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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Miami Tennis Picks 2015 (March 31st)

Monday was something of a frustrating day with at least two picks that ended up being losers having a huge chance to win before they ultimately failed. The Jerzy Janowicz pick looked a poor one from the beginning of the match, but Milos Raonic and Flavia Pennetta should never have failed to cover.

Raonic won the first set 61 and was then up 54 in the second and serving for the match but somehow lost three games in a row and was then ultimately successful in a third set tie-break to miss the cover.

Flavia Pennetta had a 52 lead in the second set, one which would have made the 4.5 game head-start look too much for Simona Halep to overcome if she had won it, but lost five games in a row in a 63, 75 defeat.

The only positive was that the picks were not bad ones like the Janowicz pick and they both got into a position to win and that is much better than having no chance like the other losing pick on he day did.

Tomas Berdych - 3.5 games v Gael Monfils: Tomas Berdych is very fortunate to still be involved in the Miami Masters after just about seeing off Bernard Tomic in the Third Round and I expect him to ride that momentum through Gael Monfils in the Fourth Round.

It hasn't been the best tournament so far for Berdych as he has been sloppy in his first two matches, but there is room for improvement and he does match up fairly well against Gael Monfils. The latter hasn't played a lot of tennis of late, but the Frenchman has a couple of decent wins under his belt in the tournament so far, although this is another step up in competition than what he has faced.

Both players have a decent serve that should set up points, but I think Berdych is the more consistent player off the ground and is allowed to dictate the rallies by Monfils. We all know that Monfils will look to his athleticism to see him through, but he can't expect Berdych to make a lot of misses and ultimately that is the reason he has lost 4 of 5 matches against this opponent.

Monfils has arguably been playing better than Berdych this past week, but I think the latter is the better player and can work out some of his own issues in a 63, 76 win.

Fernando Verdasco - 2.5 games v Juan Monaco: How will Fernando Verdasco respond to beating Rafael Nadal in an emotional Third Round match? The last time he did this was at the Madrid Masters in 2012 which was the first time he had beaten Nadal and Verdasco was beaten 61, 62 in the next Round of that tournament.

It is difficult to raise your level again after the emotional high of a victory of the magnitude that Verdasco had over Nadal in the last Round, but it would be a huge surprise if Juan Monaco was to handily defeat the Spaniard.

This has already been a strong tournament for Monaco who barely survived in the First Round, but I do think Verdasco is the stronger hard court player. The Monaco serve will give Verdasco chances to break serve, but Monaco will feel he can win a lot of the points that see the rallies extended and so it will be a tough battle that could potentially go three sets.

However, I think Verdasco's power will prove to be the difference in a 63, 46, 64 win and a place in the Quarter Finals.

David Ferrer - 3.5 games v Gilles Simon: If you like long, tough rallies when you watch your tennis, this is the kind of Fourth Round match that should be right up your street.

Both David Ferrer and Gilles Simon rely on their ability to get a lot of balls back in play to grind down opponents and neither has a serve that will intimidate the other so you can expect to see a lot of break points both ways.

It has been a good 2015 for both players to this point of the season as both have added titles and been in good form. Neither was that effective in Indian Wells last week, but I think there is slightly more to like about Ferrer in this one.

The Spaniard is slightly stronger physically than Simon and I think his forehand is the biggest shot off the ground in this contest. While Simon will have his success too, I think this will come down to what Ferrer produces and he has played well enough over the past week to think he can come through 63, 75.

Kei Nishikori - 4.5 games v David Goffin: Kei Nishikori was very happy with his performance against Victor Troicki on Monday as he dismissed the challenge of the Serb very easily and I think he will be a little too good for David Goffin too.

Goffin is a player that showed how good he can be during the summer months of 2014 but he has been a little inconsistent in the start of this season and even his run here in Miami, but Nishikori presents another level up in terms of competition.

Before this tournament, Goffin has been having a more difficult time and I think Nishikori is going to expose any doubts that may still be lingering in the Belgian player's mind by getting a lot of balls back in play. Nishikori can also turn defence into attack very quickly and his speed around the court will force Goffin to go for a little more than he perhaps would like.

It could be a fun match to watch, but one I believe Nishikori comes through with a 63, 64 win.

Karolina Pliskova v Andrea Petkovic: Both of these players are very solid and will give each other plenty to think about as they face one another, but I think Karolina Pliskova has a little more about her game which will give her the edge in the Quarter Final.

The serve is a definite strength of Pliskova and I think that will set her up to hold more often than Petkovic which basically is what the match could boil down to.

The German is very good off the ground with plenty of consistency, but Pliskova has the heavier shots and that might force Petkovic backwards.

The layers haven't been able to separate these players easily, but Pliskova is the favourite and I believe she will confirm that is the correct decision by coming through this one.

Venus Williams - 2.5 games v Carla Suarez Navarro: I've spoken about my respect for Carla Suarez Navarro and the form she has produced on the tennis court over the last eighteen months and her three wins in Miami have been very good.

The Spaniard has become a regular name in the Quarter Finals, Semi Finals and Finals of tournaments through 2015, but I think she does hit the wall a little bit at this level and Venus Williams has been playing very well. Aside from her choke in the second set against Sam Stosur, Venus Williams has been very good this week too and I think she has a little more about her game which gives her the edge in this match.

Williams has to be at her best though as shown by the fact that four previous matches between these players have been split two apiece and the American has lost at least a set in three of those matches.

If Williams serves well, I think it will be tough for Suarez Navarro whose own serve continues to be the weakness that prevents her from really going all the way in tournaments. The key for the Spaniard will be to get into prolonged backhand to backhand exchanges, but Williams can get up to the net and has the power to perhaps overwhelm Suarez Navarro in a 63, 57, 64 win.

MY PICKS: Tomas Berdych - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Fernando Verdasco - 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
David Ferrer - 3.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Kei Nishikori - 4.5 Games @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Karolina Pliskova @ 1.73 Coral (2 Units)
Venus Williams - 2.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Miami Update: 20-13, + 10.26 Units (66 Units Staked, + 15.55% Yield)

Monday, 30 March 2015

Miami Tennis Picks 2015 (March 30th)

It was a late night for me watching WrestleMania 31 so I haven't had a lot of time to write a deep post for the Miami tennis picks on Monday. The tournament is moving on rapidly as we begin to get to the business end of the event and the move to the clay courts is fast approaching.

For today I am going to just put up the picks from the matches to be played and I will back to usual for the Tuesday matches.

MY PICKS: Jerzy Janowicz + 2.5 Games @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Milos Raonic - 4.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)
Karolina Pliskova - 3.5 Games @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Sabine Lisicki - 2.5 Games @ 1.92 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Flavia Pennetta + 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

Miami Update: 18-10, + 12.92 Units (56 Units Staked, + 23.07% Yield)

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Miami Tennis Picks 2015 (March 29th)

It was an extremely busy day in Miami at Crandon Park on Saturday and one in which the tournament organisers have to be very happy about getting through with all of the matches on the order of play being completed.

The big names all managed to get through their matches, although Novak Djokovic needed three sets to see off Martin Klizan in his first match here. Other players like Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams also progressed and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga made a good return to the Tour with a three set win in his first match of 2015.

The second week of the tournament will be interesting as players look to make a final deep run on the hard courts before the four month break from tournaments on this surface. The clay court season will begin in eight days time and the run up to the second Grand Slam of the season will take over the thoughts of fans and players over the coming two months.

I love the clay court season, but have to admit that I am very much enjoying the tournament in Miami so far with plenty of winners coming in after the disappointment of Indian Wells. Things can quickly change with a week of tennis still to be played at Crandon Park, but the first few days have been highly effective and I hope that the form can continue.

On Sunday the Masters event moves onto the Third Round and the Premier Event will complete that Round and there is plenty of tennis on the order of play for the day. I was baffled by the decision to have the Juan Monaco-Guillermo Garcia-Lopez match as the second match in the evening session rather than the Santiago Giraldo-Andy Murray or Fernando Verdasco-Rafael Nadal contests which both would surely be more appealing to the fans buying evening session tickets.

I know there is a big Latin community in this part of the world that will get very much behind the South American Monaco, but they have an affiliation with the Spanish too and seeing a Verdasco-Nadal match would have produced a huge atmosphere too.

The two matches I suggested would have gotten the fans very much excited to see two big names against two players they could get behind, but it is the surprising choice of match that will be given the full exposure.

Jack Sock - 2.5 games v Dominic Thiem: This is perhaps not the Third Round match that most would have expected to see at the Miami Masters, but it is not a surprise to me that Jack Sock has been set as the favourite.

