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Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Tennis Picks 2017 (February 28th)

Last week feels a long time ago when everything that could have gone wrong went wrong for the tennis picks.

I will admit it felt good taking a few days off and trying to clear the mind of the some of the negativity that had encompassed the picks, and myself, after some bad breaks over the course of the early part of the week. That has had a serious knock on the early season totals, but I am hoping that the time off helps me put a good week together before the Indian Wells and Miami Masters take place over March.

This week some of the biggest names on the ATP Tour are in action with ATP 500 events in Acapulco and Dubai taking place and Roger Federer was an early winner in Dubai. It is Federer, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka playing in Dubai this week, while Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal play in Acapulco so it is no surprise that some solid television coverage is in place for those events.


Fernando Verdasco - 3.5 games v Florian Mayer: After opening up in Doha coming within match points of beating Novak Djokovic, the last few weeks have been much tougher for Fernando Verdasco who has been beaten in some disappointing matches. The veteran Spaniard is more erratic these days than he was even a couple of years ago, but he faces another veteran in Florian Mayer in the First Round in Dubai and at least Verdasco has some wins under his belt in 2017.

For Mayer it has been four straight losses to open the new season and he was favoured to win at least two of those matches. That also means he is just 2-11 on the ATP Tour since winning the title in Halle last summer and his vulnerable serve has perhaps regressed a little more.

He is still an awkward player and he can frustrate someone like Verdasco who will be looking to hit through the court and might find the slightly slower courts in this year's edition of the Dubai tournament harder to hit through his German opponent. Mayer will use a lot of slicing and dicing to try and extract errors from Verdasco and he will get to the net and that makes him dangerous.

However I do wonder if all the losses have added up to a mental obstacle that might be too much for Mayer to overcome. It should be Verdasco who can earn a few more cheaper points from the serve and he has at least put some wins on the board which can make anyone feel better.

I can see Verdasco being a little too tough in both sets as he pulls through 6-4, 6-4.


Marius Copil v Jan-Lennard Struff: Yesterday saw Marius Copil reach a career high World Ranking and he is a player that is looking to progress a little further after coming through two Qualifiers to reach the main draw in Dubai. The win over Andreas Seppi was particularly impressive and this is the second ATP 500 event in row that Copil has Qualified for.

In Rotterdam he was drawn to face Tomas Berdych and Copil was beaten in a tight match, but what has been impressive is some of the serving stats he is producing. I expect that serve to cause Jan-Lennard Struff some problems in the First Round in Dubai and this is a match that Copil has to believe he can win.

First off Copil has a 3-1 head to head record against Struff and one of those wins came just a couple of weeks ago in the Rotterdam Qualifiers. The serve once again was dominant on the day as Copil won 76% of the points behind serve and that limited the chances Struff was able to generate while also meaning Copil could take advantage of the one or two sloppy service games that Struff is always likely to produce.

The return game is an issue for Copil in general, but he can build pressure with his own serve and that can play a part mentally in this kind of match. Struff did play well to reach the Final of a Challenger event in Canberra earlier in the season, but outside of that he is just 2-4 on the season.

Struff's record against Copil can play a part in this pick 'em First Round match and I am going to back the underdog Copil to come through.


Lucas Pouille - 4.5 games v Adam Pavlasek: One of the most improved players on the Tour Lucas Pouille is going to try and back up his run to the Final in Marseille last week by producing a big week in Dubai. The Ranking points available for Pouille should provide plenty of motivation, but it is always difficult to back up a big week on the Tour.

His opponent Adam Pavlasek holds a win over Pouille from a Challenger event on the clay courts from two seasons ago, but it is safe to say that Pouille has moved forward in his career and Pavlasek has stagnated.

This is only the second appearance of the season for Pavlasek and he had a really disappointing loss at the Australian Open. The lack of matches has to be a concern for him and Pouille should be good enough to take advantage of him here.

Earlier in the season Pouille looked like he was less than 100% but he didn't show any signs of his injury last week in Marseille. The Frenchman can be a little loose on his own service games, certainly more than I would like when asking him to cover a number like this, but Pouille should have just a little too much in most departments to turn things in his favour and win this match 6-3, 6-4.


Gerald Melzer - 1.5 games v Victor Estrella Burgos: Some tournaments seem to suit players to such an extent that it is hard to really put your finger on it. That is how I feel when thinking about Quito and the fact that Victor Estrella Burgos has won that tournament three times in a row and really produced his very best tennis there.

Take away the wins he has had in Quito and Estrella Burgos is just 10-13 on the clay courts in ATP tournaments although he won't be facing someone who spends a lot of time at this level himself.

