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Monday, 18 January 2016

Australian Open Tennis Day 2 Picks 2016 (January 19th)

Most tennis fans would have been excited to see the first Grand Slam of the 2016 season get set to underway, but those excitement levels took a tremendous knock with the report coming out about the 'match fixing' allegations.

Anyone who has watched tennis for any significant amount of time would not have been surprised by the revelations, but the indication that a former Grand Slam Champion had been involved as well as a number of players who Ranked inside the top fifty really has to raise some eyebrows. The Integrity Unit have been made to look foolish with their lack of real bite when things are raised with them, especially when you consider that some of the players reported had that done several times but zero punishment has been handed out.

The responses have been predictable- some have decided these are in relation to events that took place a decade ago and clearly don't happen now (that's almost comical in itself), others have taken the 'head in the sand' approach by dismissing the story as it was not accompanied with any names of players or hard proof, while others have focused on the sponsorship issue with 'betting companies'.

I have been really surprised by some of the journalists reactions to be perfectly honest- they seem to have missed the point and focused on the link up with betting companies that some tournaments have, as well as some of the Grand Slams these days, but have failed to grasp that these aren't the people that want to fix the matches.

Do they want a blanket ban on betting on sports? Because I think they might soon realise how the interest levels in said sport are perhaps not as high as they thought simply for the competitive side of things. The NFL in America is a huge business in Vegas because of that so that away and it will adversely affect the sport, the prize money and ultimately these journalists jobs.

The betting companies have a significant interest in keeping the sport clean and being attached to an event means they will be able to have a real indication if the markets are being manipulated, something they will be quick to pass on to the authorities.

Maria Sharapova was also asked after her match if she feels match-fixing goes on 'lower down' the Ranking system- did that 'journalist' miss the indication that a GRAND SLAM WINNER was potentially implicated!!

So I do think some of the journalists have missed the point when it comes to suggesting the sponsorship deals put together by the tennis Tours with betting companies is an 'issue'.

Those that have also suggested there is no 'new' information or that have taken the fingers in the ears approach are part of the problem. It really isn't hard for the Integrity Unit to have data presented to them that presents a model as to where a price should be on a player at any given moment and obviously have times when it is far out of sync to be flagged up. How many times have been seen markets that are just strange in a given circumstance with people quickly searching if there has been an unknown injury come up.

Match-fixing happens, I have little doubt about that, and I am not surprised that it happens as high as Grand Slam events in any way, shape or form. I have a 'blacklist' of players that I simply couldn't trust and I was not surprised that many of those names have been 'suggested' as the ones that potentially were being spoken about in the article.

If you watch/follow the tennis Tour those names come up frequently enough, but the Integrity Unit has to show they have more bite and perhaps have more willing to go out there and stop any corruption they see. It might take a really big name player being proved to have fixed a match to get the ball rolling, but the information has been there for them and they have seemingly chosen to ignore it in the hope that it all goes away.

At a time of the season when tennis fans should be rejoicing about the first Grand Slam of the season, we have this big news story come out and I hope it has the impact it should do on the entire Tour. But I won't be holding my breath on that front until the authorities show they 'want' it as much as most of the fans will.

Day One of the Australian Open is in the books and most of the day was overshadowed by the report that came out around forty-minutes before the tournament was due to get underway.

Personally I wish the tournament perhaps began on a Tuesday after a terrible opening day for the picks- some might wonder if I feel comfortable making picks in light of that story, but I have to say my 'blacklist' has held me in good stead over the years. Simply put, if I don't trust a player, I won't even begin to break down their match, especially if they are up against another 'unreliable' player or in a certain spot.

Some players are in the portion of my blacklist where I wouldn't trust them as a big favourite to produce what they need to, others that I simply don't trust at all. Now don't be confused in thinking that I believe all of these names are 'match fixers' as such, but perhaps some of them are likely going to mentally fall away in matches, or have a high-risk brand of tennis which means they will go through terrible periods making unforced errors and the like.

On the other hand, like I have said above, I was not surprised by some of the names that have been suggested by people as to who the allegations have been made against.

Anyway, going into Day Two, I am hoping for a bit more luck and a better feel for the matches after the poor start on Day One.

At least the outright picks are intact through the first day of the tournament which had a few surprise results and those picks can be read here.

Feliciano Lopez Win 3-1 v Dan Evans: One of the grumpiest players on the Tour, for absolutely no reason at all in reality, is Dan Evans of Great Britain. His work ethic has always been questioned but he is far better than his World Ranking of 185 will suggest and should be full of confidence having come through three Qualifiers to make the main draw here.

Evans did have to battle through the distance in the last couple of Qualifying Rounds, but he should have plenty of opportunity to rest ahead of the Tuesday start at the Australian Open. Anyone who wants to be quick to dismiss the chances of the British Qualifier will be wise to remember that the last time Evans has had to Qualify for the main draw in a Grand Slam and made it through three Rounds saw him reach the Third Round at the US Open in 2013.

