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Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Tennis Picks 2017 (January 11th)

It was announced on Tuesday that Maria Sharapova would be making her return to the Tour at the tournament in Stuttgart in April despite that event beginning two days before the ban is officially over. The organisers have bent over backwards to say Sharapova's First Round match will be played on the Wednesday when her ban comes to a close and she will be invited back with open arms to the Tour despite the shady manner in which Sharapova has decided to accept no blame for her part in the ban she has been handed out back in January 2016.

I would have thought that might have at least put some organisers' noses out of joint that they wouldn't be falling over themselves to hand Sharapova a Wild Card to events rather than forcing her to earn her way back up the World Rankings. Instead I think she will be welcomed back as if nothing wrong has happened and I think that does send a wrong message out to casual fans as well as young players who may feel they can cross a line.

Of course Sharapova has a huge name and is going to bring in the spectators and the journalists into every match she plays on her return so the organisers have put any morals behind the financial reward for having her in the draw. That is certainly the case for most tournaments outside of the Grand Slam events, but I would be stunned if either Roland Garros or Wimbledon have not set aside a Wild Card for Sharapova into those events too.

The problem I do have is that Sharapova is not making a dramatic return to the Tour after leaving like Kim Clijsters did, nor is she off a big injury like Juan Martin Del Potro, and the former World Number 1 has not shown remorse for the fact she got caught taking a banned substance. Some humbleness would have been nice, even in the case of a mistake of not realising Meldonium had been moved onto the banned substance list, but instead all the fingers have been pointed at the ITF and no responsibility has been taken.

I can't say I am surprised that Sharapova would be receiving Wild Cards, but it would be nice if some tournaments make a stand and show that failing a drugs test is not going to easy to sweep under the carpet regardless of how a big a name is in the sport. I won't hold my breath on that happening though with a Wild Card given into a tournament before the ban is completed.

It has been a solid first two days of picks from the various tournaments being played and there are plenty of matches to come on Wednesday. We are also now just two days away from the Australian Open draw which takes place on Friday and the excitement for that tournament is building.

While the two top men's players look like they are in form from Doha, the two top women's players are perhaps feeling a bit of pressure with both Angelique Kerber and Serena Williams suffering disappointing losses to open 2017. They might be the players to beat, but the women's draw looks more open than the men's although it will look all the clearer on Friday once the draw has been made.

Ryan Harrison + 3.5 games v Jack Sock: Receiving a bye in the First Round means Jack Sock will be playing for World Ranking points for the first time in 2017 as he looks to make a big impact as a Singles player this season. Sock is so focused that he has admitted he is going to schedule fewer Doubles tournaments to keep himself fresh and ready to compete despite being in the top 25 of the World Rankings as both a Singles and Doubles player.

A solid performance in the Hopman Cup will have given Sock some confidence, although I do think he needs to show he is now much better conditioned and ready to handle the heat of the summer in New Zealand and Australia. It has affected his performances in the past, but Sock will come in with some confidence.

This is a challenge for him against Ryan Harrison who won two Qualifiers before crushing an out of form Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the First Round to feel very good in the conditions in Auckland. The serve has been working very well for Harrison and he has to feel that gives him a chance to put some pressure on Sock whose backhand can be attacked with heavy shots into that wing.

The Harrison backhand is not a potent weapon though and Sock has a big serve and heavy forehand that can make life easy for him at times. His success on the Doubles court means he will be able to get to the net and put away points when necessary, but I do think Harrison is playing with some confidence too and that can make this a tight match.

We could see a deciding set needed to separate these players and I think the games being given to Harrison on the handicap can keep him close in this one.

MY PICKSRyan Harrison + 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 4-1, + 5.20 Units (10 Units Staked, + 52% Yield)

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