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Sunday, 15 January 2017

Australian Open Tennis Day 1 Picks 2017 (January 16th)

The Australian Open gets underway on Monday and there are now three courts in Melbourne which have the benefit of having roofs over them. That means even some of the sketchy weather that has been forecasted for later this week shouldn't have an affect on this tournament, the first Grand Slam of the season.

I have had a look through the men's and women's draw at the event and you can read that here.

The next two weeks should give us some great moments and both draws look like they can provide the drama that most fans would want to see in these Grand Slam events. The television coverage in the United Kingdom will come from Eurosport who should have two dedicated channels to the Australian Open with the majority of the matches played during the night for us on this side of the world, while they will also have coverage of extra courts on their Eurosport Player.

It is a shame there isn't a 'red button' option like Sky Sports used to run for the US Open and the BBC will have for Wimbledon, but the majority of us will likely be sleeping through the matches in the night and being able to play catch up in the morning as well as watching the Evening Sessions which will begin at 8:30am.

Day 1 begins from Midnight on Sunday and these are my picks to get this tournament started.

Kei Nishikori - 7.5 games v Andrey Kuznetsov: This is going to be the third time in four Grand Slam events that Kei Nishikori and Andrey Kuznetsov will play one another so there has to be some familiarity for both players as to what to expect. Unsurprisingly it is Nishikori who has won the previous two matches at the French Open and Wimbledon and he has been a pretty strong winner in both matches.

Covering this kind of number can be tough for Nishikori whose serve is not going to supply too many cheap points and one of the problems he has had, that I've noted anyway, is finishing off sets when he does move a double break in front.

There are some worries that Nishikori is perhaps not at full health going into the Australian Open with his serve perhaps not at top speed in Brisbane, but he still reached the Final there. He plays an opponent in Kuznetsov who can produce some really good tennis when feeling it on the court, but one who has found it challenging to maintain that level and can slip too far below what is being offered up by the top players on the Tour.

I do think Nishikori is going to have the kind of joy to break serve on a number of occasions in this match and the cover of this number depends on whether he can just serve well enough to limit the chances he gives Kuznetsov. Nishikori is more than good enough to do it when bringing something like his best to the court and I can see a 75, 64, 62 kind of win in the offing in this First Round encounter which should be a good watch for the fans.

Karen Khachanov - 1.5 sets v Adrian Mannarino: There are some solid hopes for Karen Khachanov and fulfilling the potential he has in his career. He is still in the early stages of his career, but I still think he might be catching Adrian Mannarino at the right time in this First Round match at the Australian Open.

I have always had respect for the Mannarino performances on the Tour as he has far exceeded the kind of projections most would have had for him. His lefty serve gives Mannarino a chance to put opponents in tough positions on the court, but Mannarino doesn't have the power to keep the pressure on them when he does put players in awkward spots.

It might mean Khachanov has to bide his time to work out what Mannarino is trying to do on the court, but the youngster has been serving well so far in his opening two tournaments in 2017. That should mean he can stay with his opponent for long enough to make the adjustments he needs to, while Khachanov did beat Mannarino in three sets on his way to winning the title in Chengdu in the last quarter of the 2016 season.

That will give Khachanov confidence to succeed in this match as long as he produces some of his better tennis at critical times. The fact he has lost four tie-breakers in 2017 is a concern because it might suggest he is just not quite getting it done at big moments, but I do think Khachanov will earn the majority of break points in this one and should get into enough of the Mannarino games to perhaps avoid having to settle for breakers.

I like him to do enough to win in three or four sets at odds against in this First Round match.

Roger Federer - 7.5 games v Jurgen Melzer: I've admired Roger Federer for a long time, but become a much bigger fan in the latter years of his career and I am looking forward to his return to the Tour after an injury hit 2016. My favourite players have usually been the enigmas like Marat Safin and David Nalbandian, so Federer was always the player in the way of their successes, but these days it is just fun to watch someone perform at the level Federer can.

There is little doubt in my mind that the best player I have seen live is Federer who makes tennis look so effortless and I hope he can get back to his best and move back up the World Rankings. Going to the O2 Arena and not being able to see Federer is definitely not the same experience and I am going to appreciate every match he is able to give us from here on out.

I would expect to see at least one more in Melbourne Park this year as Federer has been paired with another veteran in Jurgen Melzer in the First Round. This is one of the evening session offerings after Melzer battled his way through the Qualifiers and the last time these players met on the Tour saw the Austrian upset Federer on the clay courts.

This is a completely different test for Melzer who might still be dangerous with a decent first serve from a lefty, and also an ability to get to the net. However he is a little slower around the court these days and Melzer might struggle to stay with Federer if the latter brings in the kind of form he was showing at the Hopman Cup.