As much potential as Dominic Thiem has shown, he is still very inconsistent and Jack Sock has played well in his first two tournaments returning to the Tour following an injury lay-off. The backhand is still a big weakness for the American and could be an area that Thiem really prospers, but I think Sock has the more consistent serve and can pick up 'cheaper' points during the match.

Some of the defeats Thiem has suffered over the last few weeks have been disappointing too, although the two wins he has picked up this week have been solid, especially the three set win over Feliciano Lopez.

However, Sock has also been impressive and I think he will have too much for Thiem at this moment and on this surface and I will back him to win this one 76, 64.

Tomas Berdych - 4.5 games v Bernard Tomic: Tomas Berdych has gotten the better of Bernard Tomic in previous meetings and even though the latter has improved on the Tour, I think he has a couple of injury issues that might need to be looked after following the end of his stay in Miami.

Tomic pulled out of Indian Wells thanks to his infected wisdom tooth swelling up one side of his face and also has a few problems with his back and he will need to put both of these ailments to the back of his mind if he is to secure the upset.

The Second Round match that Tomas Berdych played against a young potential star in Hyeon Chung was more difficult for the top ten player than he might have expected, but he still battled through. There was probably some uncertainty as to how Chung would play which didn't help Berdych, but he will be fully aware what Tomic is going to bring to the court.

As I have said, Tomic looks improved as he is being pushed by two younger Australian men that are picking up plenty of positive press, but if he is not quite at the top of his game, I would expect Berdych to come through 63. 64.

Juan Monaco v Guillermo Garcia-Lopez: The last match scheduled for the Sunday order of play in Miami is between Juan Monaco and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and I am certain both players see this as a great chance to reach the Fourth Round of a Masters event.

I'd expect both players will be looking forward to the clay court season which begins next week, and both could find themselves in the Seeding at the French Open at the end of May if they can maintain their form.

Garcia-Lopez is a solid player that doesn't do anything spectacularly, but is fairly consistent across the board with the biggest weakness being the serve. That aspect of tennis is not a strength for Monaco either so I am expecting a lot of rallies and long points between these two who are very familiar with one another having met 11 times previously on the Tour.

The stronger form has been coming from Monaco in recent weeks and I think he can outlast Garcia-Lopez in a competitive match. The Argentine will have to stay focused if he is going to do that having suffered a couple of lapses in concentration in a couple of matches over the last few weeks including in his First Round win over Ruben Bemelmans, but I like Monaco to come through in three sets.

Svetlana Kuznetsova v Angelique Kerber: Angelique Kerber got the better of Svetlana Kuznetsova when they met in Dubai last month, but I am looking for the veteran Russian to overturn that result and move into the Fourth Round in Miami on Sunday.

There is little doubt to me that Kerber's confidence can't be in a great place having suffered a lot of losses in 2015 and that has seen her slip down to Number 15 in the World Rankings. She has been inconsistent and lost some surprising matches during the first three months of the year.

However, it has to be noted that Kuznetsova is also very inconsistent these days as she tries to play at the level that led her to Grand Slam titles. There are times she gets back to that level, but you can also see the frustration when things don't go exactly to plan which makes this a closer match than some may perhaps think.

Kuznetsova has to try and limit the unforced errors that blighted her in her defeat to Sloane Stephens in Indian Wells, but she has at least won a few more matches than Kerber which could be a key to this match. The confidence in the clutch moments might help the Russian come through, although it could take three sets to separate these players.

Garbine Muguruza - 4.5 games v Sara Errani: I am clearly a big fan of Garbine Muguruza and am just waiting for her to win a really big title and that means looking for the Spaniard to show a little more consistency in her performances. She has all the tools to reach the very pinnacle of women's tennis and I expect Muguruza to get a lot of support from the Miami crowd.

Facing Sara Errani is never easy with the Italian capable of getting a lot of balls back in play that can frustrate opponents and extract errors as players try to hit closer and closer to the lines. However, Muguruza has the power to overwhelm Errani in this match and has shown that off the last two times these players have met on the Tour with two convincing wins.

While Errani has won a title in Rio De Janeiro this season, it does feel she is on the way down the mountain after hitting a peak in her performances around eighteen months ago. The courts are not the quickest in Miami which will give the Italian a chance, but Muguruza should be too strong and too good for her.

There is every chance that Muguruza wins a very lop-sided set which gives her the chance to cover this number even if the match was go into a third set and I do like the Spanish player to move into the Fourth Round with a 61, 46, 63 win under her belt.

Johanna Larsson + 4.5 games v Sloane Stephens: Sloane Stephens might have turned a corner in her season over the last month with a decent run in Indian Wells followed by a couple of strong wins in Miami. She is a big favourite to beat Johanna Larsson, but I expect the latter to at least offer a challenge to the young American in this Third Round match.

Larsson put together a very impressive win over Lucie Safarova in the Second Round and she has a decent kicker of a serve that could give Stephens a few things to think about. The Swede also crushed Stephens when they met in Acapulco last month and also stunned her at the US Open last season so Larsson won't be intimidated about this match.

Of course much will still depend on Stephens and how she approaches this match- if she finds the right balance between aggression and defence and also cuts out the silly mistakes she is liable to make, I would think she can beat Larsson for the first time. Stephens' two wins this week have been impressively one-sided, but I think Larsson gives her the biggest challenge so far and I can definitely see the lower Ranked player taking a set in the match.

With this amount of games being given to Larsson, I think taking a set might be enough to help Larsson at least cover even in a losing effort and I will back her to do so.

Ana Ivanovic - 3.5 games v Sabine Lisicki: She might be Number 6 in the World Rankings and one of the players that fans love the most on the WTA Tour, but I still think Ana Ivanovic might be looking at her 2015 season so far with some disappointment. No titles won and an early exit at the Australian Open and Indian Wells, the two biggest tournaments played so far, is not what was expected of Ivanovic coming into the new season.

You don't get many 'easy' matches at these type of events, but Ivanovic does match up well against Sabine Lisicki and could take advantage of the German who had a long ten days at Indian Wells last week. That run was something of a surprise considering the poor form that Lisicki has displayed in 2015 and might be the confidence boost that she needs to take going forward.

However there could be some physical issues having come through a long Second Round match and Lisicki will be faced with plenty of power coming from the other side of the court which does give her some problems.

Losing a tight first set to Ana Ivanovic might take away some of the belief that Lisicki has in beating the Serb and I would then expect Ivanovic to come through 75, 63.

MY PICKS: Jack Sock - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Tomas Berdych - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Juan Monaco @ 1.80 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Svetlana Kuznetsova @ 1.80 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Garbine Muguruza - 4.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Johanna Larsson + 4.5 Games @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Ana Ivanovic - 3.5 Games @ 1.83 Sporting Bet (2 Units)

Miami Update: 14-7, + 12.06 Units (42 Units Staked, + 28.71% Yield)

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Miami Tennis Picks 2015 (March 28th)

The early matches managed to get through Miami, after a slight rain delay, but a lot of the later ones were unfortunately cancelled as the rain returned to Crandon Park. The next few days should be a lot better when it comes to the weather, but it also means Saturday is a packed schedule as the tournament looks to get back on track.

Victor Troicki v Simone Bolelli: After his long ban from the Tour, Victor Troicki made it very clear that his ambition was to try and get back into the top ten of the World Rankings, but he has hit a slight block on that path. Returning to within the top 40 is still very impressive, but Troicki needs to kick on again if he is to continue to move onwards and upwards.

Some disappointing losses over the last month of the season has curtailed his progress, but I am still surprised to see him set as the underdog in this match against Simone Bolelli. The Italian wasn't banned from the Tour, but had a serious loss of form that saw him taking part in a lot of Challenger events to rebuild confidence.

Bolelli has seemingly done that and could soon find himself overturning Troicki in the World Rankings and form guide is very similar between these two players. One aspect that might have made Bolelli the favourite here is his impressive First Round win over Marcos Baghdatis as well as Troicki's surprising early loss at Indian Wells, but I am not completely buying that.

They did play a close match in Sydney earlier this season and this is likely to be one that could go the distance too. However, I am not convinced Troicki should be the dog and will back him to win.

Jeremy Chardy - 2.5 games v Jurgen Melzer: Jeremy Chardy has not been in the best of form over the last month, but I still think the Frenchman should be too good for the veteran Jurgen Melzer who is seemingly slipping down the Rankings.

