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Monday, 26 June 2017

Tennis Picks 2017 (June 26th)

We have three events taking place across two venues this week and the tournaments in Eastbourne and Antalya have already begun on Sunday.

The big story this week will be focused on Novak Djokovic and how he plays at Eastbourne in preparation for Wimbledon. This is the first time we will have seen Djokovic since he apparently gave up at the French Open and took a hammering at the hands of Dominic Thiem, but I am not sure how much Djokovic will enjoy his time on the south coast.

The wind was strong enough on Sunday and that is expected to be an issue all week, while rain delays should also be in play after the heat of last week in England. It's not exactly the kind of weather you want to play in when trying to find your rhythm on the court and Djokovic has regularly struggled in the wind anyway so let's see how he gets on.

Last week ended on a negative for the tennis picks but it could have been a lot worse having been in a poor position in the middle of the week. There were some tough days, but it is a week in which the results will help just improve things for the remaining couple of grass court events including the big two weeks at Wimbledon.

The Qualifiers will be played for Wimbledon over the next few days before the draw for the men's and women's events will be released on Friday. Hopefully we are in for some good weather during the two weeks at SW19 with improvements expected in England next weekend prior to the beginning of the event.

This week the picks are focused on the tournaments being played- the WTA event at Eastbourne looks a very strong event that could highlight players in the kind of form to win an open Wimbledon title, while the majority of big name players will be sitting out at the two ATP events.

There are plenty of matches scheduled for Monday where the First Round matches continue at the events being played this week and some Second Round matches are also scheduled in preparation for the Saturday conclusion.

Nicolas Mahut - 1.5 games v Robin Haase: There is a feeling that Nicolas Mahut's best days as a Singles player may be long behind him now as he has also struggled on the grass courts over the last couple of weeks. He has formerly been a specialist on the surface, but Mahut's numbers are down both on serve and return and he is not the player he once was.

That means I am more likely to want to oppose Mahut where I see him being over-rated, but that may not be the case in this First Round match in Eastbourne.

While Mahut has struggled, he is facing someone in Robin Haase who can be hit and miss on the grass courts too. Haase had a couple of solid wins in Halle last week which will make him dangerous and he has had strong runs on the grass courts before.

However I think Mahut is the better player on the surface even if he has perhaps lost half a step getting up to the net. When the first serve is working, Mahut should be able to keep a player like Haase under pressure and I will look for that to be enough to earn a couple more breaks of serve over the course of the match.

Even on the return Mahut will try and get up to the net and see if Haase has the quality and clear thinking to keep making the passes and I will look for the Frenchman to come out on top there. It may need three sets, but Mahut can put a win on the board here and I will look for him to cover this number.

Cameron Norrie + 2.5 games v Horacio Zeballos: There is going to be some hard work ahead for Cameron Norrie as he transitions onto the professional Tour, but going through the College ranks in the United States has produced some quality players at this level. He struggled on the grass over the last couple of weeks, but I am going to back Norrie with the games in this one.

Ultimately he is playing an opponent in Horacio Zeballos who simply does not like playing on the grass and tends to miss this portion of the season.

During his career, Zeballos hasn't taken in too many grass court tournaments, although he did win three Qualifiers to get into the main draw at Wimbledon in 2015. That is a potential problem for me in this one as Norrie isn't much better than that kind of level at this moment in his career, but Zeballos is hard to back simply because he has lost his last six main draw matches on the grass.

Some of those have been disappointing and Zeballos will need to find his feet on the surface in this one. His lefty serve should be one that Norrie can read a little more being a lefty himself, while having had the grass court experience in recent weeks should be important for Norrie in this one.

It might not feel like a lot of games, but there is enough here to think Norrie can take advantage of them and I will take the young Brit with those games in hand.

Barbora Strycova - 3.5 games v Eugenie Bouchard: Things have taken a significant downward spin in the career of Eugenie Bouchard to the point that her 2017 highlight may have been beating Maria Sharapova. 2014 was a breakthrough year on the Tour for Bouchard, but she is just 52-54 in matches played since the beginning of 2015 and Bouchard has a losing record on the season.

There is definitely more press time offered to Bouchard than her results dictate there should be and her slip down to Number 59 in the World Rankings shows no sign of stopping.

Another early loss last week in Mallorca wouldn't have helped matters and Bouchard has struggled on the grass since reaching the Final at Wimbledon in 2014. The Canadian is 6-9 on the grass courts since then, and I am not sure she is going to be able to compete with a solid player like Barbora Strycova.

Strycova is comfortable on the surface and she has beaten Bouchard the last three times they have played one another on the Tour. It has been almost twelve months since they last played each other, but Bouchard hasn't shown much improvement since then and Strycova is someone who has been able to produce the wins on the grass court.

She has a decent enough serve to put Bouchard under pressure and Strycova will believe she can out-rally her where necessary and I am looking for the Czech player to produce a solid win in this First Round match.

Karolina Pliskova - 3.5 games v Alison Riske: The first match on grass can always be something of a learning experience even for the very best players on the Tour. We saw that last week at Queens and have done over the years when players have just struggled to find their timing and feel comfortable with their movement.

That is arguably the biggest problem for Karolina Pliskova when she takes on Alison Riske in the Second Round in Eastbourne, but Pliskova has the big equaliser in a monster serve which may be the best on the WTA Tour now Serena Williams is on the sidelines.

