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Monday, 11 January 2016

Tennis Picks 2016 (January 12th)

We are fast approaching the opening Grand Slam of the season so this final week before the Australian Open doesn't have too many of the contenders on the Men's side of the draw in action. That is little surprise and something we should all be accustomed to seeing considering the mental and physical drain the best of five set matches have for those players who are expecting to go deep into the draw.

That means the fields in Auckland and Sydney are not the deepest, but it is still an opportunity for vital Ranking points that can help improve the draws, and subsequently the money, that these players will earn through the rest of the season. For example, if I am Ranked just outside the top 32, I would take advantage of fields that you get the week before the Grand Slam in a bid to be Seeded when the next one rolls around.

Right now there is nothing that can stop Joao Sousa, the current World Number 33, from drawing Novak Djokovic in the First Round next week in Australia, whereas Steve Johnson, the World Number 32, knows he won't see someone like Djokovic until the Third Round at the earliest.

Now I am not suggesting Sousa would throw in the towel against Djokovic, but there is a clear difference in the potential First Round draw especially when you consider the monetary rewards the deeper you can go into a Grand Slam.

The WTA players have a different attitude to the week before a Grand Slam because they don't have an increase in sets and thus get more rest during a Slam to recover than they would in a normal week. That has meant the bigger names have got together in Sydney this week, while some of the lesser lights play in Hobart, and it is a good confidence builder for what looks an open draw on the Women's side next week.

There are some doubts about the fitness of players like Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Maria Sharapova, Garbine Muguruza and Petra Kvitova, who would all normally be the leading contenders to win the Grand Slam on offer. Perhaps that will lead to a surprise name taking the title home, although I am convinced there will be a lot of 'experts' picking Victoria Azarenka to get close to winning here once again.

Last week produced a winning one for the picks thanks to Saturday when all three picks came in to bounce back from what was an awful Friday. A positive start makes me feel better after the negative of the last four months of the 2015 season and gives me something to build upon.

I think the picks this week will be a little erratic as I missed the first two days simply because I couldn't find a right angle from the matches in play. That is likely to be the case at times this week with the Australian Open not just on the mind of the players, but also myself with motivation for those playing earlier in the week a question mark for me.

On Tuesday the schedule looks a decent one and I do think there is a potential from the picks made.

Sam Stosur - 3.5 games v Daniela Hantuchova: She might be a former Grand Slam Champion, but Sam Stosur has struggled through her career to perform to her best in front of her home fans in Australia. Another early loss at the Australian Open would be a devastating blow to a player that just wants to produce a solid run there with the window of her career beginning to close.

A couple of Fourth Round appearances have been as good as it gets for Stosur at the Australian Open, and preparation has rarely been that good as she tries to change her struggles in Sydney. Stosur did come from a set down to beat Roberta Vinci, but she has only been past the Second Round on one occasion here, although I also have to say she might not have a better chance to double that record against Daniela Hantuchova.

The latter can't be underestimated having come through three Qualifiers and she should be well rested after being the beneficiary of a 'bye' in the First Round proper. Hantuchova's wins in the Qualifiers have ended a run of seven straight losses on the Tour which spread back to last July and has seen her come close to exiting the top 100 of the World Rankings.

I have seen there is something still left in the tank for Hantuchova, but not enough to expect her to challenge the top players on the Tour. While Stosur is no longer one of those, I think her serve gives her a definite edge over a player she had beaten six times in a row albeit the last match between them coming five seasons ago.

Stosur will need to serve well and dictate things behind her first serve to earn the win here, but I think she is capable of doing that and I do believe she wins this match 64, 64.

Karolina Pliskova - 2.5 games v Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: One of the bigger disappointments in the Grand Slams last season has to have been World Number 11 Karolina Pliskova. The Czech player was regularly seen as a dark horse at the major tournaments, but she failed to go beyond the Third Round at any of the Grand Slams, although her best effort did come at the Australian Open.

More will be expected of her this season and her win over Ana Ivanovic came in impressive fashion earlier in the week to think Pliskova could have a big impact in the next few weeks Down Under. With all the injuries and concerns in the Women's draw going into the Australian Open, maybe Pliskova can please her fans with a really solid run at the first Grand Slam of 2016.

Pliskova is expected to see off Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova who she beat in straight sets in the Fed Cup Final to end 2015 and the latter continues to struggle for consistency on the Tour. While she is likely too good for lower Ranked players, the higher Ranked ones can deal with the power Pavlyuchenkova brings to the court and return that with interest.

The Russian can become very erratic with her groundstrokes and quickly move from the sublime to the ridiculous and I think some of that is down to her stamina. Bad decision making might actually be because Pavlyuchenkova can't get involved in the longer, drawn out exchanges, although that shouldn't be an issue against Pliskova who will fight fire with fire of her own.

However, I think the Pliskova serve is a little more consistent of the two and I think she has a little more emotional control when things go against her which can be a huge edge. She won both meetings with Pavlyuchenkova in 2015 without dropping a set and I think Pliskova backs up an impressive win over Ivanovic with a 64, 63 win here.

Nicolas Mahut v Adrian Mannarino: Two Frenchmen meet in the First Round in Sydney and they have come into this tournament in contrasting ways. While Nicolas Mahut was beaten early in Brisbane and had to fight through a couple of Qualifiers to get into the main draw, Adrian Mannarino was winning a Challenger on a French owned Island in the Pacific ahead of travelling to this event.

The long week potentially has taken a toll on Mannarino, but I am surprised he is a clear favourite to win which has to be based on a successful week in Noumea. The competition level was not really befitting someone as high as Number 44 in the World Rankings and he has to get over the mental side of being 5-1 down in the head to head to Mahut.

That alone isn't enough for me to think the wrong player is favoured, but Mahut won both matches in 2015 with some relative ease and also is used to the conditions in Sydney thanks to his two wins here in the Qualifiers. Mannarino will have had time to get some practice out there, but I think it can be difficult to build a rhythm against a player like Mahut who will attack the net and look to pressurise his opponent into making mistakes.

The lefty serve can give players problems, but I think Mahut has the bigger serve which gives him a few cheaper points. The last match played between these two was actually fairly close with a couple of points here and there making the difference, but I think Mahut does have the edge as long as his first serve is producing the fire it can and I think he is worth chancing as the underdog to spring the surprise.

MY PICKS: Sam Stosur - 3.5 Games @ 1.73 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Karolina Pliskova - 2.5 Games @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)
Nicolas Mahut @ 2.20 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Weekly Final+ 1.78 Units (32 Units Staked, + 5.56% Yield)

Season 2016+ 1.78 Units (32 Units Staked, + 5.56% Yield)
Season 2015- 21.81 Units (1812 Units Staked, - 1% 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

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