You have to respect how Melzer has played over the last couple of tournaments after qualifying for the tournament in Indian Wells and earning a strong looking win over Ryan Harrison in the First Round here. However, Melzer hasn't been producing that kind of level on a consistent basis and there is not the same bite on the serve nor the same athletic ability to get to the net to finish points off as a few seasons ago.

In saying that, Chardy will have to play a lot better than he has recently and all the losses he has suffered does have an impact on the Tour. His early defeat in Irving in a Challenger event last week would have been another disappointment and he could be vulnerable early in Miami too.

I still think he has more upside than Melzer these days and I believe Chardy can battle through to a 76, 64 win as long as he stays with the Austrian in the first set.

Grigor Dimitrov - 2.5 games v Vasek Pospisil: Vasek Pospisil had to dig deep to beat Juan Martin Del Potro in the First Round and he will have to raise his level if he is going to beat Grigor Dimitrov even if the latter has struggled in recent weeks.

Since the Australian Open, Dimitrov has been beaten by Gilles Muller, Ryan Harrison and Tommy Robredo and none of those players should really be capable of doing that against the Bulgarian who is on the brink of getting back into the top ten of the World Rankings. I can't put my finger on what is wrong with Dimitrov because a lot of his problems seem to come from complacency on the court or not being ruthless enough to put away opponents when they are on the ropes.

That's strange to say about someone who has played in Grand Slam Semi Finals, but I think Dimitrov can do enough to beat Pospisil in this one. As good as the Canadian's serve can be, I would expect Dimitrov to get enough balls back into play and I'd expect him to be the better player off the ground quite considerably.

Dimitrov has to serve better than he has to keep the pressure off himself, and I don't think he is far away from having a really strong tournament. Stay focused and Dimitrov should come through with a 76, 64 win against an opponent who has been beaten fairly comfortably by all the top 20 players he has played this season.

Alize Cornet + 3.5 games v Carla Suarez Navarro: One of the most improved players on the WTA Tour is Carla Suarez Navarro who is very close to breaking into the top ten in the World Rankings. I will openly tell you that I never thought the Spaniard would be able to pull her game to that level and get as close to doing that and she continues to surprise me which is a very good reason to have respect for what Suarez Navarro produces on a tennis court.

However, there is no doubting that a lot of her game is about outlasting opponents in rallies and producing consistent tennis rather than overpowering them and that gives opponents a chance to dictate points. On this occasion it might not matter as Alize Cornet is not a player that will look to power through Suarez Navarro and I think the match up could produce some very good tennis for viewers.

The match up has been a good one for Cornet in the past with three consecutive wins over Suarez Navarro including in two matches last season, although I do think the latter is markedly improved since then. Suarez Navarro has definitely been in the better form with a lot of wins produced over the last six weeks, but Cornet will have confidence of her own knowing she has got the better of this opponent in recent matches.

It looks like it could be a close, competitive match which will feature a lot of breaks of serve both ways. I'd guess that Suarez Navarro outlasts Cornet and snaps her losing run to the Frenchwoman, but this number of games could be tough for her to overcome.

Ekaterina Makarova - 4.5 games v Elina Svitolina: Ekaterina Makarova has always come across as something of an introvert and I think that showed on the tennis court when she would struggle for consistency. However, that has changed over the last eighteen months and Makarova looks comfortable in the top ten of the World Rankings.

Makarova is yet to have a really consistent run in a tournament since the Australian Open, but her losses have come against some of the very best players on the WTA Tour as well as one in Timea Bacsinszky who is in exceptional form.

I would expect the Russian to have a more productive time against Elina Svitolina who has shown she has the talent to progress up the World Rankings, although her consistency within matches is tough for her to maintain. That has been the case when Svitolina has faced the best players this season and she has lost a lot of those sets either 61 or 62 which will give Makarova every chance to surpass this spread.

Svitolina has lost those types of sets in matches she has even taken a set and her margin of losses against the top players have all been very wide. She has been beaten by Maria Sharapova (8 game margin), Makarova (5 game), Serena Williams (8 games), Petra Kvitova (4 games), Victoria Azarenka (7 games) and Timea Bacsinszky (8 games), but has taken a set in four of those matches.

This might be a similar case with Makarova coming through with a 63, 46, 61 win.

Venus Williams - 3.5 games v Sam Stosur: Venus Williams and Sam Stosur haven't played each other since 2012, but it is the American who remains in the better form and could increase her strong head to head record against Stosur.

Despite health issues and age perhaps getting the better of her, Venus Williams is still entrenched in the top 20 of the World Rankings and has been playing very well in 2015. There is some physical issues preventing her from really becoming a threat at Grand Slam level, but Williams is a very dangerous opponent because she can still rally and produce some exceptional tennis.

She will always be helped by the serve, when it is working, and I think she can keep the pressure on Sam Stosur in this one. The Australian is going to start slipping down the Rankings as her inconsistent results has meant she has yet to win two matches in a row in 2015.

Stosur's serve remains a weapon, but her groundies can be erratic at times and the backhand remains a significant weakness. I'd expect her to stay with Williams for a while in this one, but eventually I think Venus will get her eye in and force Stosur to win more points off the ground which could prove to be her undoing.

After a battle in the first set, I am looking for Venus Williams to progress to the Fourth Round with a 75, 63 win under her belt.

MY PICKS: Victor Troicki @ 2.10 Coral (2 Units)
Jeremy Chardy - 2.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov - 2.5 Games @ 1.73 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Alize Cornet + 3.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Ekaterina Makarova - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Venus Williams - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Adrian Mannarino - 2.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units) Already Advised
Fernando Verdasco - 3.5 Games @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units) Already Advised

Miami Update: 8-5, + 5.22 Units (26 Units Staked, + 20.08% Yield)

Friday, 27 March 2015

Euro 2016 Qualifiers Picks 2015 (March 27-29)

I am not a big fan of the international breaks, but the Euro 2016 Qualifiers are almost reaching very important times for some of the teams looking to make their way to France next summer. For the majority of the 'big' nations, it looks plain sailing, but teams like Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium have some work to do and games this weekend are very important for them to get back on track.

There is a range of games being played for television coverage over the next three days so you're bound to find some entertainment, but I can't wait to roll back with the Premier League next weekend.

England v Lithuania Pick: I don't think there is anything wrong in saying that England are not always the most entertaining team to watch and this game is not one that looks set to get the pulse racing for fans on a Friday night. The tension of qualification has almost gone thanks to wins over Switzerland and Slovenia and the additional places to qualify for the extended Euro 2016 tournament in France and attendances to England games have dropped.

All credit to Roy Hodgson for getting on with things, but the only way he will keep the media off his back is if England run out comfortable winners on Friday.

And they should do just that... Lithuania are not the best travellers and have found the best teams they have played to be far too good for them for the most part. Heavy losses in Bosnia and Switzerland over the last two qualifying campaigns suggest England shoul be routine winners, while England themselves have scored at least three goals in 5 of their last 6 qualifiers at Wembley Stadium.

In Harry Kane, England have someone in red-hot form and the home team should show the difference in levels between these teams and win by at least three goals I feel.

Kazakhstan v Iceland Pick: This is the kind of qualifier that Iceland have to circle as a 'must win' game if they have serious ambitions of qualifying for their first major international tournament, especially knowing they have to visit Turkey and the Netherlands later in the Group.

Kazakhstan are a competitive team, but they have struggled defensively which should mean Iceland have chances to score the goals to carry them to three points in this one. However, Kazakhstan have also scored against the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Turkey which makes them a danger to a team like Iceland who have to play pressure-free football.

I seriously considered backing Iceland on the Asian Handicap considering Kazakhstan have lost their last three games by two goals each, but the attacking threat the home team clearly has can't be under-estimated. They have scored in 7 of their last 13 home qualifiers and a fair few of those have come against teams of Iceland's level.

On the other hand, Kazakhstan have lost a lot of those games and backing both teams to score in a game Iceland win has to be worth a small interest.

Andorra v Bosnia and Herzegovina Pick: There is a lot of pressure on Bosnia and Herzegovina heading into this latest qualifier as another failure to win might be enough to put them out of the European Championship. They have had some disappointing results in the qualifiers so far, but this would be the ultimate embarrassment if they ended Andorra's run of 48 straight qualifier losses.

However, it has to be remembered that Andorra are unlikely to just roll over and play dead as the have troubled plenty of visitors to them in recent games. The fact remains that only 4 of 12 visitors have scored three or more goals against Andorra, although Bosnia do have the attacking talent to get to that number.

