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Thursday, 31 August 2017

World Cup Qualifier Football Picks 2017 (August 31st-September 5th)

The Transfer Window closes on Thursday, but this is the day the World Cup Qualifiers begin with the final four rounds of games played over the next six weeks.

This is an important time for some big nations who are desperate to book their place in Russia for the World Cup Finals, especially for Argentina and the Netherlands who are struggling in their individual Qualifying campaigns.

Both of those nations begin the first of their two World Cup Qualifiers on Thursday, but there are plenty of other nations looking for a positive two games to put themselves in the position they want to be in.

This thread will be left as the 'favoured post' over the next few days with a break on Saturday for the College Football Picks on Saturday and Sunday. I will be adding all of the World Cup Qualifier Picks from the next few days on this one thread as I look to begin September with some positive results.

France v Netherlands Pick: If you wanted proof of the kind of fall the Netherlands have suffered in their national team over the last three years, just take a look at the kind of price you can get on them winning this game.

After finishing 3rd at the last World Cup under Louis Van Gaal, the Netherlands failed to even Qualify for the European Championship Finals last summer despite the increased number of teams who could reach the Finals. That disappointment has continued in this World Cup Qualifying Group and the Netherlands look set to miss out on back to back major international tournaments for the first time since 1986.

It will take a special final four games for the Netherlands to even finish in the top two in the Group and that begins with the difficult task of stopping this French team.

France have so much talent that they look like being major contenders for the next four or five international tournaments. Losing in the Final of Euro 2016 was a huge blow for the team, but France can use that experience and they have looked to be the best team in the Group.

Only a Hugo Lloris error in Solna has prevented France from already being in a very strong position to Qualify, but I would still expect France to win the Group. This is arguably the most difficult game left, but France have been strong in home Qualifiers and are facing a Netherlands team who haven’t been good on their travels.

Holland did earn a draw in Sweden, but the loss in Bulgaria means they have lost half of their last 8 away Qualifiers over the last two Qualification campaigns. It ended 2-0 to Bulgaria in the last away Qualifier which also means 3 of their 4 away Qualifier losses since 2014 have come by a couple of goals at least and also without the Netherlands scoring.

I am not sure France have the most trustworthy of defence with their style likely to leave them short at the back. However, the attacking threat should find a way to break down the Netherlands defence and breach them at least twice which is why I am backing France to cover the Asian Handicap.

5 of their last 7 home Qualifiers have been won by a couple of goals at least and I will look for France to add to the Netherlands woes with another dominant home win here.

Chile v Paraguay Pick: Games are running out in a very tight South American World Cup Qualifying Group where only Brazil have secured their place in Russia next June. With the fixtures left, both Chile and Paraguay are looking for a vital three points, but I have to lean with the home side getting the edge.

There is plenty of talent in the Chile squad who finished Runners Up at the Confederation Cup a couple of months ago. They have been inconsistent in the Qualifiers, but they have entered the top four now and Chile are a much stronger team at home.

Chile also face a desperate Paraguay team who will know anything less than a positive result will likely mean their Qualification chances have gone. Even a draw might be a result that plays spoiler than aiding Paraguay and I do think this is a team that have confidence knocked of late.

This is a team that hasn't travelled well and the win over Argentina looks an exception than the rule for Paraguay away from home.

Paraguay have made life difficult for Chile when hosting them, but this time they have to deal with the loud crowd who will be cheering on their team. Chile have won their last couple of home Qualifiers by at least a couple of goals and I will look for the better Ranked team to come through this one.

It is a big three points, but Chile have enough in the final third to break down the Paraguay resistance. At some stage Paraguay will have to commit men forward and that is where Chile can take advantage for a comfortable win on the night.

Uruguay v Argentina Pick: There is a huge rivalry between these nations at the best of times, but the pressure filled environment that Uruguay and Argentina will be involved in makes it a fascinating World Cup Qualifier. Argentina have plenty of work to do to finish with an automatic spot in the Russia World Cup Finals, but Uruguay also need some points to ensure a place in the top four in South America.

It makes this a fascinating game and with the attacking talent in the line ups this should also be a decent game of football. Luis Suarez is expected to miss out for Uruguay, but they are at home and will have noticed how weak Argentina have been on their travels.

However Argentina look to be reinvigorated by Jorge Sampaoli who took over as manager in the summer. He has previously guided Chile to unprecedented success and was also performing well as manager of Sevilla which gives Argentina confidence they can secure their spot in the top four by the end of the Qualifiers.

Winning here won't be easy though and Argentina have proved that in recent years with a just a single victory in 8 visits to Uruguay. Losing Suarez is a blow for the home team, but they should still have chances in this one against an Argentina team who will press and thus leave the defence a little exposed.

Edinson Cavani gives Uruguay an attacking threat, but Argentina can match that and it feels like this could be a fixture which produces a few goals. Only 2 of the last 6 between Uruguay and Argentina have finished with at least three goals shared out, but I will look for this one to go that way with both teams likely to produce an attacking game plan.

I do think they will have the chances to reach at least three goals in this one and I will back that to happen at odds against.

Czech Republic v Germany PickThis is a very big week for the Czech Republic who play the two teams above them in this World Cup Qualifying Group and have a 4 point gap to make up to 2nd placed Northern Ireland. Two wins from two games would be huge for the Czech Republic, but I am not sure this current squad is good enough to do that.

They are certainly going to be tested to the full when facing Germany who look to be producing another squad that is capable of winning the World Cup as they did in 2014. The Confederations Cup success has shown the depth Germany have and they have been dominant in this Group with six wins out of six.

However there is still work for Germany to do if they want to win this Group and secure their spot in Russia for the World Cup Finals. While they are 5 points clear of Northern Ireland, Germany still have to visit Windsor Park and a loss here would likely mean they are only 2 points clear of Northern Ireland who head to San Marino on Friday night.

It would be some surprise if Germany do lose in the Czech Republic with the quality they have and the home team perhaps going through a transition at this moment. The Czech Republic have not lost a lot of home Qualifiers in recent years, but they also have not faced too many teams of the quality of Germany in that time and I think that shows up here.

In the European Championship Qualifiers Germany did fail to score in Poland and the Republic of Ireland, but generally the side have been able to wear down opponents and produce plenty of chances in away Qualifiers. I think they can do the same here in Prague and I do believe Germany will end up securing a win by a couple of goals on the day.

