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Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Tennis Picks 2017 (January 31st)

It has been a couple of days since the Australian Open 2017 was completed and it is still taking some time for things to sink in.

I would not have imagined Roger Federer was able to come back from the first significant injury of his career and actually go all the way and win the title in Melbourne. For starters the first two Slams of the season are not really suited to his style as well as Wimbledon and the US Open tournaments are and I thought coming in as the Number 17 Seed would mean too many obstacles needed to be cleared for him to win the the title.

It is a testament to his greatness that Federer was able to see off the likes of Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal in this event, and fitness shouldn't be a concern having won the last three of those matches in five setters. Getting up to Number 18 in terms of Grand Slams won might just mean Federer is holding the record for some time to come, and it was a memorable event for him.

There was also a hint or two that Federer might not be around beyond 2017 in his victory speech- he mentioned he 'hopes' to be back in Australia next year, but also admitted 'if not, this is a great way to go out' so I do think retirement may be on the mind. We should all enjoy Federer while he is around because not many players can play like he can and I am definitely making plans to make sure I have another opportunity to see him live at some point in this season.

For Rafael Nadal the Australian Open has to be seen as a success even if he just came down on the wrong side of the final score. He would not have been expecting a lot and so this event should give him the confidence to take into the rest of the season, especially the clay court season which will begin soon.

Nadal won't be taking part in the Golden Swing in South America like he has in recent years, but his next appearance looks to be in Rotterdam in a couple of weeks time after he pulled out of the Spanish Davis Cup tie this weekend. That's an interesting change for Nadal who will then head off to Mexico for the tournament in Acapulco at the end of the month, but both events will be played on hard courts rather than the red dirt.

We do expect to see Federer next at the Dubai Open at the end of February when Andy Murray is also expected to return, but it is interesting to note that Novak Djokovic is not scheduled to head to that event. As a four time winner in Dubai, I am surprised Djokovic is skipping that event, but is playing for Serbia in the Davis Cup this weekend (at the time of writing anyway). He will then be back on court for the first two Masters events of the season in March, and perhaps that is best for Djokovic to give himself a chance to refocus on matters on the court.

It wasn't the best start for the picks this week as both on Monday came up short, but this is just the start of the week and there is plenty of time to turn things around. I am looking at the First Round matches in St Petersburg to begin that move back into a positive position on Tuesday.

Roberta Vinci - 2.5 games v Timea Babos: You would have to think that at some point 33 year old Italian Roberta Vinci may just start slipping down the World Rankings, but I won't question her fitness. She continues to defy when heading into some of these tight, long battles on the court where you think the age would count against her, while Vinci is perhaps still capable of springing an upset or two on her day.

The start of the 2017 season has been far from easy for Vinci, but Timea Babos' confidence can't be in a great place. She has lost in the First or Second Round in six of her last seven tournaments (three First Round losses in the 2017 season) and she also lost both matches at the WTA Elite tournament at the end of the 2016 season. While I have previously mentioned how much I like the Babos game and the expectation she should be an improving player, this is not the best match up for her and even less so when she might be lacking some self-belief.

Vinci has won four of their five previous matches including here in St Petersburg last season in what was a tight Quarter Final decided on a final set tie-breaker. It does have to be said that if Babos is serving well, then this is already looking like a big number for Vinci to cover, but it would take some reversal of recent form for Babos to bring that kind of game to the court.

The indoor conditions shouldn't bother Vinci as the defending Champion in St Petersburg this week and she has a first serve that is under-rated. The backhand wing is there to try and extract errors from her opponents and Babos has been guilty of making plenty of those and I think the Italian is capable of coming through with a 7-6, 6-4 win to move into the Second Round.

Alize Cornet - 2.5 games v Kirsten Flipkens: This has been a match up that Alize Cornet has enjoyed over the past couple of years as she has won five of the last six between herself and Kirsten Flipkens. After a pretty solid start to 2017, Cornet had a disappointing time at the Australian Open and Flipkens might have an edge having come through three Qualifiers to take her place in the main draw in St Petersburg.

That should mean Flipkens is very comfortable in the conditions, although she has needed to win the last two Qualifiers in final set deciders. There hasn't been any days off for the Belgian either and Flipkens had not begun 2017 as well as she would have liked so confidence could still be an issue against a player that has dominated their recent matches.

This feels like a match that will have some twists and turns with neither player dominant behind serve and I think the match is going to hinge on a few big points here and there. That has been the case in some of their recent matches which have fluctuated back and forth and that can be the case when you have an erratic player like Cornet whose highest level is above Flipkens, but who can also produce plenty of trash tennis when she mentally loses focus.

It should be less of an issue when Cornet is playing someone she has dominated in recent matches and I expect that to help her through this one. Flipkens will feel good with three quick wins behind her, but this could be another match filled with long rallies and I expect that gives Cornet a chance to come through with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win.

Ana Konjuh - 1.5 games v Monica Niculescu: There are some similarities with the way this season has begun for both Ana Konjuh and Monica Niculescu as both have reached the Final of a tournament and she gone out of the Australian Open earlier than they would have expected. Now they meet in the First Round in St Petersburg as they look for another strong run in a WTA event.

Ana Konjuh has been tipped to make the next step in her career and the 19 year old has so much potential that she has been able to show off at times. Inconsistent results are not a surprise for a player as young as the Croatian, but there is a feeling she is almost ready to really make a move up the World Rankings and announce herself to casual tennis fans.

She will need to stay in this match mentally because Monica Niculescu can be an awkward and frustrating player to compete against. Unlike most players, Niculescu lives off the slice from the forehand and will look to use her variation and change of speeds on the court to try and frustrate Konjuh and extract errors from her game when the youngster tries to hit through the court.

The layers are pretty much spot on that this is going to be a close match because Konjuh is going to have to work hard to win her points. It is tough to stay in a match mentally when you feel your opponent is frustrating you but I do think it is important that Konjuh has faced Niculescu before because that should make her feel a little more comfortable on the court.

After a three set battle, I will look for Konjuh to have taken control in a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win.

Daria Kasatkina - 2.5 games v Belinda Bencic: One of the more disappointing stories at the Australian Open was the Daria Kasatkina one as she was beaten in the First Round at an event where she looked like she could produce a big impact. There had been a lot to like about the way Kasatkina had been playing in Brisbane and Sydney so her defeat at the Australian Open was one that was not really expected.

This tournament is a chance for Kasatkina to get some of her momentum back but the First Round has pitted her with Belinda Bencic who has been returned to the Tour following an injury hit 2016. Bencic is yet to show she is fully over her health issues having had to pull out early in a match in Sydney and that is going to be tested by Kasatkina.

Bencic showed flashes of what she is capable of by challenging Serena Williams in the First Round at the Australian Open, but that also means she has lost eight of her last nine matches. That has to have an affect on any player's confidence levels and facing someone as good as Kasatkina is going to be another big test for Bencic.

There will be times when she is getting the upper hand in the rallies, but the question is can she do it for long enough to win this match? I am not convinced about that and I think Kasatkina can weather the storm and then start showing her own dominance on the court in what could end up being a 7-6, 6-4 kind of win for the young Russian with a big future on the WTA Tour.

MY PICKS: Roberta Vinci - 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Alize Cornet - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Ana Konjuh - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Daria Kasatkina - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 0-2, - 4 Units (4 Units Staked, - 100% Yield)

Australian Open Final+ 16.10 Units (168 Units Staked, + 9.58% Yield)

Season 2017+ 6.70 Units (254 Units Staked, + 2.64% Yield)
Season 2016- 5.64 Units (2013 Units Staked, - 0.00% 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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