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Sunday, 8 June 2014

Tennis Outright Picks 2014 (June 9-15)

The second Grand Slam of the season is only just in the books, yet the attention quickly turns to the third coming up at Wimbledon which begins in two weeks on Monday. From next season, players will have the luxury of an extra week between the French Open and Wimbledon which should mean more of the big names will be taking part in the warm up events, especially as Queens and Halle will both be converted into ATP 500 events.

We now move surfaces too for the next month as the grass court tournaments earn the most attention in the coming weeks with the end of the clay court season (main season at least, there are still some more tournaments on the surface following Wimbledon).

It was a very strong second Major of the season with shocks in both tournaments early in the event which opened the door for new faces at the latter end of a tournament, especially in the women's draw, but the two Champions will be very familiar to fans. Maria Sharapova had to dig incredibly deep within herself to beat Simona Halep, but I think the latter has announced herself on the big stage and will be a challenger for a few years to come for the big prizes.

The likes of Garbine Muguruza and Eugenie Bouchard join Halep and Sloane Stephens as the faces of a new generation that will be looking to replace the likes of Sharapova and Serena Williams, although the latter two remain leading contenders to add to their Slams in the remaining months of this season.

Ernests Gulbis was the surprise Semi Finalist from the men's draw and he is clearly hungry for more, but the expected Final did come together as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic served up another treat for the watching public. The win for Nadal was an incredible ninth success at the French Open and not many will be betting against him making it ten next season after the Spaniard went off as the second favourite two weeks ago.

By the time the Final rolled around, Nadal was once again the favourite to win the title, but I don't think too many layers will be risking him as a second favourite at Roland Garros for at least another three years.

I had to feel for Novak Djokovic in the manner he was defeated as he seemingly had nothing left in the tank and it was the crucial second set and being broken in the twelve game that ended up costing him the match in my opinion. He seems to have put so much into winning the French Open over the last three seasons and recovering from this defeat is going to be tough mentally, especially with Wimbledon just around the corner.

Big losses in big matches have become something of a feature for Djokovic over the last twelve months with two devastating losses in the French Open to Nadal, while also losing the Wimbledon Final and the US Open Final, the latter again coming at the hands of Nadal. With the Australian Open crown slipping earlier in January, the next two Majors are a huge deal for Djokovic as he looks to snap a run of eighteen months without a Slam, a mental burden that will get heavier and heavier with each passing tournament.

Djokovic is extremely talented, but concentration has let him down at times with matches going further than they need to when he drops silly sets and I think that drained energy ahead of the Final on Sunday (dropped set to Gulbis from two sets up and dominating the match it seemed) and at Wimbledon last year (dropped fourth set to Juan Martin Del Potro in a tie-break despite serving for the match).

He needs to keep something in the tank and has to come through matches with a little more comfort when he is dominating, but the World Number 2 remains a favourite to win any Slam he enters. However, the fact remains that he is now 6-7 in thirteen Slam Finals contested and that says there is either something mental blocking him from really accelerating into position as the top player in the World or he is not giving himself enough energy in reserve to finish off against one of the other powerhouses of the men's game.

With three days left of the tournament, I wrote on here that I believed this was not going to be a great tournament for the picks despite the success the last three years have been at the French Open. Things certainly turned around from then with four straight winners in both men's and women's Finals as well as the two men's Semi Finals.

Add Rafael Nadal's success of winning the tournament and the outright picks also produced a profit and actually meant the last two weeks went better than I was expecting.

There is no rest for the wicked though as a new game begins on Monday and I will be having a couple of outright picks from the tournaments that are taking place at Queens Club, Halle and Birmingham.

ATP Halle
Even before the draw had been made in Halle, I figured it was going to be a big ask for Rafael Nadal to take his place at the head of the draw despite the long-term contract he has signed with the tournament. As soon as the Spaniard reached the French Open Final, it seemed to be that Nadal may not be ready to go in this event, very much as he couldn't twelve months ago following his eighth title win.

There is the chance that Nadal will travel to Germany with that long-term contract in mind, but I can't imagine he will be set for a long week in Halle on a new surface- Nadal has won the title at the Queens Club in preparation for Wimbledon before, but hasn't been beyond the Quarter Final in his five other appearances at Halle/Queens during this week and I think it'll be tough for him to pass that stage from a physical point of view this time.

So who is the player most likely to take advantage of a Nadal exit from the top half of the draw? The leading contenders seem to be Philipp Kohlschreiber, Richard Gasquet and Milos Raonic.