He actually beat Kei Nishikori and Bernard Tomic in that run to the Third Round before ultimately falling short to Tommy Robredo and Evans will feel he can upset Feliciano Lopez in this First Round match. It would still be a big upset if Evans was able to do that, but Lopez hasn't exactly made the best start to the 2016 season having lost in the First Round in Doha to an overmatched opponent.

The courts here are not to the pace that Lopez will really like, but he still has a big lefty serve and that should get him out of a couple of holes in this one. However, I also think Lopez is never too far from mentally checking out of a match, even for a short time, and that should give Evans a chance to steal a set at the very least although I am not convinced he earns the upset.

When Evans is on and confident, he is a surprisingly effective player on the court, but I still believe the Spaniard will come through in four sets after perhaps winning a tie-breaker in the middle of the match to break the Qualifier's heart.

Rafael Nadal Win 3-1 v Fernando Verdasco: When the draw was made for the First Round of the Australian Open, this was one of the standout matches that were set to be played. Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco played a classic Semi Final here in 2009 and while the latter has slipped off the standards he set for himself back then, he has still proven he can be a thorn in Nadal's side.

Back in 2009, it was Rafael Nadal who won the Semi Final in five enthralling sets and he went on to win the title here. That was actually Nadal's eighth win in a row against Verdasco and he improved that tally to fourteen in a row by the middle of the 2012 season before something changed.

It was Fernando Verdasco who won the next two matches these two played including in Miami last year and he was then leading by a set in their most recent match in Hamburg in 2015 before Nadal came back and turned it around. There is little doubt that Verdasco will come into this match with a real belief he can upset Nadal from their most recent matches, but I think Nadal has improved since their last match in Hamburg and I am not buying that happening here.

However, I have little doubt that Fernando Verdasco can win a set and was awfully tempted by the 2.10 being dangled that he can do that. Another market that tempted me was this one going at least four sets, but in the end I have settled for having a small interest in Nadal winning this one in four sets.

As I have said, I think he is playing much better than when they played their two matches in 2015 and Nadal did come back to win the match in Hamburg very easily. His serve is not quite up to full speed so I do think Verdasco will have his chances to win a set, but to upset Nadal looks beyond him while the heat will play a factor against the older player.

It should be fun for as long as it lasts, but my gut feeling is Nadal is going to get this done in four entertaining sets and give himself plenty of confidence to take into the rest of the tournament.

Radek Stepanek - 5.5 games v Tatsuma Ito: Both Radek Stepanek and Tatsuma Ito have come through three Qualifying Rounds to reach the main draw of the opening Grand Slam of the season. Other similarities sees both players Ranked outside the top 100 in the World although Stepanek is ten years older than his opponent which may play a part in this match.

On the other hand, Stepanek has shown he has plenty of fitness behind him and I think he has had enough time off to prepare for this match both physically and mentally. His opponent will receive the majority of support with plenty of Japanese fans in attendance who will shift their support from Kei Nishikori to Ito and Taro Daniel who play on Tuesday.

Stepanek showed some decent form in Brisbane to open the 2016 season which will encourage him that he can get back up the Singles Rankings. He pushed Bernard Tomic into three tight sets after winning comfortably in the First Round and won five sets in a row in the Qualifiers to get into the main draw against opponents who are Ranked much higher.

The Czech player has a habit of getting under the skin of his opponents, but that is unlikely to have an affect on Ito who will go about his own business. Ito will also be confident from three Qualifying wins, and he can't be underestimated by Stepanek as there have been times that he has managed to be really competitive even when stepping up to this level.

There is no doubting that Stepanek will know about that too as he had to dig deep in a four set win over Ito in the Davis Cup- that will set Stepanek up in good stead and I think he can breakdown Ito in another fairly convincing win which has been a feature of his 2016 season so far.

Jack Sock - 4.5 games v Taylor Fritz: The big concern for Jack Sock backers has to be the withdrawal from his last match against Roberto Bautista Agut when clearly struggling with an illness. That match was in Auckland on Saturday having felt the symptoms for the first time on Friday, but this First Round match takes place on Tuesday and the feeling is that Sock will be relatively close to 100% for the contest.

He will need to be as the heat is expected to be soaring in Melbourne again and Sock had that scary looking retirement at the US Open back in September thanks to the tremendous heatwave that New York City was going through. This match is at least taking place last on Court 14 meaning Sock should be able to avoid the really hot part of the day and also have that additional time to make sure he is ready to compete following the illness last week.

Sock had been in decent form prior to that retirement in the Final and 2016 figures to be a career year for the American. He has to be aware that losing a match like this would be a big blow as he takes on Taylor Fritz who was the Number 1 Junior player on the Tour last year but is making his Grand Slam main draw debut at this level having come through three Qualifiers.

