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Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Rome Masters Tennis Picks 2017 (May 17th)

It has to be considered a surprise after all the rumours in the last couple of weeks, but Maria Sharapova was not awarded a Wild Card into the French Open this season.

That's not just for the main draw, but shockingly the organisers decided that they had to make a stand for any Wild Card and that means Sharapova is not even going to be in a position to play the Qualifiers. No one really expected the French Open to do that and now the pressure is on Wimbledon to follow suit and force Sharapova to come through the Qualifiers with her World Ranking being in a position to compete days before the main draw.

I have to think Wimbledon will do that, although a bad day for Maria Sharapova didn't get any better when having to withdraw from the Rome Premier Event with left thigh injury. That means we are not going to see Sharapova back on the court until the grass court season and there will be plenty who will respect the decision the French Open organisers made to avoid handing out a Wild Card.

Maria Sharapova is a huge name and will draw the headlines, but I think there is some irony that Frenchman Constant Lestienne was given a Wild Card into the Qualifiers despite previously serving a suspension from the Tour of his own. That was down to betting on tennis matches, although not his own, but I think you can't take a moral stance on one issue and not another, although Lestienne's participation is hardly going to see the world's media descend on the Qualifiers days ahead of the main tournament beginning at Roland Garros.

Ultimately I do agree with the decision made by the French Open organisers as I don't think a player should be welcomed back with open arms by the big Grand Slam events who won't lose too much revenue by the absence of one player. The decision is obviously much bigger for the French Open when you think of the other names who have already declared their absence from the tournament including Roger Federer just yesterday, but I think they have made the right call.

It will hurt Sharapova, but I think she can be in a position to play the last two Grand Slams of the 2017 season on merit as long as her injury is not too severe. The Russian doesn't strike me as someone who is going to allow this to bother her, but instead I think the decision will motivate Sharapova to find her way back to the top of the WTA Tour where a vacuum has been left by the absences of Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova.

None of the leading contenders on the WTA Tour have been playing well enough to think they can be backed with complete faith to win the French Open. This means the second Grand Slam of the season looks like being one that many will believe offers them the best chance to win a title of this magnitude which is going to bring a pressure of its own and that will also mean the potential of finding a big priced winner.

That is for another day with the draw set to take place in ten days time for a tournament which begins in under two weeks and instead I will focus on the wide range of matches to be played in Rome on Wednesday.

While the first couple of days have not offered a lot of options, Wednesday looks like a number of potential players can be backed to come through their matches and you can find the picks below.

Juan Martin Del Potro - 3.5 games v Kyle Edmund: After coming from a set down to beat Grigor Dimitrov in the First Round, Juan Martin Del Potro is a pretty big favourite to see off Kyle Edmund in the Second Round. Edmund also had a decent First Round win behind him, but this is a step up in class for him and I think he is still lacking the consistency to really beat a player of this quality.

I do think Edmund will have his moments at times in the match as he can put together some solid points and has shown that against players of the quality of Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem on the clay courts this past six weeks. However to do that for long enough to win the match has been an issue for Edmund and he is going to be dealing with some tremendous power coming back at him from the other side of the court.

Edmund has not really been returning that well and it is going to be difficult for him to really get his teeth into the Del Potro service games if the latter is anything close to the level he showed against Dimitrov. Del Potro will also take big swings at the Edmund serve to force his opponent behind the baseline and I think he will be too strong over the course of the match.

I think Edmund may have some success, but he is going to be under pressure to protect his serve and I think Del Potro will earn the breaks of serve to get into a position to win this match 6-3, 6-4.

Kei Nishikori - 4.5 games v David Ferrer: Kei Nishikori withdrew from the Madrid Masters last week just hours before facing Novak Djokovic in the Quarter Final as he was suffering pain in the wrist which has bothered him for the last couple of months. I am leaning on the side of Nishikori withdrawing as a precaution with the French Open fast approaching and the Japanese star taking his place in the draw in Rome has to be a sign he is ready to compete.

There is a chance he wakes up on Wednesday and decides he will pull out, but I think Nishikori will feel good to go if he does head out to the court.

He should have too much for the veteran David Ferrer who came from a set down to beat Feliciano Lopez on Tuesday, but the Spaniard is far from his top level now. Nishikori was a comfortable winner over Ferrer last week in Madrid and he has dominated the recent head to head between these players and Ferrer has significantly slipped since the majority of their matches two years ago.

Ferrer loses a lot more matches that he would have dominated in the past and I don't think he has the level to compete with the best players on the Tour. Barring Nishikori having a setback in his wrist issue, in which case I am not sure he risks staying out on the court, I am expecting the higher Ranked player to record another comfortable win over the vet.