I would rule out Gasquet simply because he was still complaining about his back at Roland Garros and openly admitted he was only playing because he didn't want to miss his home Grand Slam and I can see the Frenchman not being quite ready this week to go deep into the event. Jerzy Janowicz, last year's Wimbledon Semi Finalist, is also in the top half but has been incredibly out of form in 2014 and it would be a remarkable turnaround for him to reach the Final, even with that huge serve that should work beautifully on the grass courts.

Philipp Kohlschreiber is a former winner in Halle and definitely gets a lot of respect from me, but Andreas Seppi is a difficult First Round opponent and that may be the banana skin that slips the German up early on this week.

This all leaves Milos Raonic- he is a two time former Quarter Finalist in Halle, although the Canadian surprisingly struggled on the grass courts last year with three surprisingly early exits, and he can't complain about the draw with a bye through to the Second Round.

Raonic hasn't won a title in 2014, but had an unexpectedly successful clay court season so should have the confidence for a big week in Germany. He can play his way into the tournament and may take advantage of the factors that could affect the week that either Nadal or Gasquet can have as the big threats in the top half of the draw in normal circumstances.

An each-way interest on Milos Raonic is recommended, but the player most likely to win the tournament is one of those that have beaten the Canadian in Halle at the Quarter Final stage, Roger Federer.

It was a disappointing French Open for Federer, but he remains in love with the grass courts and his preparation for Roland Garros was probably not to the high standard that Federer would normally prepare for a Slam. With an extra week to spend with the new twin family members, Federer should be raring to go in Halle where he has won many titles in the past and is defending Champion.

The seeds in the bottom half have a couple of doubts about their ability to beat Federer as both Tommy Haas and Kei Nishikori have niggling injuries, while Mikhail Youzhny has never beaten Federer and lost all seven previous matches on grass including the Final in 2013.

Change of surface can lead to some doubts, but Federer has regularly managed to do that effectively in Halle and I think the former World Number 1 can give himself a shot of confidence before returning to Wimbledon where he has been so successful in the past.

ATP Queens
It has been nine years since someone has managed to defend the title at London Queens Club, but Andy Murray has proven himself to be arguably the best grass court player in the world over the last two seasons and will surely come close to managing to do that this year.

Murray employed Amelie Mauresmo as his new coach this weekend and the Frenchwoman will be in his corner for the grass court season before deciding whether they will take the relationship on from there and the draw means the team can make a perfect start.

He is a three time former winner at this tournament, although has had early exits the year after winning the previous two titles so Murray must be looking to avoid that fate again. A strong Roland Garros will have given Murray more confidence and being placed in the 'weaker' half of the draw is yet another benefit.

Even those players that will be considered the most dangerous in this half of the draw are in the final quarter and will have to battle amongst themselves to meet Murray in a potential Semi Final and I would expect the home favourite to beat Kevin Anderson in any potential Quarter Final.

Those players including Lleyton Hewitt, Ernests Gulbis, Feliciano Lopez and Tomas Berdych would all pose problems, but Murray would be a healthy favourite to beat any of those and I like backing him to win for the fourth time at this tournament.

Murray will also be fortunate to see some of the top grass court players at the event also being placed in the other half of the section- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has had a lot of success at Queens, but he is in the same quarter of the draw with the top seed Stanislas Wawrinka and the extremely dangerous Marin Cilic who are all amongst the leading contenders to win the title here.

The player that could potentially take advantage and be in a good physical place to take advantage is Grigor Dimitrov who has reached the Semi Final here before and has the game that naturally suits the grass courts I feel. Dimitrov had a poor French Open with a surprising First Round exit against Ivo Karlovic, but he is making strides on the Tour and can reach another Tour Final.

The big threat make be the serve-volleying skills of Nicolas Mahut who had a huge grass court season last year and has reached the Final here before. Mahut is a very confident player on the surface and won't be an easy Third Round opponent if both the Frenchman and Dimitrov reach that stage, but the latter did beat him on his way to the Semi Final at Queens in 2012.

I'd expect Dimitrov to beat either Dmitry Tursunov or Alexandr Dolgopolov on the grass which could mean the Bulgarian can quietly make his way to the Semi Final and potentially pick off whichever player reaches that stage from the difficult first quarter.

Dimitrov is a big price at a couple of layers, reaching double digits, and could be worth an each-way investment on a surface where I do believe we could see big things from him through his career.

MY PICKS: Roger Federer @ 2.75 Paddy Power (4 Units)
Milos Raonic @ 5.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit E/W)
Andy Murray @ 3.00 Bet Fred (3 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov @ 15.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit E/W)

French Open Daily Final30-26, + 10.88 Units (107 Units Staked, + 10.17% Yield)
French Open Outright Final: 2-4, + 2.02 Units (12.5 Units Staked, + 16.16% Yield)

Season 2014+ 47.60 Units (807.5 Units Staked, + 5.89% 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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