That will give Germany a chance to put one foot into the World Cup Finals and I will back them to cover the Asian Handicap in this one.

Lithuania v Scotland Pick: There is so much on the line for Scotland and Gordon Strachan and you have to feel that anything less than a win in Lithuania will likely mean curtains for their chances of making it to Russia and the next World Cup Finals. They play Malta at home early next week and Scotland need the full six points on offer to keep the pressure up on Slovenia and Slovakia in the race for the 2nd place in the Group.

While Scotland will have been pleased with four points from their last couple of Qualifiers against Slovenia and England, the way they dropped two points against England could be the difference between a Play Off and being at home next summer. They have to use the confidence from the performances in a positive way, but this is the kind of game Scotland have failed to win on many an occasion in their long absence from a major international tournament.

It was a 1-0 loss in Georgia in the European Championship Qualifiers which cost Scotland a chance of playing in France last summer and this Lithuania team have to be respected.

Lithuania are 1-1-1 at home in the Group and came close to beating Slovenia when leading them 2-0 here before settling for a 2-2 draw. They have scored at least once in each of their home Qualifiers in the Group and Lithuania will believe they can win this kind of fixture having already drawn 1-1 in Glasgow.

That makes Lithuania a dangerous team for Scotland to face and the fact they do score goals at home only heightens the danger. Scotland have conceded in 8 of their last 9 away Qualifiers with the one exception coming at Gibraltar and this feels like a match that could produce at least three goals with both nations likely to score at least once.

Neither will settle for a point in this one which should keep the attacks coming, although historically this has been a fixture that hasn't produced a lot of fireworks. This one may be the exception and at a big price it has to be worth a chance to see at least three goals in this one.

Malta v England Pick: The layers won't be giving away anything with the England price as they will be big favourites to win this World Cup Qualifier in Malta. The home team have already been beaten by Scotland, Slovenia and Slovakia here and England are seen as the superior of those nations.

The question from this fixture is how comfortable will it be for England? While they should win, August is a tough time to play in Malta with the high temperatures something that the English players are not that accustomed to.

It could be a question of simply getting things done as far as Gareth Southgate is concerned, especially with the big home Qualifier against Slovakia to come in a few days. That game may determine the winner of the Group and so Southgate will be looking for a professional performance in Malta and that is what I think he will get.

England have the quality in the squad to break down the Malta defences, although they will have seen at Wembley Stadium how difficult this opponent can make life. They only won 2-0 at home, and I have to say the Scotland win here has looked like an exception in recent performances Malta have provided.

Scotland won by a four goal margin, but both Slovenia and Slovakia have had much tougher wins here. Italy and Croatia both won by single goal margins here in the last European Championship Qualifiers and this is going to be a difficult test for England to say the least.

I do think England can win by a slightly wider margin than Italy, Croatia and Slovenia provided and can instead match what Slovakia did in their 1-3 win here. It has been 23 games since England scored more than three goals in a game and that was against San Marino who are considerably weaker than this Malta team.

With the thoughts likely to be to get into a position to earn the three points and then try and control the game in the heat of Malta, I think backing England to win by either a two or three goal margin could provide a profit. Dutching those two margin of victories provides an odds against return and that is the way I will back England on Friday for the win.

San Marino v Northern Ireland Pick: This could be a pivotal moment for Northern Ireland in the Group as a win coupled with a Czech Republic failure to beat Germany would mean they are in complete command of the Play Off spot in the section. There would still be an outside chance of Northern Ireland winning the Group as they host Germany later in the section, but most of the fans have to just be concerned with wrapping up 2nd place and the Play Off berth.

It has been another successful campaign in the Qualifiers for Michael O'Neill and Northern Ireland who have shown the last set of Qualifying matches was not a fluke or taking advantage of a weak section. Performances against the Czech Republic and Norway have shown Northern Ireland in a very positive light and they should be too good for San Marino.

However, like England, Northern Ireland are unlikely to blow out too many teams and especially away from home. They did beat San Marino 4-0 at home, but this is going to be tough in warmer conditions.

Eventually I do think Northern Ireland will prove to be too good for a San Marino team who have not won any of their last 41 home games and who have found goals hard to come by. They have lost 7 in a row at home and Northern Ireland have proved in performances in the Czech Republic and Azerbaijan that their strong defensive shape gives them the platform to go on and win matches.

Northern Ireland haven't scored more than a single away goal in their 3 away Qualifiers in this Group, but they did score twice in 3 away Qualifiers in the last European Championship Qualifying Group. I think the Northern Irish can be backed to win here and picking two correct scores should give every chance of producing a healthy profit.

Backing Northern Ireland to win 0-2 and 0-3 and dutching those scores returns a healthy odds against quote and has to be worth backing in this latest World Cup Qualifier.

Slovakia v Slovenia Pick: This is a big game for both Slovakia and Slovenia and a draw doesn't do much but open the door for Scotland to get back into the race for a top two finish in the Group. The winning team may feel they have a chance to finishing above England in the Group while also strengthening their own Play Off berth and it is an intriguing game.

I do give the edge to the home team who will have the support from the stands and who have won their last 2 World Cup Qualifiers here. In both they have thumped Scotland and Lithuania and I do think there is a lot to like about Slovakia.

Their opponents won't be a pushover and a draw likely suits Slovenia a little more, but the defeat in Scotland and being 2-0 down in Lithuania is not encouraging form.

I do think the attacking threat of Slovakia is going to find a way to wear down the Slovenian visitors and it will be a narrow win for the home team. It will be a big win for Slovakia to take them closer to a potential place at the next World Cup, and I like them at odds against to earn that here.

MY PICKS: 31/08 France - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
31/08 Chile - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
31/08 Uruguay-Argentina Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
01/09 Germany - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.88 Bet365 (2 Units)
01/09 Lithuania-Scotland Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.38 Bet Victor (2 Units)
01/09 Dutching England to Win by 2 Goals & England to Win by 3 Goals @ 2.25 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
01/09 Dutching Northern Ireland to Win 2-0 & Northern Ireland to Win 3-0 @ 2.67 Bet365 (2 Units)
01/09 Slovakia @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)

US Open Tennis Day 4 Picks 2017 (August 31st)

Wednesday was a fantastic day of tennis for the fans who were lucky enough to attend the US Open as 87 Singles matches were completed in the one day to get this tournament back on track.

