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Monday, 2 January 2017

Tennis Picks 2017 (January 2nd)

And just like that the 2017 tennis season is upon us with plenty of big stories ready to be written over the next eleven months. There is no doubting it is an incredibly short off-season for the players, although the big names do manage their schedules well enough to earn rest through the year to be ready for the big Grand Slam events.

There are questions on both the ATP and WTA Tours at the very top with players like Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams going into the new season with things to prove. It will be interesting to see which of the younger players can consistently produce their best tennis to move amongst the best players in the world, while Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber look to fight off their challengers for the Number 1 World Ranking.

Both of those players head to the first Grand Slam of the season at the Australian Open as the top Seeds for the first time in their careers and it will be interesting to see how they handle that responsibility and media attention. I don't particularly worry for either Murray or Kerber to be honest and I think they will be arguably the favourites in each of the Grand Slam events even if the prices don't always represent that.

The one real big piece of news that springs to mind about the off-season is a the totally disgusting event that Petra Kvitova had to go through- someone intended to rob her house without realising it was Kvitova's place or that she was the one answering the door and in the struggle damaged her left hand.

It means 2017 might be a write off for Kvitova on the Tour, but more worrying is that she may not ever be able to play tennis again which is absolutely a crazy turn of events. I wish her all the best and hope Kvitova not only gets back onto the Tour, but reaches the levels she has prior.

2016 began miserably for the picks in what had been a terrible twelve months which heavily influenced the negative numbers for the last two seasons. However the last five months of the season were positive enough to believe I can take that momentum into the 2017 season and have a much more positive beginning to the season. I missed much of the clay court season last year due to that being the time of the year I was getting ready for my wedding, but hopefully this will help turn around the numbers and get back into the winning runs as I had prior to 2015.

Roberta Vinci v Lesia Tsurenko: Players are much better conditioned these days to play longer than their tennis predecessors did in the past, but Roberta Vinci is now six weeks out from her 34th birthday and I do wonder how much is left in the Italian's tank. However the last few seasons have arguably been the best of her Singles career and Vinci continues to put up the wins in 2016 and looks like a tough competitor at least early in 2017.

The hard courts are actually where Vinci produces her better results which is a surprise because on first glance you would assume an Italian player would prefer the clay courts. However Vinci has had some strong runs on this surface and reached the Quarter Final in Brisbane last season.

I do think she can get the better of Lesia Tsurenko who has been a little more than a journeywoman on the Tour. Tsurenko had a couple of solid, if unspectacular, seasons behind her, but Vinci got the better of this opponent twice in 2016 and both of those wins came on the hard courts.

The form in the latter stages of the 2016 season does make Tsurenko a dangerous First Round opponent for Vinci especially off the long rest and what that can do to the rhythm. Even with that in mind though, I am surprised Vinci is seen at such a big price to win this match and I think she can frustrate Tsurenko while using an under-rated first serve to move through to the Second Round in Brisbane again.

Simona Halep - 4.5 games v Jelena Jankovic: 2016 looked to be a season with significant regression for Jelena Jankovic as a Singles player, but some positive results in the latter half of the season at least put a decent gloss on things. It doesn't hide from the fact that she won the fewest matches on Tour since 2003 and I think Jankovic will do well to turn things around and not follow compatriot Ana Ivanovic into retirement at the end of the 2017 season.

This is an early test for Jankovic to see where she is with her game as she gets set to face Simona Halep in the First Round in Shenzhen. This is not exactly the kind of opening match Halep would have wanted as she finally looks to break her duck at the Grand Slam level and win a title that will move her up from her current level.

Halep is a very good player, but she can be a little erratic protecting serve which makes her vulnerable against some of the best players on the Tour. However I think her movement is now quite clearly much stronger than Jankovic's and that can expose the difference between the players on the court.

