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Thursday, 20 March 2014

Miami Tennis Picks 2014 (March 20th)

The second Masters/Premier Event of the season has already begun in Miami, but Thursday is when the big names in the women's game will kick of their bid to reach the Final here a week on Saturday. On Friday, it will be the men's Second Round that gets underway and I have made a couple of outright picks from the tournament which can be read here.

One piece of news that wouldn't have escaped the attention of most that follow tennis is the split between Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl, albeit a split that seems to be amicable from the outside. It was a surprise to me as their working partnership has produced the best results of Murray's career to date over the last two years and it wasn't something that had been 'about to happen' to those of us looking in from the outside.

What does it mean for Murray? I am not sure to be honest, but both men must have thought there was nothing more to be gained by having Lendl travelling with the team and I would also maybe question if the goals were perhaps not as aligned as they had been when the two got together in the first place.

Two years ago, it was made clear that Lendl had been brought in to help Murray get over the hump in Grand Slams and that has been achieved with the US Open in 2012 and, more importantly perhaps, winning Wimbledon last season. Since Wimbledon, Murray has struggled to get up to the levels required to win tournaments, albeit not helped with a back issue that required surgery, and maybe now was the time when the Brit decided he needed to perhaps change direction somewhat.

The split between Murray and Lendl wouldn't be enough for me to draw a line through Murray winning more Grand Slam titles, but his form since coming back from the surgery he had last autumn has not been good enough. That is especially the case if some more of the players that have been threatening a breakthrough on the Tour continue improving at their pace.

With the clay court season imminent, Murray will likely be looking for enough improvement to become a real threat at Wimbledon again, a tournament in which only a handful of players really have a chance of winning and it will be interesting to see the approach taken to the up coming season. We saw Murray miss great chunks of the clay season last year in a bid to keep his back from being an issue for Wimbledon and we may not see where his 2014 campaign is going until after the French Open.

After a strong showing at Indian Wells which improved the numbers for the season, I have taken a few days off from making any tennis picks and that included the first two days of the main draw in Miami. To be perfectly honest, a couple of matches stood out, but not enough for me and that was actually the main reason I avoided making any picks, except those in the outright markets. With the women's Second Round beginning today and the men's First Round concluded, this looks the right time to start the daily picks from this second hard court event during March.

Roberto Bautista-Agut - 3.5 games v Steve Johnson: For the second Masters tournament in succession, Roberto Bautista-Agut takes on Steve Johnson in the First Round and I have little to believe the result will be a lot different than the match in Indian Wells.

Bautista-Agut was a 63, 63 winner in that tournament and he has the consistency that can break down the game of someone like Johnson. The American certainly has some decent shot-making in his repertoire, but the lack of consistency can let him down and I expect Bautista-Agut to find a way to grind him down in this match.

I also think Bautista-Agut's serve is a touch under-rated as he wins a fairly high percentage when getting it in on these faster courts and I can just seem him wearing down his opponent in this one. Of course, Johnson may produce a better game plan than in Indian Wells and certainly make this a more competitive match, but I still believe it will be tough for him to play at a high enough level for long enough to win the contest.

Sam Querrey - 2.5 games v Sergiy Stakhovsky: It has been a rough couple of years for Sam Querrey as he has failed to kick on up the Rankings as much as he may have expected and has certainly been replaced as America's next potential Grand Slam Champion by John Isner. There have been little sign to suggest things are going to change in the next few months, especially with the clay court season about to begin, and his disappointing loss in the Davis Cup to James Ward sums up his performances of late.

Even being back on the hard courts hasn't proved to be a respite for a slumping Ranking, but I do think this First Round provides one of the limited chances to back Querrey to win and move through to the Second Round.

For as well as Sergiy Stakhovsky did in reaching the Semi Final in Irving last week, he hasn't had much of a hard court pedigree over the last couple of years to think he will have enough to beat Querrey in front of his own fans.

Stakhovsky can run through some service games, but he is always liable to make a few mistakes that enable opponents to break his serve and I feel Querrey can put just enough pressure on him to come through in a three set battle.

Maria Sharapova - 5.5 games v Karumi Nara: The serving really let Maria Sharapova down in her loss to Camila Giorgi at Indian Wells, but I think she can bounce back with a comfortable enough win over Karumi Nari in this Second Round match in Miami.

Someone like Giorgi is going to be a threat when a player is not on their game, because she hits the ball hard and a lot of the points are on her racquet. Even then, if Sharapova had played better behind serve, she would likely have won that match and I think the two matches in Indian Wells will at least have her in a better position for this event.

Karumi Nara is an improving player, but she has taken a couple of heavy losses to players that have similar power on their groundstrokes as someone like Sharapova and I think that may prove to be too much for the 22 year old to handle.

I can see the first set perhaps being a little more competitive before Sharapova pulls away behind her power for a 64, 62 win and a place in the Third Round.

MY PICKS: Roberto Bautista-Agut - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Sam Querrey - 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Maria Sharapova - 5.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)

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