The big question for Bosnia is whether the change in the calendar year has been enough to change the mindset and finally put the World Cup to the back of their minds. This is a team that scored a lot of goals in wins in Liechtenstein and Latvia in the World Cup qualifiers and they are capable of putting Andorra to the sword in this one.

An early goal would definitely settle the Bosnian minds and I like them to prove they are still alive in this Group with a routine and comfortable win in Andorra.

Belgium v Cyprus Pick: This is an important week for Belgium who are looking to get their qualification campaign back on track as they face Cyprus and Israel in the coming days. Wins in both of those games will make Belgium the favourites to top the section, but dropping any points and the pressure really is on as they look to finish in one of the top two places in the Group.

To be honest, the two automatic qualifiers and third place being sent into the Play Offs means it would take a huge upset for Belgium to fail to have the chance to play in France next summer, although they can't allow complacency to set in and just think they have to turn up to right the situation.

They should be far too strong for a Cyprus team that has a number of injuries affecting the squad they were able to pick for this qualifier as well as the fact that they have been a poor traveller in competitive games. Cyprus have lost 9 of their last 10 away qualifiers, although they have to be respected for keeping the score down in the majority of them.

Belgium are not exactly a team that is going to put up big numbers in terms of goals themselves, but the injury crisis for Cyprus may make things easier for them in this game. If Belgium get their noses in front early, this could be one-way traffic for much of the ninety minutes and I will back the home team to really get qualification back on track with a convincing win.

Netherlands v Turkey Pick: This is a huge game for both the Netherlands and Turkey where the winner will feel their European Championship qualifying campaign is back on track, while the loser would begin to wonder if they are going to make it to France next summer.

It is a bigger game for Turkey, but home advantage should give the Netherlands the edge in the match and I expect they will prove too strong. For all the disappointment of losing to the Czech Republic and Iceland, the Netherlands know destiny is still with them as they host both of those teams later in the Group, while they have won 17 home qualifiers in a row.

Most of those wins have come with some relative comfort and the Netherlands beat Turkey 2-0 at home and away during the World Cup qualifiers for the tournament in Brazil. While they have struggled to match the results they achieved last summer, the Netherlands have been very good at home in these kinds of games and I will back them to win this one with room to spare.

MY PICKS: England - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.04 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Both Teams to Score and Iceland to Win @ 4.75 William Hill (1 Unit)
Bosnia and Herzegovina - 2.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet365 (2 Units)
Belgium - 2.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.96 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Netherlands - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.87 Bet Victor (2 Units)

March Update27-16, + 27.96 Units (79 Units Staked, + 35.39% Yield)

February Final20-24-2, + 3.19 Units (75 Units Staked, + 4.25% 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 2014/15100-144-4, - 26.23 Units (421 Units Staked, - 6.23% 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)

Miami Tennis Picks 2015 (March 27th)

There were a number of surprising results through the tournament at Indian Wells and it doesn't look like things will be changing in Miami if Maria Sharapova's exit in the Second Round is anything to go by. I really thought she had a chance to go deep into the draw over the next two weeks, but Sharapova has disappointed this week, although she might feel the turn to the clay courts favours her more than she would have in previous years.

The Second Round of the Masters event will begin on Friday which means the top players are all making their first appearance at Crandon Park this week and that can be a dangerous time for them. They will be playing opponents who have at least one win under their belt and will have dealt with the conditions already this week and might find a way to surprise any of the Seeded players they run into.

It was a mixed bag of results for the picks on Thursday as the four ended up with two winners and two losers, although it was a bad start with the first two both losing before the recovery on the day. In that regards I have to say I am not too disappointed, and it is still a good start to the week.

Andy Murray - 5.5 games v Donald Young: I backed Andy Murray to beat Donald Young handily when they met on the indoor hard courts during the Davis Cup earlier this month and the British Number 1 didn't disappoint. That continues his dominance over Young since being surprised by him at Indian Wells four years ago and Murray has won the next four matches all very comfortably.

The problem for Young is that his serve, despite being an awkward left-handed one, is not the best and players like Andy Murray return enough balls back into play to extract errors from his game. It sounds harsh, but I think Young is guilty of over-estimating what he can produce on a tennis court and that leads him to going for 'Hollywood' shots that have little chance of actually coming off.

Someone like Murray can make Young play a lot of shots to win points and can grind him down and I would expect a fairly comfortable time for him in this match as long as he serves well. It was Rafael Nadal's serving that kept Young in the match against the Spaniard at Indian Wells and Murray can be guilty of being sloppy in that aspect of his game.

However, the match up is clearly one that he has enjoyed and a routine 64, 62 win could be on the cards.

Adrian Mannarino - 2.5 games v Albert Ramos-Vinolas: Two left-handed players meet in this Second Round match and I have to favour Adrian Mannarino to find a way to get past Albert Ramos-Vinolas on the hard courts.

The latter is a decent player that has produced some good performances on the hard courts in the past, but Ramos-Vinolas is definitely much happier on the clay courts. However, Ramos-Vinolas has to be respected having put together three solid wins over the last two tournaments at Indian Wells and here and he pushed Novak Djokovic much closer than anyone would have expected in the last Masters event.

In saying that, Adrian Mannarino is an improving player on the Tour who is Seeded at events of this level which shows how far he has come. He has been serving better than what I believed he was going to be capable of, while the return game continues to be one of his strengths.

I expect Mannarino will find a way to get his teeth into the Ramos-Vinolas service games and will end up using that pressure to come through with a 63, 57, 64 win.

Fernando Verdasco - 3.5 games v James Duckworth: This is another rematch from Indian Wells as Fernando Verdasco looks to take out James Duckworth for the second time in a row and I do believe the Spaniard will find a way to get that done.

All credit to Duckworth for qualifying for the second Masters tournament in a row and also coming through his First Round match which should improve his Ranking again having cracked the top 100. That will mean he could find himself automatically in the draw for the Grand Slam events upcoming which has to be one of his goals for the coming year.

Unfortunately for the Australian, tennis can be all about levels and I don't believe he has the serve to really trouble the better players. That also means someone like Fernando Verdasco can dictate the points off his return and I still believe Verdasco is playing well enough to beat Duckworth for a second time this month.

Their match at Indian Wells ended with a 62, 76 win for Verdasco and I think he will have a similar kind of margin of victory in this one with more chances to break serve than Duckworth is likely to have. However, Verdasco has to stay focused to get the job done as the second set was closely contested at Indian Wells, although I do fancy him to do that.

Lucie Safarova - 5.5 games v Johanna Larsson: The last two months have been very good for Lucie Safarova as she gets closer to cracking the top ten of the World Rankings having won the tournament in Doha. The Indian Wells Premier Event has to be something of a disappointment to Safarova with a Third Round exit under her belt, but I expect a reaction in Miami and think she will be too strong for Johanna Larsson.

Larsson had a good solid win in the First Round against Yaroslava Shvedova, but Safarova is another step up in opponent and the Swede has struggled to raise her game in that regard. She is generally a much better clay court player than a hard court one and part of the reason is that Larsson tries to play with the same margin on error on the latter and is out-hit.

There is no doubting that Safarova is capable of doing that, while I also think she has the more consistent serve that will make it hard for Larsson to break. Not impossible mind you because Larsson will play from deeper in the court and try and extract errors from Safarova, which can be a problem for her at times, although allowing Safarova to dictate play isn't expected to be the right way to approach this match.

It is unlikely that Larsson takes a different approach though and the result should be a fairly comfortable 62, 64 win for Safarova.

Victoria Azarenka - 4.5 games v Jelena Jankovic: It is still very strange to see Victoria Azarenka outside the top 32 in the World Rankings, but a strong week in Miami could see her at least return to the Seeding positions for the big tournaments coming up.

As dangerous as Azarenka can be for any player on the WTA Tour, I think she would definitely prefer to ease her way into tournaments and not remain outside the Seeding positions and face early matches with the likes of Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova as she has had to already this season.

There are still some inconsistencies in the Azarenka game as she looks to recover from an injury-plagued 2014 when she was never at full tilt, but I do think she will be too good for Jelena Jankovic who had a long week at Indian Wells.

It was a surprising week for Jankovic who hadn't played that well in 2015, but who somehow dug deep to escape a couple of matches and use it to a run to the Final. Even with four days rest since that Final, Jankovic might still be feeling all the three set matches she had to play over the last two weeks as well as all the physical exertions she put into the Final against Simona Halep before ultimately coming up short.

Azarenka's serving hasn't been the best with too many breaks given up, but I still think she finds her way through to the Third Round following a 64, 63 win.