However I do think Gerald Melzer has been putting up a few more wins than Estrella Burgos which can give the Austrian the edge when these players meet in the First Round in Sao Paulo. Melzer didn't play last week in Rio De Janeiro during this Golden Swing in South America, but he did have a couple of decent wins in Buenos Aires prior to that.

His World Ranking has slipped back outside the top 100 so this is an important week for Melzer if he wants to be in a position to play some of the big tournaments coming up in the clay court season in Europe. He has produced enough wins on the Challenger circuit to have the belief he can get the better of Estrella Burgos and I do think he can win this one in three sets.

Expect breaks of serve and expect both players to have their moments, but I think Melzer will work his way through to a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win.


Dusan Lajovic - 2.5 games v Facundo Bagnis: I will admit that I am surprised to be writing that Facundo Bagnis is the higher Ranked player of these two and that Dusan Lajovic is actually outside the top 100 in the World Rankings. I certainly think the Serbian has a bit more than that about his game and I think he can frank his win over Bagnis from Rio De Janeiro last week.

These two players met in the First Round there and it was a close match with both having their opportunities to break serve. However Lajovic was just a little too good at the big moments which helped him come through in straight sets and I do think he can do something similar this week.

Bagnis has to be respected for some very good performances in Challenger events on the clay courts at the back end of 2016 which saw him win plenty of matches. He also won two titles in the last couple of months of the season, but the Argentinian has lost all five matches played in 2017 and that might lead to some doubts creeping into the mind when the big points are about to be played.

It does have to be noted that Lajovic hasn't exactly been winning a lot of matches himself, but he didn't play badly in Rio De Janeiro last week and that should give him some confidence. His defeat to Dominic Thiem in the Second Round looked relatively straight-forward, but Lajovic showed some heart in the second set against a clearly superior player and he is not facing someone of Thiem's level in this First Round.

This might be a little tougher than last week, but I do think Lajovic can come through with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 win.


Carlos Berlocq - 2.5 games v Thiago Monteiro: I am a little surprised that Carlos Berlocq is not being asked to cover at least one game more in this First Round match against Thiago Monteiro. It might have something to do with the fact that Monteiro reached the Quarter Final last week in Rio De Janeiro and he did the same here in Sao Paulo twelve months ago.

Playing in front of his home support is obviously going to be a bonus for Monteiro who is looking for a revenge win against Berlocq who used the home crowd to come from a set down to beat Monteiro in Buenos Aires two weeks ago.

That tournament in Buenos Aires was a good one for Berlocq who was beaten early last week in Rio De Janeiro. He is still an irritating player to go up against so Monteiro will be good for the experience of facing Berlocq just two weeks ago, but he has to overcome a bit of tiredness having had two solid runs on the clay courts in back to back tournaments.

I expect a tight match between these two, but I also thought it was the kind of match that Berlocq can come through with a 6-4, 6-4 kind of margin of win. There is a lot to like about the Monteiro game which comes with a lot of power and heavy groundstrokes, but I think Berlocq forces enough errors to pull away from him and earn a solid win.


Thomaz Bellucci v Diego Sebastian Schwartzman: There are a few matches in Sao Paulo where I have been a little surprised by the oddsmakers and this is another one that stands out. I would have had Thomaz Bellucci has a favourite to beat Diego Sebastian Schwartzman, but the Brazilian actually is on the other side of the pick 'em prices and I want to back him to come through with a win.

It does have to be noted that Bellucci has not won a match in Sao Paulo since reaching the Semi Final here in 2014, and he did lose a match last week in Rio De Janeiro to Thiago Monteiro despite winning more points. The left-hander is still a little too loose with his shot execution at big moments and that cost him against Monteiro, but I do think he has the bigger serve than Schwartzman and getting into rallies should give him a chance to break down the Argentinian.

Schwartzman is a very competent clay court player and he showed that by winning the ATP Istanbul title last year and adding two Challenger titles to that haul. He has played well over the last couple of weeks on the clay courts too which will only build his confidence, but Schwartzman is always going to have to work hard to win his points and Bellucci at his best should be too good for him.

Finding Bellucci on his best days has become a rare occurrence though and the steadiness of Schwartzman has to be respected. He has some impressive wins over the last two weeks, but I think the underdog can win this one with Bellucci's heavier shots able to force Schwartzman backwards on the clay courts.

A good serving day will be required, but Bellucci was pretty handy behind serve last week and I think he comes through in three tough sets.


