There are now two really big weeks left in February going through to early March where the big names and big events are played on both the ATP and WTA Tour. I am looking for two consistent, positive weeks that can move this season into a positive position ahead of the first two Masters events of the season at Indian Wells and Miami.
This week we have five different tournaments taking place from Bucharest, Delray Beach, Dubai, Marseille and Rio de Janeiro and that means there are plenty of opportunities to put a good week together. I have to be careful of getting into a big hole like I did last week when I didn't have much luck which coupled with some poor picks made it tough.
I am looking for the momentum from the last few days to carry through to the tournaments this week as I begin with picks from the scheduled play on Monday.
Monica Puig - 3.5 games v Yaroslava Shvedova: No one will ever take away the fact that Monica Puig won a Gold Medal for her country at the 2016 Olympic Games, but now is the time to produce more consistency on the WTA Tour. A poor start to 2017 was a disappointment for Puig, but she played well in reaching the Semi Final in Doha last week and I am expecting her to come through the First Round in Dubai.
Puig is facing Yaroslava Shvedova in the First Round in Dubai and while the latter has the head to head lead in this match up, I find it tough to know where she will find the confidence to increase that lead. While Shvedova has produced some very good runs on the Singles Tour, she has lost all three matches she has played in 2017 and five matches in a row going back to last season.
Last season Shvedova did reach the Second Round in Dubai having won three Qualifiers to get into the main draw and she is at her best on the hard courts. However the run of losses is going to have an affect if this match comes down to a few big points here and there and I like Puig to come through with the win.
It isn't easy to back Puig to cover this kind of number because of the way she plays. Puig will go for her shots and that can lead to plenty of unforced errors, and she does give away some silly sets of tennis behind those unforced errors. However Shvedova isn't playing with a lot of confidence and I think Puig will be good enough to come through in this one.
Madison Brengle - 2.5 games v Misaki Doi: There are likely to be a lot of break points, and subsequently breaks of serve, in this match between two players who are reliant on making plenty of balls and who have had an issue with their serves. Neither Madison Brengle nor Misaki Doi has a serve that is going to produce a lot of easy points and that means we are likely going to see a big battle in this First Round match.
It is Brengle who has had the biggest win of 2017 when she beat Serena Williams in Auckland, but the American has not really been able to back up that victory. Coming through the Qualifiers to play in Doha will at least have given Brengle some confidence, but Misaki Doi is returning to the court for the first time since reaching the Quarter Final in Taipei City earlier this month.
That should mean Doi is playing with some belief in this First Round match too, but Brengle has won the last two head to head between these players and can back that up with another on Monday.
I do think Brengle has also had the slightly better performances all around in 2017 and I will look for her to have the edge at the back end of the first two sets and earn the cover.
Kristina Mladenovic - 2.5 games v Katerina Siniakova: Winning a title in St Petersburg has to make Kristina Mladenovic find some belief in her game on the Singles Tour having had her best performances on the Doubles Tour over the last couple of years. The Frenchwoman is still young and that title win might be seen as the breakthrough moment for a player on the brink of entering the top 20 of the World Rankings.
This would all be a big for Mladenovic whose success in St Petersburg was the first at this level on the WTA Tour and she is likely to reach a career best Ranking if she can put a strong performance together in Dubai. I do wonder whether she has finally understood what she needs to do and can protect a big first serve by backing it up with the consistency and heaviness of her groundstrokes.
It will be a test against Katerina Siniakova who has won both previous matches against Mladenovic and who won the title in Shenzhen earlier this season. Siniakova has not played well in her next two tournaments since that title win, but there is a lot to like about the young Czech player from a nation that has produced some significant talent in recent seasons.
However I do think Siniakova may struggle to deal with the Mladenovic power if the latter is anything close to the level she was producing in St Petersburg. The courts in Dubai should suit her game and allow her to penetrate the Siniakova defences and I think Mladenovic can battle through to a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win.
Daria Kasatkina + 4.5 games v Caroline Wozniacki: Last week was a very good tournament for Caroline Wozniacki as she reached the Final in Doha, but it is a quick turnaround for the former World Number 1. She played the Final on Saturday and is now in action in the First Round in Dubai on Monday, while the rain in Doha has meant Wozniacki has played plenty of tennis over the last few days.