Madison Keys - 2.5 games v Sloane Stephens: Two young, hard-hitting American tennis players meet in this Second Round match that should bring in quite a bit of media attention. Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens are supposed to lead the next generation of American WTA stars once Serena Williams decides to hang up her racquet and both are expected to be at the forefront of the Tour.

However, I do feel there is more upside and potential in the Madison Keys game as she seems to play with a clearer though process on the court and has other elements on the courts beside the booming serve and heavy forehand. Stephens will look to play that way too and those who love first-strike tennis could be in for a fun day, but I think Keys has the better control of her shots off the ground and will likely dictate more of the points.

Sloane Stephens had the better Indian Wells tournament of the two players, but that was a sharp contrast to her recent form and I think she lets her mind wonder a little more on the court than Madison Keys.

After a lot of powerful winners and some eye-catching tennis from both players, I think Keys can battle through with a 64, 67, 64 win.

MY PICKS: Andy Murray - 5.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Adrian Mannarino - 2.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Fernando Verdasco - 3.5 Games @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Lucie Safarova - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Victoria Azarenka - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Madison Keys - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Miami Update: 6-3, + 5.62 Units (18 Units Staked, + 31.22% Yield)

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Miami Tennis Picks 2015 (March 26th)

The Miami Open tennis tournament continues on Thursday and finally more recognised names for the casual fan will actually be taking to the court, including Maria Sharapova who will be desperate to finally get over the line and win the event. Sharapova also has to erase the poor run in Indian Wells last week by her own high standards and is the marquee name taking to the courts.

However, the bigger news story for most tennis fans will be the return of Juan Martin Del Potro for the second time in 2015- the last fourteen months have been horrific for the 2009 US Open Champion and I would love for him to have a clear few years from all the injury issues he has had to fight through. There should be a lot of eyes on him to see how he reacts on his return, but it might take a few weeks before Del Potro is once again comfortable on the court, while he might not have the confidence to really take on the best players on the Tour until much later in the season.

It isn't an easy draw for the Argentine either and I actually think Vasek Pospisil has the tools to take him out in the First Round.

Del Potro himself is most likely just hoping to feel good after the match, regardless of how it finishes, and get his season going at last.

The picks had a bit of good and bad luck yesterday- the good luck saw Jan-Lennard Struff somehow come from a double break down in the final set to beat Benjamin Becker, while the bad saw Juan Monaco blow a 75, 51 lead and fail to cover in his eventual win over Ruben Bemelmans. Alison Riske was a comfortable winner to make it back to back days with a profitable return and hopefully the beginning of a productive two weeks at the second Masters event of the season.

Borna Coric - 3.5 games v Andreas Haider-Maurer: Arguably the most exciting talent on the ATP Tour at the moment is Borna Coric with many tipping him to reach the very pinnacle of the men’s game. Even at his tender age of 18 years old, Coric has had victories over the likes of Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray and he has full belief in his own game and what he can achieve.

Of course there are inconsistencies in his game which comes with the inexperience he has, but Coric is steadily improving up the World Rankings and should be able to knock off Andreas Haider-Maurer for the second tournament in a row.

When they met at Indian Wells, Coric came through the First Round match with a 64, 64 win and he was the much better player on the day with his excellent return game proving to be a real issue for Haider-Maurer.

I would expect more of the same when they meet on Thursday as Coric is the better player and Haider-Maurer doesn't really change his game plan that much. The Austrian doesn't have an intimidating serve and he can mentally check out of matches if they are not going to plan and it might be the same scoreline as when they met earlier this month with Coric moving through 64, 64.

Vasek Pospisil v Juan Martin Del Potro: Juan Martin Del Potro is one of the more popular players on the Tour and I expect he is going to get a really loud reaction in Miami where there is also a large Latin community that love their South American players. The fans will be right behind Del Potro, but I still think Vasek Pospisil can make his way through the match and find a place in the Second Round.

A fully fit Del Potro would be far too good for the Canadian, but he would still likely have a few nervous moments as Pospisil has the kind of serve that can see him rattle through games. Del Potro's return game has never been his most accomplished aspect, but it will likely be under more pressure as he deals with his nerves on his return to the court.

There is also little doubt for me that Del Potro won't be going at 100% in this one. Yes he wants to win and there is no point going on the court without that mindset, but all of the injuries over the last fourteen months would make anyone a little more careful. Pospisil has to know this and can't self-destruct with a host of errors to help Del Potro out, but Pospisil also has to play his natural game as much as possible.

Those issues makes this match a close one to call, but I don't think the layers are right in pricing Vasek Pospisil as the underdog in this one and I will back him to overcome a nervy and perhaps a little careful Del Potro.

Karolina Pliskova - 5.5 games v Annika Beck: Karolina Pliskova is a definite dark horse to make a big breakthrough on the Tour and win the biggest title of her career over the next couple of weeks and I expect the Czech player to be far too strong for Annika Beck.

I do respect what Beck is able to do on the court as there have been times I have watched her produce some stunning tennis, but her serve is an absolute weakness and that is where Pliskova can make hay. On the other hand, Pliskova has a decent serve when she gets into a nice rhythm and that might be enough to keep Beck from really pushing forward on the offensive and allow Pliskova to dominate much of this match.

Beck does have a decent return herself though and will feel she can certainly find a way to break the Pliskova serve, but the key will be holding and she will have to be a lot better than in Antwerp when these players met and the German was broken 6/9 service games.

Beck has also been in poor form over the last month and she had to battle through a tough opening match here. She might have some joy being more familiar with the conditions than Pliskova who plays her first match, but I can see this being similar to their match last month and the Czech player moving through after a fairly comfortably 64, 62 win.

Alize Cornet - 3.5 games v Elena Vesnina: There is always something of a risk backing Alize Cornet who can quickly lose her way on the court, but she has shown better form than Elena Vesnina over the start of the season and I expect her to move into the Third Round.

Vesnina was a very good winner over Alexandra Dulgheru in the First Round, but she has only won back to back matches once this season and has spent a lot of time losing in Singles matches. There is a lot of talent in the Vesnina racquet, but she has slipped off the standards she had been setting a couple of years ago and the errors come much more frequently these days.

The Russian will have her chances against Cornet who can be erratic and mentally check out of sets when seemingly in control. However, Cornet can point to a very strong head to head against Vesnina and to better recent form than her opponent. My concern would be that Cornet has lost a lot of sets very easily and needs to be playing well to beat Vesnina who can get into a roll when she feels good on the court.

However, this looks like a 75, 64 kind of win for Cornet after a number of breaks of serve. I feel she will be the player making less errors in the match and getting plenty of balls back in play should see Vesnina start to give up a lot of mistakes which can give Cornet the edge in the contest in both sets to come through with a routine win.

MY PICKS: Borna Coric - 3.5 Games @ 1.73 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Vasek Pospisil @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Karolina Pliskova - 5.5 Games @ 1.92 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Alize Cornet - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Miami Update: 4-1, + 5.62 Units (10 Units Staked, + 56.2% Yield)

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Miami Tennis Picks 2015 (March 25th)

The Miami Open is underway, but I can best describe the Wednesday action as being qualifier loaded which also meant the matches had been set late and the layers were playing catch up when it came to prices being dished out.

Half of the matches scheduled for Wednesday involve a player that has come through the qualifiers and that can work in two ways for those players- the first is that they are tired after playing on back to back days and are then picked off by their First Round opponent, or two that they are battle hardened and can catch an opponent who is not as familiar with the conditions as they are.

Of course the majority of those coming through the qualifiers will be hoping it is the latter as the First Round action continues. The big names on the Tour won't be in action until the end of the week but that doesn't mean there isn't any potential for picks before that.

After the disappointment of Indian Wells for the picks, there is a feeling that this new week can be more productive after both picks came in on Tuesday. The Monica Niculescu pick had the element of luck that was missing at Indian Wells and hopefully that will be built upon over the next couple of weeks.

Alison Riske - 3.5 games v Mirjana Lucic-Baroni: These players meet for the second tournament in a row, but I would be very surprised if Alison Riske is able to dismiss Mirjana Lucic-Baroni as comfortably as she did in Indian Wells.

Well it was comfortable on the scoreboard at least, but could have been a completely different match if Lucic-Baroni had taken the chances that had come her way.

Neither player can really point to a lot of form to take into the match so the win at Indian Wells may be an important deciding factor and also means Riske has won the last two matches between these players. Both players can be erratic though and you can never be completely sure what you're going to see on the court when either takes to it.

