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Sunday, 18 June 2017

Tennis Picks 2017 (June 19th)

When you consider the preparation for Wimbledon, this always feels like the big week for players as the top names on both Tours tend to come out for the events in London, Halle, Birmingham and Mallorca.

Most will then take the week prior to Wimbledon as one where they can play some exhibition events on the grass, but the competitive action is left to those lower down the World Rankings.

Wimbledon is not too far away now and there has to be some concerns for Angelique Kerber fans that the German will not be able to be passed fit in time to take part. Kerber has pulled out of Birmingham this week with the hamstring issue that has been bothering her for a number of weeks and her participation at SW19 has to be called into doubt.

It was a solid, if not spectacular, week for the tennis picks last week, but a decent enough opening for the grass court events.

There will be plenty of big matches this week through the four events and hopefully another solid week to keep the momentum going towards Wimbledon.

First Round matches start at the four events on Monday.

Philipp Kohlschreiber - 4.5 games v Joao Sousa: One of those players that has definitely regressed on the Tour but who perhaps is not always priced up as such is Philipp Kohlschreiber. That is the case for the veteran German on most surfaces, but he remains one of the better grass court players out there and this surface continues to bamboozle many on the Tour who would love to skip through this month of the Tour.

While Joao Sousa may not dislike the green stuff as some out there, he is clearly not at his best on a surface where his defensive skills are much harder to control. As someone who has grown up on the clay, Sousa doesn't get the slide nor the lower bouncing ball that can be elements of playing on a grass court.

Sousa is also just 3-9 over his last twelve matches since reaching the Semi Final in Sao Paulo which includes a poorer than expected clay court season, and that is going to have dented some confidence.

There have been a couple of solid grass court runs which means Sousa should be afforded some respect, but there have been a lot more early exits than strong runs over the last couple of years. Since reaching the Semi Final in Hertogenbosch, Sousa is just 4-8 on the grass courts and three of those wins came at Wimbledon last year.

Kohlschreiber played well enough last week in Stuttgart and tends to do the same in Halle at this time of the season. I do think Sousa can serve better than expected at times and he does have a 2-0 lead over the German on the head to head, but I think Kohlschreiber can get the better of him on this surface. I will look for Kohlschreiber to find a break more in each set to earn his 6-3, 6-4 win in this First Round match.

Gael Monfils - 1.5 games v Richard Gasquet: Injuries have curtailed the amount of tennis that Gael Monfils has been able to play on the grass courts in recent seasons. Monfils will return to Halle having been forced to miss the warm up events for Wimbledon last season and Monfils has had just one grass court match since Wimbledon 2015.

Usually you could perhaps argue that the superior player on this surface is Richard Gasquet, but I am not sure the Frenchman is feeling up to full health. The faster surface should mean Gasquet is able to look after his back problem a little more than the clay, but someone like Monfils is capable of forcing his compatriot to play plenty of low balls which has to be a concern for Gasquet.

Another would be the early exits Gasquet has suffered at Queens in the last couple of appearances here. A change in venue for his warm up to Wimbledon may help, but I do think Gasquet could potentially need some time to find his feet on the grass despite being a former Wimbledon Semi Finalist.

He doesn't have a great recent record in his first match on the grass in recent years and I think Monfils can serve big enough on the surface to put himself in a strong position. It will be an interesting First Round match as we get a chance to see how both players are feeling in an injury hit 2017, but I do give Monfils enough of an edge to wish to back him to win and cover what looks a small enough number on the handicap.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - 3.5 games v Adrian Mannarino: No one will be more disappointed with their French Open than Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, but he is coming into what should be a month where he is at his most dangerous. Tsonga's game has always been ideal for the grass and he has proved that with some big runs at Wimbledon and big wins there over the years.

It does feel that Tsonga has not come into this time of the season at full health for some time and a deeper look at his results shows this is the first pre-Wimbledon tournament he has taken in on the grass since visiting Queens in 2014. Over the years Tsonga has had some good results here, but also some very surprising early exits and this First Round match is a potentially dangerous one.

I said last week that Adrian Mannarino is better on the grass courts than you would think despite what looks like a below average serve. Coming from the lefty, Mannarino is able to back it up and he will give Tsonga some problems if the latter is not fully at the races.

However you would think the Tsonga serve is going to be the potent weapon on the court and that should give him every chance to take a few swings against the Mannarino one. If he can see a few second serves, Tsonga is capable of putting the pressure on his compatriot and trying to break down his game as Alexander Zverev did last week in Hertogenbosch.

Mannarino did beat Tsonga on the clay earlier this season, but I will look for the latter to make enough quality returns to come away with a 6-3, 7-6 win in this First Round match.

Barbora Strycova - 4.5 games v Yulia Putintseva: There is always going to be limited data from the grass court tournaments compared with the hard court and clay court events which are played throughout the year.

Barbora Strycova had a mainly forgettable clay court season, but she has played well on the grass courts in her career. That is especially the case here in Birmingham where Strycova has a 11-3 record in her last three appearances and was the Finalist last season.

In saying that, this is still a lot of games to cover for a player who has the tendency to produce some sloppy service games which can give opponents a chance to steal sets and games. That could be a real problem against a player like Yulia Putintseva who does a lot of defensive work around the court and looks to extract errors from others.

However Putintseva has had very limited success on the grass courts and I think she finds it much harder to keep defending on the low bouncing courts with too many of those shots heading upwards and being able to be put away and penetrate her defences. She has lost her first match on the grass by comfortable margins in each of the last three years that she has played on the surface (2013, 2015, 2016).

There will be breaks of serve and there will be some swings in the momentum just simply because of the way Strycova and Putintseva play. However I am looking for the superior grass court experience to show up at a tournament where Strycova has had success in the past and I will look for the Czech player to progress with a 6-4, 6-3 win.

Heather Watson + 4.5 games v Elina Svitolina: I have mentioned a few times over the years that Heather Watson has to be one of the most overrated players in the United Kingdom simply because she is British and talked up too much. That has quietened since the emergence of Johanna Konta who is a genuine contender at big events these days while Watson has slipped outside the top 100 of the World Rankings.

I have nothing against Watson personally, because she comes across as a really nice person, but generally she is overrated and that is especially the case around the grass court season. That might not be the case in the opening Round in Birmingham though.

Watson is rightly the underdog against the Number 2 Seeded Elina Svitolina who is having the kind of consistent season which will see her contend for the World Number 1 position on the WTA Tour thanks to the likes of Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber having their own issues to deal with.

However Svitolina has had her troubles on the grass court and I am going to look for Watson to try and expose those. Svitolina is just 4-10 as a pro on the grass and one of those losses did come against Watson, although I am not expecting the latter to be able to replicate that.

Instead I am looking for Watson to just force a competitive match out of Svitolina and perhaps even steal a set which gives her every chance to cover with this number. In all of Svitolina's previous experience on the grass, she has only covered this number twice and and five of the ten losses have come when favoured.

Watson was demolished by Alison Riske last week in Nottingham, but I will look for her to have enough to challenge Svitolina who hasn't quite got to grips with this surface.

MY PICKS: Philipp Kohlschreiber - 4.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Gael Monfils - 1.5 Games @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - 3.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Barbora Strycova - 4.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Heather Watson + 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Season 2017- 15.04 Units (1104 Units Staked, - 1.36% 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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