Monica Puig - 5.5 games v Francesca Schiavone: You have to think Francesca Schiavone loves tennis to still be fighting her way through what is a long season at the ripe old age of 36. She isn't the player she was though and Schiavone has lost all three main draw matches she has played while going 1-1 in Fed Cup duty for Italy in 2017.

She is still someone who can produce some of her better tennis on the clay courts where her movement is not as exposed, but this tournament is on the hard courts and she is just 7-17 on the hard courts in main draw matches since the start of the 2015 season. Schiavone's defensive skills and serve are vulnerable on this surface and someone like Monica Puig hits the ball hard enough to penetrate those defences.

The losses that Schiavone has suffered have come in fairly one-sided fashion and I think she is going to struggle to stay with Puig who had a couple of decent weeks in the Middle East.

I will say that Puig is a hard player to trust because her style of play can see her make a number of unforced errors that can bring her opponent back into the match. However I think this is a big difference in quality that both Puig and Schiavone bring to the court at this stage of their careers and I think Puig beats the Italian fairly comfortably for the third time in their professional matches.


It's a big number, but Puig can win this one 6-3, 6-3 and I will look for her to cover.


Taylor Townsend + 2.5 games v Jennifer Brady: Two young American players have come through two Qualifiers to reach the main draw in Acapulco and you have to think both Jennifer Brady and Taylor Townsend have full belief they can win this First Round match.

I will be honest and say I was going to quickly move past this match as I was expecting Townsend to be the favourite and asked to cover 2.5 games. In what is likely to be a very close match, I thought she may just edge that number, but I was not interested in backing her to do so with every chance of this going right down to the wire.

Imagine my surprise to then note that Townsend is the underdog and in receipt of that many games and I do think the oddsmakers may have got this one wrong. The Brady run to the Fourth Round at the Australian Open has to play a part in the price, especially as she beat Townsend in the Qualifiers there, but Brady certainly rode her luck to move through a couple of matches at Melbourne Park.

Townsend won more points against the serve on that day, but it was only her 2/13 break point conversions compared with Brady going 2/2 that separated them on the day. I will say that Brady has won two matches in the Qualifiers here much more comfortably than Townsend, but I like the latter with the games here to keep this one close and perhaps even convert the upset.


Sam Querrey - 1.5 games v Kyle Edmund: There are a lot of high hopes for Kyle Edmund in Great Britain as the gap behind Andy Murray is being filled by a couple of players who are overachieving. Edmund is not overachieving, but I am not sure he is going to be as good as so many of the experts think.

Don't get me wrong though, Edmund has produced some big performances in his career, but he is also never far away from the disappointing losses. While he played really well for long parts of his defeat against Milos Raonic last week, Edmund has also been beaten by Vasek Pospisil, Matthew Barton and Pablo Carreno Busta on the hard courts this season.

Sam Querrey isn't the best player on the Tour, but can be tough to beat when he is serving very well. I am not sure if Edmund has an issue playing big servers- he has beaten John Isner at the US Open, but he lost to the American at the French Open and losses to Franko Skugor, Pospisil and Raonic over the last twelve months can be added to his two losses to Querrey in his career to raise some questions.

The American has hardly been pulling up trees in his matches to open 2017, but if he serves well he can build the pressure on Edmund who is still throwing in too many sloppy games. I like the chances of Querrey wearing down Edmund over the course of a couple of hours on the court and I think he will serve his way through to a 7-6, 6-4 win over the British player.


Novak Djokovic - 5.5 games v Martin Klizan: This tournament is going to be where Novak Djokovic returns to the Tour after playing Davis Cup for Serbia following a surprise loss at the Australian Open. Most will be surprised he has picked Acapulco rather than Dubai, where Djokovic usually plays, but you can't really question the former World Number 1 who has been so successful over the last few seasons.

The question for Djokovic is how far away he is from feeling like he is back to his best and this is a tough field to negotiate as most ATP 500 events will be. His opening match comes against Martin Klizan and I think Djokovic will hold the mental edge which will see him break down a player who is prone to capitulations.


Their two previous matches have been won by Djokovic with relative comfort and he has lost just 4 games in 4 sets played outside of one that Klizan won 7-5. They haven't played for a couple of seasons and while Djokovic may have just slipped a little bit, Klizan has been erratic in that time.

It should be noted that Djokovic has only covered this number in 4 of his last 16 best of three set matches and that makes it dangerous to pick him to do that here. However I think he will be helped by Klizan who plays a game with little margin for error and that can see him implode in matches.

I think Djokovic will win a tight first set, but will then be too good in the second as Klizan mentally loses focus and that should lead to a 7-5, 6-2 win for the Number 1 Seed here.