Lucic-Baroni did had to pull out of the tournament in Acapulco with an injury and I do wonder if that is still a lingering concern for her and I will look for Riske to win a closer match than at Indian Wells. If Lucic-Baroni can take the chances that come her way, she has every chance of causing an upset, but I think Riske will have enough confidence in her return game to come through 64, 64.

Jan-Lennard Struff v Benjamin Becker: It has been a poor start to the 2015 season for Jan-Lennard Struff who may have felt it is the right time for him to really start pushing up the World Rankings. Instead he has slipped a little after winning just two matches since Auckland in January and now faces his compatriot Benjamin Becker.

Becker is another player that might have looked at his 2014 performances and expected himself to kick on up the World Rankings, but he too has suffered a lot more losses than wins in the first three months of the season. However, Becker may have gained some confidence from two wins at the Irving Challenger last week and I can understand that as being a reason he is favoured to win this match.

In saying that, I think Struff has been unfortunate not to have more wins under his belt as he has missed match points in a defeat in Rotterdam and lost a Davis Cup rubber 10-8 in the fifth set to Gilles Simon.

I do think Struff has some real upside about his game, but he has to cut out the sloppy errors that have put him in trouble in matches, but I expect him to be aided by Becker who is never far away from a sloppy service game himself. There is every chance this needs a deciding set to separate the players, but I will look for Struff to earn the breakthrough and perhaps set him up for a decent run in a kind draw in Miami.

Juan Monaco - 3.5 games v Ruben Bemelmans: He has come through the qualifiers and plays left-handed, but I struggle to make much more of a case for Ruben Bemelmans against Juan Monaco in this First Round match on Wednesday.

Any player that comes through the qualifiers has to be respected, especially as Bemelmans had to come from a set down to beat Dustin Brown in the final qualifying match. However, he won't be helped by the mistakes that Brown makes in this match as Juan Monaco is capable of sitting out on a court all day and playing long rallies.

Monaco is making his way back up the Rankings at a good time of the season for him with the clay court season not far away and the last month on the Tour has been particularly productive for him. The hard courts are not his favoured surface, but I think he can outlast Bemelmans in this First Round match, particularly as the Belgian player is not really accustomed to playing at this level.

As I said, you have to respect a qualifier, but I would imagine Monaco will wear down Bemelmans who has had a couple of days tennis under his feet already. Both sets should feature a number of break point chances for both men, but I expect Monaco is perhaps a little more ruthless in a 64, 64 win.

MY PICKS: Alison Riske - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Jan-Lennard Struff @ 2.15 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Juan Monaco - 3.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Miami Update: 2-0, + 3.32 Units (4 Units Staked, + 83% Yield)

Monday, 23 March 2015

Miami Tennis Picks 2015 (March 24th)

So a poor week in Indian Wells ended with the two Finals both going against the picks and just summed up the way the tournament went for me. I am not going to be too downhearted simply because the first three months of the season have been very productive and there are always times when things don't go as planned.

The real key is trying to prevent these losing runs from dragging on for too long and the Tour has quickly moved on to the Miami Masters/Premier Event which begins on Tuesday with main draw action. Like Indian Wells, the Premier Event First Round begins first and the Masters First Round matches will get going on Wednesday, while the big names are all Seeded to move through to the Second Round already.

One big name who won't be in Miami this week is Roger Federer who released his schedule last month and opted to miss this Masters event and instead return on the clay courts of Monte Carlo. It is an interesting decision, but Federer seems honed in on having a really strong clay court season, especially when you consider he is also playing an ATP 250 event in Istanbul before the Madrid and Rome Masters events.

I am not entirely sure what the thinking is except he is probably being paid a fortune to go to Istanbul, although I also guess that the new gap between the clay and grass court season played a part in him taking another tournament on board.

Serena Williams was a doubt when she pulled out of the Indian Wells Semi Final last week, but the rest between that decision and the start of the event in Miami seems to have worked and she is taking her place at the top of the Premier Event draw. The fact the organisers are highlighting her first match taking place during the Friday evening session suggests they are confident Williams plays this week too.

As with last week, we have two short priced favourites to win the events at Miami in both the Premier Event and Masters and it is hard to look beyond Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic as potential winners over the next two weeks.

Serena Williams has won the last two Miami titles and Novak Djokovic is the defending Champion who has won 3 of the last 4 here so how can you really look beyond either? The only doubts would be the Williams injury from last week and Djokovic trying to win back to back Masters in March, although he has done that last season and in 2011.

If you are looking for alternatives, Maria Sharapova could come out of the bottom half of the draw and finally breakthrough and win the title if Serena Williams is out of the draw. Sharapova didn't play that well in Indian Wells, but she has always preferred the second of the two Premier Events held in this month and has been a Runner Up in Miami five times before, including three times in a row between 2011-13.

The draw for the men's event isn't out at the time I am writing this, but someone like Tomas Berdych has had one of his few really successful tournaments at this level in Miami where he was a Runner Up in 2010 and Andy Murray is a two time winner of the event as well as being a Runner Up previously.

Both Berdych and Murray were in good nick last week and could go very deep into the tournament with the right draw.

Personally I will be steering clear of the outright markets again this week and won't return to those until the start of the clay court events at the beginning of April. My only concern for the Miami tournament is providing better picks than the ones at Indian Wells.

Once the schedule for the Tuesday play is released, I will start putting my picks down here and will have them all out during my lunch tomorrow.

Monica Niculescu - 4.5 games v Shelby Rogers: I am not a great fan of Monica Niculescu with her grimy brand of tennis, but it is effective and gives some of the very best players a problem when they haven't seen it before. That might be part of the issue for Shelby Rogers whose own confidence can't be very high after taking a number of big losses to open the 2015 season.

Rogers is yet to win a match on the main Tour at six previous attempts and she might be a little bamboozled by the range of variations that Niculescu throws on the court. From the slices to the drop shots to the simple change of pace and angle, the Romanian can be a real nuisance and I expect that to frustrate her young opponent.

The pressure of trying to win a match on the Tour has to be affecting Rogers too and the fact is she is barely winning games and sets let alone matches.

As long as Niculescu isn't playing too much within herself, I would expect her to be a fairly routine 63, 64 winner in this match.

Kristina Mladenovic - 2.5 games v Klara Koukalova: It has been a difficult season for both of these players, but the upside that Kristina Mladenovic possesses has to be taken into consideration for this match.

Neither player can point to any real form, but there is a definite feeling that age is catching up with Klara Koukalova and she has suffered some heavy defeats this season. Her serve has never been her biggest weapon, but she might just have lost half a step getting around the court too which means it is that much tougher for her to break back and really get into matches.

Mladenovic has a decent serve and is one of the 'young guns' on the Tour that are hoping to make a real move upwards in the World Rankings. She has yet to really bring in the form she displayed during the off-season at the IPTL, but Mladenovic has more room for improvement in my mind and I expect her extra power to be a difference in this match.

Expect a battle initially as both players try and find some consistency in their game, but I think would think Mladenovic takes control and comes through 64, 64.

MY PICKS: Monica Niculescu - 4.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Kristina Mladenovic - 2.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Indian Wells Picks Final19-24, - 13.24 Units (86 Units Staked, - 15.40% Yield)

Season 2015+ 30.63 Units (397 Units Staked, + 7.72% 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

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Indian Wells Tennis Picks 2015 (March 22nd)

The two Finals will played at Indian Wells on Sunday and both look like they could be entertaining, although there is no doubt that the one most will be looking forward to is the Masters Final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

The Premier Event Final between Jelena Jankovic and Simona Halep should be a decent one, but I think most people at Indian Wells were hoping for the dream situation of Serena Williams returning to the tournament and competing on the final Sunday. Unfortunately Williams had to pull out before the Semi Final, although it is expected that she will take part in the tournament in Miami which will begin later this week.

Both Semi Final picks came in on Saturday, but it still hasn't changed the fact that it has been a poor tournament for the picks, although it is still a very good first three months. The second Masters/Premier Event begins in Miami later this week and hopefully it will be a more productive event for me personally.

Simona Halep - 4.5 games v Jelena Jankovic: This has been a really good tournament for Jelena Jankovic no matter how it ends for her as she has played herself into some sort of form to take into the next two months going into the French Open.

I still feel it might be a little too much for her to see off Simona Halep who benefited from the Serena Williams pull out in the Semi Final as I do think the Romanian will have the edge when it comes to the physicality of the match. Jankovic has had to spend a lot of time on the court and been in a number of very close matches, but winning those matches might have given her the belief that her destiny is to win the tournament.

