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Sunday, 22 January 2017

Australian Open Tennis Day 8 Picks 2017 (January 23rd)

The Australian Open has produced plenty of shocks down the years, but this might be a more erratic tournament than we have seen in a long time. Both favourites in the men's tournament, who were impossible to split a week ago, have been knocked out of the event before the Quarter Final while the Number 1 Seed in the women's draw has also been beaten.

Day 7 was an absolutely crazy day as Andy Murray joined Angelique Kerber as the two Number 1's being knocked out on the same day. The Murray loss is arguably a bigger upset than Novak Djokovic's earlier in the week, and it is a defeat that may haunt the British player who may never have a better chance to win the Australian Open where he has reached the Final five times before.

The defeat has opened the draw and it is a feel of the old guard trying to hold onto their positions at the top of the men's game as Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal have all won titles here before. However there are players like Milos Raonic, Dominic Thiem and David Goffin looking to take the next step in their career by winning a Slam.

You can't discount the two veteran Frenchmen left in the draw either as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils look to add something they may not have expected to their careers at this stage of their lives, but it does make for fascinating viewing over the next few days.

The women's draw might have lost Angelique Kerber, but this has looked an open tournament all week with Serena Williams slightly above the other players in the draw. Coming out of the bottom half is not going to be easy for Williams who may have to beat Johanna Konta and Karolina Pliskova to get to the Final, while Garbine Muguruza is a quiet threat having won a Grand Slam title already.

I think the remainder of this tournament could be very good for the fans and there should be plenty of good tennis to come.

After a slow start to the tournament, I though the picks from the Australian Open may struggle for a winning record, but back to back strong days have turned things around. Day 7 proved to be another really good day for the picks with plenty of winners that has moved the record into a very good position.

Hopefully that momentum can be carried through to the second week of the tournament and help produce some very good numbers for the first Grand Slam of the season.

Dominic Thiem-David Goffin over 40.5 total games: These two players are amongst the next generation of players on the ATP Tour who are looking to announce that they are ready to challenge the old guard at the top of the World Rankings. Both Dominic Thiem and David Goffin have experienced getting through to the last eight of Grand Slams before so I don't anticipate nerves to be an overriding factor for either player.

In saying that, there will be some nerves because this might be the best opportunity either player has ever had of getting through to a Grand Slam Final. Novak Djokovic is out of this quarter already which means the winner will play either Grigor Dimitrov or Denis Istomin in the Quarter Final before a big Semi Final against, most likely, either Milos Raonic or Rafael Nadal.

With the way Thiem and Goffin have been playing this week, they will believe those are not insurmountable obstacles to them playing next Sunday in the Final. I also believe both players are in very strong form and can put together a competitive match which potentially goes the distance.

It is the third time in five Grand Slams that Goffin and Thiem are playing one another and it is 1-1 so far with the Belgian winning in four at the Australian Open in January 2016 and Thiem earning a measure of revenge with a four set win at the French Open in June 2016. This match failing to go at least four sets would be a huge surprise to me and their previous two matches in 2016 at the Slams have seen them come close to surpassing this total both times.

The layers are right in anticipating a close match as they have got Goffin as a narrow favourite which did tempt me to back Thiem as the underdog. However Goffin has played better to open 2017 so I am looking for four competitive sets to be played out at the least with every chance a decider is needed and so backing the total games to be surpassed is the call.

Grigor Dimitrov - 6.5 games v Denis Istomin: The run to the Fourth Round has been very impressive from Denis Istomin who has shown he has plenty of resilience after coming through another five set match in the Third Round. After beating Novak Djokovic in the Second Round, it may have been difficult for Istomin to rise up again after an emotional win, but he managed to see off Pablo Carreno Busta in another long five setter.

Istomin will be looking to knock off a third Seeded player in a row when he faces the in form Grigor Dimitrov in the Fourth Round. With both Djokovic and Andy Murray out of the draw, Dimitrov may just begin to feel this is his time to fulfil the potential that many believed he had when labelled as 'Baby Fed' in his younger days.

I am not sure Dimitrov can ever really make that a moniker that was apt for him, but he won the title in Brisbane against some top players and has only dropped one set on his way through to the Fourth Round. The performance in the win over Richard Gasquet was particularly impressive and Dimitrov has been set as a big favourite to win this one.

You have to believe that mental and physical tiredness is going to affect the Istomin game at some point, but he will be dangerous early in this match. That is when the adrenaline is pumping and Istomin can produce some big serves and heavy groundstrokes which may trouble Dimitrov.