It was good news for the fans, but perhaps not so much for some of the big names with the headline exits coming in the men's draw as Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev were beaten. Both were amongst the favourites here in New York City, while another in Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was beaten later in the evening.

The bottom half of the men's draw looks very, very open now and the positions of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have been strengthened. Neither is a sure thing to go all the way with a loaded top half of the draw and that is before we get to any potential first meeting of the two superstars at this Grand Slam event.

The likes of Grigor Dimitrov, who won in Cincinnati, and Juan Martin Del Potro, the 2009 US Open Champion will have something to say about that, but the draw looks lopsided now.

Most of the top ladies have managed to work their way through the women's draw on Wednesday with Maria Sharapova coming from a set down to beat Timea Babos and back up her win over Simona Halep. That gives the Russian two more days at the US Open with a chance to enter the second week, but the big threat in the draw looks to be Garbine Muguruza who is playing with plenty of confidence.

The women's draw still looks exciting though with some top players working their way through the section and there could be some brilliant matches ahead if the best players can get to the business end of the tournament.

After a pretty poor Monday, the picks from the last two days have got things turned around for the US Open Tennis Picks. It definitely gives me some momentum to take into the rest of the week, but things can quickly change and I am not going to be getting too giddy about a couple of solid days.

Tomas Berdych win 3-1 v Alexandr Dolgopolov: There have been plenty of negative headlines created by Alexandr Dolgopolov of late with a suspicious loss in Winston Salem last week the one that has been leading the way. He was clearly upset by the suggestions of match fixing which had been put to him by the media in the wake of his five set win over Jan-Lennard Struff.

Now I don't want to say anything about the allegations except for the fact that it was a very strange pre-match drift on the market. Also add in the fact that Dolgopolov has been pride of place on my 'blacklist' for at least three years and you can read into that for what you will.

The suspicions around Dolgopolov means he is most certainly going to be on his guard at this moment and that means we are unlikely to see the silly mistakes that can blight his game. I expect he is going to play the high percentage shot as much as possible, although that is unlikely to happen consistently enough to beat someone like Tomas Berdych.

Berdych was a comfortable First Round winner over Ryan Harrison and I think he can back that up with a win over an opponent he has beaten four times out of five. The last of those came two years ago in Cincinnati and was actually won by Dolgopolov, but Berdych is the kind of steady player that will eventually be able to wear down this kind of opponent.

I do think Berdych is a player that makes more mistakes these days and perhaps has lost a step around the court which will give Dolgopolov a chance to win a set. But I do think Berdych will eventually have too much as Dolgopolov perhaps loses some heart after a physical and emotional win on Wednesday, and so will have a small interest in Berdych moving through in four sets.

Grigor Dimitrov - 6.5 games v Andrey Rublev: After winning the biggest title of his career at the ATP Masters in Cincinnati, Grigor Dimitrov has shown he is continuing to come out of a major slump he suffered in his career twelve months ago. Anyone who wins a Masters event has to be respected, but Dimitrov will have seen what happened to Canadian Masters winner Alexander Zverev who was beaten in the Second Round on Wednesday.

Dimitrov has more experience than Zverev and I expect him to handle the occasion when he faces Andrey Rublev. The talented young Russian is someone who has big things predicted for him, but he has been a little inconsistent on the hard courts and I still think there is plenty for him to learn.

One of the big problems for Rublev has been when he is up against the top 50 Ranked players on this surface. His serve is decent, but it is one that needs a lot of first serves to get into play for Rublev to be really effective and I think his second serve will be challenged by Dimitrov who has been returning effectively in 2017.

The numbers are even more problematic when Rublev has faced top 20 Ranked players and I think he may struggle to stick with Dimitrov in this one. At times he will flash the potential that so many have Rublev in possession of, but Dimitrov should be consistently at a higher level and that can show up here.

Rublev has had some solid runs on the hard courts, but mainly at the Challenger level. He has also yet to really show what he is made of against the top players on the Tour and I think mentally he may struggle if he falls behind and that should help Dimitrov ease to a 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 win.

Adrian Mannarino - 6.5 games v Bjorn Fratangelo: It might not have been too often that Adrian Mannarino is being asked to cover such a wide margin of games, especially because he has a serve which can be vulnerable. He is also not a player blessed with power which means opponents do get time on the ball, but Mannarino is consistent off the ground and can move the ball around the court to put opponents into difficult positions.

Mannarino has been effective on the hard courts in 2017 and he has been very strong when facing opponents who are Ranked outside the top 100. The numbers have looked really good in those matches with Mannarino being able to look after his serve effectively and following that up with very strong return numbers.

All of that makes this a really difficult match for American Bjorn Fratangelo who upset Ivo Karlovic in the First Round. That is an impressive result for a player that has struggled to deal with those Ranked inside the top 100 but this is a much more difficult test for him as Mannarino will look to wear him down with consistency from the ground.

The Fratangelo service numbers have not been as impressive as his season totals when he faces those players in the top 100 of the World Rankings and he is also going to have the mental battle of trying to ignore the 6-1, 6-1 loss to this opponent a few weeks ago in Los Cabos.

Over the course of a best of five set match, I would expect Mannarino to get to a similar level of numbers in this match as he did when beating Fratangelo in Los Cabos. While this is a lot of games to cover, I think the Frenchman is capable of winning at least one set with a couple of breaks of serve which can help him do that. I am anticipating Mannarino to work his way to a 7-6, 6-3, 6-3 win in this one to move through to the Third Round.

Roger Federer - 8.5 games v Mikhail Youzhny: The benefit of being one of the big names on the tennis circuit is being scheduled to play on Arthur Ashe Stadium. The roof meant the schedule was completed on that court on Tuesday and also means Roger Federer was able to have a day off to prepare for this match with Mikhail Youzhny whose own First Round win was completed on Wednesday.

Federer took advantage of his day off by heading to practice on the public courts in Central Park and a rare opportunity for fans to have a photo opportunity with one of the greatest players of all time. The day off also meant Federer could rest his body a little bit more with doubts about his physical well being after struggling through the First Round.

That may be a factor later on in this tournament, but for now Federer is fortunate to be playing another veteran in Youzhny. The Russian has never beaten Federer and he has also lost half a step around the court which has been really bad for someone who relies on his movement as much as Youzhny does.

