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Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Tennis Picks 2017 (January 4th)

The tennis tournaments in Auckland, Brisbane, Chennai, Doha and Shenzhen continue in the opening week of the 2017 season and the Hopman Cup is also in action. These tournaments will feature the biggest names on the ATP and WTA Tour this week before most will decide to have a rest next week ahead of the Australian Open beginning on Monday 16th January.

The Second Round matches will be either completed or begun on Wednesday as we reach the middle of the first week of the 2017 season and I will have picks from the various events being played.

Angelique Kerber - 5.5 games v Ashleigh Barty: The Ashleigh Barty story is a very interesting one with the player leaving what looked a promising tennis career to become a cricket player. She returned to the WTA Tour after a two year break and is still only 20 years old with a chance to make an impact on the Tour.

It does have to be mentioned that the majority of her early successes came on the Doubles Tour and Barty might actually be a better team player than a Singles one. That is not disparaging the young Australian, but I do worry about her ability to cover the court on the Singles Tour especially when up against the very best players on the Tour.

Barty will be playing the very best player in the Second Round in Brisbane as Angelique Kerber makes her first appearance of the 2017 season. 2016 will always be a memorable one for the German who will be entering the Australian Open as the World Number 1 in a Grand Slam event for the first time, as well as trying to defend the title she won twelve months ago.

The movement Kerber produces around the court has proved to be a real difference maker and I think she is going to put Barty into some tough positions while also making the youngster hit one more ball than she perhaps expects to when it comes to winning points. That is going to lead to errors and Kerber also has the quality to turn defence into attack very quickly which has helped her reach the top of the women's game.

I think that is going to be a key in this match and help Kerber come through with a fairly comfortable win after weathering the Barty storm. There will be some strong moments for Barty, but I believe Kerber will be able to wear her down and come through with a 64, 62 win and a place in to the Quarter Finals.

Kristyna Pliskova v Kai-Chen Chang: Seeing twin sister Karolina Pliskova take another step in a positive direction at the end of the 2016 season has to inspire Kristyna Pliskova in a bid to improve her Number 60 position in the World Rankings. She has a serve to rival Karolina's and it is coming from a lefty which makes Kristyna very dangerous, but she has yet to find the consistency on the ground to really make big leaps up the World Rankings.

This is going to be anything but an easy match against Kai-Chen Chang who had some strong results to finish up the 2016 season. That looks to have given Chang some confidence having already won three matches in Shenzhen and it makes her a big test for Pliskova.

These players met a few months ago and it was a tight match won by Pliskova. This looks like another that potentially goes the distance and it has to be said that the Pliskova first serve could be the difference maker in the match as it will allow her to earn a couple of cheaper points.

That eases the pressure at big moments and I think it could help Pliskova to narrowly find a way past Chang in this one. The latter will have to work hard for all she gets on the court and I believe that ultimately sees her come up short and I will back Pliskova in this pick 'em contest.

David Ferrer - 4.5 games v Jordan Thompson: A couple of seasons ago David Ferrer would be a big favourite to win a match like this, but the last few months have seen a regression from the Spaniard. There is clearly some fire left in the belly of the veteran after making a coaching change to perhaps reverse the natural arc of a career, and Ferrer did have an impressive First Round win over Bernard Tomic here in Brisbane.

Ferrer faces another Australian in the Second Round when meeting Jordan Thompson who put together some solid results at the back end of 2016 albeit at a lower level than the ATP Tour.

He had a solid First Round win and Thompson has some good shots in his locker which can give Ferrer trouble. The serve is important for Thompson to try and keep Ferrer on the back foot in this one but he has to make sure a high enough percentage of first serves in play to stop Ferrer from being able to step forward and attack him immediately.

The regression in the Ferrer play has to be a concern for the Spaniard and his fans going into the season, but I think he is still good enough to win matches like this. He served very well in his first match and I think Ferrer is capable of forcing Thompson to dig deep and try and win the longer rallies even if the unforced errors come a little more frequently from Ferrer these days.

