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Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Tennis Picks 2017 (January 5th)

It was a bit of a frustrating day on Wednesday with some of the players being in a position to do much better when it came to clearing the numbers. Others threw in one really poor service game which cost them an opportunity to cover and I was a little disappointed with the returns.

However I am putting that to the back of the mind now and looking for much better on Thursday as some of the events being played this week reach the Quarter Final stage and others will complete their own Quarter Final line ups.

Alize Cornet + 3.5 games v Dominika Cibulkova: The opening matches of a new season are always going to be difficult for the top players on the Tour as they try and regain the rhythm on the court. This is a time where the tournaments are loaded with some quality players as they prepare for the Australian Open and there have been some upsets in the different events being played.

Dominika Cibulkova managed to avoid an upset on Wednesday by coming from a set and a break down to beat Shuai Zhang to move into this Quarter Final. After winning the WTA Finals at the end of October Cibulkova has to be coming into the 2017 season with a load of confidence behind her and she is going to be a threat at the first Grand Slam of the season having reached the Final at the Australian Open previously.

She doesn't match up as well with Alize Cornet as you might imagine with the latter being able to use the power Cibulkova uses on the court back against her. There is definitely some talent in the Cornet racquet, but she can be emotionally a little unstable which has made it difficult for her to take the next step in her career, but she will appreciate the pace that Cibulkova gives to her and being able to redirect that back at the Slovakian.

These two players had two highly competitive matches at the back end of the 2016 season with Cibulkova chasing a spot in the WTA Finals at that time. Both Cibulkova and Cornet won a match apiece in Wuhan and Beijing and both matches went the distance with very little between then.

There will be a lot of break points in this one and I can see the match needing three sets to separate these players again. That makes the games being given to Cornet very appealing and I will back her to cover with the start.

Garbine Muguruza v Svetlana Kuznetsova: A few months ago Garbine Muguruza would have been a big favourite to beat Svetlana Kuznetsova on most surfaces, but the end to the 2016 season has seen her set as the marginal favourite in this one. In most cases the layers believe this will be a pick 'em contest in the Quarter Final with Muguruza as the underdog in some cases, but I think the Spaniard can battle her way past Kuznetsova.

She has needed all the big shots in her locker to come through two tough matches already in Brisbane, but I think those wins will have given Muguruza some mental strength to fall back upon the rest of the way this week. Muguruza could easily have lost either match played this week and Kuznetsova is another level up from the challenges that Sam Stosur and Daria Kasatkina have given Muguruza.

It has been a much easier path through to the Quarter Final for Kuznetsova having beaten overmatched opponents, while she was one of the hottest players on the WTA Tour to end the 2016 season. The Russian finished with her most wins on the Tour since 2007, but she did end up on the wrong side of two losses to Muguruza which has to give the latter the mental edge at the big moments in this match.

Her first serve has to be working to prevent Kuznetsova taking control of rallies and I think Muguruza will like the match up as the former tries to outgun her from the back of the court. The power edge goes to Muguruza and I think she can battle past Kuznetsova and reach the Semi Final in Brisbane as she looks to get her confidence back to the levels they were when she won the French Open title.

Jelena Ostapenko - 2.5 games v Madison Brengle: The 2017 season might only be a few days old, but there won't be as many bigger upsets than seeing Serena Williams go down to Madison Brengle in the Second Round in Auckland. It was such a surprise that even Brengle was caught on the microphone at one of the changeovers mentioning that Williams must be playing poorly because she didn't realise how 'bad' Brengle is.

Now I don't think Brengle is as bad as she thinks of herself, but it showed some character to stay in the moment and try to 'junk' her way to a win.

This is a completely different test for her though as the expectation levels will have gone up when she faces Jelena Ostapenko, although the younger player is the favourite heading into the match. We have seen players earning an upset and then struggle to back it up and I do think Brengle might have some difficulty having shown little positive form in the second half of the 2016 season.

That isn't to say Ostapenko was in stunning form herself but it was the first full year on the Tour for the Latvian and I think that took a toll on what she could do from a mental aspect. She still moved up to Number 44 in the World Rankings and Ostapenko has a couple of solid wins under her belt here already this week.

The conditions could be a problem, but I don't think Ostapenko will give out the 88 unforced errors that Serena Williams aided Brengle with and I can see her coming through with a 75, 64 win.

Julia Goerges + 4.5 games v Caroline Wozniacki: It was a very good day for Julia Goerges who had to win two matches on Wednesday to move into the Quarter Final. That will have given her some confidence, but Caroline Wozniacki is a definite raise in level as to what Goerges has faced so far this week.

That means Goerges has to raise her own game but she has matched up well with Wozniacki in the past as shown by their 4-4 head to head record as well as the competitive nature of many of those matches. We know Goerges is not someone who is going to take a step back with her aggression and that means she has found ways to penetrate the Wozniacki defences when playing against someone famed for their defensive skills.

Goerges has a better first serve than Wozniacki which at least gives her a chance to dictate rallies by following up with some aggressive forehands. The consistency is not as good as Wozniacki's though which means the latter is the favourite to come through, but Goerges can take a set in this one which makes the games very attractive.

