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Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (February 8-17)

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Friday, 27 February 2015

Tennis Picks 2015 (February 27th)

It was a disappointing Thursday with Petra Kvitova's collapse and Victor Troicki losing his way mentally the biggest reasons for the poor day in the office. It is still a positive week for now, but hopefully that can be built upon in the remaining days of this week's tournaments.

Roger Federer - 5.5 games v Borna Coric: I have a lot of respect for the knowledge of a few statistical tennis fans that I have a relationship with on Twitter and they seem to be on the same page when it comes to the ability of Borna Coric and what he can achieve on the Tour. Coric is the young face of tennis that has already beaten Rafael Nadal before dismissing Andy Murray for the loss of four games in the Quarter Final here, but now faces Roger Federer who has won the title in Dubai on six previous occasions.

There is a lot of talent in the Coric racquet and I do tend to agree with the likes of those Twitter accounts I have spoken about that this Croatian should be reaching the top 10 in the World Rankings and perhaps a lot higher as long as he can stay healthy.

I expect Coric to be inspired coming up against Federer, but I would be very surprised if the 17 time Grand Slam winner offers so many unforced errors as Andy Murray did on Thursday. The aggression of Federer's game should give him a better footing in rallies and I do think this is more likely to go the way Coric's match with Stan Wawrinka did in Chennai rather than his wins over Murray and Nadal.

Federer will need to serve well to keep the pressure on is younger opponent and I think he will create more chances on the serve than Murray with the added aggression on return setting him up. It won't always be comfortable, but Federer can work his way through to a 64, 62 win.

Novak Djokovic - 5.5 games v Tomas Berdych: The last two times that Novak Djokovic has faced Tomas Berdych, the World Number 1 has dominated to the extent that he has won all four sets and he hasn't lost more than two games in any of those sets.

The layers are taking no chances with Djokovic in this one and he is being asked to cover a big number, but I do think he loves the conditions in Dubai and will have the edge in this one. On the other hand, Berdych has played well here in the past too, but I do wonder about his confidence having been destroyed by Djokovic the last two times they have met.

Djokovic has served well in the last two matches against Berdych and that will be a key again if he is to cover a big handicap because I do think he will create chances to break serve as the best returner on the Tour at the moment.

I can see a situation where Berdych perhaps loses some heart if the first set doesn't go his way and that should give Djokovic a chance to run away with the match in a 75, 62 win.

Lucie Safarova - 3.5 games v Carla Suarez Navarro: I won't lie- Carla Suarez Navarro has been something of a scourge to me over the last couple of weeks with some stunning wins, although I have also been on the right side of backing/opposing the Spaniard. She is a very solid player, but doesn't really have the big weapons to fully trust in matches, but Suarez Navarro is one of the form players on the WTA Tour at the moment.

However, she is going up against another form player in Lucie Safarova who has been in sparking form over the last couple of weeks and perhaps has been unfortunate not to have had back to back Semi Final appearances. Safarova has been very good this week, although Suarez Navarro will at least have an idea as to how the lefty serve will work after dismissing Petra Kvitova so easily on Thursday following the first set.

It might be weird to read, but I don't think Safarova is as up and down as Kvitova even if the latter has the much higher ceiling. Her consistency should give her a good chance to get through Suarez Navarro as the serve should definitely give the edge to the Czech player as long as she keeps her cool in tough situations.

I do think Safarova will have success against the Suarez Navarro serve and can battle her way through to a 64, 64 win and a place in the Final.

Venus Williams + 3.5 games v Victoria Azarenka: When you look at the results of these two players over the last few days, you can understand why Victoria Azarenka is a big favourite to beat Venus Williams in the second Semi Final in Doha.

However, I am leaning towards taking the games in this one because Williams is the best server that Azarenka will have faced this week and I am not convinced the former World Number 1 is totally secure in that aspect of her own game.

I do think Venus Williams will find a way to break serve a few times in this one, although I am convinced Victoria Azarenka will have plenty of returning success too. That should lead to a tight match that has the potential to go to three sets and Williams also has the mental edge having never lost to Azarenka in the past, including a 76, 64 win in Cincinnati last summer.

Expect to see a lot of twists and turns in this Semi Final, but I do think the games being given to Venus Williams could be too many in what I would have considered to be closer to a pick 'em kind of match.

Nicolas Almagro - 2.5 games v Tommy Robredo: Aside from that stunning five set win for Tommy Robredo over Nicolas Almagro at the French Open a couple of years ago, Nicolas Almagro has dominated the matches against his compatriot. Even that French Open win for Robredo came after he was 2-0 down in sets and I expect Almagro to frank the form that saw him beat Robredo in Sao Paulo a couple of weeks ago.

Almagro has come back to the Tour after a long-term injury and must be enjoying finding his rhythm back on the clay courts and he has played well during this Golden Swing in South America. Losing twice to in-form Pablo Cuevas is not a poor reflection on Almagro and I think he will prove a little too good for Robredo.

You can see why they have a head to head skewed in favour of Almagro- his serve offers up cheaper points and mentally it can be tough to continue trying to win the long, drawn out rallies that Robredo generally has to. I also think the Robredo second serve is something of a weakness and allows Almagro to take control of those rallies and eventually wear down Robredo.

It will never be an easy match against Robredo, but I do think Almagro is going to come through with a 64, 76 win.

Rafael Nadal - 5.5 games v Federico Delbonis: Rafael Nadal hasn't looked himself so far in the 2015 season, but I think he should still be too strong for Federico Delbonis who can mentally lose his way in matches.

I also do wonder if the Argentinian has the physicality to keep up with Nadal who will look to extend rallies and has generally gotten better when in his second tournament back on the clay courts. A disappointing Semi Final loss last week to Fabio Fognini was a stunning result for Nadal, but I think he doesn't dwell on these moments for too long and has the ability to wear down Delbonis in this Quarter Final.

The home crowd should keep Delbonis very interested in the match throughout, but they can't come out and play the long, gruelling rallies for him and that is where I expect Nadal to take over. A lot of players do struggle with the physical side when they are up against the Spaniard and that was something I noticed with Delbonis despite going to three sets against Fabio Fognini himself last week.

The first set should be very competitive in this one, but Nadal can then take control and put together a 64, 62 win and move through to the Semi Final.

Maria Sharapova - 5.5 games v Carolina Garcia: Dismiss what the bagel set told you, the first time Maria Sharapova and Carolina Garcia met back at the French Open in 2011, it was a highly competitive match as the young Frenchwoman declared her potential.

I don't think it is too harsh to say that Garcia has yet to really fulfil that potential, nor the prediction that she was a future World Number 1 as described by Andy Murray. Garcia has also been dismissed in two matches against Sharapova since then, although they are playing one another for the first time since Brisbane in January 2014.

The windy conditions in Acapulco won't suit Sharapova's service action, which can be erratic at the best of times, but she has dealt with it well enough in reaching the Semi Final. There have been some tough moments for the Russian to get through, but she has dealt with them well enough and I think Sharapova will have too much in the locker for Garcia.

The last two matches between the players have been very one-sided, but Garcia is an improving player and this could end up in a 75, 62 win for Sharapova once she disheartens her younger opponent.

MY PICKS: Roger Federer - 5.5 Games @ 1.83 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Novak Djokovic - 5.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Lucie Safarova - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Venus Williams + 3.5 Games @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Nicolas Almagro - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Rafael Nadal - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Maria Sharapova - 5.5 Games @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 9-7, + 2.62 Units (32 Units Staked, + 8.19% Yield)

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Tennis Picks 2015 (February 26th)

Petra Kvitova - 3.5 games v Carla Suarez Navarro: Carla Suarez Navarro may feel she has the kryptonite to stop the Petra Kvitova game having won their last two matches including in Dubai last week, but I am backing the higher Ranked player to earn a measure of revenge in this one.

The Quarter Final between them in Doha should be a fascinating match between the big-hitting Petra Kvitova and the counter-punching skills that Carla Suarez Navarro can produce. You would expect Kvitova to have more success on the return of serve than she has had in the last couple of matches against Suarez Navarro, and this has all the makings of a tight game.

That might make this number of games look attractive that the Spaniard is getting, but Kvitova has the capability of putting together a strong run of games to move clear of her opponent. She has to put the last couple of losses to the back of her mind and mentally stay in the moment, but I do like Kvitova to do that and force breaks of serve and get ahead of Suarez Navarro in this one.

There is every chance this match goes three sets, but I think Kvitova can come through with a 62, 46, 64 victory.

Andrea Petkovic + 3.5 games v Lucie Safarova: These two players are both in very good form as Andrea Petkovic recently won the tournament in Antwerp, while Lucie Safarova was a Quarter Finalist in Dubai last week and has reached that stage again in Doha.

Safarova will be hoping that Petkovic is perhaps feeling some of the three set matches she has had to play in her legs coming into the Quarter Final, but matches between these players have been close in the past. Lucie Safarova has the bigger serve that will give her an edge in that department, but Petkovic can dig deep and find her way back into matches that are seemingly slipping away.

I am expecting another competitive match between these players that can potentially go all the way to a third set and I do think the games being given to Petkovic look a touch on the high side. It might be a game too high, although I also think the German has every chance of winning this match outright considering she has won 4 of their last 5 matches.

Fabio Fognini - 2.5 games v Carlos Berlocq: Fabio Fognini is off a very successful week in Rio De Janeiro and I do think he can back that up with a win over Carlos Berlocq as long as he deals with the crowd that is going to be firmly behind the Argentinian.

Fognini does have previous in allowing outside factors to dictate the way he approaches the game, but I think this is a match up that should suit him. There will be a lot of long rallies and Fognini should have the better consistency when it comes to shots that actually shift him into a stronger position in those rallies than Berlocq.