That will give Fritz some confidence as will his Challenger win at Happy Valley to open 2016, but he is yet to really bridge the gap between the Juniors and the Professional Tour. Fritz has a big serve and forehand, the American way, but he has to cope with the mental side of things of facing a player he might have admired from afar as well as his first best of five set match and a real increase in level of competition he is used to dealing with.

All of that figures to make life tough for Fritz if Sock is ready to go and I will back the Seeded player to overcome a few factors in this win.

Lleyton Hewitt - 1.5 sets v James Duckworth: It is going to be the end of an era at the Australian Open at some point over the coming two weeks as Lleyton Hewitt calls time on a very successful career. He might regret not being able to get over the line and win the Australian Open, but a multiple Grand Slam winner has been nothing to regret and Hewitt will be heavily backed by his home crowd every time he steps on the court in the next fortnight.

That will make it tough for James Duckworth, who is also Australian, and I do wonder how he will cope in trying to knock off a legend and retire Hewitt. There is no doubting that Hewitt is not the player of old, but he can still produce some pretty good tennis and Duckworth is just 4-12 in main draw matches at Grand Slams in the past which suggests the veteran can delay the inevitable for at least one more Round.

Hewitt has played here nineteen times in his career and has actually been beaten in the First Round seven times so you can't rule out the upset. His lack of competitive tennis in recent months is another factor and four of his seven opening Round defeats at the Australian Open have come in the last seven seasons.

However, I still think there is enough fire in the belly to beat a player like Duckworth who is Ranked outside the top 100 and whose consistency is perhaps not to the level to win a match like this where the mental pressures will be very much weighing on his mind. Some players can be inspired to play their best in those circumstances, but it is tough for a young Australian to be in a situation like this knowing a win would put out a fan favourite from the same nation.

Duckworth has spent time in the media admitting he will 'apologise' to Hewitt if he wins and he 'dreads' sending Hewitt into retirement. I am not sure that is going to be the right mental approach for Duckworth who might be caught in a bad spot where he fails to bring his best and I think Hewitt will get this done in either three or four sets.

Johanna Konta + 3.5 games v Venus Williams: I won't hide the fact that I am something of a fan of Johanna Konta and her rise up the World Rankings have been less of a surprise to me than perhaps many others. I really do think that Konta can get into a position to be Seeded for Wimbledon by the time that tournament rolls around, even if she is going to be disappointed with two close losses to open the 2016 season.

Both of those losses in Shenzhen and Hobart were decided by a point here or there and slightly better fortune may have seen Konta win both. She could have asked for an easier First Round draw than facing Venus Williams too, but the British player will receive plenty of support having been born in Australia as well as having a mental boost of playing Venus very close when they met at Wuhan at the back end of 2015.

That match was won by Venus Williams in a tight three setter, but only one point separated the players on the day. Johanna Konta has to serve well to give herself a chance in this one as that can keep Venus Williams on the back foot, but she has shown she is not overawed by taking it to the biggest names on the WTA Tour.

Venus Williams did reach the Quarter Final here last season, but the Australian Open is not really the surface for her game which is highlighted by the fact she has not won the title here. Last season was the furthest she has been at the Australian Open since 2010 and Venus Williams suffered a surprise loss in Auckland to open 2016 which suggests she could be vulnerable if Konta produces the level we know she can.

There is every chance Konta wins at least a set in this one and I think that will give her a strong chance of covering with this number of games in the bag. I am a big fan of Venus Williams too and she is still capable of blowing opponents off the court when she is on, but I think there are a few more lapses in her performances at this advanced stage of her career and Konta can take advantage even if she is not quite capable of producing an upset.

Varvara Lepchenko - 2.5 games v Lesia Tsurenko: The last few years have been something of a rollercoaster ride for Varvara Lepchenko who made a quick rise up the World Rankings and just as quick a drop. She is outside the top 50 in the World Rankings these days, but she remains a player that can produce some very effective tennis on her good days and one that perhaps struggles when her 'A' game is not working.

That makes Lepchenko a hard player to get a read on, but I do think she has enjoyed the match up with Lesia Tsurenko in the past and the latter was comfortably dismissed in her first match of the season. Lepchenko has the mental edge having beaten Tsurenko at the US Open back in September and the American also had a couple of solid performances in Brisbane which will give her confidence for this match.

These two did play a very close match at the Australian Open two years ago which was decided in Lepchenko's favour by a single point over the course of a three set match. This is likely to be close too, but I think the favourite comes through again with a little more space between the players.

MY PICKS: Feliciano Lopez Win 3-1 @ 3.75 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Rafael Nadal Win 3-1 @ 3.80 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Radek Stepanek - 5.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Jack Sock - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Lleyton Hewitt - 1.5 Sets @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Johanna Konta + 3.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Varvara Lepchenko - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 1-5, - 7.80 Units (12 Units Staked, - 65% Yield)

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