Last week it ended 6-3, 6-4 in favour of Nishikori and I would expect a similar margin this time around.

Rafael Nadal - 5.5 games v Nicolas Almagro: Some of the tennis that Nicolas Almagro has produced in the last couple of weeks has been very good, but he will have to raise his performances even more if he is going to challenge the 'King of Clay' Rafael Nadal. Pushing Novak Djokovic all the way in a tough three setter in Madrid was impressive, but Nadal is playing a couple of levels higher than the Serb.

Winning titles on clay at the rate Nadal has been makes him a big favourite to win yet another French Open title and I don't think many will oppose him. The court speed in Rome will be much more to the liking of the Madrid Champion and I expect Nadal to once again go deep into the draw and possibly set up another Semi Final clash with Djokovic.

There is plenty of respect Nadal has for Almagro which goes back to their younger days when Almagro was considered the more talented player. That means they have had some very close matches on the clay, but there have been plenty of times when Nadal has dominated proceedings and he does hold a dominant head to head with Almagro.

Almagro has won three matches in Rome to feel good in the conditions, but I do think he is not able to play his best tennis for consistent enough in this one. While I expect Almagro to make one of the sets very competitive, I can see Nadal dominating the other as he wears down his opponent mentally and physically and that can be reflected in the score.

It does feel Nadal will come away with a 6-4, 6-2 kind of win to move through to the Third Round and make it sixteen straight wins on the clay courts over the last six weeks.

Jack Sock - 2.5 games v Jiri Vesely: It was a really tough First Round match for Jack Sock, but he did show character to come through and I expect him to be too good for Jiri Vesely in the Second Round. While most American players on the ATP side of the Tour will not feel at their very best on the clay, Sock has the kind of game that works very effectively on this surface especially when he is playing with some confidence.

Sock has had some solid runs at the French Open and the biggest concern has to be that Vesely is well rested having played his First Round match a few days ago. Vesely beat Daniel Evans in expected fashion, but he has yet to really worked in the consistency that many would have tipped for him once making his breakthrough on the Tour.

The results in recent weeks have been very mixed for Vesely, but he has to be respected on what is his favoured surface. However, the Czech player was beaten early in the Rome Challenger last week and there are so many ups and downs with the Vesely serve and the way it is functioning that it has been difficult for him to really play with the confidence you need in these big tournaments.

It was Sock who got the better of their match at the Miami Masters in March and I think he is adept enough to play on this surface to get the better of Vesely again. I think Sock is capable of getting enough balls back in play on the return to find his forehand going into the Vesely backhand to do some real damage and I can see that helping him edge past this opponent.

A 7-6, 6-4 kind of win for Sock looks to be the outcome of this match.

Dominic Thiem - 3.5 games v Pablo Cuevas: These two players met in the Semi Final of the Madrid Masters and I thought Pablo Cuevas would be able to at least keep things competitive. I was wrong with Dominic Thiem proving to be much stronger on the return of serve and I think the Austrian can frank that win with another by a similar margin on Wednesday in Rome.

Both Thiem and Cuevas have has a lot of success on the clay courts over the last few weeks which isn't a big surprise when you think how both favour the surface. However it is Thiem who has shown a little more consistency to the point of being a genuine dark horse at the French Open and he dealt with the Cuevas game effectively enough last week.

The conditions are different in Rome compared with the speedy Madrid courts, but Thiem has played well here in the past. On the other hand, Cuevas has not enjoyed much success in the Rome Masters and was beaten by Nicolas Mahut last season and had some difficulties in seeing off Adrian Mannarino in the First Round.

That match might have indicated that Cuevas is dealing with some tiredness and he could be put under pressure by Thiem especially if the Austrian is serving as well as he did in their Semi Final in Madrid. While I find it hard to think Thiem can serve as strongly as last week, I do think he will once again have the majority of the break point chances and a more clinical performance at those big moments could see this being another similar kind of margin as the victory last week.

Jan-Lennard Struff - 1.5 games v Sam Querrey: There hasn't been a lot of success for Jan-Lennard Struff on the clay courts at the main Tour level prior to this season, but 2017 might be a turning point for him. The German has won plenty of matches at the Challenger and Qualifier level on the surface, but this year he has a couple of Quarter Final runs and a Third Round appearance at the Monte Carlo Masters behind him.

Winning matches gives any player confidence and Struff has been winning plenty of matches which includes a couple of Qualifier wins here in Rome before beating Bernard Tomic in the First Round. He has a decent serve and Struff is clearly hitting the ball well enough off the ground to think he can give Sam Querrey something to figure out here.