She will have to come through some tough periods in this match if she is going to come out with the title because Simona Halep has been able to get a grip of matches and has been ruthless in making sure she takes her chances when they come. Both Madison Keys and Belinda Bencic missed their chances to earn double breaks of serve when they had Jankovic on the ropes and I don't expect Halep is going to let her off as they did.

Halep has won the last three matches between the pair, but they have been close in terms of needing to go the distance each time, although Halep has given Jankovic a bagel in each of the last two matches. I believe she is capable of earning a big enough win to cover these games as long as Halep doesn't let the nerves restrict her play.

This might need three sets to separate them again, but I think Halep will win and win one set either 61 or 62 to set the cover.

Roger Federer + 2.5 games v Novak Djokovic: Two of the big rivals on the ATP Tour will contest another big title between them in the Final on Sunday and Roger Federer has spoken of his desire to earn a measure of revenge against Novak Djokovic for the defeat at Indian Wells twelves months ago.

Federer did get the better of Djokovic in Dubai last month, but the conditions in Indian Wells are slower than in this tournament and it is going to be a lot more difficult for Federer to beat the World Number 1.

However, he clearly has a lot of belief in his game to win here after deciding to skip the event in Miami and I do think it will be incredibly close as many of their matches tend to be. Roger Federer has always gotten up for playing Djokovic and I do think he matches up very well against him with the sliced backhand particularly troublesome for the Serb.

The aggressive play from Federer in attacking the net when the opportunity arises has also seen him become very competitive against the best players in the best of three set matches, although physically it has been more difficult to put that game plan into action in Grand Slam best of five set matches.

Federer will have to serve well if he is going to win the title, but he has done that for the most part this week and I do think he will create chances against the Djokovic serve. Does Federer have enough to win the title? I am not sure to be honest, because Djokovic loves Indian Wells and showed in his win over Andy Murray that his eye is well and truly in.

However, I do expect to see this match to go the distance at the very least and there is every chance another final set tie-breaker is on the cards so taking the games might be the most sensible way to back Federer who is certainly capable of upsetting the odds and winning the title.

MY PICKS: Simona Halep - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Roger Federer + 2.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Indian Wells Update: 19-22, - 9.24 Units (82 Units Staked, - 11.27% Yield)

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Indian Wells Tennis Picks 2015 (March 21st)

The two remaining Quarter Finals of the Masters tournament summed up the disappointment I have felt from the picks I have made at the Indian Wells event over the last ten days.

The first was just a poor pick as Roger Federer dominated Tomas Berdych and wrapped up a convincing win, but the second was seeing Rafael Nadal totally control the match with Milos Raonic but just not have enough to come over the line.

That has been the story for me- a mix of bad picks with bad luck and that is a quick way to have a losing event which is what Indian Wells has become. The last two days can reduce some of the damage if the picks feel right, but I do hope the bit of luck that is needed is on my side.

Novak Djokovic - 3.5 games v Andy Murray: I honestly thought the layers would have been asking Novak Djokovic to cover at least one more game which would have made this a 'no pick' Semi Final for me, but this number of games is appealing to me.

Novak Djokovic has dominated the head to head with Andy Murray since losing the Wimbledon Final to his rival in 2013 and that includes a win at the Australian Open Final earlier this season.

That match was actually very tightly contested for the first three sets before Murray went away, and the British Number 1 has been playing well enough to challenge Djokovic here. However, he has had to answer questions about the mental side of things having lost so many big matches to Djokovic and I do wonder how Murray can deal with that.

Murray has been playing well this week, but the level of competition moves even higher in this one and Djokovic has loved playing at Indian Wells where he is looking to defend the title he won last season. There will be a lot of long rallies and both will be tested physically, but Djokovic should be a little too good for Murray and I think he has the belief that he will get the better of him and I like him to find a 75, 64 win in this one.

Roger Federer - 3.5 games v Milos Raonic: I tweeted last night that it is going to take a lot for Milos Raonic to recover emotionally from a really tough win over Rafael Nadal in their Quarter Final and I do think Roger Federer will pick him off in this one.

Federer has been playing very well this week and I think it will ask a lot for Raonic to continue playing the points as big as he was yesterday even under pressure situations. Nadal was continuously getting to deuce on the Raonic serve and Federer is playing well enough to get enough balls into play and work his way through to the victory.

If Raonic is serving as well as yesterday, it might be tough for Federer to get over this number of games, but I do think the Canadian will struggle to get up to the level he found yesterday and Federer should take advantage.

Both men like serving first in matches which may play a big part in covering this number of games, but I think Federer will find a break in both sets to earn the victory 64, 64 and I will be looking forward to what could be a very good Final.

MY PICKS: Novak Djokovic - 3.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 3.5 Games @ 2.20 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Indian Wells Update: 17-22, - 13.30 Units (78 Units Stake, - 17.05% Yield)

Weekend Football Picks 2015 (March 21-22)

Most of the talk this week has surrounded the failure of the Premier League to have a representative in the Quarter Final of either European competition which has led to a range of excuses as to why this has happened.

First we had Arsene Wenger complaining about the away goals rule and believing that it should be done away with until after extra time of the Second Leg is completed, although that just reeks of sour grapes to me.

We all know the rules in European competition, so the question I would pose to Mr Wenger is why did his Arsenal team push for another goal when they had just pulled back the First Leg to a 1-2 deficit? Surely they knew another away goal conceded would have been curtains for them in the tie and the better policy would have been to count their blessings that it was only going to be a one goal deficit to take to Monaco, which Arsenal proved they could overturn.

It's easy to complain about the rules after the fact, but Arsene Wenger should perhaps have an internal look and wonder why he didn't ask his players to calm down in the First Leg that proved to be their downfall against an average Monaco team.

The other suggestion came from Louis Van Gaal after his long(!) experiences in English football- Van Gaal suggested the lack of a Winter Break was the problem, although his observations look nothing more than an extension of his complaints in December.

Van Gaal spoke about the Premier League being the forefront twenty years ago, but ignored the simple fact that Chelsea won the Champions League just three years ago with the same conditions that every team has faced this season.

For me it is more simplistic with things going in cycles in Europe as they have always done- it isn't that long since England were regularly providing Semi Finalists and Finalists in the Champions League, while the Europa League has long been seen as a distraction in England compared to how other Leagues in Europe view that competition.

The Premier League is simply not a very good League in terms of the quality they have- the two best teams in Chelsea and Manchester City are still far short of the best, while some tactical mistakes didn't help either team. Arsenal should have no excuses with their loss to Monaco and have to take the full blame, while the Europa League was only seriously seen as a positive by Everton rather than Tottenham Hotspur or Liverpool who both were knocked out in the Last 32.

And even though I think Chelsea are short of the best teams, they were Semi Finalists just last season and it is too easy to make a snap judgement as to the failures of the Premier League on the evidence of one season.

An international break follows this round of fixtures so these set of games are very important for teams to have some confidence to take into the final two months of the season. There are some big games being played, none more so than the one at Anfield between Liverpool and Manchester United on Sunday, and teams are beginning to be separated into their sections for the remainder of the campaign.

Manchester City v West Brom Pick: The defeat to Barcelona isn't an embarrassing result on its own, but Manchester City owners have to be disappointed that they have once again failed to progress past the Last 16 of the Champions League. Manuel Pellegrini's future as manager of the club remains up in the air and failing to retain the Premier League title may be enough for a change to be made.

Pellegrini has been adamant that he is not under pressure, but that was before the latest defeat to Barcelona and he will definitely be feeling some sort of stress if Manchester City continue to lose games at the rate they have been doing. 4 defeats from the last 5 games in all competitions is a problem, especially as the teams below Manchester City in the Premier League have been closing in on them.

Falling out of the Champions League places is not an option for Manchester City and Manuel Pellegrini has to pick his team up and earn the three points in this game. That won't be easy as the team will be disappointed by their exit in the Premier League and will be facing a West Brom team that will look to make life as difficult as possible thanks to the organisation that Tony Pulis will bring.

However, Pulis will have to make do without Chris Brunt and Claudio Yacob through suspension and Ben Foster with an injury and losing those three players who have been important for him is a blow. West Brom have also not been as good away from home as they have at The Hawthornes and they will have to keep their concentration if they are to avoid defeat in this game.

Manchester City have at least been fairly comfortable winners in their last two home Premier League games and I am expecting them to at least bounce back from their defeat at the Nou Camp. The problem for West Brom is losing a couple of players that have been part of the strong defensive performances they have produced, although those have come mainly at home.