The Italian will also have to deal with Berlocq who seems to be a player that can get under the skin of opponents with his loud grunting which is a rarity on the ATP Tour compared with the WTA Tour. Berlocq is also very comfortable on the clay courts with his best results coming on this surface.

However, Berlocq has a surprisingly poor record in the event held in Buenos Aires and I think Fognini can battle through to a 75, 64 win.

Nicolas Almagro - 3.5 games v Albert Ramos-Vinolas: Two compatriots meet in the Second Round and I think Nicolas Almagro can take another positive step since his return to the ATP Tour by beating Albert Ramos-Vinolas in this Second Round match.

Almagro has played some decent tennis on his return since missing the remainder of the 2014 season after retiring at the French Open and losing to Pablo Cuevas in the last couple of events during the Golden Swing is not exactly a disappointing result. Almagro was close to winning at least one of those matches against the in-form Cuevas, while wins over Tommy Robredo and Pablo Andujar are indicators that Almagro is on the way back.

This won't be an easy match against Albert Ramos-Vinolas who has been very comfortable on the clay courts and whose lefty serve can be a problem to deal with.

However, I think the heavier shots will come from the Almagro side of the court and his serve should pay dividends in this one and I like him to battle his way to a 64, 64 win.

Victor Troicki + 2.5 games v Kevin Anderson: There isn't much between these two players according to the layers and I do think it has the potential to be a close match, but one I am expecting Victor Troicki to come through and reach the Semi Final in Acapulco.

Kevin Anderson had to dig very deep to see off Steve Johnson yesterday and he won't have a lot of time to get ready for this game compared with Victor Troicki who was a much more comfortable winner over Santiago Giraldo.

Both players have a decent serve that will set up some points, but I think Anderson has just been having a few more issues with his game over the last week and Troicki can take advantage. The Serb can be a little hard to trust fully despite the indication he is motivated to right what he feels as being the wrongs of his ban from the Tour last year.

However, I will take the games being offered to Troicki because I do think he can win the match outright, but also covers a tight match that could easily go deep into a third set.

MY PICKS: Petra Kvitova - 3.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Andrea Petkovic + 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Fabio Fognini - 2.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Nicolas Almagro - 3.5 Games @ 1.73 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Victor Troicki + 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 8-3, + 9.16 Units (22 Units Staked, + 41.64% Yield)

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Tennis Picks 2015 (February 25th)

The tournaments on Wednesday are structured in such a way that the markets are not ready for the matches in Dubai, while I am not convinced of anything in Doha for the matches that have been set.

With the events in Acapulco and Buenos Aires behind in terms of a time zone compared with the United Kingdom, it does mean that I will put up my tennis picks from Dubai first thing in the morning and then follow picks from the other tournaments, if I have any, around lunch time.

After looking through the matches that were being played, I was tempted to make picks from a couple of matches in Dubai and Doha, but decided against it because I wasn't totally convinced. Sometimes it is better to take a step back and keep the powder clean instead of backing a match that you just don't totally believe in and that was the case from the earlier tournaments.

Even the later events have some tempting matches that I could see the other side of the coin so I decided against those too and the only picks I have come from a couple of matches scheduled in Acapulco.

Kevin Anderson - 3.5 games v Steve Johnson: This is the fifth time Kevin Anderson and Steve Johnson have met on the main Tour since the beginning of last season and it is the South African who has got the better of the previous four matches. After losing their first match, Anderson has won three in a row which includes two wins in 2015 and I think he will be too strong for Johnson again.

A quick look at their last three matches shows that Anderson does get a lot more joy against the Johnson serve and as long as he can fight through the rare moments of being under pressure on serve, he should be a comfortable winner. The Johnson second serve is one that can be attacked, while scoreboard pressure keeps the American under a mental cloud where he knows the importance of losing serve and how that will affect his chances of getting back into the match.

The conditions haven't been great in Acapulco with a lot of wind in the area, but I think the Anderson serve will offer up more cheap points of the two and that can prove to be the key to a 64 64 win for the big South African.

Caroline Garcia - 3.5 games v Bethanie Mattek-Sands: I personally don't think Caroline Garcia will ever fulfil the Andy Murray prediction of becoming the Number 1 player in the World Rankings, but she has the ability to reach the top 10 and from there who knows?

The inconsistencies in her game have prevented Garcia from really moving higher up the Rankings than her current position of 30, while matches against the likes of Bethanie Mattek-Sands have to be won if she is to really fulfil her potential.

That is not disrespecting Mattek-Sands who is a gritty competitor, but the American just doesn't really have the quality to match up against the best players on the Tour. There are times she can put it all together and have a deep run in a tournament, but the scheduling to move from the clay courts to the hard courts doesn't make much sense to me.

It is interesting to note that a little under twelve months ago would have seen Mattek-Sands a big favourite in this match up, but Garcia saw her off at Indian Wells and I expect her recent form to back that up. It might even be a similar score with a 75, 63 win for Garcia in this Second Round match.

MY PICKS: Kevin Anderson - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Caroline Garcia - 3.5 Games @ 1,92 Bet365 (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 7-2, + 9.32 Units (18 Units Staked, + 51.78% Yield)

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Midweek Football Picks 2015 (February 24-26)

The spread of the Champions League games means the First Legs of the Last 16 ties will be completed on Tuesday and Wednesday with the final four games to be played. The Tuesday action looks the 'must see' of the two days with Manchester City hosting Barcelona and Juventus hosting Borussia Dortmund, two games that are arguably the best ties of the Round.

On Thursday, the Europa League Last 16 will be put together as the Second Legs of the Last 32 Round is completed and it looks like a competition that will certainly bring together some big ties in the coming weeks as the majority of the top teams have First Leg advantages. However, there is still some work to be done for teams to earn their places in the Last 16 when teams may begin to think they can win the Europa League and earn a place in the Champions League for next season.

Juventus v Borussia Dortmund Pick: There a few matches that really stand out in the Champions League and this is arguably the tie of the Round as the Italian Champions Juventus take on Borussia Dortmund who have been very successful in this competition over the last couple of seasons.

Jurgen Klopp's men have also seemed to have turned a corner in the Bundesliga and that should give them confidence that they can beat Juventus over two legs. They haven't really displayed the same form in the Champions League where Borussia Dortmund have played much better than they have in their domestic campaign and that makes them a dangerous team.

Borussia Dortmund have scored plenty of goals and Juventus have been the opposite of Dortmund in that they haven't really been able to bring their Serie A form into the Champions League. Juventus have had a hard time turning draws into wins in this competition and they didn't beat Atletico Madrid in the Group at home, while Olympiacos were leading 1-2 before Juventus fought back to win the game.

If you also consider the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have both scored at least a couple of goals in recent games at Juventus in the Champions League and I do think the Italian side look a dangerous favourite to have faith in. I do think Juventus are the more likely winners, but Borussia Dortmund will have renewed belief thanks to three consecutive wins and this is a team with a real goal threat going forward.

At the same price as the home win, backing there being at least three goals in this one might make more sense. I can't see Juventus keeping a clean sheet but I am edging towards them winning the game so backing there being at least three goals looks the less risky approach, especially as I do think Borussia Dortmund are a very dangerous side remaining in this competition.

Manchester City v Barcelona Pick: If Manchester City had the services of Yaya Toure to call upon, they would look a big price to beat Barcelona at the Etihad Stadium in this First Leg, but the Ivorian's absence is tough to compensate for.

Without his driving runs through the middle of the park, Manchester City will have to play two midfielders in the heart of their team who are better defensively, but don't offer the support going forward that Toure does. It is a big blow for Manchester City considering they would very much like to be on the front foot in this game and try and take a lead to the Nou Camp next month, but Manuel Pellegrini also has to find the right balance as he won't want to be 0-2 down as City were twelve months ago.

Of course that match was turned on one moment at the end of the first half when Martin Demichelis was adjudged to have prevented a goal-scoring chance and sent off with the double punishment being Lionel Messi scoring from the resulting penalty.

The game was fairly tight before that and Manchester City come into this game in very good heart having beaten Stoke City and Newcastle United very easily in their last two games. Couple that with Barcelona's 0-1 home loss to Malaga and the fact the Catalan giants have lost half of their last 6 away games in the Champions League and you can understand why Manchester City will have their backers this evening.

However, I think City have shown vulnerabilities defensively which are going to be exploited by the likes of Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi and it is hard to see the home side keeping a clean sheet considering they haven't had one in their last 10 home Champions League games. In fact, the last three 'big' teams that have visited the Etihad Stadium have all scored at least two goals (Bayern Munich twice and Barcelona).

Goals should be the order of the day in this tie too with both teams looking better going forward than they are at the back and I do think there will be chances at both ends barring another sending off. Barcelona's passing game might wear down Manchester City as some have suggested, but I think the more direct approach taken by Pellegrini will give the home team every chance as that has been a weakness for Barcelona to defend.

A lot of the value has gone out of there being goals in this game and I did consider a smaller interest on there being at least four goals. However, I will simply back for there to be at least three goals shared by these sides, which looks a less dangerous approach as neither team will look to push forward in the latter stages of a First Leg if the tie is finely balanced.

Arsenal v Monaco Pick: Over the last few years, Arsenal have regularly been punished for failing to top their Group in the Champions League with matches against the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich usually being their 'reward'. Unsurprisingly, Arsenal have failed to reach the Quarter Final in the Champions League since 2010, but they might not have a better chance than this time to snap that run as they meet Monaco.

There will be a lot of talk about the links between the clubs from Arsene Wenger to Thierry Henry, but the fans won't be that interested with the stories surrounding the game and will simply expect Arsenal to qualify for the Quarter Finals. They can take a big step in that direction by earning a comfortable home win in the First Leg which will set up the trip to Monte Carlo, especially as Monaco's home Stadium is one of the more intimate ones in Europe and can be difficult for the away team to perform.