You have to imagine Goerges is going to be able to fashion some break points and it is all about whether she can take those and put the Number 2 Seed under some pressure. It is Goerges who has won four of the last six matches between these players and it has to be noted that Wozniacki would not have covered this number of games in her two wins in that time.

The only real concern has to be the two matches Goerges had to play on Wednesday, but she has been given ample time to get ready for this match and I like the German with the games to keep this one competitive at least.

Aljaz Bedene - 1.5 games v Martin Klizan: British tennis is experiencing something of a resurgence thanks to Andy Murray and the likes of Aljaz Bedene, who has switched allegiance to Great Britain, will be hoping to kick on behind the new World Number 1 in 2017.

He made a good start with a win over veteran Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and will be looking to take advantage of the fact that this will be Martin Klizan's first Singles match in 2017. Klizan might be the Number 4 Seed here, but he had a shocking 2016 and has a big title to defend in Rotterdam early next month which might end up seeing him slip drastically down the Rankings.

Klizan went 3-8 on the Tour since winning another big title in Hamburg and he lost his last seven matches in a row in 2016. He also finished 0-8 on the outdoor hard courts which is a big surprise when you think of the talent he possesses and it might take some reversing to get the confidence back into a position it should be.

If both play to the top of their ability you would have to think Klizan is the more likely winner between himself and Bedene on the talent levels. However tennis is so much about confidence and being able to not doubt yourself at the key moments and that is where Klizan has let himself down at times.

When he gets going he can be hard to stop as shown in his title wins, but Bedene might be consistent enough to come through this Second Round match and beat Klizan in his first Tour match of the season.

Benoit Paire - 2.5 games v Yuki Bhambri: It has been some time since Yuki Bhambri has been playing regularly on the Tour thanks to injuries and that has seen drop down to outside the top 450 in the World Rankings. Bhambri has talent as a former Junior Australian Open Champion, but getting back up the Rankings is going to take hard work over the next twelve months.

Bhambri has had three decent wins in Chennai having come through the Qualifiers, but the level of competition moves a few steps upwards in this Second Round match. Now I am the first who will criticise Benoit Paire as someone who can throw in an absolute stinker when you least expect it and is clearly someone who has been overrated over the last couple of years.

That was all down to one or two decent performances, but Paire should be too good in this one as long as he serves well and is not giving away games with unforced errors. His first serve should be a bigger weapon than it is, but Paire had a good First Round win in Chennai where he reached the Semi Final in 2016 and that should give him confidence.

It has to be respected that Bhambri has won eight matches in a row coming into this match, but most of those have been against players of a lower standard than Paire, or what Paire should be able to produce. I can imagine the first set has a couple of twists and turns, but eventually I am looking for Paire to come through with a 76, 64 win and a place in the Quarter Final.

Ivo Karlovic-Fernando Verdasco First Set Tie-Breaker: The opening Quarter Final to be played in Doha is between Ivo Karlovic and Fernando Verdasco as these two veterans battle once again on the Tour.

Picking a winner is difficult in this one and the layers have struggled to separate themselves too. I don't really want to get involved in picking a winner, but the almost odds against quotes for the first set to end in a tie-breaker looks a huge one.

All four sets that Ivo Karlovic has played this week have been tie-breakers and he is yet to create a break point while also offering up just four opportunities against his own serve. Someone like Fernando Verdasco is capable of taking his chance when it comes along as he won't back away from Karlovic and his aggressive shots can make things tough for the Croatian if he is protecting the net at break point.

The Verdasco has been working well enough this week to think he won't offer up too many chances to Karlovic as long as he doesn't self-destruct. That is always a concern with Verdasco, but the Spaniard should be good enough to at least protect his serve through the first set when the focus should be at the highest level and I do think both players will end up having to battle through a tie-breaker to decide it.

Andy Murray - 5.5 games v Nicolas Almagro: The last three sets played by Andy Murray in Doha have been very competitive and seen him need 13, 13, and 12 games before he won those. That would suggest he is not at his very best level when you consider those have come against Jeremy Chardy and Gerard Melzer, but Murray is going to be working his way into the 2017 season with preparations being completed for the Australian Open.

Murray meets Nicolas Almagro in the Quarter Final in Doha and I think the veteran Spaniard has already had a successful week by winning back to back matches. However those have not come against anyone of the level of Murray and Almagro will have to turn back the clock if he is going to challenge the new World Number 1.

The hard court performances over the last twelve months won't cut it for Almagro but his serve has been working well in Doha. Unfortunately Almagro has thrown in some poor games behind serve and doing that against Murray will be much harder to recover.

It does have to be said that Murray needs to improve his own serving from the last couple of matches having allowed opponents too many looks into his games. I do think that is an area that Murray can quickly improve and I do think Almagro is going to have a few problems protecting serve against someone who returns as well as Murray and who will look to put the Spaniard in some awkward positions on the court.

After a challenge in the first set, I think Murray will eventually wear down Almagro in a 64, 62 win and move into the Semi Final.

MY PICKS: Alize Cornet + 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Garbine Muguruza @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Jelena Ostapenko - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Julia Goerges + 4.5 Games @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Aljaz Bedene - 1.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Benoit Paire - 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Ivo Karlovic-Fernando Verdasco First Set Tie-Breaker @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Andy Murray - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 6-8, - 4.76 Units (28 Units Staked, - 17% Yield)

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