this one, but I'll take the games with a close encounter expected.

Nicolas Almagro - 1.5 games v Janko Tipsarevic: I wasn't sure how Nicolas Alamgro would recover from his Davis Cup Final exploits last season when he lost Spain the title in a match against Radek Stepanek when he would have been heavily favoured to win.

Almagro has surprised me as he has quietly gone about his business in this tournament since he required 5 sets to knock off Stevie Johnson in the First Round. He has won the last two matches without dropping a set and I think he can be a little too good for Janko Tipsarevic for the third time in a row.

There has to be some tiredness that can be exploited as Tipsarevic has been forced into 5 set contests twice in a row. Almagro has enough in his own serve to keep the pressure on the Serb in this one and I wouldn't at all be surprised if the Spaniard can win this one in 4 sets, something that should see him cover this spread.

Tomas Berdych win 3-1 v Kevin Anderson: If you like a lot of big serving and quick points being played, I imagine this will be the match for you on this Fourth Round day.

Both Tomas Berdych and Kevin Anderson will very much rely on their serve and groundstrokes to control the match, but there is little doubt in my mind that it is Berdych that is the more consistent.

However, I think there is every chance that Berdych drops his first set of this tournament as Anderson is capable, as proven when he took the Czech player to 5 sets at the French Open last season. Granted, Berdych won all 4 matches between the pair in 2012, including in straight sets here in Australia, but he did drop at least one set in the last two matches.

With tie-breaks likely to play a part, a small interest in Berdych needing 4 sets to complete the job has to be taken.

Angelique Kerber - 4.5 games v Ekaterina Makarova: Angelique Kerber has been going about her business in this tournament and I think she continues her 2012 domination of Ekaterina Makarova in this Fourth Round match to open the days play.

Kerber won all 3 matches against Makarova last season and she didn't drop a set in any of those while also being able to cover this number in all of those matches.

I feel she has much more consistency and is the better defender of the two players, although Makarova's movement against Marion Bartoli was probably as good as I have ever seen it. I am a little interested in noting this is the second year in a row that Makarova has performed well at Melbourne Park so you have to keep that in mind- there are players that seem to perform at certain tournaments far better than they do for the majority of the season and that may be the case for Makarova.

However, I do think Kerber is just a little too solid all around and I wouldn't be surprised if she can record a 6-4, 6-3 win in this one to move through to the Quarter Finals

MY PICKS: Kei Nishikori + 6.5 Games @ 2.10 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Nicolas Almagro - 1.5 Games @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Tomas Berdych win 3-1 @ 4.00 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Angelique Kerber - 4.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 12-14, - 0.86 Units (47 Units Staked, 0.02% Yield)

Weekend Football Picks (January 19-21)

Thanks to work and all of the tennis taking place at the Australian Open, I have neglected making my picks from the football taking place this weekend. I also decided to wait on the weather conditions to see what kind of conditions the players will be taking to on the fields up and down the country this weekend.

The Premier League fixtures have survived the freezing conditions, although the West Brom-Aston Villa game came close to falling away, although I am still interested to see what happens with the two London games that are on TV on Sunday.

I remember a couple of years ago having a United game at Stamford Bridge being called off due to snow affecting the surrounding area, although on that occasion there were some conspiracy theories as to why the game was called off considering there seemed to be nothing wrong with the area on match day.

Anyway, it has been a quiet January so far for the picks with nothing to get too excited or disappointed about and hopefully it will pick up in the final couple of weeks of the month.

Liverpool v Norwich City Pick: Understandably, there is no love lost between myself and Liverpool football club, but I do believe they are capable of turning over Norwich City with room to spare in this game.

Liverpool had a terrible 2012 at Anfield, but there have been some real signs of recovery here as they have beaten the likes of Wigan Athletic, Fulham and Sunderland here comfortably in the last couple of months and they have demolished Norwich in a couple of back to back games, albeit both of those coming at Carrow Road.

Chris Hughton has made Norwich a tough team to play, but these players clearly don't like going against Liverpool and they have been on a hard run of form which could see them fall to a fairly routine loss.

Manchester City v Fulham Pick: Manchester City have obviously been working on some of their defensive issues from the early part of this season and they have recorded 3 clean sheets in a row at the Etihad Stadium since their 2-3 loss to Manchester United in early December.