Arsenal have won 10 of their last 15 home games in this competition with their biggest bogey teams coming from Germany so the confidence will be there that the Gunners can win this game. They have also won 9 in a row at home in all competitions since their 1-2 defeat to Manchester United and Monaco are a team that is well off the pace in the French domestic League and looking to cut some of the costs that got them back into the Champions League.

Monaco have won 4 of their last 5 away games in all competitions, but they struggled on their travels in the Group Stage of the Champions League as they drew in Zenit St Petersburg and were beaten in Benfica before a victory over Bayer Leverkusen. None of those three teams would be favourites to beat Arsenal in my opinion and this marks a big step up in class for Monaco compared with the usual opponents they deal with.

Of course it would be foolish to ignore that Monaco were well-drilled in the Group and only conceded one goal in six Champions League games, but they were also a little goal-shy with just four goals and I think Arsenal are clicking going forward and can record a decisive win.

Bayer Leverkusen v Atletico Madrid Pick: Bayer Leverkusen are once again challenging for a place in the Champions League with their form in the Bundesliga, but this is a team that has found it difficult to compete with the best teams in Europe on a regular basis. Over recent seasons, Leverkusen have beaten all the teams they would have expected to, but the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain have all won convincingly in this Stadium.

Even the defeat to Monaco at home must raise questions as to whether Bayer Leverkusen have enough quality against the better teams they face in the Champions League. There will be some answers to that question when they face Atletico Madrid in the First Leg of the Champions League this week and I do fear for the German side.

Last week it was the other team from Madrid who visited Germany and proved there was a marked difference between the top Spanish teams and those challenging for top four positions in the Bundesliga. That might be the case again this week as Atletico Madrid should have too much quality for Leverkusen who have been struggling at home in recent games.

The feeling is that Bayer Leverkusen's best chance of beating Atletico Madrid will be at home and they might not find the right balance between attack and defence to at least make the Second Leg more than a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately it is hard to ignore the defeats that Bayer Leverkusen have suffered when faced by the best teams in the Champions League, even at home, and I think a small interest on Atletico Madrid taking a lead back to the Vicente Calderon is warranted.

Besiktas v Liverpool Pick: The 1-0 defeat in Anfield puts Besiktas behind the black ball in this one, but this is not an inescapable position for them considering the problems Liverpool are having with personnel they can rely upon.

The 0-2 win at Southampton last weekend has shown Liverpool they are more than capable of breaking into the top four of the Premier League and they have a big game with Manchester City this weekend which is taking away some of their focus. The midfield has been decimated ahead of this game with Steven Gerrard, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson all staying in Liverpool ahead of this match.

As well as Liverpool have played away from Anfield in recent weeks, this is a team that did lose 2 of their 3 away games in the Champions League Group Stage and Besiktas have already hosted two English teams this season in a goalless draw with Arsenal and beating Tottenham Hotspur.

Besiktas haven't been in the best form of late, but they have won three in a row at home and did show enough at Anfield to think they can win this game. They might not have enough to get through to the Last 16 because Liverpool still can call upon the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Mario Balotelli and Raheem Sterling for a goal, but the Turkish side look a big price to earn a win.

A small interest is all I can recommend because Besiktas could be caught on the break if they are leading 2-1 with ten minutes left, but I will back them to win this Second Leg.

Inter Milan v Celtic Pick: Celtic showed tremendous heart to recover from a couple of deficits in the First Leg of this Last 32 tie and earned a hard-fought 3-3 draw with Inter Milan, but that makes them a big underdog to progress.

The pressure will be on Celtic to come to the San Siro and win this game and I can imagine they will look to frustrate Inter Milan and then hit them later on in the game. However, Inter Milan have enough quality to create chances against Celtic and it will be tough for the Scottish Champions from recovering if they fall behind in this one.

Any time a team wins as many games as Celtic have been doing recently will mean confidence is high, but they have struggled away from home in Europe over the last few years. They might be able to keep this tight for a while, but Inter Milan should take control once they have the lead and have been playing well and scoring plenty of goals to think they will do that in this game.

I can see Celtic also being caught on the break if they end up chasing the game and I like Inter Milan to win this by a couple of goals.

Borussia Monchengladbach v Sevilla Pick: There have been some struggles for Borussia Monchengladbach at home in front of goal, but they should have an excellent chance to get amongst the goals against a Sevilla team that has been conceding at an alarming rate in recent games.

They were beaten 4-3 at Real Sociedad last weekend and Sevilla have conceded at least two goals in 5 straight away games in all competitions, while their form in the Europa League away from home won't build confidence. They have lost 3 of their last 5 away games in this competition, but Sevilla will at least point to the fact that they have scored goals away from home in recent weeks to give them the edge in this tie.

I was considering backing Borussia Monchengladbach to win this game, but a Sevilla goal will mean they are likely to be pushing men forward and could be caught on the counter-attack. Even if they are leading 2-1 in the later stages, Monchengladbach will still need another goal and again could be under pressure to send more men forward and give Sevilla a chance to grab another goal.

Sevilla's ability to score goals in away games does make them dangerous and I think this could produce an entertaining game. Borussia Monchengladbach have to get forward if Sevilla score and the Spanish side have been conceding plenty of goals too so the odds against quotes for at least three goals being shared looks a big price.

Everton v Young Boys Pick: Despite some of the comments that Uli Forte has been making in his press conference ahead of this Second Leg, it would take an unprecedented disaster from Everton to go out of the Europa League after winning 1-4 in Switzerland. Young Boys have to score at least four times to give themselves a chance and they are not the same team when they have had to play away from their plastic pitch.

The side were beaten easily in Naples and Prague during the Group Stage and even a changed Everton team should have enough to create chances. However, I do think Young Boys will come to Goodison Park with attacking intentions and can pose problems against a much changed Everton team that have been defensively naive for much of the season.

The unfamiliarity of the home side with one another playing against a decent team might give Young Boys a chance to at least salvage some pride in this one, but I also think the First Leg score gives Everton some freedom to express themselves.

I think that has been part of the problem in the Premier League where Everton are almost 'desperate' to put their wins together and that has led to nervousness in their performances. In the Europa League there seems to be a little more ease about the Everton showings and they should have success going forward against a team that didn't do a lot right defensively last week.

There is a potential for a high-scoring game, perhaps more of a chance than the layers seem to think, and I will back this Second Leg to go that way.

Sporting Lisbon v Wolfsburg Pick: It was Wolfsburg who set themselves up for a place in the Last 16 of the Europa League after a comfortable 2-0 home win over Sporting Lisbon last week at home, but they still have a little work to do to ensure they move through. A goal in the Portuguese Capital will likely be enough for Wolfsburg and this team have shown the appetite to do that in recent weeks.

This is a difficult test for Sporting Lisbon to find the right balance between attack and defence and it has the makings of an entertaining Cup tie, even if Sporting ultimately come up short.

Sporting Lisbon scored seven goals in two home games against Schalke and Maribor in the Champions League Group Stage so they will feel they can score in this one, while Wolfsburg have scored in 9 straight away games.

I'd be surprised if there aren't spaces to exploit in this game as it develops and an early goal should set this match on the way to at least three goals being shared by the teams.

MY PICKS: Juventus-Borussia Dortmund Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.38 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City-Barcelona Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.73 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.88 Bet365 (2 Units)
Atletico Madrid @ 2.55 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Besiktas @ 3.00 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Inter Milan - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
Borussia Monchengladbach-Sevilla Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Everton-Young Boys Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.83 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Sporting Lisbon-Wolfsburg Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)

February Update15-21-1, - 1.69 Units (59 Units Staked, - 2.86% Yield)

January Final10-22-1, - 10.54 Units (57 Units Staked, - 18.49% Yield)
December Final25-19-1, + 18.70 Units (81 Units Staked, + 23.09% Yield)
November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
October Final8-18, - 14.79 Units (47 Units Staked, - 31.47% Yield)
September Final12-18, - 2.28 Units (41 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/1580-120-2, - 29.42 Units (346 Units Staked, - 8.50% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Tennis Picks 2015 (February 24th)

Sergiy Stakhovsky - 3.5 games v Lukas Rosol: It has been a good couple of weeks for Sergiy Stakhovsky which included beating Lukas Rosol very easily last week in Marseille and I am expecting him to frank that form in Dubai.

It was a measure of revenge for Stakhovsky having been embarrassed in a Challenger event by Rosol last season and his form has been better in the last few weeks than his Czech opponent. Stakhovsky has reached the Quarter Final in Rotterdam and the Semi Final in Marseille over the last couple of weeks so there is a chance he has too much tennis in his legs, but he is playing an opponent that has barely won sets, let alone matches.

Rosol was comfortably dismissed the last couple of matches he has played and he has won just one of his five matches this season. As big as his first serve can be, Rosol doesn't always back it up and he sees his serve broken far too often than it should be.

As long as tiredness and fatigue don't set in for Stakhovsky, I believe he can win this match 75, 64.

Roberto Bautista-Agut - 3.5 games v Dominic Thiem: Roberto Bautista-Agut already has two wins over the talented youngster Dominic Thiem during the 2015 season and I would expect the Spaniard to make it a hat-trick of wins in Dubai.

I can understand why the match up is a bad one for Thiem- as good as a shot-maker as he has the potential to become, he is facing an opponent who is very good defensively and can force him to play one more ball and then extract errors from his game. David Goffin is another player that seems to have the kryptonite to the Thiem game and he plays in a similar style to Bautista-Agut, at least according to me, and I can see the higher Ranked player coming through.

Their matches have been close, but Bautista-Agut has been in control of both previous wins and I believe he will have a little too much at this moment of time for Thiem and come through 75, 64.

Gilles Muller + 4.5 games v Andy Murray: With the returning ability that Andy Murray has, he can make this number of games look very small even against the better servers on the Tour. However, Murray will have to serve a lot better than he did in Rotterdam if he is to see off Gilles Muller easily.

