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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)

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