I feel they will be able to grab another against a Fulham side that have always been a little light going forward on their travels. Dimitar Berbatov may be extra motivated as a former United player, but you have to think City, even without Yaya Toure, are going to have enough going forward and in defence to win this one without conceding.

West Ham United v Queens Park Rangers Pick: Queens Park Rangers have put together a couple of gutsy away performances to win at Chelsea in the Premier League and at West Brom in the FA Cup and it is clear that Harry Redknapp is demanding more defensive concentration from his side.

However, there is a different pressure when visiting West Ham United as this would be one of those games that is circled as one from which QPR need points if they are to survive in the top flight this season and that kind of expectation can make it tougher for players, especially mentally.

West Ham put in a tough performance in the FA Cup at Old Trafford during the week, and also managed to rest some of their bigger names in that contest. Injuries are still a concern for Sam Allardyce, but the side will be expected to push forward at Upton Park and that should lead to chances for both teams.

I do respect that Rangers have been a tougher team to beat on their travels in recent away outings, but I do think both sides will be looking to get forward and win this game and I wouldn't be at all surprised if we see at least 3 goals in the game.

Chelsea v Arsenal Pick: If you support Manchester United, you must be enjoying Rafa Benitez continuing to fumble the ball, this time at Chelsea. The home fans are not happy with a run which has seen them lose 2 of their last 3 at Stamford Bridge and failure to beat Southampton from 2-0 up here during the week would have hurt all the more.

However, I think we will see a better performance from them today against an Arsenal team they have done better against than many would initially think- Chelsea did lose here 3-5 last season, but they had previously won back to back home Premier League games against them and also recorded a 1-2 win at the Emirates Stadium earlier in the season.

I also don't have enough faith in this Arsenal team having the experience when they come up against the best teams in the League, especially away from home. They have been pretty solid away from home if you look at the record, but the Gunners have been pretty easily outplayed at Manchester United, Everton and Southampton this season and you have to think Chelsea can cause problems.

There are vulnerabilities at the back that can be exposed though, so I do like the look of goals in the game. I'll have a small interest in Chelsea to beat the weather and Arsenal in a game that has at least 3 goals scored.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United Pick: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the philosophies of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United? For me, it is two attacking teams that like to play with width and get men forward in search of goals.

Over the years, these two teams have provided a number of high-scoring games and I can see both beating the weather and providing another today.

Recent results show a number of times these sides get involved in high-scoring, entertaining affairs, including a couple of 1-3 wins for United at White Hart Lane in the last 3 visits. Earlier this season, Spurs broke their voodoo at Old Trafford by winning 2-3, their first win at that Stadium since 1989.

Both sides have been involved in high-scoring games at home and away respectively in recent games too, while I am not buying the 'Andre Villas-Boas will be cautious' theory either. While Villas-Boas is not everyone's cup of tea and can overthink things, in his three games managing against Manchester United, there have been 4, 6 and 5 goals scored in the game so the 3.00 being dangled on at least 4 goals needs a small look in my opinion.

Southampton v Everton Pick: No one can really know how the Southampton players are going to react to the way that Nigel Adkins was sacked as manager on Friday, particularly as many of them would have worked with him through the last couple of promotions into the Premier League. Will they come out and feel sorry for what has happened and bring up a limp performance, or will they rally together and get a result for their former manager?

Hearing a new voice will also mean new requests for what is expected of the players and that could lead to a tough game against Everton, although they look a little short at slightly odds against.

Everton continue to keep pace with the sides chasing Champions League places, but they will need to win this game to keep the pressure on after a 0-0 home draw with Swansea last time out. The side are very good going forward, but they have shown some vulnerabilities at the back too.

I do expect chances for both sides and, with a bit of composure, the over 2.5 goals should be in play.