They have conceded at least twice in 3 of their last 4 away games in all competitions and West Brom haven't visited a team as good as Manchester City in that run of games. It is a big test for the home team, but I believe they come back and win this by a couple of goals.

Newcastle United v Arsenal Pick: It is that time of the season where some teams look like they are already spending more time planning where they are going to go on their holidays than focusing on football matches. John Carver might be trying to inspire his Newcastle United to aim for more than that, but the performances on the pitch have not been the best and 3 losses from their last 4 Premier League games will not have inspired much confidence from the stands either.

Now they face one of the most in-form teams in the Premier League, although one that suffered an agonising defeat in European competition during the week. However, Arsenal did win the game in Monaco on the night to keep the belief in the players that they are more than capable of finishing in the top four of the Premier League.

The loss of Fabricio Coloccini and Papiss Cisse through suspension really hurts Newcastle United at both ends of the pitch and they have only scored one goal in their last 4 games in the League. That goal came courtesy of Cisse in the win over Aston Villa and they haven't scored in their last two games which is a problem for Newcastle United.

Arsenal have been scoring plenty of goals themselves and have 4 consecutive away games in all competitions where they have scored at least two goals. Getting to that number will almost certainly mean the three points will return to North London with The Gunners on Saturday evening and I do think they win this game.

However, the price for the away win is not exactly going to get people rushing off their feet to get involved in and I think there might be more joy in looking for Newcastle United to continue their run of failing to score. They couldn't breach a Manchester United defence that hasn't played that well away from home in their last game at St James' Park while Newcastle United have failed to score in their last 3 home games against Arsenal.

Therefore, a small interest on Arsenal winning this game with a clean sheet might provide a big priced winner.

Southampton v Burnley Pick: A lot of the success that Southampton have had this season has come off the back of really disciplined defensive performances which has made them hard to break down. The problem for them has been at the other end of the field where Graziano Pelle has come off the boil and Southampton have struggled for a consistent source of goals.

That might be the biggest problem for Southampton when it comes to trying to find their way into the top four of the Premier League and could be an issue in games where the onus is on them to attack. It will be the case on Saturday as most will be expecting Southampton to win and I do think the result at Chelsea last weekend will show Ronald Koeman and his men that they can still achieve something special.

It was a shot in the arm for Southampton, but Burnley arguably produced a much bigger result by beating Manchester City and pulling themselves to within a point of getting out of the relegation zone. They are in the midst of a tough run of games as Burnley will have faced five of the top seven teams in a row by the end of April, but the win over Manchester City will give them confidence in the next three matches they face.

However, it has to be said that Burnley's best performances have come at Turf Moor and they have not been as effective on their travels. Only a solid Tom Heaton performance prevented them taking a real beating at Anfield in what was a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool and they have lost 4 of their last 5 away games in all competitions with each of those losses coming by two goals.

In that time Burnley did draw at Chelsea too, but I think Southampton have just turned a corner and will prove a little too good for them. The lack of goals concern me of course, but Burnley have not been that good defensively on their travels and I like Southampton win by a couple of goals like others have done against Burnley of late.

Liverpool v Manchester United Pick: This is a game that could have a lot of implications for the top four places come the end of the season, especially as it looks like being a few points that will separate these teams when I came to predicting the remaining results this season. I had Liverpool down to win this game and have been fearful of a big setback for Manchester United for some time, although the performance against Tottenham Hotspur at least gives the team some positive momentum to take to Anfield.

Unfortunately for Manchester United, they haven't been as good away from home as they have been at Old Trafford and seem to be running into a Liverpool team that has a lot of momentum behind them. The 0-1 win at Swansea was huge especially as Liverpool didn't play that well in that game and they are a team that can create a lot of chances against this Manchester United defence.

As well as Manchester United played last week, the problem is that Liverpool have a lot of pace and creativity in the forward areas that Tottenham Hotspur couldn't rely upon. The likes of Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho all have the capability to exploit any miscommunication in the Manchester United back four/five and David De Gea will need to show the same level of form as he did at Old Trafford when the teams met in December.

Some would look at the 3-0 scoreline and perhaps be surprised about me talking up the goalkeeper- however, anyone who watched the game would remember De Gea picking up the plaudits and I believe he even won the 'Man of the Match' award as he made three or four big saves.

Liverpool created a lot of chances that day, but were not very clinical in front of goal and the return of Sturridge makes them a lot more dangerous in my opinion. The England international hasn't been at the top of his level since his return, but he remains sharp and gives the players behind him something to aim for.

I have been worrying that Manchester United are due a bit of a battering and this could be the game where they could receive one, but the performance last week might have something to build upon. I also believe Liverpool are a team that can be turned around and given problems defensively themselves and this could be the game where a returning Angel Di Maria makes a real mark on the Premier League.

My fear recently has been Liverpool score early and pick Manchester United off, but the visitors might create a few openings themselves. If it is anything like the game at Old Trafford, there might be a few chances at both ends of the field and it may end up being another game offering up another three goals at least.

6 of the last 8 games between these old rivals have produced at least three goals to be shared between the teams and this could very much be another with neither defence really that reliable.

Hull City v Chelsea Pick: There was some fatigue in the Chelsea performance in the first half against Southampton, but the second half would have pleased Jose Mourinho even if they didn't quite do enough to win the game. Now they have had a week to prepare for this game with Hull City and Mourinho was unwavering in his belief in his set of players be declaring they are the team that will win the Premier League.

Mourinho has to be hoping that his players don't slip up again as they have in recent games where they have failed to win more than half of their last 10 games in all competitions. However, Chelsea have won 3 straight away games in the Premier League and will enjoy the extra space they are likely to be afforded as the onus is on Hull City to try and do more attacking than they would perhaps like to.

Hull City have been playing well at home as shown by 3 wins from their last 5 League games here, but they haven't faced a team of the ability of Chelsea in that run. The side did earn a draw at Manchester City not too long ago which suggests they can match the best sides when they get the defensive shape right, but Hull will need more to hold off Chelsea in this one.

This has been a fixture that Chelsea have enjoyed in recent seasons and they were comfortable winners at the KC Stadium last season. The extra rest is surely going to do Chelsea some good as they can focus solely on the Premier League and they do have players that can produce match winning performances.

I do think Chelsea will recover from recent setbacks and should have enough pace in the forward positions to create chances against a Hull City team missing a shield in Tom Huddlestone. As long as Chelsea bring the urgency they showed in the second half last weekend, I expect them to win this game by a couple of goals.

Queens Park Rangers v Everton Pick: The embarrassing 5-2 loss in Dynamo Kiev once again highlighted the awful defensive performances that have become a feature of Roberto Martinez teams in his managerial career. Another trend that Everton won't want to get caught up in is the amount of relegation battles Martinez has been involved in as a Premier League manager and winning this game will at least ease the tension that is developing around the club.

However, Everton are coming back from a long trip to Kiev and now face a Queens Park Rangers who are going to be desperate to take advantage of any tiredness and disappointment that the Everton players are feeling.

It will need a big turnaround in form for QPR to do that considering they have lost their last 4 Premier League games and have been poor defensively with mistakes helping give teams an easier ride than they should have. They have also lost their last 5 games at Loftus Road in all competitions and conceded at least two goals in 4 of those games which is always going to be a big task to overcome.

Everton did win two games in a row before the capitulation in Kiev, but both of those wins came at Goodison Park and they have now lost 3 in a row away from home in all competitions and also 8 of their last 9 away games in the Premier League. Their defensive vulnerabilities have been exploited in those games with at least two goals conceded in 5 of their last 7 away games in the League.

You can probably guess where I am heading with this pick- both teams have been so poor defensively, but have players like Romelu Lukaku and Charlie Austin who are capable of making the most of the chances that are perhaps presented to them. With that in mind, looking for at least three goals to be shared by these teams doesn't look the worst call in the world.

The last 4 Queens Park Rangers game have seen at least three goals shared out, while the last 3 Everton games have gone the same way and this looks a big price at odds against for this game to head that way too.

MY PICKS: Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Arsenal Win to Nil @ 2.88 Coral (1 Unit)
Southampton - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.15 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.98 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.15 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Queens Park Rangers-Everton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)

March Update23-14, + 21.70 Units (68 Units Staked, + 31.91% Yield)

February Final20-24-2, + 3.19 Units (75 Units Staked, + 4.25% 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 2014/15100-144-4, - 26.23 Units (421 Units Staked, - 6.23% 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)