However I have to think that Istomin may just struggle to maintain the level and Dimitrov may just exert enough pressure to win a set by a couple of breaks which helps him move through and cover this number of games.

Milos Raonic - 5.5 games v Roberto Bautista Agut: There have been plenty of people out there who have believed Milos Raonic is capable of winning Grand Slam titles despite a limited return game and I will admit that I was not one of those. However the Canadian might not have a better chance to win his first Grand Slam title than here at the Australian Open where the top two Seeds have been beaten already.

This time last season Raonic reached the Semi Final and came very close to knocking off Andy Murray before falling to the same player in the Wimbledon Final. His performances at the ATP World Tour Finals in November showed Raonic is capable of producing his best tennis against the best players, but there is a feeling that it will take the perfect storm for him to win a Grand Slam.

That has occurred here in Melbourne with Murray and Novak Djokovic out, but that might also mean increased pressure on Raonic to deliver the goods. I do think there are going to be big tests ahead for Raonic, but I am not sure the ultra consistent Roberto Bautista Agut is the man to do that.

Consistency is a strong point, but Bautista Agut is not going to get a lot of rhythm from the Raonic game if the latter is serving as big as he can. The serve was not working perfectly against Gilles Simon in the latter two sets, but Raonic builds pressure when he is serving well and that can see Bautista Agut just overexert himself when it comes to looking after his own serve.

Raonic has the mental advantage of having won all four previous matches on the Tour and while a couple of those have been competitive, I think he is going to be too strong in the current conditions. His opponent had a really tough and gruelling Third Round win over David Ferrer which might have sapped some energy and the mental burden of holding serve may be too much for Roberto Bautista Agut in what I think will be a relatively serene progress for Raonic.

Rafael Nadal - 4.5 games v Gael Monfils: The Third Round win over Alexander Zverev says a lot about where Rafael Nadal feels his game is at this moment. That is the kind of match that Nadal has been losing at the Slam level in recent seasons and winning should mean the Spaniard is feeling very good about his chances through the rest of the week.

There is no doubt that Nadal has been a player who has been very open about how his confidence levels affects his game and I think he is in a better place mentally than he has been for many a month. That makes him a dangerous player in an open draw to win the Australian Open and I do think he can get the better of Gael Monfils despite how well the Frenchman has played here.

Monfils has looked healthy after a premature end to his first appearance at the ATP World Tour Finals In November and he has only dropped a single set despite an awkward looking draw. However it should be said that none of his opponents can produce the kind of tennis Nadal can and this is a big test for Monfils who mentally has an obstacle to overcome with a 2-12 head to head record with Nadal.

You know that Monfils has a big serve when he has it working and his athleticism should make him very dangerous, but he can be a little passive in these very big matches. That will give Nadal the chance to dictate the rallies if Monfils brings his usual attitude to the court and that should give him the chance to dominate the way the match is played.

Nadal has been serving pretty well too in this tournament and I think it will be a surprise if he is not able to win this match. It might go four sets if Monfils puts a purple patch together, but Nadal should still have a chance to cover this number and I will back him.

Serena Williams - 5.5 games v Barbora Strycova: With Angelique Kerber out of the tournament, Serena Williams has become a strong favourite to win the Australian Open and also has a chance to close in on the World Number 1 Ranking. It would be wrong for Serena Williams to overlook any opponent she faces in the very difficult bottom half of the draw, but I do think she has looked focused all week.

I have to say we have yet to see the big moment in a Grand Slam where Serena Williams has to dig deep and come through a match she looks like she could potentially lose. Overall she has been fully on as soon as the First Round which might have something to do with a very tough draw she has had to negotiate to even get into the Fourth Round.

This match presents a different challenge than the ones Williams has faced so far in this tournament as Barbora Strycova is capable of getting plenty of balls back in play and can pack a punch on the counter. Her serve is a little vulnerable and I think that is where Serena will prove too strong on the day with the feeling that she is going to put a lot of pressure off the return which may have Strycova scrambling around to stay in rallies.

Strycova has played well this week, but she did take a couple of one-sided losses in the tournaments prior to the Australian Open and heavy defeats have been a feature for her. Over the last twelve months, Strycova would have gone 10-12 when covering this number in a loss and Serena Williams is playing well enough to be backed to do the same at odds against.