The big-serving lefty has played well on the Tour for much of 2015 and Muller has returned to competing against the best players thanks to a strong 2014 season. His serve has given the likes of Novak Djokovic plenty to think about and he is not all about pace with very good placement meaning he can come in and attack the net.

Of course going against someone like Murray it can be tough for Muller to feel comfortable coming forward and giving the British Number 1 a target to pass. It is the Murray serve that might be where Muller has enough joy to keep this match close on the scoreboard, although I am expecting Murray's ability to get balls back into play off the return of serve will mentally wear down Muller.

A 76, 63 win for Murray would be a comfortable enough day in the office to move through to the Second Round and looks the kind of scoreline that this match may end up producing.

Garbine Muguruza - 3.5 games v Carla Suarez Navarro: These two good friends meet for the second time in the space of less than seven days in Singles play and I expect Garbine Muguruza backs up her win over Carla Suarez Navarro from the tournament in Dubai.

Muguruza could potentially be feeling the fatigue from all the tennis she had to play last week having reached the Singles Semi Final and Doubles Final, but Suarez Navarro was right there with her in the latter and also met Muguruza in the Quarter Final.

The bigger weapons are coming from the Muguruza side of the court and as long as she looks after own service games better than she did last week, she should be comfortable enough in this kind of match. Muguruza proved she can get the better of the Suarez Navarro serve and it is hard to see the pattern of this match changing too much from what I expected to see last week.

This one might be slightly more straight-forward than last week when Muguruza needed three sets to see off Suarez Navarro and I will back her to cover the games again.

Fernando Verdasco v Guillermo Garcia-Lopez: Guillermo Garcia-Lopez has been in very good form top open the 2015 season with one Quarter Final appearance under his belt, as well as reaching the Fourth Round of the Australian Open and then winning a title in Zagreb.

He has been playing with consistency and protecting his serve, which is not one of the biggest on the Tour, and Garcia-Lopez will come into the match as the slight favourite against Fernando Verdasco.

It has been a difficult start to the season for Verdasco who is blowing hot and cold more than usual and will be coming off the Golden Swing in South America to take in this tournament in Dubai. It will also be a mental battle for Garcia-Lopez having lost three in a row to his compatriot and I do think the hard courts should aid Verdasco to overcome this First Round obstacle.

There is every chance this is going to be a long match in the final match of the day in Dubai and can very easily go three sets, but I do think Verdasco can win the match with the bigger groundstrokes as long as he doesn't mentally check out of the match.

Grigor Dimitrov - 5.5 games v Filip Krajinovic: The defending Champion opens his campaign in Acapulco on Tuesday as Grigor Dimitrov is first match up on the main court in Mexico. He is perhaps looking at the start of 2015 as something of a disappointment with a Fourth Round exit at the Australian Open as well as an early defeat in Rotterdam a couple of weeks ago so defending this title is important for Dimitrov.

The Bulgarian has admitted himself that he has to find the consistency to take the next step in his development and start winning some of the bigger prizes on the ATP Tour. Dimitrov should have a chance to work his way into this tournament against Filip Krajonovic who is Ranked outside the top 100 and who spends the majority of his time playing in levels below the main Tour.

Krajinovic hasn't really been able to transfer the form from the Challenger circuit to the main Tour and he is going up against an aggressive returner that will look to create chances to break serve. As long as Dimitrov serves well, he should have a chance to win this first match fairly comfortably, although the first set will be critical as he gets used to the conditions again.

If Dimitrov can come through with a 64/75 kind of win in the first set, he should be able to pull away in the second set and come through with a win to cover this number.

Ajla Tomljanovic - 3.5 games v Magdalena Rybarikova: Daniela Hantuchova pulled out of the tournament in Acapulco as, I assume, the travelling must have not helped over the last couple of weeks. That means the draw has been re-jigged a little to give Ajla Tomljanovic the chance to take on Magdalena Rybarikova and I believe Tomljanovic can achieve a win by the margin I expected for Hantuchova yesterday.

It hasn't been the best 2015 season for Tomljanovic, but reaching the Final in Pattaya City a couple of weeks ago might be the spark she needs to start moving up the Rankings. She was a Junior with a lot of potential and is getting over some of the health issues that have stunted her growth on the Pro Tour over the last few years.

Tomljanovic looks more settled now after her move to Australia to represent that nation and she was a Quarter Finalist here last year which included a thumping First Round win over Rybarikova.

The confidence will be on Tomljanovic's side of the court as Rybarikova looks to snap her four match losing run, while the former has a big enough serve to set up some easier points. It won't be as easy as the 61, 63 win from 2014 in Acapulco, but I still think Tomljanovic is too strong and comes through while covering this number.

MY PICKS: Sergiy Stakhovsky - 3.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Roberto Bautista-Agut - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Gilles Muller + 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Garbine Muguruza - 3.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Fernando Verdasco @ 1.92 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Ajla Tomljanovic - 3.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet365 (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 2-1, + 2.04 Units (6 Units Staked, + 34% Yield)

Monday, 23 February 2015

Tennis Picks 2015 (February 23rd)

After a poor opening two days last week, it turned out to be another decent week on the Tour with plenty of winners over the last few days which helped send the season tally upwards. I stayed away from the Semi Finals and Finals last week because I wasn't completely convinced of those picks, although I do wish I had recommended David Ferrer to cover the handicap against Fabio Fognini in Rio De Janeiro after making the point that the latter will find it hard to recover from his impressive win over Rafael Nadal.

I stayed away from the outright picks last week and I am doing the same this week with the tournaments having some short favourites on the ATP Tour, while the WTA tournament in Doha has a stellar field, but also it is coming off the back of a tough event in Dubai so seeing the form develop over the week looks a better option than backing someone early in the week.

The joint tournament in Acapulco has just about got the draw out, let alone any outright markets, so there really isn't the time to analyse the draw and get any potential picks out.

Like last week, I will have to add picks from the tournaments for each day at different times with the markets not always available the night before (UK time) for events in Buenos Aires and Acapulco which will begin later in the afternoon/evening. Any picks will usually be out at least two/three hours before matches are due to get underway so there will be plenty of time to get on.

Ernests Gulbis - 1.5 games v Denis Istomin: Two players who have been completely out of form to open the 2015 season will meet in the First Round in Dubai and I think this might be the time to back Ernests Gulbis to finally win a match in the New Year.

Gulbis was absolutely terrible in his loss to Jeremy Chardy last week and made far too many unforced errors that aren't going to cut it at this level. It is hard to imagine he began this season as high in the Rankings as he has and Gulbis has failed to back that up.

However, he is playing Denis Istomin who has won one match all season and is really having a hard time on the Tour at the moment. There is always the feeling that Istomin is never too far away from dropping his serve and he has lost his last two matches against Gulbis which could give the Latvian the mental edge in the match.

He will have to serve well to keep Istomin at bay and this match may even come down to which of the players makes the least mistakes. I do think Gulbis can be a head case at times who loses focus, but I think Istomin will aid him through this one and the higher Ranked player wins through 75, 46, 64.

Roger Federer - 5.5 games v Mikhail Youzhny: He hasn't played since his surprising loss to Andreas Seppi at the Australian Open, but Roger Federer should be very comfortable in the Dubai surroundings where has won six titles in the past.

He is also going against Mikhail Youzhny, the veteran Russian who Federer has beaten 15 times in a row and also 4 times at this tournament. Youzhny has a lot of experience and has given Federer problems in the past, but the way Rafael Nadal dismissed him at the Australian Open underlines that he is coming towards the end of his career.

I do respect the fact that Youzhny won't give up at any point, but his serve is not the biggest weapon and Federer should create chances against it with the key being whether he is efficient on break points or not. That has been a negative of the Federer game at times when he can be a little loose on those break points, while Federer also has to serve with more consistency than he did at the Australian Open.

This is a lot of games to give up considering Federer's lack of success on break points at time, but I think Youzhny has lost a little more out of his game after a long career and he will struggle to stay with the World Number 2. Federer can take the first set with one break of serve and then wear down Youzhny for a double break in the second set to cover this number of games.

Samantha Stosur + 3.5 games v Lucie Safarova: Lucie Safarova has dominated the head to head with Sam Stosur and has shown she is in good form by reaching the Dubai Quarter Final last week. She might have gone a lot further if it wasn't for a poor umpire call at the end of the second set when it looked like Safarova may have been able to turn the screw to the extent of cracking Karolina Pliskova, but it was not to be.

There should be no issues of a lack of confidence and Safarova is going up against Samantha Stosur who has lost a lot of matches this season.

Last week saw the Australian dismissed by Caroline Wozniacki in three sets, but Stosur has a serve that should at least keep her competitive in this match. If Stosur is serving well, she will have a chance of at least taking a set, if not the match, and I think Safarova could be put under pressure by her.

However, Safarova has the mental edge over Stosur having won 9/12 previous matches, but the last two matches have been competitive, while Stosur snapped a 6 match losing run earlier this season in Sydney. This just looks a lot of games if Stosur can take at least a set and I will back her with the games in hand.

Daniela Hantuchova - 3.5 games v Magdalena Rybarikova: Winning a Title will have given Daniela Hantuchova a boost in confidence and her relatively early exit from Dubai should mean she has had enough time to get accustomed to the time change with another long journey to Mexico.

Hantuchova has moved from Thailand to Dubai to Mexico over the last three weeks, which can take a huge toll as anyone who does even limited travel will tell you and that is not including the physicality that these players have to put in on a tennis court. The added time should have given Hantuchova a chance to adjust for this tournament and she is playing an out of form Magdalena Rybarikova who has rarely been competitive, let alone winning matches.

There might only be a few places between these players when it comes to the Rankings, but Hantuchova has been displaying much better form and I do think she will be too good for Rybarikova in this First Round match.

The only concern with Hantuchova is some of her own erratic play that does give opponents a chance to get into matches, but I think she will come through this match 63, 64.

