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Thursday, 27 April 2017

Tennis Picks 2017 (April 27th)

No one will be surprised that the tennis headlines on Thursday morning were going to be made by the return of Maria Sharapova as the WTA Stuttgart event garnered the most attention it probably ever has before. There is no denying the size of the story as Sharapova returned from a fifteen month suspension for failing a drugs ban.

The press conference after the match was more interesting than the actual performance on the court with a journalist taking the brave option of asking Sharapova whether she is taking something new for the 'heart condition' that had seen her using meldonium past the date it had been added to the 'banned list'.

While Sharapova wouldn't say what she is using now, it was interesting to hear some of her thoughts about her fellow professionals who have been very negative about her return to the court. Eugenie Bouchard was the latest to voice her feelings against the return of Sharapova, although the Canadian went a step further than most when suggesting Sharapova should have been banned for life.

This sounds like a controversy that is not going anyway any time soon with the profile Sharapova has and more heat will be added to it depending on what the French Open organisers do with the Wild Card decision for the Russian in the next couple of weeks.

On Thursday Sharapova will be back on the court for her Second Round match and I am going to back her again, while I also have two picks from Barcelona which you can read below.

Maria Sharapova - 4.5 games v Ekaterina Makarova: This will be the seventh time Maria Sharapova and compatriot Ekaterina Makarova meet on the Tour and so far it is Sharapova who has won the previous six matches. Four of those have come by a wide margin and I am looking for Sharapova to back up her impressive win on her return to the Tour by seeing off Makarova in the Second Round.

There are some question marks around Sharapova despite her strong performance in the win over Roberta Vinci in the First Round. Tiredness, both emotionally and physically, could be a real factor in this match with Sharapova playing for the second day in a row in a competitive environment for the first time in fifteen months, while emotionally Wednesday would have been huge for Sharapova.

Those two issues could see her produce a sub-par performance here, although I was impressed with some of the serving under pressure and her general consistency off the ground. That will be tested by Makarova who will hit the ball back with a lot of power and has a decent serve of her own to get herself out of trouble.

However, Makarova can't be feeling that confident mentally having had a difficult four months to open 2017, while she is not at her best on the clay courts. Makarova is just 15-15 on this surface since the beginning of 2014 and that might mean she is unable to expose any vulnerabilities that Sharapova is feeling.

Sharapova's movement was not at its best on Wednesday, but she will be better for having had a match on the surface. Her previous performances in Stuttgart is another positive and I think Sharapova can get the better of her compatriot with a similar looking win to the one she produced in the First Round and cover the same number.

Pablo Carreno Busta - 5.5 games v Yuichi Sugita: One of the players I have to expect to have a really good clay court season over the next few weeks is Pablo Carreno Busta and I am looking for him to record a dominant win in the Third Round in Barcelona. That isn't being disrespectful to Yuichi Sugita, but there should be a clear advantage in the Spaniard's favour and I would look for him to show that on the court.

Before entering the draw as a Lucky Loser, Sugita had not won a clay court match in a main Tour event in his career. This week he has snapped that run with two impressive wins over Tommy Robredo and Richard Gasquet, but there are reasons you can make for both results.

Robredo is a veteran who has lost his consistency on a day by day basis these days and Gasquet is back from an injury lay off and that was his first match on clay and the first in two months overall. None of those issues should be ones that Carreno Busta is going to be dealing with and that makes this a considerably tougher match for Sugita than the last two have been.

I do like the way Carreno Busta has been able to put pressure on opponents on the clay courts by making sure he makes plenty of returns and then shows the stamina and patience to outwork them in rallies. That has led to a number of sets where he has won it with a couple of breaks of serve more than he gives up and I would expect Carreno Busta to be the dominant player the longer the rallies develop in this one.

The Spaniard has also been serving effectively enough to think he can get himself into a strong position in rallies when defending his own serve and I am looking for Carreno Busta to wear down Sugita and produce a 6-3, 6-3 win on the day.

Alexander Zverev - 4.5 games v Hyeon Chung: There is a lot of expectation of these two 20 year olds and how their careers are supposed to progress, but so far it is Alexander Zverev who has shown more consistency at a higher level than Hyeon Chung.

This has been a good week for Chung, but he has not had the best start to 2017 and playing Zverev will be a tough test for him. Chung has a couple of upset wins behind him but I am not sure he is going to be the kind of clay court player that I expect Zverev to become and the latter has shown signs of improving on the surface all the time.

Last season Chung took some relatively comfortable losses on the clay courts to players like Malek Jaziri and Marcel Granollers and I think Zverev is ahead of those two veterans. Zverev did come through a tough Second Round match against Nicolas Almagro, but the latter has shown plenty of clay court successes in the past to think he just played better than he has for much of 2017 on his return from injury.

In this one it is up to Zverev to put the pressure on Chung early in the match and I think that might see the South Korean just struggle to stay with him mentally. I do think Chung will have some chances too because Zverev still shows some inconsistencies at time and can lose a bit of focus, but the majority of the aggressive play should come from Zverev.

I can see a situation where Zverev has to overcome dropping serve a couple of times, but I still think he will have enough to see off Chung with a 7-5, 6-3 win on the day.

MY PICKS: Maria Sharapova - 4.5 Games @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)
Pablo Carreno Busta - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Alexander Zverev - 4.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 5-6, - 2.80 Units (22 Units Staked, - 12.72% Yield)

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