He did well to beat Blaz Kavcic in the First Round, but it has been rare to see Youzhny winning back to back matches in 2017. The serve is one that can be attacked and the slight decline in the movement means he is finding it much harder to protect that side of his game, while Youzhny is going to have a tough task dealing with the Federer serve even if the 'kicker' is limited by the back issues.

This is generally a fairly comfortable match up for Federer and I think he shows that again in the Second Round. The physical problems are a concern, but Federer can speed through this match and I think he can win this match 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.

Dominic Thiem - 5.5 games v Taylor Fritz: Until something is done by Dominic Thiem about his scheduling issues, I think the young star on the ATP Tour will be a bigger threat earlier in the tennis calendar year rather than towards the end. At this time the fatigue begins to build up for a player that does a lot of travelling and takes in too many tournaments, and I think that has contributed to a poor hard court season for Thiem.

In saying that I still expect Thiem to have a little too much for Taylor Fritz even if the youngster from America is going to receive a lot of home support. Fritz was a solid winner over Marcos Baghdatis in the First Round, but he didn't serve as well as he would have liked and now faces a much better player than Cypriot.

Even in the win on Wednesday, Fritz was perhaps fortunate to get out of the first two sets and a similar level will not be good enough here. Thiem had a much easier day in the office as he concluded his First Round win for the loss of six games and this is a player that will feel confident of getting the better of Fritz as the rallies develop.

You have to respect what Fritz can do behind his serve, but I still think there are some limitations in his game as he continues learning on the professional Tour. Frtiz would like to return better than he has, while he is still throwing in one too many sloppy service games which gives players the chance to move ahead in sets.

That is difficult for Fritz to retrieve and I think Thiem will begin to wear down his opponent the longer the rallies go on. I fully expect to see a tight first set, but Thiem should be good enough to find a way to get in front and then grind down Fritz in a 7-6, 6-4, 6-3 win.

Rafael Nadal - 9.5 games v Taro Daniel: The key in the early Rounds of any Grand Slam event is to make sure you get through with the minimum of fuss and Rafael Nadal certainly did that in the First Round after initially struggling against Dusan Lajovic. Winning the last two sets for the loss of four games will be encouraging, although I am not convinced Nadal can go all the way to the title here.

Bigger tests will come for Nadal who was beaten relatively early in Montreal and Cincinnati, but I am not sure that will come in the Second Round. He faces Taro Daniel who upset Tommy Paul in five sets in the First Round, but Daniel will be the first to admit that this is at least three or four levels higher in terms of opponent.

Daniel didn't need to Qualify for the US Open which shows the improvement he has made, but the successes have mainly come at the Challenger level. His numbers take a significant step backwards when Daniel is playing on the main Tour and now he has to face a player who is going to play every point like his life depends on it.

That is so tough to handle mentally for a player that isn't used to facing the quality that Nadal brings to the court. Add in the mystique of playing the night session on Arthur Ashe and I do think Daniel could have a tough time coping with what is a very difficult occasion.

Nadal has shown he can begin to grind down opponents in these best of five matches and I do think that happens to Daniel too. He may even have a slow start with the occasion getting to him and I think Nadal is able to cover this number of games even if there is little margin for error from the Spaniard.

Elina Svitolina - 6.5 games v Evgeny Rodina: 2017 has already seen Elina Svitolina win the most matches she ever has in a single season on the Tour and this looks the perfect tournament to really announce herself to casual tennis fans. The reason Svitolina may fly under the radar for many is that she has not really turned it on at Grand Slam level yet having failed to reach the Quarter Final in three of the four Slams and that Round being her best result at the French Open (twice).

The Third Round has been as good as it gets for Svitolina at the US Open, and she had to really battle to come through her First Round match. That win came against an under-rated Katerina Siniakova, but Svitolina can gain some confidence from coming through a tight match as she looks to add to the Canadian Premier Event title she won earlier this month.

Her opponent should have plenty of confidence having seen off Eugenie Bouchard in the First Round, although that is a win bigger on paper than on the court these days. It was an upset because Evgeny Rodina had not shown any hard court form in the tournaments leading into the US Open while her overall performances on the hard courts have not exactly lit things up.

Rodina does have some decent power off the ground, but I think she is going to be put on the back foot by Svitolina in this one. That is an issue because the movement is perhaps not the best from Rodina and this is a rare occasion when the fluctuating performances of Svitolina should be more secure throughout this match.

That has been a criticism of Svitolina as she can blow hot and cold too quickly, but this is a match up she has enjoyed having dropped seven games to Rodina over two matches. I imagine something similar occurs here and Svitolina is able to cover a big number in this one as she moves into the Third Round.

Karolina Pliskova - 6.5 games v Nicole Gibbs: This is another huge spread in the Second Round matches in the women's draw on Thursday, but I do think Karolina Pliskova can cover against Nicole Gibbs. This does leave very little margin for error, but Pliskova had a very confident First Round win which has backed up two solid tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati and I do think the World Number 1 will go very close to winning the title here.

The power of Pliskova both off the ground and on the serve should mean she is able to look after that side of her game. The return is still something that could improve in my opinion and Pliskova is not the same player on the run, but Nicole Gibbs is going to have to work very hard to expose those weaknesses.

The American has won three Qualifiers and came through a topsy-turvy First Round match as Gibbs has won three matches in a row in a deciding set. She hasn't faced anyone of the level of Pliskova in that time and the blow out loss to Coco Vandeweghe in Stanford is arguably the best match to judge how this one will go.

Gibbs has had success at the ITF level but the step up to the main Tour has been tough for her and she will know that Pliskova is likely to have her under the cosh whenever she steps up to serve. There is no way this match ends up with another double bagel like when they last met in 2015, but Pliskova is an improved player since then and I am not sure Gibbs can say the same about herself.

It feels very much like a 6-3, 6-2 kind of match for Pliskova and I think she will dominate much of this match to move into the Third Round on Saturday.

Lucie Safarova - 5.5 games v Nao Hibino: 2017 has proven to be an up and down year for Lucie Safarova but she has bounced back from a poor 2016 effectively enough. In fact Safarova may feel she is ready to surpass the 36 career best wins in a season having secured 30 already and I do think she will be a difficult test for anyone in this draw.