MY PICKS: Ernests Gulbis - 1.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 5.5 Games @ 2.17 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Samantha Stosur + 3.5 Games @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Daniela Hantuchova - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)

February 15-22 Daily Picks Final19-13, + 8.72 Units (64 Units Staked, + 13.63% Yield)

Season 2015+ 28.19 Units (265 Units Staked, + 10.64% Yield)

Season 2014+ 45.05 Units (1586.5 Units Staked, + 2.84% 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

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Weekend Football Picks 2015 (February 21-22)

There have been three major talking points from the football that has been played this week, even if one of them was not because of on-field issues.

The first was the Wayne Rooney 'dive' against Preston North End in the FA Cup Fifth Round tie at Deepdale on Monday night- when watching the game in live time, I was sure it was a penalty so I am not going to give the referee any grief for his decision. Even the replay from behind the referee looked like the goalkeeper had taken out Rooney so there is no problem with him pointing to the spot.

The controversy comes from the fact that another angle shows Rooney was clearly not touched and decided to kick the ground and fall over. It was an absolute 'dive' and forget all this rubbish about 'evading a tackle' because that action didn't make him leave his leg dangling and then kick the ground while flinging the arms in the air.

I said on Monday night that if that was Diego Costa, a player that really divides opinion and very easy to dislike because of his on-field demeanour. I don't think one of these 'experts' backing Rooney would have been doing the same. Of course the honest Englishman wouldn't do something like that, I mean ask Sol Campbell and the Arsenal players who saw their 49 game unbeaten run ended back in 2004.

Anyone who has watched Manchester United for more than two minutes will know that Rooney has a tendency to go down dramatically and then complain to the referee for twenty minutes if he hasn't been given a foul. This shouldn't even have been a debate as to whether he did it, but the incident took a on a life on it's own as if that was the sole reason Preston North End were beaten and the arguments on both sides were being made.

Again, if that is Diego Costa, there is not one 'expert' who backs him in that situation.

That story was quickly put aside when late on Tuesday evening a video made the rounds of Chelsea fans preventing a black Parisian from getting on a train and then chanting songs about being 'racist'. Now I know evolution hasn't helped the Neanderthals, but even they must have known in this modern day that someone is going to have a smart phone to film their idiocy, but then again that is why they are Neanderthals.

Having the video go viral has then provoked a huge reaction in the media, but none of the fingers want to be pointed at Chelsea- the same Chelsea fans who serenaded Anton Ferdinand with chants of 'you know what you are' at Stamford Bridge following the John Terry incident.

So while some comment that it is only a handful of idiots spoiling it for the rest, I would go back to that Terry situation and ask if the club backing their Captain, despite being charged for his comments made to Ferdinand, was actually giving out the correct message. It inspired virtually 30,000 people to feel it is right to chant 'you know what you are' to Anton Ferdinand and also boo Rio Ferdinand when Manchester United visited the Bridge.

Is it really that much of a surprise that an element of their support are like this? Not really when you consider a cross-section of society, which football fans cross, will have that element, but I just feel the condemnation from this club in particularly could have happened three years ago when Terry was kept on as Captain.

Chelsea could have said they believe Terry is remorseful but the leader of their team and essentially face of the club has to be mindful at all times and so they needed to make the change at Captain. Like I said, instead they have allowed the fans to chant ridiculous things at the Ferdinand brothers, whose biggest crime seems to be not accepting that Terry should be allowed to call someone a 'black c**t', but now they are ashamed that some of those fans have taken it to the next level.

Anyone who has played for Manchester City and Liverpool and regularly tweets negative things about Manchester United is not going to be someone I like. So I won't shed a tear for the new negative vibes surrounding Mario Balotelli, although I will say this story from Thursday when he took the penalty off of Jordan Henderson in the win over Besiktas has been blown out of proportion completely.

Steven Gerrard was unimpressed in his role as pundit for ITV, while Jamie Redknapp jumped on the bandwagon the following morning on Sky Sports. The only Scouser whose opinion I actually respect is Jamie Carragher and I think he was spot on in saying that Mario Balotelli was the right person to take the penalty of all the players on the pitch because the Italian is very calm under that pressure.

Of course he didn't go about the right way by grabbing the ball off the Captain for the evening, but I actually think this is a non-story and was probably a case of wires crossed. Balotelli is the penalty-taker after Steven Gerrard and I am assuming he didn't realise that someone had been picked ahead of him as he has known he will take the penalties if Gerrard is not on the pitch.

That was the situation and I don't think there will be any lingering issues once the air has been cleared, but Balotelli is one of those players that the media love to hammer regardless of what he does. He is an easy target for the way he carries himself and while he doesn't help himself at times, I think this one of those occasions where there is clearly a misunderstanding and he ultimately scored anyway!

The media love a good non-story and this is one of those that will not mean much for player or club going into a huge top four clash with Southampton this weekend.

Crystal Palace v Arsenal Pick: This is going to be a difficult test for Arsenal and their Champions League credentials, especially as their Last 16 tie in that competition against Monaco is to be played following this one. It is something of a surprise to me that Arsenal are a fair bit shorter than Liverpool were to win here in the FA Cup last weekend considering those other factors, and I certainly think Crystal Palace have the pace and power in the forward positions to ruffle their London rivals.

Defensively Arsenal have looked suspect and they get very nervy when they concede, while the atmosphere at Selhurst Park should be red-hot for this League game. The fans inspire the players to really dig deep and better composure in the final third would have seen Crystal Palace into the Sixth Round of the FA Cup at the expense of Liverpool.

They will need to show that composure this week if they are going to get something out of Arsenal, especially as the Gunners have shown their own teeth when going forward. Arsenal have scored in all but one of their last 13 away games in all competitions since losing 2-0 at Chelsea and they will enjoy some of the space that Crystal Palace have afforded teams as they have tired.

Both teams are unlikely to sit back and take a wait and see approach and this should be a game that provides goals as the FA Cup tie between Crystal Palace and Liverpool did last week. Picking a winner isn't as straight-forward as the odds may suggest either considering how well Crystal Palace played in the loss against Liverpool and instead I think backing goals at almost odds against looks a big price.

Swansea v Manchester United Pick: The performances remain nothing more than average, but Manchester United continue clawing and fighting their way to wins and avoiding losses in recent weeks, although the pressure is on the side to try and maintain their position in the Champions League places. A big March is coming up for Manchester United with League games against Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, but they can't take their eyes off the ball against a Swansea team that can make life difficult for anyone.

Losing Wilfried Bony has sapped Swansea of some of their threat, but they maintain possession and can work teams around, while I am of the belief that the 0-5 home loss to Chelsea was just a terrible day in the office. Assuming that to be the case, Swansea should give Manchester United a really difficult test through the afternoon at the Liberty Stadium even if the Swansea form has dropped off.

They are facing a Manchester United team that has struggled to turn draws into wins away from home and have rarely put in a full performance that will impress their Dutch manager. However, late goals are beginning to be a feature of the team again, which is always a good sign about character and belief, and Van Gaal can change his style of play if he needs to as he has shown in recent games.

This has all the hallmarks of a tight game between teams that have been well matched for the most part in recent games against one another. Swansea's possession style of football can work Manchester United about, while defensively the latter still look suspect.

On the other hand, this is a game I think Manchester United can get the ball down and play and they still have quality players in forward positions that have been clinical when the chances have come their way. They should be able to take advantage of the lack of confidence that Swansea have displayed, although it seems to take Manchester United a little while to get going.

They look a short price to win the game, even if I think this is the most likely outcome from the game on Saturday, so I have to look at other markets to see if there is a better option.

Did you know that 7 of Manchester United's last 8 Premier League away games has gone in level at the break? That becomes 10 in 11 if you include the FA Cup and the last 7 in a row.

That is when the Louis Van Gaal can implement some of the changes to make Manchester United more of a threat going forward and at 5.50, it looks a big price for the Draw at Half Time and Manchester United to earn the three points in the second half. All 3 away wins in the Premier League would have satisfied that criteria and might be the best way to back Manchester United to leave the Liberty Stadium with three huge points.

Manchester City v Newcastle United Pick: There has been something missing in the Manchester City performances over the last six weeks which has allowed Chelsea to get away in the Premier League title race, but the win at Stoke City could be something of a spark for the home team. They have to remain focused on this game and not start anticipating the big Champions League game against Barcelona coming up during the week, while the return of Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony from the African Cup of Nations is a huge boost for Manuel Pellegrini.

That is especially the case if Sergio Aguero has to miss this game with an injury suffered against Stoke City, although he has had ten days to recover from that. Manuel Pellegrini has to be urging Manchester City to start more along the lines of the way they did against Stoke City and not be lulled to sleep by a slow tempo game that they have sometimes been drawn into playing by teams.

Having Toure back in the middle of the field is huge for Manchester City as his driving runs can build the atmosphere in a Stadium where the fans can sometimes sit on their hands. He is also capable of producing a special goal and Manchester City should be on the front foot in this one, although they have to be careful about the pace Newcastle United will have on the counter-attack.

Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me- that is the mantra Pellegrini has to be aware of when it comes to the counter-attack as Newcastle United used it to devastating effect in their 0-2 win at the Etihad Stadium in the League Cup earlier this season. They had to ride their luck, which is understandable in this Stadium, but Newcastle United are almost certainly going to go with the same gameplan and hope it pays dividends again.

It is hard to imagine Manchester City falling into the trap again and they are well rested for this game. The win at Stoke City feels like a real turning point for the side and I think Manchester City can ride that momentum into this game.

The have dominated Newcastle United at home in recent seasons in the Premier League and I believe Manchester City might have turned a corner to the extent that they will win this game by at least two goals.

Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United Pick: It must have felt like a long week for West Ham United fans as they tried to find a justification for the way their side collapsed in the 4-0 loss at West Brom in the FA Cup Fifth Round. The side is almost left in purgatory in the middle of the Premier League with nothing else to look forward to, although the fans should be ready to visit White Hart Lane against a rival.

They have had a lot of successful times in recent visits to White Hart Lane and West Ham United may feel they can take advantage of Tottenham Hotspur being in action on Thursday evening. This game is an early kick off on Sunday morning so there isn't a lot of recovery time for the Tottenham Hotspur players, even if Mauricio Pochettino made some changes on Thursday to keep everyone ready.

It is important for Tottenham Hotspur to maintain the pace with the top four, especially as Southampton meet Liverpool this week, and they can't afford to drop points in this one. They have won their last 2 Premier League games off the back of Europa League matches and now face a West Ham United team that has to have had their confidence dented.

West Ham United did play well to get a point at Southampton recently, but the Saints have not been winning as many home games as Spurs and I do think Tottenham can win this game. They have match winners like Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen who can produce the goods in tight games and I am not sure what the West Ham players will be feeling over the coming weeks with pressure on their manager.

Sam Allardyce has done a really good job at Upton Park, but his situation is similar to Alan Pardew's was at Newcastle United in that the fans are never far away from turning their vitriol towards him. As much as Allardyce seems to have a thick skin about these things, it has to have an effect on him and his players.

The Hammers have a good recent record at White Hart Lane, but I think the home team make the odds on quote count in a narrow win. West Ham have just hit the buffers in terms of scoring goals away from home and have failed to do that in 3 of their last 4 Premier League away games and at West Brom last week so may just have a hard time containing Spurs in this one.

Everton v Leicester City Pick: A relegation six pointer is perhaps a bit of a harsh way to describe this game, but you can't ignore Everton's position in the Premier League table and the desperation that Leicester City have to earn a win that will at least bring them back in touch with the teams above them

The television cameras have come to Goodison Park in anticipation of a tension filled game, but both Everton and Leicester City may feel they can express themselves in this one. Everton had a vital win over Young Boys in the Europa League on Thursday night and they can use that to spark them to success in this one, although Leicester City will feel they deserve more points from recent games than they have earned.

Defensively they have made too many mistakes which have cost them at this level and Everton have the attacking players to expose any issues Leicester City have at the back. Romelu Lukaku silenced some of his critics with a hat-trick in Switzerland on Thursday and he looks the kind of player that can go on a streak of games scoring goals which is what Roberto Martinez will be hoping for.

The return of Phil Jagielka and John Stones has also given Everton a more solid platform to build upon and that has led to their side shoring up defensively. Everton have kept clean sheets in their last two home games and will believe Lukaku can ride his personal momentum to finding the winning goals for the side.

Too often this season Leicester City have conceded at least two goals away from home and that is a problem that has shown little sign of being rectified. They have posed problems for teams at the other end of the pitch, but failure to keep clean sheets has to be demoralising for the players and it is tough to see how Nigel Pearson gets that to change.

It does look like Pearson will be keeping his job as manager for the rest of the season, but Leicester City might face another defeat which is set to send them back to the Championship as the teams above them continue to earn the points that the Foxes aren't.

Southampton v Liverpool Pick: When it comes to handing out Champions League places to the top four teams in the Premier League, games like this should have had a huge bearing on which of these teams get involved in those important places. Both Southampton and Liverpool might be considered surprises at this stage of the season to be challenging for the top four places but for differing reasons.

Liverpool had such a horrific start to the season and looked down and out when it comes to Champions League football after losing 3-0 at Manchester United in December, but they have steadily rebuilt their season. On the other hand, Southampton weren't expected to be a challenger for Europa League places, let alone the Champions League, and people have been waiting for the bubble to burst for them.

To be honest, Southampton are in the midst of a bit of a slump in form and they might very easily be out of the top four by the time this final game of the Premier League weekend kicks off. That is going to be a mental blow for the Saints who have won just 1 of their last 4 games in all competitions and who have failed to win any of 4 at St Mary's since a 2-0 victory over Arsenal on New Year's Day.

They are now facing an in-form Liverpool team that has won 5 of their last 6 games in all competitions since going out of the Capital One Cup Semi Final. Liverpool had also won 3 straight away games in the Premier League before being held to a goalless draw in the Merseyside derby and the return of Daniel Sturridge to join the likes of Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho in the forward positions makes this team very dangerous.

It might be wrong, but Southampton and Liverpool do look like teams that are going in opposite directions at the moment. Ronald Koeman's men have found it hard to find the right balance in recent games at St Mary's and the pace of Liverpool in the forward positions has to frighten the Southampton back line. Liverpool were comfortable winners here last season and while I don't think it will be that simple, I think they can be given a small interest to really get into the top four mix.

MY PICKS: Crystal Palace-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.98 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Draw HT-Manchester United FT @ 5.50 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.87 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Tottenham Hotspur @ 1.83 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Everton @ 1.83 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Liverpool @ 3.20 Bet Victor (1 Unit)

February Update12-18-1, - 2.59 Units (50 Units Staked, - 5.18% Yield)

January Final10-22-1, - 10.54 Units (57 Units Staked, - 18.49% Yield)
December Final25-19-1, + 18.70 Units (81 Units Staked, + 23.09% Yield)
November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
October Final8-18, - 14.79 Units (47 Units Staked, - 31.47% Yield)
September Final12-18, - 2.28 Units (41 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/1580-120-2, - 29.42 Units (346 Units Staked, - 8.50% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Friday, 20 February 2015

Tennis Picks 2015 (February 20th)

The tournament being played in Dubai is a step ahead of the others as the Semi Finals will be played on Friday, while the rest of the events will be at the Quarter Final stage of their own tournaments.

Aside from one of the most brutal calls I have seen on a tennis court during this season, Thursday produced another strong number of winners which has pushed the week into a very healthy position. The key is to avoid patting myself on the back and instead focus on the matches that have been scheduled for Friday and hope to find the right choices again and keep this week going in the right direction.

Garbine Muguruza - 2.5 games v Karolina Pliskova: This feels like a breakthrough week for both of these young players as Garbine Muguruza and Karolina Pliskova can battle into the biggest Final of their careers to this point. Both have been in very good form having come from a set behind to win their Quarter Final matches and this one could potentially come down to which of the two deals with their nerves more effectively.

It is hard to actually predict how that will pan out, although both have shown tremendous resolve within matches when it seems the pressure is on them. Both Muguruza and Pliskova will look to dominate proceedings behind a solid serve.

Pliskova seems to be the quicker mover of the two from my own eye test, but I think Muguruza has the bigger groundstrokes and the better consistency when faced with heavier shots. The Spaniard has to make a faster start than she did in her win over Carla Suarez Navarro on Thursday when she went down a double break very early on, but doing that will make Muguruza the worthy favourite in my eyes.

It has also been two long weeks for Pliskova and I do wonder if that plays a part in this match too. I am very much leaning towards Muguruza in this one and I can see her coming through with a 62, 36, 64 kind of win in a tough Semi Final.

Sara Errani - 5.5 games v Beatriz Haddad Maia: Sara Errani has comfortably made her way through to the Quarter Final at the Rio Open and she has given one young Brazilian hope a bit of a lesson already here this week. I expect the Italian will have far too much 'know-how' for Beatriz Haddad Maia as the 18 year old's good run comes to an end.

To give Haddad Maia her due, she has dismissed her two challengers this week with consummate ease and has to be full of confidence ahead of this Quarter Final, but Errani is by far the toughest player she would have faced. This is a former French Open Runner Up and Errani will look to make Haddad Maia play a lot of balls and try and fine chinks in the armour of the inexperienced player.

Haddad Maia has also taken some heavy losses to open the 2015 season and Errani should have played her way into form at this stage. The serve remains a problem area for Errani, but she looks after it well enough by dragging opponents into the long rallies they don't really want to get sucked into.

Errani has been a comfortable winner in her first two matches and I think she will come through with a 64, 62 win once she gets a feel of what Haddad Maia can do on the court.

Simone Bolelli + 3.5 games v Gael Monfils: Yes, Gael Monfils is the more likely winner of this match, but I think Simone Bolelli has the ability to take a set and will definitely get close to winning the match outright in my opinion.

Bolelli has been playing some of his best tennis in recent months and the start of the 2015 season has gone the way he would have wanted. He was unfortunate to lose to Milos Raonic in straight sets last week in Rotterdam, but Gael Monfils is much more erratic than Raonic and Bolelli has already seen off the Canadian this week.

The Frenchman will be supported by his home crowd and Monfils does have a very good first serve, but he might just be worn down by the consistent hitting of Bolelli as long as the latter serves well. That is my biggest concern because Bolelli can throw in a sloppy couple of service games and if Monfils punishes him for them, he might get the confidence to win this one going away.

However, I think Monfils is also liable to producing a sloppy game or two on serve which will give Bolelli a chance to really get involved in this match, while tie-breakers are another factor and it all adds up to this amount of games given to the Italian looking too tempting to ignore.

Gilles Simon - 2.5 games v Jeremy Chardy: This is a repeat of a match played in Rotterdam last week as Gilles Simon improved to 3-0 against Jeremy Chardy and he has now won 7 sets in a row against his compatriot. Last week was a little strange with how well Simon served in the match and he has yet to replicate that, although he also has the style to extract errors from the Chardy game.

That was the difference last week as Chardy struggled behind his second serve as soon as the rallies developed and it is hard to see how much he could have changed in one week. Simon hasn't been at his best here in Marseille, but I think Chardy is perhaps over-rated a touch in this one thanks to a win over the out-of-form Ernests Gulbis in the Second Round on Thursday.

Simon has been showing the better form of the two players in 2015 and there is going to be a mental barrier for Chardy to try and break through in this one. I say he doesn't do that and Simon wins this one 64, 67, 63.