Daria Kasatkina also reached the Quarter Final in Doha before finding Monica Puig a little too strong, but she had some more impressive wins to add to her CV including another over Angelique Kerber. There is a lot to like about Kasatkina's game as I have mentioned, but someone like Wozniacki is capable of exposing her vulnerabilities by getting plenty of balls back in play and waiting for the young Russian to self-destruct.
The youngster does make a lot of balls back in play herself and she has had a little more time to get to Dubai and adjust to the conditions here where it is warmer than Doha. Kasatkina has also had a couple of days to recover from the exertions in Doha compared with Wozniacki and I do wonder if a day of rest is enough for her to win this match as easily as the layers are suggesting.
I do think Kasatkina is going to be able to give Wozniacki some problems on the return of serve and I think this could be a real battle. Whether she has enough to win the match outright is less of a concern when getting as many games as this one, but Kasatkina is capable of pushing this into a third set and I will take the games with the underdog.
Diego Sebastian Schwartzman - 4.5 games v Renzo Olivo: The clay court event in Rio de Janeiro is the first ATP 500 event to take place on the clay courts this season. That has attracted a decent field to this Golden Swing tournament and two Argentinians meet in the First Round in front of Brazilian fans that may not care too much for either.
This might be the thirteenth time Diego Sebastian Schwartzman and Renzo Olivo have met on the Tour and it is the former who leads 7-5 and has won three matches in a row. However they have not met since 2014, but I do think Schwartzman can maintain the edge he has had over Olivo.
Olivo does have his best performances on the clay courts and has won some Challenger titles on the surface while also being competitive for the most part. However Olivo has gone 10-9 against this number in his clay court losses over the last twelve months, but that doesn't tell the full story as Olivo is 7-1 in his last eight losses.
So that should make it dangerous to go against him with such a big number, but Schwartzman should be comfortable with the match up having grown up against this opponent. He did win a title on the main Tour in Istanbul on the clay and has also been in some solid form over the last six months on the clay courts including winning a Challenger title of his own.
Since the French Open, Schwartzman would be 9-2 covering this number on the clay courts and I think he will be able to battle through to a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 kind of win.
Sam Querrey - 2.5 games v Dudi Sela: The defeat to Ryan Harrison in Memphis was surprisingly one-sided, but Sam Querrey can at least take solace in the fact that his compatriot has been in fine form and ended up winning the title in Memphis on Sunday. Querrey does usually have his best tennis reserved for North America so I am looking for him to bounce back and get the better of Dudi Sela in this First Round match.
The Israeli has won a Challenger title in 2017 and he reached the Semi Final in Chennai, but Sela has not had a lot of matches since then with an early loss at the Australian Open and Sofia. You would think Sela has every chance of outlasting Querrey in the rallies if he can handle the initial power that the American throws at hime, but the key for Sela is going to be to serve well and not allow Querrey to hit the first strike in the rallies.
Querrey has to find more out of his own serve too, but the hard courts are his favoured surface and I do think he is going to have a little too much power in his game for Sela. Something of a surprise to me was the fact that Querrey and Sela have split four previous matches and that includes beating him in the United States in Atlanta, but last season Querrey lost just two games in Acapulco against him.
I think Querrey is not half as good as some people may think because he makes too many errors and the backhand wing is a big weakness. However I do think he can use his big serve to put too much pressure on Sela and try and crack his resistance in this one and can cover this number.
Querrey is the defending Champion in Delray Beach having previously had some difficulties in this tournament, but being the defending Champion should give him the confidence to win this one 7-6, 6-4.
MY PICKS: Monica Puig - 3.5 Games @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Madison Brengle - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Kristina Mladenovic - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Daria Kasatkina + 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Diego Sebastian Schwartzman - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Coral (2 Units)
Sam Querrey - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Season 2017: - 2.54 Units (426 Units Staked, - 0.01% Yield)
Season 2014: + 45.05 Units (1586.5 Units Staked, + 2.84% Yield)