Pliskova's serve should cause considerable damage on the grass courts and I think she will put Riske under some pressure with that shot alone. In 2016 Pliskova seemed to get an idea on how to back up that serve with a title win in Nottingham as well as reaching the Final in Eastbourne, even though she was stunned very early at Wimbledon.

This is the kind of match that should give Pliskova some rhythm to play with as Riske can try and take the ball on from the back of the court, but simply doesn't have the same power as the Czech player. Riske is a dangerous player when firing and confident, and there will be moments when she is dominating the net to put the pressure on Pliskova.

However, I think Pliskova will be able to have a few free swings on the return of serve that can help her move through with a 6-4, 6-4 win and get her grass court season underway.

Heather Watson + 4.5 games v Dominika Cibulkova: For someone who doesn't really rate Heather Watson that highly, it might be a surprise to see that I am backing her as the underdog with the games for the second week in a row. Like last week, I think Watson is facing a higher Ranked opponent in Dominika Cibulkova who is not playing with a lot of confidence.

Last week Watson went down to Elina Svitolina but she did take a set in the match and it was a poor beginning which cost her. Having a win in the bag in Eastbourne may just give her the confidence to stick with Cibulkova for longer, although Watson will have to serve well to keep the Slovakian from getting on the front foot in rallies.

Watson should have a chance to recover breaks of serve against Cibulkova too though and Cibulkova is just 1-6 in her last seven matches. Cibulkova has had a couple of tight losses on the grass in the last two weeks which may not have dented confidence too much, but it suggests this will be another tight match for her.

Last year was a strong year for Cibulkova on the grass as she won the title here in Eastbourne and was a Quarter Finalist at Wimbledon, but the confidence levels were much higher then. While she has the power to hit through the court on the grass, Cibulkova's serve could see her having to defend at times and I am looking for Watson to do enough to stay within this number of games.

Hopefully this week Watson is not blown out in a set and instead can force a competitive match after her win in the First Round.

Daria Gavrilova - 3.5 games v Lara Arruabarrena: The majority of the success that Lara Arruabarrena has had on the Tour have come on the clay courts, which shouldn't be a surprise, but she can produce some tough tennis on the grass courts.

There aren't a lot of wins behind her, but Arruabarrena has to be respected having beaten a couple of competent grass court players in the Qualifiers. Wins over Richel Hogenkamp and Tsvetana Pironkova are good solid wins, but Arruabarrena is going to have to take another step up when facing Daria Gavrilova.

The latter can be a frustrating player to back because her style of player means she is capable of dropping a set with a couple of breaks of serve against her. Aggressiveness is one thing, but it's difficult to maintain that behind a serve that can be a little loose and could be under threat in the windy conditions that generally affect Eastbourne.

However that aggressiveness should see Gavrilova attack the Arruabarrena serve with some real success too and I am anticipating a few breaks of serve to be shared out between these players.

The Arruabarrena serve does look the weaker of the two in this match though and I think it will mean Gavrilova is able to win this match 7-5, 6-4.

Jelena Ostapenko - 1.5 games v Carla Suarez Navarro: This is the first appearance for Jelena Ostapenko since winning the French Open title and it will be interesting to see how she responds to a new found fame. We have seen the likes of Garbine Muguruza struggle under the expectation that comes with winning a Grand Slam title, while it has to be said that Ostapenko's game is right on the edge so a series of surprise losses won't be as much of an upset as the odds may indicate.

In saying that, I think Ostapenko's game does transfer very well onto the grass courts. She is a former Junior Wimbledon Champion and the aggressive play should be even more penetrative on the grass courts.

She should be able to hit through Carla Suarez Navarro who has the character to battle through to some solid wins on the grass. However much will depend on her opponents being a little out of sync because the Spaniard will need to defend plenty of balls on a quicker surface than she perhaps like and I think Ostapenko will be a little too good for her.

The risk is clearly in backing a player on their first grass court match of the season and coming off an emotional tournament like Ostapenko has done. She has beaten Carla Suarez Navarro on the grass before and a good serving day should set her up for success in this Second Round match.

Windy conditions can be difficult, but Ostapenko handled those well in Paris and I will look for her to break down Suarez Navarro with a 7-6, 6-4 win.

Shuai Zhang - 1.5 games v Varvara Lepchenko: It looked like Varvara Lepchenko was struggling with some sort of injury in Mallorca, but that didn't stop her coming through two Qualifiers to get into the main draw in Eastbourne. The American has a big serve and a heavy forehand that can make her a threat on the grass courts, but Lepchenko can struggle for consistency off the ground.

Giving away poor breaks of serve can be costly on the grass courts and Shuai Zhang can take advantage of Lepchenko here.

She has been returning well in the last couple of matches, but generally this has been an issue for Lepchenko on the grass courts. While we have not seen the best of Zhang on the grass courts, she played well last week in Birmingham to think she can put her opponent under pressure and get the better of Lepchenko.

This has been a difficult season for Zhang which can affect the confidence of players, especially when they see the finishing line. However she is facing someone who has had problems of their own when it comes to winning matches and I do think Zhang can return well enough to put Lepchenko into some difficult positions on the court.

It may need three sets to separate them, but Lepchenko looked a little out of sorts last week in Mallorca and Zhang may just have enough to come though with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win.

MY PICKS: Nicolas Mahut - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Cameron Norrie + 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Barbora Strycova - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Karolina Pliskova - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 William Hill (2 Units)
Heather Watson + 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Daria Gavrilova - 3.5 Games @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)
Jelena Ostapenko - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Shuai Zhang - 1.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Season 2017- 17.26 Units (1176 Units Staked, - 1.47% 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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