David Ferrer - 4.5 games v Juan Monaco: Juan Monaco actually leads the head to head against David Ferrer, although the last match between the two came at the end of the 2011 season and it is clear that Monaco has slipped in that time.

Both of these players love the clay courts and this should be a match that features long rallies and break point chances in both directions. However, I think Ferrer is the more solid player of the two, even if he is not as strong as he was eighteen months ago, and I believe the Spaniard will eventually wear down Monaco and come through to the Semi Final.

It is Monaco who has arguably looked the better player compared with Ferrer this week, but the way he allowed Jarkko Nieminen to almost sneak the second set in what should have been a routine win has to be a concern. There have been too many of these lapses from Monaco over the last twelve months and someone like Ferrer is not going to give up on any point that easily.

I was actually expecting this to be a 5.5 game spread, which I may not have wanted to be involved in, but the 4.5 game spread is good enough for me as Ferrer records a routine win on paper, 64 63.

Fabio Fognini - 3.5 games v Federico Delbonis: This might be a touch on the high side in terms of games being given up considering how erratic Fabio Fognini has the tendency to be, but he is one of the better clay court players on the Tour as long as his mind his focused. He seemed to be zoned in against Pablo Andujar in their Second Round match yesterday and I think Fognini can get the better of Federico Delbonis.

The Argentinian is very comfortable on the clay courts and has a decent first serve which can set up the short ball to put away, but Delbonis has had a difficult start to the new season. Delbonis did lose early in the Sao Paulo last week as the defending Champion, but last season he showed he needed a couple of weeks to find his range on the clay courts during this Golden Swing period.

However, Delbonis will need to be on his game from the very beginning in this one after dismissing Martin Klizan very easily on Thursday. Fabio Fognini is a different kettle of fish compared with Klizan in terms of ability on a clay court, although they have a similarity in terms of mentally checking out of matches at key times.

I would think Fognini is going to win the majority of the extended rallies and as long as he plays the big points effectively, I think he comes through this one 64, 64. Fognini will need to save a few break points on the way to this scoreline, but I think he has success against the Delbonis serve and moves into the Semi Final.

Yen-Hsun Lu v Adrian Mannarino: Yen-Hsun Lu beat Kevin Anderson very easily in the Second Round at Delray Beach and continues to prove himself as a very good hard court player. He was serving very well against Anderson, but the more impressive part of his game was the return of serve, although Adrian Mannarino's lefty serve might cause a few problems for Lu.

In saying that, Lu is 18-18 lifetime against left-handed players on the main Tour and Mannarino's serve is not exactly a huge weapon that will win him a lot of cheap points. Mannarino has been playing well this week, but his wins have come against players that aren't on the same level as Lu and I think the Frenchman struggles with the first big test asked of him.

Losses to Donald Young and Igor Sijsling over the last month are not exactly confidence inducing and I do think Mannarino is the wrong favourite in this one. I actually thought Lu would potentially be as low as 1.60 to win this game, so backing him as the underdog seems a no-brainer to me.

Lu hasn't exactly been pulling up trees in 2015, but wins over Sam Groth and Kevin Anderson place him in better form than Mannarino as far as I am concerned and I will back him to reach the Semi Final in Delray Beach.

MY PICKS: Garbine Muguruza - 2.5 Games @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Sara Errani - 5.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Simone Bolelli + 3.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet365 (2 Units)
Gilles Simon - 2.5 Games @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
David Ferrer - 4.5 Games @ 1.83 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Fabio Fognini - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Yen-Hsun Lu @ 2.00 Sporting Bet (2 Units)

February 15-22 Update: 17-9, + 13.56 Units (52 Units Staked, + 26.08% Yield)

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Tennis Picks 2015 (February 19th)

Wednesday proved to be a productive day for the picks with the tournament in Dubai providing a host of winners that has moved the week back into the positive after a very difficult start to this week. Sunday and Monday didn't go that well, but the last couple of days have been much better and hopefully I can finish this week with that trend helping me to another strong week to build on the season so far.

Lucie Safarova v Karolina Pliskova: These two players met in Antwerp last week and it was Karolina Pliskova who barely got through to the Semi Final, but I think this Quarter Final potentially goes the other way. The win for Pliskova will give her confidence to beat her compatriot for the second time in a week, but the conditions are different here and Safarova looks to be in very good nick.

If she had played the bigger points slightly better, Safarova would have beaten Pliskova last week and this match is very likely to come down a few points here and there. Safarova has played the big points very well in the last couple of matches and will look to take advantage of Pliskova who had to come through a really tough Third Round match against Ana Ivanovic.

Before this week, Pliskova had been playing the better tennis of the two this season, but she has to serve better than she did against Ivanovic if she is to win this one. It has to be noted as to how well Safarova has been serving in her wins over Casey Dellacqua and Venus Williams and the serve could be the difference maker in earning one or two cheaper points that helps Safarova come through.

This match possibly needs three sets to separate them, but I think Safarova gets a measure of revenge over Pliskova and moves into the Semi Final on Friday.

Garbine Muguruza - 3.5 games v Carla Suarez Navarro: Garbine Muguruza meets her friend and Doubles partner Carla Suarez Navarro in this Quarter Final and it is still funny to me that Muguruza is over ten places lower in the World Rankings. This has been a good week that should help the younger Spaniard move into the top 20 and perhaps a lot higher, but that means she has to put her friendship with Suarez Navarro aside in this Quarter Final.

They have never met on the Tour before so this is going to be a match which could be decided by which of the players can settle and avoid thinking too much about who they are going up against.

Suarez Navarro has been in very good form of late, but Muguruza is going to know all about her game and should be comfortable on the court. There is definitely a lot more upside in the Muguruza game and I think she has the power to overwhelm her opponent as long as she stays in the moment and doesn't worry too much about her friend.

There will be a lot of respect for each other on the court, but Suarez Navarro is in the second of two long weeks playing tennis and I think Muguruza wears her down and comes through with a 75, 63 win.

Ekaterina Makarova + 3.5 games v Simona Halep: Simona Halep spoke about the pressure she has been feeling as she represented Romania in the Fed Cup and the new heights she has reached on the tennis court. Halep has also been struggling with some kind of illness, but she has come through the first couple of matches fairly comfortably although not coming up against an opponent as good as Ekaterina Makarova.

The Russian made harder work of Zarina Diyas in the Third Round than she perhaps should have done, but Makarova has still come through both opening matches in straight sets and has to take a lot of confidence from her destructive win over Halep at the Australian Open.

Halep wasn't herself that day, but she has doubts in her mind at the moment while Makarova seems to be very focused and very calm on the court. She has every chance of taking at least a set in this one and will have opportunities to win this match which still makes this amount of games being given to her look on the high side.

As long as Makarova finds more quality out of her serve, I do think she stays within this number.

Jeremy Chardy v Ernests Gulbis: This has been a difficult few months for Ernests Gulbis ever since he reached the Semi Final at the French Open and the change in the year hasn't made a difference to his play. The Latvian has lost all of the matches he has played in 2015 and he looks a vulnerable favourite against Jeremy Chardy.

Gulbis has won 3 of the 4 previous matches against Chardy and the Frenchman hasn't been in great form himself, but playing in front of his own fans should inspire him. Chardy also has a decent serve and plays consistent enough tennis to force Gulbis to win this match and shattered confidence could make it difficult for him to do so.

The Frenchman has to hang with Gulbis early on and try to make the demons enter the Latvian's head in this one. Knowing he has yet to win a match in 2015, Chardy must make Gulbis play a lot of balls and see the mistakes come off the racquet, which should give him a chance to win the match.

This might end up three sets, but Chardy at odds against looks a big price considering how many matches Gulbis has lost in recent months.

Pablo Cuevas - 4.5 games v Albert Montanes: Albert Montanes is a experienced veteran on the clay courts who will give Pablo Cuevas a few things to think about, although I still believe the latter will have too much in the locker for him. Cuevas won the title last week in Sao Paulo and had an impressive win over Nicolas Almagro earlier this week and his confidence has to be in a good position to take advantage of Montanes.

The clay courts are predominantly where Montanes plys his trade these days, and he definitely has enough experience to make this difficult for Cuevas. However, his serve is not the best and Cuevas could have the chance to dictate a lot of the play and back up his win from last week.

There will be breaks both ways in the match, but I think Cuevas is a level above Montanes at this stage of their career and I like the Uruguayan to come through 63, 64 at a big price.

Fabio Fognini - 2.5 games v Pablo Andujar: Fabio Fognini has won all four previous matches against Pablo Andujar including last season in Buenos Aires and I think the Italian is worth backing in this one. He disappointed me last week with an inexplicable collapse against Santiago Giraldo when it looked like the Italian was the better player, but I still think Fognini can cover this small amount of games on Thursday.

Fognini had to dig very deep to come through his First Round match and he had a few issues to get through in that win over Jiri Vesely, but winning that match might give him the chance to kick on and pick up some vital Ranking points. Pablo Andujar also had to come through in three sets against Paolo Lorenzi in the First Round, which ended a run of losses in the new season, but this is the kind of match that can see Fognini outwork his opponent.

It hasn't exactly been a positive start to the season for Fognini either, but he has been decent enough on the clay courts over the last couple of seasons to believe he can get the better of Andujar. The head to head has to play in the Spaniard's mind in this one and it is going to be a long drawn out match that Fognini should eventually come through with a 63, 46, 64 win.

MY PICKS: Lucie Safarova @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Garbine Muguruza - 3.5 Games @ 1.73 Bet365 (2 Units)
Ekaterina Makarova + 3.5 Games @ 1.92 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Jeremy Chardy @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Pablo Cuevas - 4.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Fabio Fognini - 2.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)

February 15-22 Update: 12-8, + 6.02 Units (40 Units Staked, + 15.05% Yield)

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Tennis Picks 2015 (February 18th)

Ekaterina Makarova - 4.5 games v Zarina Diyas: These two players met six months ago at the US Open and Ekaterina Makarova dismissed Zarina Diyas without too much drama in that one with the heavier groundstrokes coming from the Russian.