A strong serving day will set Federer up and I can see him just wearing down Melzer over the three sets they play and eventually put a set on the board with a double break of serve. That should be enough to help him overcome Melzer with a 63, 75, 62 kind of win and move through to the Second Round where another Qualifier will await before the big tests come Federer's way.

Kiki Bertens - 3.5 games v Varvara Lepchenko: The rise of Kiki Bertens in the World Rankings is mainly thanks to a huge run at the French Open last season, but she has yet to turn her game around on the hard courts. The latter half of the 2016 season was blighted by injury which was a factor in Bertens struggles, but the Dutchwoman has to show she can handle the extra speed that comes on the hard courts.

This is not an easy First Round match for Bertens against the American Varvara Lepchenko, although the latter has not made a very strong start to 2017. These courts tend to favour her game with Lepchenko having a solid serve and heavy forehand, but her consistency is still up for question and there should be plenty of firepower coming back her way in this match.

The best Grand Slam runs that Lepchenko has had in recent seasons have come in either the Australian Open or the US Open and I think she will have confidence she can beat Bertens. However her record since the 2016 US Open on the hard courts has to be a concern and this match is going to come down to which of the two players serves better and is able to set up the first ball strike that they enjoy.

I do think that is where Bertens may have an edge in the match and I think she is capable of winning enough points behind the second serve to give her the advantages in the match. I won't be surprised if Lepchenko causes some problems and maybe hits a really good purple patch to put Bertens under pressure, but I think Bertens can prevail in this First Round match with a 75, 64 win.

Alison Riske - 3.5 games v Madison Brengle: It looks like Madison Brengle will have plenty of support in this match because the Australian's love a humble underdog and the American is all of those things. She has become something of an internet star for comments made about herself 'being so bad' that she was surprising Serena Williams in her upset win over her in Auckland.

Receiving a lot of support will aid any player, but Brengle has to show she can do a little more around the court if she is going to win a match like this one against compatriot Alison Riske. She has not beaten Riske on the Tour although I would be surprised if these players haven't met off the Tour too and they should know all about the strengths and weaknesses.

I do think Riske is the better player and her run to the Final in Shenzhen would have given her the confidence to take into the Australian Open. Riske was playing well at the end of the 2016 season and has the bigger serve and I give her the edge in the power department, while Brengle had not been in great form to end 2016 which might have been underexposed thanks to her win over Serena in Auckland.

Riske should have enough in her locker to dominate the majority of the rallies and I think the Brengle serve is one that can be attacked. This should see the higher Ranked American move through to the Second Round with a solid enough 63, 64 win.

Kurumi Nara - 1.5 games v Stefanie Voegele: There has got to be a match up problem for Stefanie Voegele when she comes up against Kurumi Nara and that has shown up in their 4-0 head to head record in favour of the latter. That includes a fairly comprehensive win for Nara at the US Open although the layers might feel this could be a lot closer after Voegele came through the Qualifiers.

It might also be a factor that Nara has been in poorer form of the two players and winning matches is the only way to build confidence and Voegele has been doing that more than her opponent.

The hard courts have favoured Nara more than Voegele when on the main Tour and I think the former will be able to come through a competitive match. Recent form might be an issue, but Nara is a player who can produce some decent tennis on the hard courts and the only factor has to be whether she can serve well enough to keep Voegele at bay.

I do think Nara will cause problems on the return of serve too and I think this might go into a third set, but one that Nara can win with the mental strength of having overcome this opponent in previous matches. Nara can come through with a 63, 36, 64 win in this one and move into the Second Round.

Eugenie Bouchard - 4.5 games v Louisa Chirico: Last week will still be considered a really good week for Eugenie Bouchard despite it ending with a comfortable loss to Johanna Konta and the Canadian has to come into the Australian Open with some confidence. She has previously performed very well at Melbourne Park, and Bouchard should have too much for Louisa Chirico in the First Round.

The young American player is finding her feet on the Tour and Chirico has had some solid runs in tournaments over the second half of the 2016 season. However she has yet to win a match in 2017, which might have dented some confidence, and Chirico has not yet really produced a really strong run in a Grand Slam event.

She has to serve well to put some pressure on Bouchard, but I am not sure there is enough to challenge the latter if Bouchard has her eye in. She was playing really well in Sydney before the loss to Konta and Bouchard had produced a couple of matches with really strong serving behind her which had to help her feel she is going to have control in this match.

You don't always know what to expect from Bouchard who has been inconsistent over the last eighteen months, but I do think she can show her extra gears in this one. Chirico can sometimes fall apart in matches as she struggles to hold the serve and that can show up here and I do think Bouchard can win 63, 64 to move through this First Round match.

MY PICKS: Kei Nishikori - 7.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Karen Khachanov - 1.5 Sets @ 2.38 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 7.5 Games @ 1.80 William Hill (2 Units)
Kiki Bertens - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Alison Riske - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Kurumi Nara - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Eugenie Bouchard - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)

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