However I am not sure Safarova has enough to beat the very best players on the Tour as there has been some struggles with the feeling that her movement and serve are not quite to the level they once were. She is capable of getting to the net and shortening points though and that is another avenue Safarova has to employ to just keep opponents off balance later in the draw.

At this stage of the tournament the Safarova game should be strong enough to see off Nao Hibino who upset home favourite Catherine Bellis in the First Round. That three set win was an impressive one considering the limited form Hibino had displayed in the previous few weeks.

She did reach the Final in a poor tournament in Nanchang, but Hibino's losses to Monica Niculescu and Sachia Vickery on the North American hard courts are disappointing. Both of those came against players who are not quite up to the level of Safarova and a strong serving display from the Czech player would give her every chance of producing a routine win on Thursday.

The Safarova serve is still a big enough weapon in a match like this and I think she can set herself up for a 6-4, 6-2 win to move through.

Svetlana Kuznetsova - 5.5 games v Kurumi Nara: There is another veteran that I want to back in the Second Round and that is despite Svetlana Kuznetsova struggling to come through the First Round on Wednesday. She did save match point to get through, but I think Kuznetsova can have an all around better performance with the better match up against Kurumi Nara in the Second Round.

It hasn't been the summer that Kuznetsova would have expected as she reached just a sole Quarter Final in Cincinnati after an early loss in Toronto. However those losses came against players like Catherine Bellis and Garbine Muguruza and I can say that Nara is not quite up to that standard.

Nara had lost six matches in a row before winning a couple of Qualifiers in New Haven, but once again she was unable to make it into the main draw. That is generally the level in which Nara finds herself, and she is also 0-8 in matches against top ten players in the World Rankings.

The numbers are not that impressive in those matches either as Nara has just struggled to compete with those players. The serve is one that can be attacked by the top players and I would imagine Kuznetsova is going to be able to take advantage of that delivery for much of the match.

Nara's returning numbers have also been significantly poorer when facing the top players and Kuznetsova has a decent delivery of her own. It just feels that this match will be dictated by Kuznetsova and overall that is difficult for Nara to remain competitive in what may end up being a 6-4, 6-2 win for the former US Open Champion.

MY PICKS: Tomas Berdych Win 3-1 @ 3.75 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Grigor Dimitrov - 6.5 Games @ 1.91 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Adrian Mannarino - 6.5 Games @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 8.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Dominic Thiem - 5.5 Games @ 1.73 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Rafael Nadal - 9.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Elina Svitolina - 6.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Karolina Pliskova - 6.5 Games @ 1.80 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Lucie Safarova - 5.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Svetlana Kuznetsova - 5.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)

US Open Update: 15-12, + 3.16 Units (54 Units Staked, + 5.85% Yield)

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

US Open Tennis Day 3 Picks 2017 (August 30th)

Tuesday was expected to be a wet day in New York City, but it would have been a big disappointment for the fans at the US Open that there was so little tennis played outside of Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The roof came in handy on the main show court in Flushing Meadows, but the hope would have been that there would have been a few hours of clear weather early in the day on Tuesday. Instead there was very little time which means only the five matches on Ashe and another three or four matches on the outside courts were able to be completed and that means there are a lot of First Round matches being carried over until Wednesday.

For the fans heading to the US Open that may be exciting news with plenty of tennis to come as the bottom half of the Second Round is also scheduled to be played on the same day. With the better forecast it means visitors will have a chance to enjoy tennis until late in the evening as the organisers look to get the event back on track ahead of what may be a few rain delays on Thursday too.

One player who did manage to complete their First Round match on Tuesday who perhaps wishes rain could have aided her cause was Angelique Kerber whose miserable 2017 continues. It has been as surprisingly poor as 2016 was surprisingly successful for the German former World Number 1 who is set to fall out of the top ten in the World Rankings.

It's hard to pinpoint what exactly has gone wrong for Kerber except to say that her game is one that had a fine margin between success and failure in a match. While it all came together for her in 2016, previously she had not shown the signs that she could be a multiple Grand Slam Champion and I do think this may just be a setback as she goes back to a more familiar level.

Don't misunderstand me, I do think Kerber should be a top ten player, but I do think she may have just lost some confidence she had built up in 2016 and that has just seen her regress towards the kind of form she has mainly shown in her career.

Kerber's defeat along with Johanna Konta's one on Monday has really opened up the top of the woman's outright winners market. The one who may take most advantage is Maria Sharapova who beat Simona Halep to see three of the top ten Seeds already beaten in the tournament after just two days have been put in the books.

The return of Sharapova is bringing in plenty of headlines but she has to back it up on Wednesday in the Second Round and prove that her injury concerns are behind her. The theory that her return is not good for women's tennis seems a strange one, and the criticism that she has beaten the Number 2 player in the world ignores the fact that Roger Federer came off a long lay off to win the Australian Open earlier this year.

There is a long way to go before we get to a position to decide the women's Champion here and Sharapova will have to dig deep to beat the remaining names in the draw. Even if Sharapova wins the tournament, I don't think it opens up the women's game to the criticism that some will want to level at it as an open field has made things more exciting. The lay off is seen as a detriment to Sharapova, but she is still a very good player and is arguably the freshest player out there which means any run to the Final may not be as out of left field as some are suggesting.

Only a couple of the tennis picks made on Tuesday were able to be completed over the rain delays so that means the majority of the matches have been postponed until Wednesday. Those tennis picks can be read here.

Lucas Pouille-Jared Donaldson over 38.5 games: The inconsistent 2017 for Lucas Pouille continues, but he will be hoping the comfortable First Round win will help him earn some momentum to at least match the Quarter Final run he had at the US Open last year. There have been title wins and strong runs behind Pouille in 2017, but he had suffered losses in his first match at tournaments played in Washington and Montreal in preparation for the US Open.

One of those losses came against Jared Donaldson who faces Pouille in the Second Round at the US Open on Wednesday. There are some decent things expected from the young American going forward and he has shown some positive signs over the last few weeks back on the North American hard courts.

Donaldson has a decent serve and that should see him remain competitive in this one because he is facing someone whose return is far below where you would expect from a player who is inside the top 20 of the World Rankings. Those struggles from Pouille have been evident in the last few months even when he was winning titles and I do think that gives Donaldson some chance of earning the upset.