Nick Kyrgios - 4.5 games v Dudi Sela: I am wary backing Nick Kyrgios, despite being a big fan, because I simply don't know what kind of mindset he is going to enter the court in. There is so much talent that Kyrgios possesses, but if it is not right upstairs, he is never far away from a disappointing performance where his desire can be lacking.

On paper he should have far too much power and ability for Dudi Sela to deal with as the Israeli has a vulnerable serve and clearly doesn't hit the ball as hard as Kyrgios can.

He also retired with an injury last week in Delray Beach and hasn't had a lot of time to recover for this one. If Sela is feeling less than 100%, his chances of winning this match slip even further and I think Kyrgios has had enough time to head over to Acapulco from Marseille and get ready for this event.

The bigger serve should see Kyrgios come through his service games a little more comfortably than Sela and I think the Australian will move through to the Second Round. This is the kind of match Kyrgios should be winning 6-4, 6-3 and I think he will do enough to do that.


Jack Sock - 4.5 games v Yoshihito Nishioka: Jack Sock won his second title of the 2017 season and his decision to reduce some of his Doubles schedule looks to have paid off for him. The second title was won on Sunday in Delray Beach, although Sock benefited from Milos Raonic withdrawing after the Semi Final victories for both players, and Sock will be looking to back up a big week here in Acapulco.

Sock is playing Doubles with Nick Kyrgios this week, but the Singles tournament is clearly the focus as he looks to keep some momentum behind him before the back to back Masters tournaments in the United States which begin next week. The American has been playing well with some big serving helping him along the way, although Sock will be the first to admit he needs to be a little better in return games and also improve the backhand wing.

This won't be an easy match for Sock when he faces Yoshihito Nishioka who has plenty of backers believing he could be amongst the best players in a couple of years time. He does need to find some consistency, but Nishioka will be respected having beaten the Memphis Champion Ryan Harrison in the Qualifiers and snapping his run of 10 consecutive wins since his exit at the Australian Open.

However Nishioka has found John Isner and Steve Johnson too good over the last couple of weeks and he will have to serve better than he did in those matches if he is going to beat Sock. The loss to Johnson, and the manner of the loss, was disappointing for Nishioka who would have expected to be more competitive and I do feel the match up with Sock is another step up from the likes of Johnson and Isner.

A lot of this match depends on Sock, but he has had a few days to physically get ready for the ATP 500 event in Acapulco and I think he comes through this First Round match with a 6-3, 6-4 win.


Dominic Thiem - 2.5 games v Gilles Simon: Dominic Thiem's Coach finally took some responsibility for the awful schedule he has put together for a player that could be a real force on the Tour in the coming years ahead. Moving from the indoor hard courts to an outdoor clay tournament to an outdoor hard court tournament is not exactly ideal, but Thiem continues to deal with what is put in front of him effectively.

The move from the clay courts back to the hard courts is usually one that players can make but it can take a spot of time to get used to the slightly different feel you will have. Thiem won the tournament in Rio De Janeiro last week which means he has had less time to prepare, but at least he is playing someone who made a long journey from Europe for this event.

That doesn't make it too much easier when facing an opponent like Gilles Simon who will look to keep players out on court for as long as possible in a bid to mentally and physically wear them down. However Thiem played, and beat, Simon a couple of weeks in Rotterdam so he should be well prepared with what he is going to face here.

Thiem has won three in a row against Simon now and he is also 3-1 in their matches on either an indoor or outdoor hard court. I do think Thiem has the patience and the power to break down the Simon game which is very much about his defensive ability around the court, but I do think Thiem will be too strong for him.

It might take a bit of time to get used to the new conditions this week and the new surface, but Thiem is usually strong early in the season and I think he comes through this tough match with a 7-6, 6-4 win.

MY PICKS: Fernando Verdasco - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Coral (2 Units)
Marius Copil @ 2.10 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Lucas Pouille - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Gerald Melzer - 1.5 Games @ 2.00 Coral (2 Units)
Dusan Lajovic - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Carlos Berlocq - 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Thomaz Bellucci @ 2.05 Stan James (2 Units)
Monica Puig - 5.5 Games @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Taylor Townsend + 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Sam Querrey - 1.5 Games @ 2.10 Coral (2 Units)
Novak Djokovic - 5.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Nick Kyrgios - 4.5 Games @ 1.73 Bet365 (2 Units)
Jack Sock - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Dominic Thiem - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Season 2017- 22 Units (472 Units Staked, - 4.66% 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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