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Monday, 23 June 2014

Wimbledon Day One Picks 2014 (June 23rd)

This time next season, we will have another week between Roland Garros and Wimbledon and I think it is about time that the Tour has extended the grass court season. It's not just for the idea of having additional grass court tournaments, even if I am glad to see Queens/Halle being upgraded to ATP 500 events, but it gives the top players more of a chance to recover mentally from a gruelling clay court season and mentally prepare to change surface.

No longer will Rafael Nadal, who looks to continue his dominance on the clay courts, have to jump on a train/plane out of Paris within twenty-four hours of winning a title so he can take part in a grass court event. It is no surprise to me that Nadal has only won one title on grass outside of Wimbledon and regularly fails to get beyond the Quarter Final stage at warm up events considering the schedule so hopefully even an additional week will make a difference.

The variation in courts between clay and grass are not as great as they once were, but this is still a time of the year when some players come alive and others fail to really get going. The outright picks I have made this year highlights that, although I still feel the big names are going to be there at the end of the next two weeks to pick up titles. You can read my outright picks here.

Over the last month, there have been plenty of very warm days in London, but the forecast for Monday is not the best and there is every chance that we will be seeing the roof in action on the very first day. You can't always trust the forecast though and the hope is that the majority of Monday is a clear day for the players opening their title bids, including defending men's Champion Andy Murray.

I haven't had a great grass court season to this point with a decent first week thanks to Grigor Dimitrov winning at Queens, but a poor follow up week which had a hit on some of the season totals. Hopefully Wimbledon, which has been the worst of my Grand Slam results in each of the last four seasons, can provide more winners this year than it has.

My reasoning behind that is the layers seem to be on the ball a little more at this tournament, while some of the handicaps are harder to cover with a lack of concentration that can't be made up for in the same manner as on the hard courts and clay courts. Good luck to all over the next two weeks though and let's hope for an exciting tournament to at least take away some attention from a fantastic World Cup that has been played to this point.

Marcos Baghdatis v Dustin Brown: Marcos Baghdatis admitted that he took three months off the Tour so he can recharge his batteries, work on his fitness and spend time with his young family. There is no doubt that Baghdatis seems to be much happier within himself and he returned to win a Challenger event on the grass courts before withdrawing from Queens with a shoulder complaint, although the Cypriot admitted that was likely to be down to playing too much tennis in a short space of time.

Out of the matches that are scheduled for Day One at Wimbledon, the one against Dustin Brown looks to be very exciting with both players capable of playing flashy tennis and really getting the crowd behind them. If I had a ground pass for SW19 and not for the main show courts, I would 100% be finding a seat to watch these two players go at it.

Dustin Brown had a very strong run at Wimbledon last year and beat Rafael Nadal in Halle with his powerful serve and net play working very well on the lower bouncing surface and I expect Brown to have success in this match.

However, Marcos Baghdatis has loved playing on the grass in the past and I think he is content in himself and is going to weather the big time tennis Brown plays and counter effectively. There will be times when Brown is unplayable, but he is also capable of making a long run of errors and I think that is where 'Baggy' takes advantage and wins this match.

Mikhail Youzhny - 5.5 games v James Ward: You just know that Mikhail Youzhny is coming towards the end of a very successful career and I have always been a fan of the Russian and the passion and fire he displays on the court. 2014 has been a tough season for Youzhny and it is something of a risk to back him to win this match and cover a fair old number, although I expect his experience and solid grass court game to give James Ward all he can handle.

This is the time of the season that 'Brit Watch' is the game that casual fans of tennis will be playing through the first couple of days at the tournament and James Ward showed at Queens and when qualifying for Roland Garros that he can raise his level.

However, he is just as likely to have his limitations exposed as Donald Young did to him in Eastbourne or Steve Johnson did to him in Nottingham and Youzhny has enough know-how on the grass to do something similar.

It might go four sets, but I can see Youzhny pulling away for a win and he could easily record a 62 or better set along the way.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - 5.5 games v Jurgen Melzer: One player who would have been disappointed with his early showing back on the grass would have been Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who lost his second match at Queens. This surface has proved to be one that Tsonga has enjoyed a lot over the years, although it was Wimbledon where he had to pull out a year ago that cost him a few months of 2013.

That does mean the Frenchman doesn't have a lot of points to defend over the next two weeks and he remains a threat on the surface, especially if his serving is on point. The heavy forehand and the ability to get to the net makes Tsonga a real danger to any of the top players, although he usually finds at least one player too good.

I would be surprised if that player is Jurgen Melzer who is another veteran that perhaps is winding down his career. Melzer was a danger on grass simply because of a decent lefty serve and his own aggressive instincts that makes any player dangerous on this surface. I expect he will cause problems for Tsonga, but it has been a match-up that the Frenchman has enjoyed including a comprehensive victory over Melzer at the French Open last month.

It is harder to record the big wins that Tsonga has enjoyed over Melzer recently when it comes to the grass courts, but I can see a 63, 76, 64 scoreline which is generally a fairly straight-forward win for the Frenchman.

Victoria Azarenka - 5.5 games v Mirjana Lucic-Baroni: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni will be remembered for making the Semi Final at Wimbledon back in 1999, but to say she has failed to live up to that potential is an under-statement. There have been issues in her personal life, but you do have to look at her as a player that has failed to achieve what was expected of her.

A retirement at Eastbourne is not the best way to come into the next Grand Slam of the season, but she has the capabilities of pushing the better players on the grass courts, especially one that is coming off a long injury as Victoria Azarenka is.

Azarenka had a tough loss last week, but she showed signs that she is ready to go this week and I think she has the capability of beating Lucic-Baroni with a little room to spare. The former World Number 1 is a tough competitor and I think she has given herself a full amount of time of recovery before returning to competitive tennis and that should pay off.

It is unlikely that Azarenka gets deep into the second week to be honest, but I think she would be too strong in this First Round and come through with a 64, 62 win.

Venus Williams - 5.5 games v Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor: There are a few players that will be glad to know the current grass court season is as short as it is and I would put Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor in that category, but she couldn't have asked for too many tougher First Round encounters.

Granted, Venus Williams isn't the same player that won this title on numerous occasions, but she is still very capable of putting together big performances. Her serve can be effective on the grass and Venus Williams is also comfortable getting forward to the net and putting away a number of volleys so I think she will feel she can dictate the match.

It is going to be tough for Torro-Flor to change that pattern of the match developing more often than not and the young Spaniard may find it tough to really get into this one. Venus Williams should have enough to record a 63, 63 win from this First Round encounter.

Tsvetana Pironkova - 3.5 games v Varvara Lepchenko: I was extremely disappointed with Tsevtana Pironkova's collapse in Eastbourne against Heather Watson as she has proven to be one of the stronger grass court players on the Tour and I expect her to be too good for the American Varvara Lepchenko in this First Round match.

Lepchenko is probably already looking forward to the hard court summer swing back in North America as she hasn't had a lot of success on grass and I think someone like Pironkova is capable of playing the tennis that can send her on her way.

The power off the ground and the comfort level that Pironkova feels on the surface should aid her through the contest and I do think she can record a 64, 64 win and a place in the Second Round.

MY PICKS: Marcos Baghdatis @ 1.80 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Mikhail Youzhny - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Victoria Azarenka - 5.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Venus Williams - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Tsventana Pirnokova - 3.5 Games @ 1.87 Pinnacle (2 Units)

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