When they met in Montreal, it was Donaldson's serve that helped him lay the foundations for his win as Pouille was barely able to have any real impact against it. That has to be a big worry for the Frenchman, although his own serve remains a decent enough weapon at this level.

It does feel like we could see a highly competitive match here with not a lot between them. I wouldn't be surprised if the upset is secured by Donaldson but I expect Pouille to have a chance to win a set or two too with tie-breakers also in play. Both players should win enough points behind the serve to make it difficult for the other to break serve and I will look for this match to surpass the total games in this one.

Mischa Zverev-Benoit Paire over 38.5 games: Initially I had Benoit Paire on my shortlist from the First Round matches to be played at the US Open, but I didn't have enough trust in the Frenchman who has not played well on the hard courts in 2017. Even his preparation for the US Open had been largely disappointing, and that also makes it hard to think of backing Paire as a favourite in this Second Round match.

Take away the stunning run at the Australian Open and the hard courts have not been that kind to Mischa Zverev either. The price for this match may have factored that it as well as the long five setter he had to play in the First Round despite the German being a huge favourite to progress.

Tiredness could be a factor, but the rain delay on Tuesday means this match is going to be played late on Wednesday and gives Zverev plenty of recovery time. At this stage of a Slam fatigue should not be a huge issue for Zverev and his serve-volley game will put Paire under pressure even if the latter has been returning fairly effectively for the majority of the season and that includes on this surface.

There is a contrast in the way these players perform- Zverev is a fairly limited returner with a serve that has set him up for the wins he has earned, while Paire is the better returner but also a player that may give up a couple of loose service games.

It does feel that both players will have their moments in this one and this is another match that could need at least four sets to separate them. I don't want to read too much into Zverev's performance in the First Round but I do still give the edge to Paire overall, but this is a player who rarely wins matches comfortably and I can see both players being confident enough to believe they can win this match.

With the number of sets I am expecting and with a couple of tie-breakers likely to be a key in the match, I will look for the total games to be surpassed.

Yen-Hsun Lu - 4.5 games v Radu Albot: This is the kind of match you may be able to see on the Challenger Tour rather than for a place in the Third Round of a Grand Slam, although that is probably a little disrespectful to Yen-Hsun Lu.

Lu has been a player that has beaten Andy Roddick at a Grand Slam in his career but he has yo-yoed between the Challenger and full ATP Tour in recent years. He has looked far too good for those who spend their time at the Challenger level and the numbers have backed him up as well as the titles Lu picks up at that level, but he is perhaps not as strong when it comes to taking the form onto the main ATP Tour.

Injuries haven't helped Lu either but he has looked good in the last few weeks and the win over Karen Khachanov was a very impressive one. Lu will be expecting to build on that against Radu Albot who has come through the Qualifiers and then beating Ernesto Escobedo in the main draw here, that being his first win on the hard courts at the main Tour level in 2017.

Albot has shown in the Qualifiers that he is good enough to beat those players that may be used to playing Challenger level events rather than full ATP events. However now he faces someone who is almost dominant at that level and I think Lu does have an edge when it comes to the returning numbers that will show up in this Second Round match.

The numbers also show that Lu is the better server in the match and it does feel like this is the kind of match that he should be expecting to win. Lu beat Albot 6-2, 6-1 in Chennai back in January and I do think he will be too strong in this one as he works his way to a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win to take his place in the Third Round.

Marin Cilic - 7.5 games v Florian Mayer: No one will forget the Wimbledon Final in 2017 when watching Marin Cilic lose himself physically and emotionally and it has taken a few weeks for the Croatian to get back on the court. The former US Open Champion made a solid if unspectacular start to the 2017 version of the tournament and this should be another match up that Cilic is comfortable dealing with.

He did drop a set in the First Round, but Florian Mayer will have to dig deep to even earn one of those in this match. As well as Mayer has been able to play on the clay courts and grass courts, he has yet to turn that form into one he can take onto the hard courts and even his First Round win has to be taken with the added factors around it.

Mayer beating an opponent who is at his most comfortable on the clay courts is not the same as taking on Marin Cilic on this surface. In this one the Mayer serve is perhaps going to be tested more than it has by most players on the hard courts in 2017 and I think that will make a difference for Cilic.

That is especially the case when you think of the limited return game Mayer has been able to produce on this surface and the only concern has to be the way their match at Wimbledon went. On that occasion Mayer had the break advantage in each set before being beaten in three sets and doing that here will make it difficult for Cilic to cover this number of games.

Add in the fact that Cilic may not be at 100% and I imagine Mayer will have some backers. However I can't ignore how erratic the veteran German has been on the surface and I think Cilic will be all the better for having a win under his belt, the first win since Wimbledon. As long as Cilic serves well, I do think he will have his chances to break serve at least five times in this match and that can help him come through with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 win.

Kyle Edmund v Steve Johnson: There will be a lot of emotion on the line in this late evening Second Round match and I imagine there will be a strong atmosphere around the court too. Steve Johnson's last few months have been a rollercoaster ride as he tries to come to terms with his father's passing, but the emotional battles can wear down anyone and that may be the reason his recent weeks have been troublesome.

The American did win a couple of matches in Winston Salem to give Johnson some momentum to take into his home Grand Slam although it should be noted that he has perhaps underachieved here. This year Johnson has played well at the Grand Slam tournaments he has played in, but he will have to get the better of Kyle Edmund to get into the Third Round for only the second time in his career at Flushing Meadows.

It was Edmund who ended Johnson's run in Winston Salem and the British player was a deserving winner on the day. That helped Edmund reach the Semi Final in Winston Salem as well as Atlanta over these past few weeks, while he has a really good win over Robin Haase from the First Round to increase the confidence he will be playing with.

I have been critical of Edmund in the past as I feel this is a player that can sometimes fail to find the consistency to really make an impact on the Tour. However he looks to be playing with a little more belief at the moment and his losses to Grigor Dimitrov and David Ferrer on the hard courts can be forgiven.

Johnson hasn't suffered any 'bad' losses except perhaps the one to Edmund over the past few weeks himself. My issue with Johnson is he can be a little limited in what he is able to do with the return of serve and the backhand is an obvious weakness that can be exposed by Edmund.

With the superior returning, I am looking for Edmund to thrive in the atmosphere as he has when representing Great Britain in Davis Cup action. It will feel like a Davis Cup game for Edmund here too but he can handle the occasion and I like him to get the better of Johnson in the Second Round.