MY PICKS: Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.92 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Manchester City Win to Nil @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
West Ham United-Queens Park Rangers Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Chelsea to win and over 2.5 goals to be scored (The Total Result) @ 2.65 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Tottenham Hotspur-Manchester United Over 3.5 Goals @ 3.00 William Hill (1 Unit)
Southampton-Everton Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.90 Pinnacle (2 Units)

January Update5-7, + 1.32 Units (15 Units Staked, + 0.88% Yield)

December Final17-24-1, - 0.83 Units (53 Units Staked, - 0.02 % Yield)
November Final8-21, - 8.25 Units (37 Units Staked, - 22.3% Yield)
October Final9-9, + 5.44 Units (27 Units Staked, 20.1% Yield)
September Final17-11, + 21.19 Units (46 Units Staked, 46.1% Yield)
August Final12-13, + 1.29 Units (40 Units Staked, 3.22% Yield)

Season 2012/13+ 18.84 Units (203 Units Staked, + 9.28 % Yield)

Friday, 18 January 2013

Australian Open Day 6 Picks 2013 (January 19th)

We are now getting to the meat of the Australian Open tournament and this where we are likely to see more evenly matched contests and some real classic matches.

I think the tournament has been lacking any real quality matches and even the potential one between Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova ended up being a damp squib as the Russian demolished the former World Number 1.

I don't think I was the only one thinking, while Venus walked up to shake Sharapova's hand, that there is going to be a real comeuppance for the latter if she gets through to the Final to face Serena. There is clearly no love lost between the Williams sister and Sharapova and you just know those celebrations will be used as an additional motivating tool for Serena to get through to the Final in a weeks time.

Don't get me wrong, it was a dominating performance from Sharapova this morning, but facing Serena is far more difficult prospect than Venus these days. And I just feel the Russian's reaction may just come back to bite her as this tournament develops.

Other than that, the main players that are expected to be involved in the latter stages of the tournament are all still involved, which is another reason I am expecting the quality of matches to improve and much more even contests to develop.

The picks at least took a turn for the better yesterday with 3 wins from 4 picks and hopefully that will be something that continues as we conclude the Third Round action.

Andy Murray - 8.5 games v Richard Berankis: Andy Murray has looked like a player that believes he has the beating of any player he faces on the Tour at the moment and the Brit looks set to continue that here against Richard Berankis.

I don't want to be responsible for underestimating Berankis considering he hasn't dropped a set in the first two rounds and the fact that he came through qualifying while reaching the Third Round in Australia in two of his three visits.

However, he was heavily beaten by David Ferrer at this stage a couple of seasons ago and the way Murray has been playing, I think there is a chance that he could take a bit of a beating in this one too.

Murray has won his first two matches by 11 games and 10 games and I do think he is more than capable of matching those numbers in this one and I would expect a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 win.

Milos Raonic - 2.5 games v Philipp Kohlschreiber: Philipp Kohlschreiber is one tough competitor when his confidence is high, but that has rarely been the case for the German in recent matches against top 20 opponents and I think we could see more of the same in this one.

My biggest concern is that Milos Raonic has still not quite got his return game to a point where he can make leaps into the higher echelons of the Men's game and that could also force him to miss the cover despite it not looking like a lot of games in a best of five set.

However, I am going to back the big-serving Canadian to do just enough in a four set win to see this come in- I feel his serving will keep the pressure on Kohlschreiber, a player that has a decent serve but one who can throw in a poor game on that from time to time.

It wouldn't surprise me if it takes a couple of tie-breaks to finish the German's resistance in a 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 win for Raonic.

Maria Kirilenko - 2.5 games v Yanina Wickmayer: This could be a very interesting match, although I am favouring Maria Kirilenko to be that little bit more consistent and mentally tough to gut out a win against the talented Yanina Wickmayer.

Despite her talents, I would say that Wickmayer has underachieved so far in her career and she did struggle through in the Second Round while Kirilenko was coming through a much more routine win.

There are only 9 places between the players in the World Rankings, but I do think Kirilenko has the ability and the stuff between the ears to win this match and it could follow a similar pattern to her victory in the Second Round with one tight set followed by an 'easier' second set. I'd look for Kirilenko to win this 7-6, 6-3.

Laura Robson + 3.5 games v Sloane Stephens: I am usually not a fan of picking a player after they have recorded a win as a fairly big underdog, as Laura Robson did against Petra Kvitova, but I do think the youngster is good enough to back that up with a big performance at least.

