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Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Indian Wells Tennis Outright Picks (March 5-16)

The Grand Slams are the biggest events in tennis, but Indian Wells is the first of the ATP Masters/WTA Premier Events that take place during the course of the season which means that every big name that plays on the Tour will be in action over the next ten days.

Well, almost all of them- Serena Williams had suggested she was going to end her own absence from the tournament since an incident over ten years ago, but decided against that and will not be back in action until Miami which begins a few days after this tournament ends.

The absence of Williams also opens up the WTA draw, while it may be a surprise to some to see Na Li heading the draw and the likes of Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova outside of the top two seeds.

Last week was a very good one for the picks which produced a strong profit and put the season record in a very strong position at the start of the season. The idea is to build on that start from the first two months, but not to get too excited as there will be as many negative weeks as there will be positive and the only thing to do is to try and minimise the former and maximise the latter. It has worked in the past few seasons so hopefully that will be maintained this season too.

The men's draw was to take place on Tuesday afternoon with the First Round action beginning on Thursday, although the women's draw will get underway on Wednesday and the television cameras will pick up the action from Saturday.

Indian Wells WTA Draw
As I have mentioned above, the absence of Serena Williams will always make the women's draw seem wide open as the American remains head and shoulders above the field despite falling short in the last two tournaments she has played.

Without Williams, I truly believe more players will have the confidence that they can take advantage and pick up some decent prize money as well as strong Ranking points, while also developing the confidence to take into the rest of the season when it comes to the Majors.

Na Li is the Number 1 seed for this tournament, but I still think there are some doubts as to how she will react to winning her second Grand Slam title of her career at Melbourne Park six weeks ago. She has lost a surprise match already in Doha and it has to be remembered that Li went 6-9 in her next 15 matches after winning the French Open in 2011 as the rest of the season slipped away.

I don't think that will happen to her this season, but it does bring some doubts about her chances to win the tournament here, especially with the potential of an awkward Second Round clash against Jie Zheng in her way.

However, it has also to be said that getting through that match would open things up for Li who would be favoured to beat Ekaterina Makarova, Petra Kvitova, Dominika Cibulkova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the top quarter of the draw.

Makarova has a bad record against Li, Kvitova is struggling through too many matches that could leave her fatigued by the Quarter Final and Cibulkova might not be able to match the power of the Chinese World Number 2. Of all those players, Pavlyuchenkova could be the most interesting candidate to knock off Li if she can bring in the form that took her to a title in Paris last month.

An interesting choice from the top half of the draw would be the defending Champion Maria Sharapova but she has also got a few doubts to overcome after taking time out to commentate on the Winter Olympics. Coming back off a long lay off to deal with a shoulder injury was always going to be tough, but I think Sharapova would have expected more than a couple of Semi Finals and a Fourth Round loss at the Australian Open.

Indian Wells has been kind to Sharapova in the past and she has reached the Final twice in a row, including winning the event last season.

The biggest problem for Sharapova is there is no easy way to play herself into the draw as she could potentially play Julia Goerges in her first match and the likes of Sorana Cirstea, Flavia Pennetta, Ana Ivanovic and Angelique Kerber will all test the lack of tennis that the Russian has played over the last month.

Another player returning from an absence is Victoria Azarenka who has been placed in the bottom half of the draw. Like Sharapova, it is tough to know what to expect of a player that has not played since the Australian Open and who has been suffering from a foot injury and whether she is really healthy to compete to her usual standard.

To be perfectly honest, Azarenka doesn't have the most taxing draw until the Quarter Finals and I would usually expect her to make that stage without too many issues, except that foot injury and her fitness being hard to shake. The likes of Simona Halep, who won her biggest tournament in her career in Doha in February, and Eugenie Bouchard will hope to take advantage of Azarenka's lack of matches, but it may take someone like Caroline Wozniacki to make it through the draw into the Final.

Wozniacki has shown some signs of improvement with her run to the Semi Final in Dubai, but the former World Number 1 is still to back, especially if she has to beat Agnieszka Radwanska and any of Azarenka/Halep/Bouchard in back to back matches.

I think Radwanska could be there for the taking considering she is coming into the tournament off back to back losses, both surprise results, in Doha and Dubai, but other players like Alize Cornet and Jelena Jankovic will also feel they can go deep into the draw with the form they have displayed over the last month or so.

I know I have pointed out the poor record that Na Li had following her win at the French Open in 2011, but I do think she could have learned from that and her early defeat in Doha could perhaps be forgiven. If Li gets through her Second Round match, I do think she can get on a roll and go all the way to her second big title of 2014 to follow up the Australian Open win.

The doubts mean I can only play a one unit each-way on Li to come through the top half of the draw, but I think the second favourite could be the player to back this week.