Sloane Stephens - 1.5 games v Dominika Cibulkova: The women's draw at the US Open has already seen some fabulous matches taking place with titanic battles and some real upsets scattered throughout the first two days at Flushing Meadows. On Wednesday the Second Round begins and there is yet another match that looks like it may take away all the headlines on the day.

Sloane Stephens has made a remarkable recovery over the last few weeks after returning to the Tour from an injury. Strong runs in both Toronto and Cincinnati will have given the American a lot of confidence that she can have perhaps her best ever result at the US Open.

This is a player that won three Slams as a Junior and who has reached the Fourth Round at every Slam on the professional Tour and that has to be respected. However she has now played six Slams without getting to the Fourth Round although Stephens keeps talking about playing without the pressure having just recently returned to the Tour.

Reaching the Semi Final in Toronto and Cincinnati may have just changed the expectations for Stephens and this is as difficult a test anyone can have when coming up against Dominika Cibulkova. The Slovakian 'pocket rocket' is not going to give anyone an easy ride and Cibulkova may have some renewed confidence after reaching the Final in New Haven last week.

After the successes in 2016, 2017 has proven to be a difficult season for Cibulkova who may not have been at 100% at all times. The numbers have remained steady on the hard courts though and that makes Cibulkova a real threat to Stephens especially if she is able to play at a more consistent level than the American who has been up and down over the last few weeks despite battling through for wins.

However the hard courts in New York have not been kind to Cibulkova who has once surpassed the Third Round and whose 'worst' Grand Slam results have come here. I think Stephens will be able to take advantage of that at some stage and I am looking for her to come through with a three set win as well as the cover of this number of games in what could be the match of the day.

Aleksandra Krunic - 2.5 games v Ajla Tomljanovic: Whenever a player wins a match of the magnitude that Aleksandra Krunic did on Monday after seeing off Johanna Konta, I do wonder if there will be a letdown performance from a player who isn't experienced with the big wins.

Krunic has beaten a top ten player before and that was also at the US Open, although on that occasion she was not able to back up the win over Petra Kvitova. However the defeat to Victoria Azarenka was against another big name and it was only a narrow loss for Krunic, and this time around she is facing an opponent in Ajla Tomljanovic who has been blighted by injuries to knock her outside the top 350 in the World Rankings.

The Tomljanovic win over Johanna Larsson in the First Round was a good one, but she is now playing someone who has had a couple of big wins on the hard courts over the last few weeks. Tomljanovic has produced wins at the lower ITF level, but her last two matches before the US Open saw the Australian pull out with injury and you just never know when that is going to reoccur.

A less than 100% Tomljanovic will have some difficulty against Krunic who has beaten Konta here and also Jelena Ostapenko on the hard courts over the last month. Overall she does not have the best results on the hard courts at the main WTA Tour level, but Krunic has to have plenty of confidence in showing her heart to fight back from a set down to beat Konta in the First Round.

The Krunic numbers on the hard courts have also been steadily stronger than Tomljanovic over the last few years and even during the latter's injury freer years. While you don't know how young players react to big wins, I think Krunic is fortunate to not have beaten a former Slam Champion or one of the leading American players which means she may have a chance to avoid the huge media commitments and give her the focus to see off Tomljanovic with a 7-5, 6-4 win.

Carla Suarez Navarro - 4.5 games v Mirjana Lucic-Baroni: You could see in the First Round why it can be such a chore backing Carla Suarez Navarro to cover these kinds of spreads as she is always going to throw in a couple of cheap service breaks. That means any missed opportunity on the return of serve could be costly, but I am going to back the Spaniard in the Second Round too when she faces an out of form Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.

The Australian Open seems a long time ago now for Lucic-Baroni and a lot of her better form has been in the first half of the season. I do wonder if the veteran is perhaps feeling all the tennis she had earlier in the 2017 year, especially as she is 4-9 since reaching the Semi Final in Charleston.

Lucic-Baroni did beat Monica Puig in the First Round here, but that was a tight, tough battle which went deep into a third set and I do wonder if she has left something on the court. In Cincinnati she was beaten by Carla Suarez Navarro for her third defeat to the Spaniard and I think the latter can frank that form.

It has been a tough 2017 for Suarez Navarro too and this looks like being the third straight year that she will have won fewer matches than the year before. Her hard court form has been disappointing in all honesty and there has been a noticeable decline in the serving numbers behind both first and second serves.

However Suarez Navarro has continued to return well enough to put pressure on Lucic-Baroni and she did reach the Fourth Round here last year. Her serve, particularly the second serve, will likely be attacked by Lucic-Baroni, but the latter's own numbers have a weakness which can be exploited by Suarez Navarro.

The recent confidence is with the Spaniard too and I think she can match the win in Cincinnati and cover this number of games in this Second Round encounter.

MY PICKS: Lucas Pouille-Jared Donaldson Over 38.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Mischa Zverev-Benoit Paire Over 38.5 Games @ 1.90 Bet Victor(2 Units)
Yen-Hsun Lu - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Marin Cilic - 7.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Kyle Edmund @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Sloane Stephens - 1.5 Games @ 1.83 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Aleksandra Krunic - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Carla Suarez Navarro - 4.5 Games @ 2.05 Boyle Sports (2 Units)

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

US Open Tennis Day 2 Picks 2017 (August 29th)

The US Open may be missing some of the bigger names in both the men's and women's draws, but the fans won't be worrying too much on Tuesday with both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in action on Arthur Ashe.

The organisers have to be hoping both of those players find a way to stick around until the end of the tournament though as the men's draw needs some of the bigger and more familiar names to stick around until deep into the second week.

At the time I am writing this, most of the Seeded players have moved through to the Second Round that began their tournament on Monday. However the biggest casualty came in the women's draw as Johanna Konta was surprisingly beaten in the First Round in an event where I really thought she had a very strong chance of going all the way.

It was a disappointing end to what has been a disappointing hard court summer for Konta and she will have to return home and try and get herself back on track during the Asian swing and make sure she is playing in the WTA Finals in October.

Konta was just one of the players who seriously let me down on Monday in what was a desperately poor start to the US Open Tennis Picks. I simply could not catch a break with some really poor performances from the players I picked as well as slow starts really putting me on the back foot with the picks before the match really had gotten underway.