These two haven't played one another since Cincinnati in 2015 around eighteen months ago, but Halep had begun to not only get the better of Jankovic, but she had also won the last two matches quite comfortably. I think it might take a little time for Halep to find her rhythm in this opening match, but I do believe her superior movement will offer up more chances to break serve and Halep can win this one 75, 63 to cover the number.

Kyle Edmund - 3.5 games v Ernesto Escobedo: Seeing Andy Murray knighted having achieved all of his goals on the tennis court has to inspire the next generation of British players and it is Kyle Edmund who is leading the way. This is going to be a big season for Edmund to show he can take the next step in his development and I think he can open the season with a win over Qualifier Ernesto Escobedo.

The young American had a couple of impressive wins in the Qualifiers against a couple of veterans of the Tour, but he was beaten by Edmund at the US Open and there looked to be some gap between them. While Escobedo has gone back to the Challenger level for his best results since the US Open, Edmund reached the Fourth Round at Flushing Meadows which led into a solid ending to the 2016 season.

He has worked with Murray in the off season in the past so I fully expect Edmund will have put in the hard graft over the last few weeks to get ready for the 2017 season. He has the superior serve and the harder groundstrokes in this First Round match and I do think he can put that together to good effect against Escobedo.

The fact that Escobedo has a couple of Qualifiers under his belt should mean he can settle quicker than Edmund, but I do think the latter will find his range. At that point he should have the majority of the break point opportunities and also dictate the rallies and I expect Edmund to pull through with a 75, 64 win.

Grigor Dimitrov - 3.5 games v Steve Johnson: Over the last twelve months you would have to say that Steve Johnson overachieved considerably and Grigor Dimitrov underachieved as he struggled with his form. However a smaller sample of the last six months suggests the players are now going in opposite directions with Dimitrov showing signs of improvement and Johnson perhaps regressing.

Matches between these players have been close as Dimitrov has had some difficulties getting a read on the Johnson serve and has simply not protected his own service games as well as he should have. They have met five times in a little over eighteen months and all of those matches have been competitive with Dimitrov only just having the edge 3-2.

I think the form to end 2016 should have given Dimitrov some confidence that he can have a big 2017 season and I think he has previously played well at this stage of the season in Australia. He will be put under pressure if Johnson is serving well, but I do think the American has struggled to back up the first serve as well as he did in the early part of 2016.

Johnson had been very good at the big moments early in the season which saw him move up the World Rankings, but I think that was always going to be difficult to maintain. The latter half of the season saw Johnson just struggle at those break point moments and I think Dimitrov will get the better of him here with a 76, 63 win.

Nicolas Almagro v Paolo Lorenzi: There are only four places between Paolo Lorenzi and Nicolas Almagro in the World Rankings and both players are much better on the clay courts than the other surfaces on the Tour. In previous years Almagro wasn't a bad hard court player, but he struggled on the surface last season although I think the Spaniard can get the better of Lorenzi in this First Round encounter in Doha.

Like Almagro, Lorenzi didn't have a very good season when moving onto the hard courts in 2016, but the difference between the players is that Lorenzi has never really shown too much on that surface. His serve is not the biggest meaning he has to work for every point and Lorenzi also doesn't have the groundstrokes to always penetrate defences.

I think he will have more success in this one because of Almagro's movement being a little slower around the court, while some of the consistency on the Spaniard's side of the court is no longer at the level it was. However Lorenzi will have to find a way to stay with Almagro when the latter unleashes his bigger forehand and solid enough first serve and I think that is where Almagro is able to dominate a little more.

Anything but a tight match would be a surprise, but I do think Almagro is perhaps a little under-rated considering the opponent. He has beaten Lorenzi all four times they have met previously, but each of those has been on the clay courts. There is no doubt Almagro is not the player he was, but I consider him the better hard court player and I expect him to move through to the Second Round.

MY PICKS: Roberta Vinci @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Simona Halep - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Kyle Edmund - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov - 3.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Nicolas Almagro @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)

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