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Saturday, 4 February 2017

Tennis Picks 2017 (February 4th)

For a little while it looked like all of the First Round Davis Cup ties could be completed by Saturday in the Doubles, but after the first day is completed there are a few ties that will go into at least a Rubber 4 on Sunday.

I won't be making any picks from the Doubles matches scheduled for Saturday, but instead I will be focusing on the Semi Final matches at the WTA St Petersburg and WTA Taipei City events which do take place on this day.

It has not been a great week for the picks, but I've mentioned before that you can have these up and down weeks and you have to roll with the punches. Hopefully there is a chance to salvage some success over the next two days before the return of the ATP events next week, but it is what is for this week as I do think there hasn't been as much luck behind the picks as there was at the Australian Open.

Lucie Safarova - 1.5 games v Shuai Peng: This has been a good week for both of these veteran players on the Tour although the favourite for the title in Taipei City remains Elina Svitolina going into the Semi Final matches. However you have to feel the winner of this Semi Final will believe they can go all the way and the layers are anticipating a close contest.

I can understand the thinking when you see how well both have played and Lucie Safarova is perhaps not as far along on her return to form as she may want to be at this stage. If Safarova had produced a couple of big tournaments prior to this one, I think she would be a far shorter price to beat Shuai Peng, but the latter has probably produced a little more form over the last few months to be in a better place mentally.

The serve is definitely stronger for Safarova than it is for Peng, but the latter has the superior movement and will come to the net a lot more frequently despite both having had good success on the Doubles circuit too. If Safarova is serving as she has so far this week, she should feel the confidence to attack the Peng delivery and that might see her have a little too much for her opponent in this Semi Final.

I have no doubt it will be close though and it is going to be a match resolved by a few big points here and there. I think Safarova is just doing well enough at the moment to win those big moments when they occur and I think she will see off Peng 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

Elina Svitolina - 5.5 games v Mandy Minella: This tournament saw Elina Svitolina come in as the Number 1 Seed and she has proven to be worthy of the spot as she has made it through to the Semi Final. It shouldn't be ignored that none of the other Seeds in the event have made it this far and Svitolina has had three solid wins behind her to get here.

The last Round was difficult as she needed a final set tie-breaker to finally break past Ons Jabeur, but it has been a much more tough path for Mandy Minella to be trod.

Minella has twice lost the first set by a 6-1 scoreline this week and then recovered to fight through to the next Round. She could easily have been knocked out in the First Round and I think Minella will find it much more difficult to peg back Svitolina if she spots her that kind of start in this Semi Final.

The veteran did have a very good looking win over Caroline Garcia here, but Svitolina is another step up and it was the Ukrainian who destroyed Minella in their sole previous match at the US Open last August. On that day Minella was able to take the first set before winning just two more games and I think she may have some difficulties in this one.

My one concern in backing Svitolina is that she can sometimes go walkabout in matches which sees her make too many errors and allow her opponent to get into the match. I am just not sure Minella has the power to really take advantage of even those lapses and I like Svitolina to come through with a 6-4, 6-2 win and move into the Final on Sunday.

Natalia Vikhlyantseva + 3.5 games v Kristina Mladenovic: I wrote on Twitter that this has been a special week for Kristina Mladenovic who has been able to take advantage of a kind draw as well as just knuckling down at the big moments to stay focused and win her matches. She is going to have to do the same on Saturday in what looks a big hitting Semi Final against home hope Natalia Vikhlyantseva who is the last Russian in the draw.

Vikhlyantseva benefited from Simona Halep offering her a walkover into the Semi Final, but her win over Daria Kasatkina was impressive. Much of what she can do on the court comes from the confidence behind a big first serve and that needs to be working because Mladenovic is going to bring a lot of power back at the youngster.

Both players will feel they can take advantage of any second serves they see, but I was impressed with the way Vikhlyantseva was able to rally with Kasatkina and break her down with her power being too much to handle. She has to use her groundstrokes to get Mladenovic moving around in this one if she is going to spring the upset and I do think the Russian player can do that to keep this one competitive.

They met on the grass courts last season and the key was how Mladenovic was able to produce a high break point conversion rate to come from a set down and win that match. Both players had decent serving numbers, although not as good as they potentially could be, and I think the winner of this one is going to be who can serve best on the day.

It should be a match that Mladenovic can win, but I am going to take the games with the impressive youngster and look for her to power to a set which may make this number too much for Mladenovic to cover. Vikhlyantseva has to take her break points when they come and she can't allow Mladenovic to get away with her second serve like Roberta Vinci allowed her to and doing that will give her every chance of winning this one outright.

Dominika Cibulkova - 4.5 games v Yulia Putintseva: I was burned by Yulia Putintseva who won plenty of the rallies with Svetlana Kuznetsova to beat the Russian favourite in the Quarter Final. That was an impressive win, but it was a long day on the court for Putintseva and I am not sure that is the ideal preparation for facing Dominika Cibulkova.

It was a much easier day for Cibulkova who was on the court earlier than Putintseva and won 6-3, 6-3 to move through to the Semi Final. She will work just as hard as Putintseva but I think Cibulkova hits the ball a little more consistently than her opponent and that should see her win a reasonable percentage of the rallies.

There should be plenty of rallies on show as neither has a dominating serve and rely on their movement and power to wear down opponents. That should mean it is a good style match up which should mean a very good match on the court, although I think the time spent on court for Putintseva on Thursday could come back to haunt her.

Putintseva had chances to win her match with Kuznetsova in straight sets rather than being taken into a deep third set and I think Cibulkova will look to expose that. It has been a serene progress through the draw for Cibulkova so she should feel she can be out on court all day and may just be the favourite to win the title in St Petersburg from here.

I can see Cibulkova earning a key break late in the first set that gives her the momentum to put the foot down in the second set and I will back her to cover these games as she continues to do in wins on the indoor hard courts (10-4 covering this number in wins over the last twelve months including twice already in the tournament here).

MY PICKS: Lucie Safarova - 1.5 Games @ 1.73 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Elina Svitolina - 5.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Natalia Vikhlyantseva + 3.5 Games @ 1.83 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Dominika Cibulkova - 4.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 7-11, - 10.16 Units (36 Units Staked, - 28.22% Yield)

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