Makarova looks far more comfortable as a Singles player compared with a couple of years ago as she become used to being one of the faces on the Tour with some real success at the Australian and US Opens over the last couple of years. The lefty serve will always pose problems for her opponents and Makarova is playing with the confidence that will give her the edge in this one.

At the Australian Open earlier this season, Makarova was dominating opponents before running into Maria Sharapova and she won her first match in Dubai comfortably. Zarina Diyas has taken advantage of a kind draw in the first two Rounds here, but she hasn't made the best of starts to the 2015 season and has also struggled when playing the very best players on the Tour.

Diyas has moved up to 33 in the World Rankings thanks to her consistency, but that hasn't involved beating players in the top 10 and I think Makarova is a solid enough 64, 63 winner in this match.

Garbine Muguruza v Agnieszka Radwanska: I don't think I am the only person that is going to be tipping Garbine Muguruza as a potential World Number 1 and multi-Grand Slam winner in the future as she continues producing solid results on the Tour. Muguruza has all the tools in her locker to be a top player and I am looking for her to make a significant leap up the World Rankings and perhaps end the year as top 10 player.

She has already beaten Agnieszka Radwanska once this season after surviving a second set tie-breaker in Sydney, while the Spaniard could have another edge in terms of Radwanska trying to recover from an illness that will have sapped some of her energy.

This would have been a tough match for Radwanska anyway considering the lack of form in recent weeks and how well Muguruza has been playing but the illness factor definitely shifts the edge in favour of Muguruza.

It might need three sets to get the job done, but I like Garbine Muguruza to move through to the Quarter Finals.

Lucie Safarova + 3.5 games v Venus Williams: It is something of a risk to back Lucie Safarova even in receipt of this many games considering how hard she had to work to see off Casey Dellacqua on Tuesday. If fatigue plays a part, Safarova won't be able to do much against the in-form Venus Williams who is also the defending Champion in Dubai after surprisingly winning the title twelve months ago.

The form that Williams produced at the Australian Open last month suggests she could be a factor at the highest level again this season and she has a 4-1 head to head record over Safarova. However, it was the Czech player who won their most recent match and she has also pushed Serena Williams in matches over the last twelve months.

Safarova has a decent serve that can set up the cheaper points and the lefty game can cause problems for Venus Williams whose backhand can be exposed for errors. However, Williams serving well would make her a big favourite to move through to the Quarter Final and she does hold the slight edge for me.

My reason I want to back Safarova is that she has the kind of game where she can make this competitive throughout and perhaps even take a set which will make the number of games given look very high. She has shown she is not intimidated by taking on Serena Williams and snapped a four match losing run to Venus by beating her in Cincinnati last summer. That confidence could help her overcome some fatigue from Tuesday and keep this close.

Karolina Pliskova + 3.5 games v Ana Ivanovic: Karolina Pliskova stunned Ana Ivanovic at the US Open last summer, but she will once again be the underdog when they meet in Dubai. However, the layers believe this will be much closer than they thought nine months ago, although I still believe Pliskova is being given too many games on the spread.

Ana Ivanovic destroyed Sabine Lisicki on Tuesday, but was aided by a poor performance from the German and I think the two wins that Pliskova has recorded this week are far more impressive. I also think Pliskova has the more consistent serve of the two players and won't hand out a host of Double Faults as Ivanovic can be guilty of at times.

Both players will have their chances to break serve I am sure, but Pliskova has the ability to take at least a set in this one if not win the match outright. She has been in great form to open the 2015 season with the one exception being that head-scratching loss to Carla Suarez Navarro last week in Antwerp.

I expect she will give Ivanovic a lot more to think about than Lisicki did on Tuesday and this has all the makings of a match decided by a game or two in either direction.

Jerzy Janowicz + 2.5 games v David Goffin: Jerzy Janowicz reached the Final of the tournament in Montpellier, but he had to withdraw after just three games because of an illness. He should have had enough time to get ready for this tournament in Marseille and I expect he can give David Goffin a tough First Round match.

Goffin was one of the stars of the Challenger circuit during the middle of the 2014 season which gave him a lot of confidence that he did bring onto the main Tour, but the start of 2015 has been difficult for him. There is more expectation on the Belgian player and that might be putting more pressure on him to perform and resulted in some disappointing results so far this season.

He will have a tough time dealing with the Janowicz serve if the Polish player is on his game and Goffin recently was beaten by Gilles Muller on the indoor hard courts and this match may have a similar feel. I can see tie-breakers being required to separate the players, although Janowicz is also capable of putting together a string of winners off the Goffin serve to earn a break or two during the match.

That might actually give the Pole the chance to win this match outright and I think this might be a generous amount of games for Janowicz to take.

Jan-Lennard Struff v Sergiy Stakhovsky: Jan-Lennard Struff has suffered some disappointing losses in the 2015 season as he looks to become a regular feature on the main Tour, but a return to Marseille where he reached the Semi Final in 2014 might be exactly what the doctor ordered. Struff beat Nicolas Mahut in a tight match on Tuesday and will be looking to back that up in this Second Round match against Sergiy Stakhovsky.

Over the last eighteen months, Struff has won all 4 matches played against Stakhovsky and that has to give the German added confidence that he can move into the Quarter Final and earn some vital World Ranking points. To be fair to Stakhovsky though, he has been in decent nick over the last couple of weeks and has the confidence to snap his losing run against Struff, although I do think the indoor hard courts should favour the latter.

Struff has a winning record on the indoor hard courts thanks to his run to the Semi Finals here last season and being in these surroundings should bring back good memories. He has to play the big points as well as he did in the win over Nicolas Mahut and also continue serving at a very high level.

If he can do that, Struff should find chances against the Stakhovsky serve and he looks a live underdog in this one. With the head to head record being as strong as it is over the last eighteen months, I think Struff could win this one as the underdog.

Juan Monaco - 3.5 games v Jarkko Nieminen: Juan Monaco is definitely not the player he was a couple of years ago when his ability on the clay courts made him very capable of seeing off the likes of Jarkko Nieminen on this surface. However, Monaco has still got the better of the Finn in both previous matches on the clay, including last year in Austria and I think he has the experience to not let Nieminen off the hook if he does take control of the match.

That is essentially what Marco Cecchinato did in the last Round after taking the first set before nerves got the better of a player that hasn't won a lot of matches on the main Tour. The performance of Nieminen would be a concern against an experienced clay courter like Monaco, although the Argentinian does produce a lot more duff performances these days than he used to.

There should be a lot of rallies in this one as neither player has a serve that will intimidate the other and it is going to be a hard grind for the winner. I do think Monaco is the better clay court player, and I think Nieminen perhaps escaped the First Round thanks to nerves of his opponent rather than anything he was able to put together.

Assuming Monaco doesn't feel those same nerves, I believe he can win enough of the rallies and take more break point chances than Nieminen and move through to the Quarter Finals with a 64, 64 win under his belt.

Joao Souza - 2.5 games v Blaz Rola: I was hit by a Joao Souza hurricane last week with a number of picks going the wrong way against the Brazilian, although I maintain he was fortunate to be in the position he was to win at least two of the matches he did. It would have been a real disappointment that he lost the Semi Final to Luka Vanni in Sao Paulo, but it is credit to Souza that he hasn't allowed a hangover to set in with a hugely impressive First Round win over Facundo Arguello.

That came against a player that had got the better of Souza on more than one occasion so I don't imagine the Brazilian will be even thinking about losing his one previous match against Blaz Rola.

Rola had failed to win a match on the main Tour in three previous attempts this season, but was on the right end of a Leonardo Mayer retirement in the First Round. He is going to have to deal with a loud crowd in the night session in Rio de Janeiro in this Second Round match and Souza is in the form of his life which could potentially see him surpass his career high of 84 in the World Rankings.

There is every chance Souza needs three sets to get this done, but he has shown his capability to do that last week in Sao Paulo and I believe he can ride his momentum to a 64, 46, 63 win.

Yen-Hsun Lu + 3.5 games v Kevin Anderson: One of the more under-rated players on the American hard courts is Yen-Hsun Lu who seemingly is involved in every ATP 250/ATP 500 event on the North American hard courts from a week to week basis. He might even be a familiar name to some of the more casual tennis fans having beaten the likes of Andy Roddick in Grand Slam events in the past.

I am not surprised that Lu is the underdog in his match with the Number 1 Seed in Delray Beach, Kevin Anderson, but this could still be a lot of games to give someone who has won at least a set on the two occasions he has faced the big-serving South African.

Anderson is more than just a big serve though and he is capable of playing some good tennis from the back of the court, but Lu is the same and also has an under-rated serve that can see him pick up short balls and get through games relatively unscathed. Lu should also be in a good place mentally after seeing off Sam Groth, another monster server, in the First Round and that should keep him focused in this match when Anderson is rolling off quick service games.

Ultimately I like this number of games because I feel Lu can at least force a tie-break or two and has every chance of stealing a set at least. He did that when these players met here two years ago in an losing effort against Anderson and I will back Lu with the 0.5 hook on 3 games looking like it should be enough to perhaps see a cover, if not an outright win.

MY PICKS: Ekaterina Makarova - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Garbine Muguruza @ 1.92 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Lucie Safarova + 3.5 Games @ 2.25 Bet365 (2 Units)
Karolina Pliskova + 3.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet365 (2 Units)
Jerzy Janowicz + 2.5 Games @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)
Jan-Lennard Struff @ 2.20 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Juan Monaco - 3.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Joao Souza - 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Yen-Hsun Lu + 3.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet365 (2 Units)

February 15-23 Update: 5-6, - 3.44 Units (22 Units Staked, - 15.64% Yield)