To say the clay court season is not that important to Querrey is an understatement with the grass much more to his liking which comes on the heels of the French Open. Querrey has a solid win over Lucas Pouille to come through the First Round here, and that was a win which snapped a run of four consecutive losses on the European clay courts from 2016.

He also hadn't won a main Tour match in the Rome Masters since 2012 and had three consecutive losses here with the conditions not really favouring the big serve followed by big forehand approach. Here Querrey has to hit more shots and that sees the consistency, or lack thereof, being exposed.

We will likely have to see at least one tie-breaker in this one, but I think Struff can get the better of that with the way he has been playing and that can set him up for a 7-6, 6-4 win over Querrey.

Stan Wawrinka - 3.5 games v Benoit Paire: This is one of a number of matches that took place in Madrid last week, but this one where I am expecting a change in the result. Last week Benoit Paire was able to get the better of Stan Wawrinka, but the conditions in Rome should be much more to the latter's liking than we saw in Madrid.

More points should develop into the longer rallies and Wawrinka's heavy shots as well as the usually stronger consistency than Paire might come out to show. Last week Wawrinka struggled when it came to the break points he created, but I can't expect Paire to be as strong in the pressurised moments as he did show in Madrid.

Wawrinka has had a disappointing clay court season so far which makes it harder to trust him here, but I do think he will enjoy the way the court plays in Rome. He has to serve better than he did in their last meeting and Wawrinka has to put more pressure on Paire by looking after the unforced errors which allows the Frenchman to build confidence.

As well as Paire played in the win over Wawrinka, it should not be ignored of the up and down nature of his performances through his career. He wasn't as good in the First Round win over Nicolas Mahut and Paire has suffered some one-sided losses over the last couple of months which suggests last week was just an exception to the normal rule.

This time I expect Wawrinka to have a little too much all around game for Paire as he wins the match 6-4, 6-4.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - 2.5 games v Anastasija Sevastova: Both Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Anastasija Sevastova have had some real success on the clay courts this season and that should mean two confident players are meeting in the Second Round in Rome.

The reason I am favouring Pavlyuchenkova is that I do think she is a little better when it comes to the serving department and that can make the difference in what is a close match. When Pavlyuchenkova is serving well, her return game can be very heavy and I am expecting the Russian to be able to tee off against the Sevastova serve when she begins to get a read of that delivery.

Sevastova can protect the serve with her movement and ability to play solid defence and then being able to turn the rally in her favour. She does have the edge when it comes to her ability to get around the court compared with Pavlyuchenkova, although the heavier shots will come from the Russian.

First strike tennis is going to be important for these players as it will allow that player to take control of the rally, but I am favouring Pavlyuchenkova to get the better of the rallies more often than not. Her 4-0 head to head record against Sevastova will also give Pavlyuchenkova the mental edge in the match and ultimately will be part of the reason the Russian moves through to the Third Round with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win behind her.

Garbine Muguruza - 1.5 games v Jelena Ostapenko: The last twelve months have been difficult for Garbine Muguruza since winning the French Open as she has failed to live up to the kind of potential so many believed she had. An injury hasn't helped her cause over the last month as Muguruza has lost her first match on the clay courts in the two tournaments she has entered.

Confidence is low and Muguruza is not going to have a lot of people backing her to defend the French Open title she won last year. Things have changed so much for her as well as opponent Jelena Ostapenko in the last twelve months that this Second Round match is almost set as a pick 'em contest compared to 2016 in Rome when Muguruza was a big favourite to win.

The Spaniard backed up those odds by crushing Ostapenko, but now Muguruza is out of form and Ostapenko has won a lot of matches on the clay courts over the last six weeks to build up her own belief. However I don't think Ostapenko has too many really big wins and so there is going to be a pressure on her to show she can compete with someone who can be as good as Muguruza can be on her day.

The first serve is going to be key for Muguruza with that setting up the rest of her game. If she can get that going from the start of this match, Muguruza can get the better of Ostapenko although we may need three sets to determine who is moving through to the Third Round.

I am looking for Muguruza to put her first win on the clay on the board here in conditions that should suit her game. Ostapenko will make life difficult, but Muguruza can hit through her opponent and produce a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 win.

MY PICKS: Juan Martin Del Potro - 3.5 Games @ 1.83 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Kei Nishikori - 4.5 Games @ 2.10 William Hill (2 Units)
Rafael Nadal - 5.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Jack Sock - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Dominic Thiem - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Jan-Lennard Struff - 1.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Stan Wawrinka - 3.5 Games @ 1.83 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Garbine Muguruza - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Rome Update: 6-2, + 6.42 Units (16 Units Staked, + 40.13% Yield)

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