I have said for the best part of nine months that I believe Robson has all the tools to become a top player on the WTA Tour and I think she is finally getting the hang of the tactical side of the game to make her more consistent. There are still teething troubles, but we saw Robson back up big win after big win at the US Open a few months ago so I think she can keep her composure in this one.

That isn't to say this will be easy as Sloane Stephens is one of the other up and coming young players that looks certain to have a big impact on the Woman's game. Stephens has started the season in better form than Robson with the likes of Serena Williams and an in-form Elena Vesnina being the players to stop her early runs.

Included was a straight sets win over Robson in a very tight encounter that could have gone the other way if key points had fallen that way. That does lead me to believe this could be another tight match with every chance of being decided in three sets- as long as Robson has recovered from the long match on Thursday, and the extra time before her match on Saturday does help, should help the Brit keep this close enough to cover.

MY PICKS: Andy Murray - 8.5 Games @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Milos Raonic - 2.5 Games @ 2.05 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Maria Kirilenko - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Laura Robson + 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 10-12, - 0.56 Units (39 Units Staked, - 0.01% Yield)

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Australian Open Day 5 Picks 2013 (January 18th)

It has taken me too long to get this post up today- I think I have got over the frustration of Day 4 when two of my picks looked like pretty solid winners, only to fall apart and leave me with another losing day.

It hasn't been the best start to the new season and I am hoping that things can turn around beginning with the first of the Third Round matches.

Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I can't put up my reasons for my picks but suffice to say I have done my 'due diligence' on these and hope I will be rewarded for them.

MY PICKS: Angelique Kerber - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Marion Bartoli - 2.5 Games @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Stanislas Wawrinka - 2.5 Games @ 2.10 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
David Ferrer - 6.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 7-11, - 4.02 Units (31 Units Staked, - 13% Yield)

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Australian Open Day 4 Picks 2013 (January 17th)

It was another mixed bag of results, although the frustration of Janko Tipsarevic mentally departing from his game plan was the biggest disappointment as that would have ensured another winning day, but instead a small loss was made.

However, it puts things into perspective when you hear the story of the helicopter crash in London, not far from where I work as it happens, so I'll move on from complaining and just hope no one else is injured after hearing of a couple of fatalities there.

Svetlana Kuznetsova - 4.5 games v Su-Wei Hsieh: Svetlana Kuznetsova is the lower Ranked player in this match, but that is down to the fact that she missed much of the back end of 2012 with an injury, but she is rightly the favourite in this contest having opened 2013 in good form.

Kuznetsova was an easy winner in the First Round and I think she is going to have too much for Su-Wei Hsieh who is a player that has had considerably more success in the lesser WTA tournaments over the last twelve months than she has ever done when at Grand Slam level.

Hsieh is a solid competitor and she is unlikely to roll over, but Kuznetsova is capable of taking the racquet out of her hand and I think she can get through with a 6-3, 6-3 score.

Maria Kirilenko - 2.5 games v Shuai Peng: Shuai Peng is another very solid competitor on the WTA Tour, but I feel Maria Kirilenko is going to have a little too much for her in this match and I do think the higher seeded Russian can book her place in the Third Round.

Peng has the more wins to open up the 2013 season, while both have come through their First Round match in Melbourne with little to no problems at all.

However, I think Kirilenko is the more consistent player and I don't believe Peng has the shot power to hit through her in this one. They met at Wimbledon last season and Kirilenko won much more comfortably than it may seem for a match that went the distance and I think she can record another solid win in this one.

Gael Monfils - 5.5 games v Yen-Hsun Lu: Gael Monfils was an impressive First Round winner when he knocked out Alexandr Dolgopolov and I fancy he will have enough about him to back that up against Yen-Hsun Lu.

Lu is one of those competitors that can suddenly get really hot in matches and he is probably best known for beating Andy Roddick at Wimbledon a couple of years ago. He has already pushed David Ferrer the distance in Auckland this season and he may pose some problems for Monfils.

The real difference is that Monfils is likely to win freer points on his own serve, particularly the first serve, and I think he will force Lu to go for one too many shots and that should eventually see him through. There is a chance that this match is forced to go at least 4 sets, but I am expecting the Frenchman to be the man who pushes on to the Third Round.