I also think a small interest on Caroline Wozniacki is warranted considering she has won the tournament in 2011 and reached the Final in 2010 and last season. There have been signs of improvement in her game and the draw looks a decent one for the most part and she may be the player that takes advantage of out of form/returning players like Agnieszka Radwanska and Victoria Azarenka.

Wozniacki is a big price considering her success at Indian Wells in the last four years and I will keep her onside this week too.

Indian Wells ATP Draw
Immediately, the first thing that sticks out when looking at the Indian Wells draw on the ATP side is how top-heavy it seems to be with Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Roger Federer all in this half of the draw as well as the Australian Open Champion Stanislas Wawrinka.

There are a couple of other guys who have shown form in this half of the draw, but I would be more than a little surprised if one of the four players I have mentioned above are not playing in the Final a week on Sunday.

But which one of the four are most likely? Rafael Nadal is seemingly behind the back issues that affected him in the Final at the Australian Open and is the defending Champion here where the slower hard courts will favour his game.

I am less excited about Andy Murray's chances as he is still not quite at full strength since his back surgery and has had a couple of disappointing losses already in 2014. He should be comfortable getting through to the Quarter Finals here, but I wouldn't fancy his chances against Nadal unless the form displayed in the next week or so is more encouraging.

Roger Federer did win the tournament in Dubai, but also looked a little vulnerable at times. He is given a kind draw here in Indian Wells that should see him make the Quarter Finals without too many issues, but the spectre of Nadal in the Semi Finals will always make it difficult for Federer to make the Final without the Spaniard being knocked out early.

And Federer can't sleep on the current Swiss Number 1, Stanislas Wawrinka, who is unbeaten in 2014- the big question for Wawrinka backers is how is he going to react after winning his first Grand Slam title and the fact he hasn't played since winning at Melbourne Park. That is hard to answer, although the draw is one that I think he would usually negotiate and could set up that big Quarter Final against compatriot and friend Roger Federer.

The bottom half of the draw looks much clearer for Novak Djokovic who has had a disappointing start to 2014 and his partnership with Boris Becker. He has lost to the eventual winner at the Australian Open and Dubai, but the majority of the threats to him at this tournament are on the other side of the draw.

One player who will be an issue is Marin Cilic who has reached three consecutive Finals over the last month and won the title in Zagreb and Delray Beach so is clearly getting back to the form he was showing prior to his three month ban off the Tour. However, it has to be said that most of those tournaments didn't see the top players face Cilic, even if he does hold wins over Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in that time.

That could be a blockbuster Fourth Round encounter if both players come through the draw and the winner has every chance of going all the way to the Final this week. Players like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro have either not shown the form or the injury health to think they can beat either Djokovic or Cilic, even if Del Potro did reach the Final twelve months ago.

Tomas Berdych has made a strong start to 2014 and could be a player that takes advantage in this side of the draw if Djokovic or Cilic are out of form and beaten early, although playing Djokovic has rarely ended well for the Czech player. Other players that have shown some really good form over the last month include Ernests Gulbis and Grigor Dimitrov but both are set to meet each other in the Round before they potentially play Berdych which makes it that much more difficult picking the player to come through the section.

When you look at the draw, you would initially look at the Novak Djokovic-Rafael Nadal Final as being the most likely match a week on Sunday, but the top half of the draw is perhaps the more insecure of the two.

He might not be in the greatest of form to open 2014, but it has taken some special tennis to beat Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open and Dubai and I think he is the best choice to win the event, even as the favourite.

However, he has only won 1 of the last 4 Indian Wells tournaments, but has interestingly been beaten by the Finalist in the other 3 events including surprise losses to Juan Martin Del Potro and John Isner in the Semi Finals in the last two years. The year before Djokovic won the title, he was beaten by Ivan Ljubicic who won the event so I think a small interest on Marin Cilic could be worth risking.

The Croatian has been in strong form and will be going for his fourth Final in a row thanks to an improved serve. If he beats Djokovic in the Fourth Round, Cilic will have the confidence to at least make the Final here and he could be the latest big priced player to do that in the last few years.

MY PICKS: Na Li @ 6.50 Bet Victor (1 Unit E/W)
Caroline Wozniacki @ 67.00 Paddy Power (0.5 Units E/W)
Novak Djokovic @ 3.00 Ladbrokes (3 Units)
Marin Cilic @ 81.00 Boyle Sports (0.5 Units E/W)

Weekly Picks14-6, + 17.52 Units (39 Units Staked, + 44.92% Yield)

Season 2014+ 27.44 Units (364 Units Staked, + 7.54% Yield)

Season 2013+ 21.74 Units (1251.5 Units Staked, + 1.73% Yield)
Season 2012+ 49.21 Units (855 Units Staked, + 5.76% Yield)
Season 2011+ 82.02 Units

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