Extracting errors from Thompson and making the Australian look to hit winners quicker than he may want to should lead to Ferrer being able to match the margin of victory that he had against Tomic in the First Round. I will back the veteran to come through with a cover in this Second Round match.

Stan Wawrinka - 3.5 games v Victor Troicki: The first match after a long lay off is always a challenge for the players beginning their return to the Tour and Stan Wawrinka could have hoped for an easier Second Round match. He does have a very strong record against Victor Troicki which will give Wawrinka the mental edge in this match, but he will have to produce something like his best tennis to win.

His opponent has a win under his belt from the First Round, and Troicki also won the title in Sydney at this time of the season in 2016. That was one of the successful tournaments that helped the Serbian move inside the top 30 in the World Rankings and Troicki will be Seeded at the Australian Open.

Troicki serves well and it does have to be said that Wawrinka can be a little passive when it comes to the return which will give Troicki a chance to dictate rallies. However Troicki never seems that far away from a mental collapse when playing some of the better players on the Tour and that has been the case when he has played Wawrinka.

Those problems against the top 10 players is shown up in Troicki's 9-60 career record against them, and he would have been 2-4 covering this number of games in a best of three set match against top 10 opponents in 2016. Stan Wawrinka was one of those players who wore down Troicki and I expect him to do the same in his opening match in Brisbane and come through with a 76, 63 win.

Philipp Kohlschreiber - 2.5 games v Nicolas Almagro: The head to head sees Nicolas Almagro leading Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4 and it was the Spaniard who won the sole match between these veterans in 2016. That did take place on the clay courts at the French Open and that surface would be giving Almagro the edge.

I am not sure that is the case on the hard courts though and I think Kohlschreiber will have the advantage on a surface on which Almagro has really struggled over the last twelve months.

Even his win over Paolo Lorenzi saw Almagro come through some difficult moments and I think he just finds it a little tougher to find his rhythm on the faster surfaces. Almagro is just 9-11 on the hard courts since the 2014 season and that has to be a concern considering he should have the serve and the forehand to have success on the surface.

Kohlschreiber is definitely on the slide in his own career too, and he didn't exactly produce a strong set of results on the hard courts himself in the 2016 season. He doesn't match up that well with Almagro on the face of things, but half of his four wins over Almagro have come on the hard courts.

I just feel the German has still got a little more in the tank on this surface than Almagro and I expect that to make a difference between two well matched opponents. Kohlschreiber has to make sure he doesn't allow Almagro to dictate too many of the rallies by offering up too many second serves, but I think he can do that and I believe he can win this match in a 63, 46, 64 win.

Jiri Vesely + 3.5 games v Tomas Berdych: The first time I am taking the games in the 2017 season comes from a Second Round match in Doha when I will back Jiri Vesely to keep things competitive against Tomas Berdych. It does have to be said that Vesely has yet to come close to fulfilling the potential he has, but he has pushed Berdych in their last two matches and can give his compatriot something to think about in this one.

Vesely is a big man and a lefty, but he needs to get more out of the first serve in 2017 if he wants to show real improvement on the court. The younger player should be well rested having had his First Round match a couple of days ago, and I do think he can expose some of the movement in the Berdych game by serving big and following it up with some big groundstrokes.

The length also means Vesely can get a few more balls back in play on the return of serve which has given Berdych problems in their two matches in 2016. Both went the distance at Wimbledon and Shenzhen and Vesely can certainly push him into a deciding set in this one.

A key to the number is Vesely serving well and making sure he takes the chances when they are presented on the return of serve. There is little doubt in my mind that Berdych remains the superior player at this moment of time and also has the mental edge having won all three previous matches against his compatriot. However I think this is a decent match up for Vesely if he is limiting his unforced errors and I will take the games and look for a close match.

MY PICKS: Angelique Kerber - 5.5 Games @ 1.91 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Kristyna Pliskova @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
David Ferrer - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Stan Wawrinka - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Philipp Kohlschreiber - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Jiri Vesely + 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units) Match from Tuesday

Weekly Update: 4-3, + 1.34 Units (14 Units Staked, + 9.57% Yield)

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