Gilles Simon - 4.5 games v Jesse Levine: Gilles Simon is not exactly my favourite player to watch, but I do expect he will be a little too consistent and too solid for the left handed Jesse Levine who was a 'surprise' winner over Tommy Robredo in the First Round.

The fact that Levine is left handed could cause some early problems for Simon as those angles worked by southpaws are slightly unconventional for a right hander, but you have to think a former top ten regularly will be suitably prepared.

Levine also has a lot of early wins under his belt in 2013 which should give him some confidence, but Simon is arguably the best player he has played so far in this part of the season and I would guess he would be a little too strong when it is all said and done.

Roger Federer - 7.5 games v Nikolay Davydenko: To say Roger Federer has dominated this series is not an understatement at all as he has beaten Nikolay Davydenko in 17 of their 19 meetings throughout their career.

There were some signs that Davydenko might be recovering some sort of form during his run to the Final in Doha to open his 2013 season, but Federer looked very good in the First Round and it is hard to see anything but a fairly straightforward win for the former World Number 1.

There have been some tough, close matches, between the pair in recent seasons, including a 4 set win for Federer here at the Australian Open three years ago, but I think Federer will want to remind people that this isn't a procession between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray to the Final and I expect him to put in a big performance.

MY PICKS: Svetlana Kuznetsova - 4.5 Games @ 2.14 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Maria Kirilenko - 2.5 Games @ 2.05 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Gael Monfils - 5.5 Games @ 1.85 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Gilles Simon - 4.5 Games @ 1.95 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 7.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 5-8, - 2.40 Units (21 Units Staked, - 11.4% Yield)

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Australian Open Day 3 Picks 2013 (January 16th)

I can't complain too much about Day 2 as 2 of the 3 picks I made came in as winners- Juan Martin Del Potro crushed Adrian Mannarino far easier than I thought he would, while Marin Cilic won most of the big points to record a comfortable straight sets win over Marino Matosevic.

However, Petra Kvitova couldn't help complete a sweep as she required three sets to knock off Francesca Schiavone and set up a potentially very tough Second Round match against Britain's Laura Robson.

We are still at the stage of the tournament when the layers aren't giving anything away and the number of 'mismatches' are leading to high spreads on the handicap markets and has me ignoring most of the big names. Instead, I will just hope the likes of Novak Djokovic and Agnieszka Radwanska can continue their progress through the draw and move on in to the Third Round with little or no issues.

I have made a few more picks today than I usually would on a single day, but some of those are limited to small interests and I have looked for the value that may be in the schedule today. Let's hope Day 2 is the start of a positive tournament after a pretty disappointing Day 1.

Fernando Verdasco win 3-1 v Xavier Malisse: It's four years since Fernando Verdasco played the best tennis of his career to reach the Semi Final here in Melbourne, but he is far off that level these days. However, Verdasco continues to insist the Grand Slams favour his game best these days as he feels the longer format is where his dips in form can be a little less of a hindrance than in other best of three set tournaments.

I expect Verdasco will be too good for Xavier Malisse in this one as the latter is another whose best days are behind him. The Belgian still has periods of playing top tennis and that should help him secure at least one set in this one, but I do think he is vulnerable to a big hitter like Verdasco who can take the racquet out of opponents hands.

They have met at Grand Slam level twice in the last two seasons and both players have recorded one win apiece- Verdasco won in 4 sets at the French Open in 2011, while Malisse was a 5 set winner last season at Wimbledon.

I think the difference between the players in this one will eventually boil down to Verdasco making more first serves and being given the chance to win points slightly easier in key moments- I wouldn't be surprised if they first two sets are split before the Spaniard does take control though.

Janko Tipsarevic - 6.5 games v Lukas Lacko: I was very impressed with the tennis played by Janko Tipsarevic in the First Round win over Lleyton Hewitt and I think that has opened up the bottom half of this quarter for the Serb. He should be able to move on and beat Lukas Lacko in this one and I would expect him to do so fairly comfortably.

Lacko had a good First Round win himself over Gilles Muller, but has regularly been found out by the better players he has played on the Tour and it is telling that he has won just 7 games in defeats by Richard Gasquet and David Ferrer this season.

Unfortunately for the Slovakian, Tipsarevic is very much amongst the best players on the Tour and I think he can make enough shots in this one to keep games ticking over and I wouldn't be surprised if Tipsy records a 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 win.