Johanna Konta - 4.5 games v Ekaterina Makarova: This time last season Johanna Konta beat Ekaterina Makarova 8-6 in the final set of the Fourth Round at the Australian Open and the players meet again at the same Round in 2017. Last season it was an upset when Konta managed to get through and win that match, but she comes in as a healthy favourite this time around.

Konta has won all three previous matches with Makarova but both matches in 2016 were very competitive and so some will look for the Russian to keep things close again. It is a big spread, but that has much to do with how well Konta has been playing as well as factoring in the issues Makarova had with her arm in the Third Round win over Dominika Cibulkova.

Performances prior to the Australian Open were not exactly inspiring for Makarova fans and she will need to be at her best to slow down the British player who has won 11 of 12 matches in 2017. Konta has won eight in a row very, very easily and she would have covered this number each time and I am not ready to get off the bandwagon of a player who has won twice for me in the Australian Open already.

The way Konta has been serving and hitting the ball off the ground is going to be tough for Makarova to deal with if the backhand is limited by the injury she has been carrying. Konta's consistency has been at a very high level too and the experience of reaching the Semi Final here in 2016 has to stand her in good stead.

Konta should find a way to get into break point chances too with the way she has been reading the returns and I think she can come through with a 64, 63 win and move into what could be a huge Quarter Final against Serena Williams.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni - 2.5 games v Jennifer Brady: There are a couple of players who will look back at the Australian Open of 2017 and consider it a high point of their careers. That might not apply to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni just yet having reached a Semi Final at Wimbledon before, but her run here has been stunning to say the least and very unexpected.

Let's put it like this, Lucic-Baroni has only once before won a main draw match at the Australian Open before this tournament and it is clear she has been given a real confidence boost by the way she has been playing. Having to battle through three sets on two occasions already might mean the 34 year old is a little fatigued, but that can be cancelled out by her opponent having to win three Qualifiers just to get into the main draw.

Jennifer Brady is another surprise name in the Fourth Round and four of her six wins over the last ten days have come in final set deciders including a 10-8 win over Heather Watson. She has been clutch at the big moments when on the brink of defeat and Brady will feel she has a real chance of making it to a maiden Grand Slam Quarter Final, although Lucic-Baroni won't be any less confident.

I do think Lucic-Baroni is the better server in this match and she showed some decent form prior to the tournament. It also feels like Brady might just have been taking advantage of a favourable draw- while she deserves credit for that of course, I do think it is hard to ignore that Brady has suffered some poor losses prior to the Australian Open and may not be able to control her nerves as well as an experienced player like Lucic-Baroni should be able to do.

That should see Lucic-Baroni making some big plays at the big times in this match and I will back the favourite to cover the number.

Karolina Pliskova - 4.5 games v Daria Gavrilova: The big question for Karolina Pliskova is whether two days are enough to overcome the physical and emotional effort she needed to put into turning around her Third Round match from a surefire loss into a big win. It is definitely the kind of match Pliskova has lost in Grand Slams in the past, but reaching the US Open Final would have helped her have the belief that she could win a match that looked out of her control.

The serve is a huge weapon for Pliskova and she is able to stand at the line and rain down big shots which gives her a chance to hold serve a little more comfortably than many others. It also means Pliskova can exert some pressure on her opponents and that win in the Third Round is one that many others can point to when going on to win their own Grand Slam titles.

There is still plenty of tennis to be played before Pliskova can win a Grand Slam title and she has to deal with the fiery Daria Gavrilova who has thrived when playing in front of the Australian crowd. Gavrilova has shown the heart and the fight that Australians love in her three wins at the Open this season, but she will have to dig deep to win this one.

Unlike Pliskova, Gavrilova doesn't have a serve that will offer plenty of cheap points, although she is capable of hitting a big ball and trying to move her higher Ranked player off the spot. It hasn't been something that Gavrilova has been able to do in her two previous matches against Pliskova which have both been won by the latter easily enough.

The serve has proved to be a big difference maker in those matches and I think Pliskova will use that shot to do the same on Monday. I will look for Pliskova to silence the noise opposing her with some big shots helping her past Gavrilova and covering this number of games on her way through to another Grand Slam Quarter Final.

MY PICKS: Dominic Thiem-David Goffin Over 40.5 Total Games @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov - 6.5 Games @ 1.83 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Milos Raonic - 5.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Rafael Nadal - 4.5 Games @ 1.73 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Serena Williams - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Johanna Konta - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Mirjana Lucic-Baroni - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Karolina Pliskova - 4.5 Games @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 34-29, + 8.70 Units (121 Units Staked, + 7.19% Yield)

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