The players were involved in a 5 set Davis Cup match back in 2008, but Tipsarevic is vastly more consistent these days and a much improved player should take care of Lacko without too many dramas.

Feliciano Lopez win 3-1 v Radek Stepanek: I was very impressed with the guts that Radek Stepanek showed in his First Round win over Victor Troicki as he turned around a 2 set deficit to win the match and book his place in the Second Round. His opponent, Feliciano Lopez, had it much more straight forward in a straight sets win and I think he'll be able to do enough to win this one albeit while dropping a set.

Some will point to the 8-2 head to head in favour of Stepanek, but the 2 Lopez wins have come in the last 3 matches and it is also important to note that both of those came on the hard courts.

It has been a couple of years since they last met and while Stepanek remains a solid competitor in both singles and doubles, Lopez is probably on his way to sliding down the Rankings. The Spaniard has hardly been in good form to open the new season, but I just worry about the fitness levels of Stepanek and I think that will prove to be the difference.

I don't think Lopez is consistent enough to beat Stepanek without dropping a set either so a small interest on this looks the call.

Jurgen Melzer win 3-1 v Roberto Bautista-Agut: Roberto Bautista-Agut is a 24 year old Spaniard that has been moving up the Rankings and already holds a win over Tomas Berdych this season, but I just feel his efforts from the First Round may just haunt him a little against the veteran Jurgen Melzer.

Melzer has a very productive 2010 season, but took a big step back in 2011 and 2012, while his opening form to 2013 suggests he may even take another step back in the coming year. The left-hander is going to hit 32 this year, a senior citizen in tennis terms, but he had a very convincing First Round win and I think he can back that up here.

However, like Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez, Melzer is another that suffers a lot of dips in his game these days and he is playing a player that should have enough confidence to see him grab a set.

There is also a chance of an upset in this one and I am not overly confident, I just feel Bautista-Agut  hasn't got the Grand Slam experience that can help a player recover, both mentally and physically, from their first five set match. That might prove to be the reason why Melzer is able to come through and I'll have a small interest in the set scoreline.

Sam Stosur-Jie Zheng Total Sets- 3: These two players met last week in Sydney and it was Jie Zheng that came through with the three set win and there is every chance that the two players are going to be involved in yet another match that goes the distance.

This will be the sixth meeting between the players and four of the previous five matches has seen a final set required to separate them.

Sam Stosur has regularly struggled to play at Melbourne Park and I think there is every chance that she gets tight if she is ahead so any of you out there that prefer laying markets may want to look at opposing the odds on that Stosur wins this in straight sets.

Zheng is an absolute fighter and it has to be remembered that this is considered her home Grand Slam too as the Australian Open is marketed as the Grand Slam for Asia-Australia so motivation will be high on both sides.

Both players would be considered as fighters in my opinion and I would be surprised if it is an easy win for either. There is enough pointing to this one going the distance and I'll have a small interest for it to do so.

Angelique Kerber - 5.5 games v Lucie Hradecka: I have already backed Angelique Kerber to win the fourth quarter of the Women's draw, but this is a moment where I feel she could be worth backing to win comfortably against an opponent she has beaten on all 4 previous occasions they have played.

Don't get me wrong though, Kerber won't be able to afford some of the mental lapses she sometimes can have when things are going her way, but you have to believe being in a Grand Slam and the importance of getting through without wasting too much energy will be a motivating factor.

The German is certainly one of the toughest players to meet on the Tour these days as she has solid defence, but also the shot-making ability to put together a string of winners.

Both players won through the First Round comfortably, but I do think Kerber operates at a significantly higher level than Lucie Hradecka these days and she should be able to make that difference count on the scoreboard in a 6-2, 6-4 win.

MY PICKS: Fernando Verdasco win 3-1 @ 4.50 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
Janko Tipsarevic - 6.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Feliciano Lopez win 3-1 @ 4.50 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
Jurgen Melzer win 3-1 @ 4.33 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Sam Stosur-Jie Zheng Total Sets- 3 @ 2.60 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Angelique Kerber - 5.5 Games @ 1.90 Pinnacle (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 3-4, - 0.80 Units (13 Units Staked, - 0.06% Yield)