Nothing makes me feel worse than a poor start to any week, but I have to pick myself up quickly on Tuesday and try and put some positive momentum together. 2017 has simply been a season where I have been playing catch up way more than I would have liked, but I have to stick to the angles and believe that is going to get things turned back around.

It's a frustrating time, but things can quickly change in the Slams with plenty more opportunities to come in the days ahead. On Tuesday I would settle for a winning record to at least make me feel more positive than Monday.

Richard Gasquet - 5.5 games v Leonardo Mayer: While so many others on the ATP Tour have called it a day for the 2017 season, Richard Gasquet has come back from a back complaint although I am not convinced he is at 100%.  That is the only real concern for me in this match as he faces Leonardo Mayer who has benefited from a 'Lucky Loser' spot in the main draw at the US Open.

Two Qualifier wins will give Mayer confidence and the last time he was a 'Lucky Loser' entrant into the main draw of a tournament saw him leave with the title in Hamburg in July. That clearly means this is a player who will take a second chance to shine in a tournament and that may make Mayer more dangerous than he should be considering the limited hard court tennis he has played in 2017.

Mayer was also something of an unfortunate loser in the final round of Qualifiers as he had his chances to win that match and earn his place in the main draw. The serve can be very effective on this surface which will make Mayer dangerous too especially if Gasquet is not quite up to the level he would require.

However overall you would have to think that the Frenchman is going to be able to create enough against the second serve to get into a position to break the Mayer serve. That won't always come easy, but Gasquet will feel he is the superior player on the court once the rallies develop, while his own serve is one that should be able to keep control of Mayer and limit the damage that he can do against him.

Gasquet does throw in some sloppy games which makes covering this number a little more difficult, but I do think he can work his way to a four set win where he has every chance of getting over the number. I could see Gasquet dropping a tie-breaker at some point, but eventually being able to have enough to come through with a 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 win.

Donald Young - 1.5 sets v Maximilian Marterer: There have been some solid moments for Donald Young through the course of 2017, but the last few weeks could have been a lot better for the American. Young has had some incredibly disappointing early losses in tournaments on the hard courts since Wimbledon, and the most disappointing aspect will be that all four of his losses this summer have been as the favourite.

That alone makes him hard to trust in this First Round match against Maximilian Marterer who has come through three Qualifying Rounds to take his place in the main draw. Marterer also had a couple of wins in the Qualifiers in Cincinnati which can add together to give him some belief to take into this match.

However there is a different feel when playing at a Grand Slam and in the main draw and this is the first time Marterer will have experienced that. The youngster is yet to win a main draw match at the ATP level too so both of these factors contribute to what could be a tough match for Marterer in the First Round.

Add in the fact that Donald Young has played his best Grand Slam tennis at Flushing Meadows and I can see why he is the favourite to win the match. The losses recently would be a worry as Young has really let himself down at key moments in some of those matches and doing the same here would be gifting Marterer a chance to get into the match.

Young has managed to win at least one match at the US Open in each of the last two seasons and I will be backing him to do that here. Marterer has struggled with his return when playing main Tour matches and he did have some troubles with that aspect of his game in his Qualifier wins in Cincinnati and here at the US Open. Young has to take advantage of that himself by not giving too much away and doing that should lead to a three or four set win.

Marcos Baghdatis v Taylor Fritz: If you're at the US Open on Tuesday and looking for what may be the match with the best atmosphere, this feels like this could be the match to look out for. Taylor Fritz is one of a number of young American players with a bright future on the Tour, so will receive plenty of home support, and he faces Marcos Baghdatis who is beloved wherever he plays.

I have to say I was a little surprised to see Baghdatis as the underdog even if he is not the player he once was. He didn't play in Montreal or Cincinnati, but Baghdatis had some solid wins in Washington and Winston Salem and I do think he is still a real challenge for players lower down the World Rankings like Fritz.

As much as Fritz may be a player that could achieve some very strong things on the Tour in the coming years, he has had an inconsistent 2017 so far. While he has beaten a former US Open Champion in Marin Cilic, defeats to the likes of Liam Broady and Cedrik-Marcel Stebe on the hard courts are not so impressive.

Fritz does have a decent serve which can see him run through games against a returner like Baghdatis who has struggled with that aspect of his game. However the Cypriot is someone who can produce some flashy returns which may give him a chance to put pressure on Fritz as long as he is serving up to the standard he can produce.

Both players will feel this is a good opportunity to progress, but I still give Baghdatis the narrow edge at the moment so will back him as the underdog in the match.

Feliciano Lopez - 1.5 sets v Andrey Kuznetsov: There has been a noticeable decline in the Feliciano Lopez numbers on the hard courts as the veteran begins to reach the back end of his career. While the Doubles performances have remained steady, the Singles performances on the hard courts have made Lopez a little more vulnerable these days.

Even a slight decline in the service numbers can hurt someone like Lopez who has a fairly limited return game and won't recover breaks of serve as effectively as so many others on the Tour. It has put more pressure on the Spaniard to make sure the serve is working as well it should and that has led to a losing record on the hard courts.

However I still think Lopez has every chance of beating someone like Andrey Kuznetsov whose best performances have come on the slower surfaces. The Kuznetsov return game is also one with plenty of room for improvement and the one fear for the Russian is that he is someone who will throw in a poor service game or two in a set.

That would be hugely costly against someone like Lopez especially if Kuznetsov is not able to get his teeth into the return games as his numbers suggest he will find difficult to do so. Kuznetsov has not played well on the hard courts so far in 2017 and matching the Third Round run at the US Open in 2016 is going to be very difficult for him.

His opponent hasn't exactly been pulling up too many trees on the surface in 2017 himself, but I do think Lopez has the steadier serve which can see him move through to the next Round in three or four sets.

Philipp Kohlschreiber - 5.5 games v Tim Smyczek: After winning the title in Kitzbuhel, Philipp Kohlschreiber has taken some time off from the Tour and that has meant missing the hard court swing over the last month. The question is whether that is going to play a factor in this First Round match as the veteran takes on Tim Smyczek who has already won three Qualifiers to get into the main draw.

This is the third tournament this summer that Smyczek has Qualified for on the main Tour and the confidence from winning matches has to be helping him prepare for this challenge. Those wins have mainly come against opponents who are not of the level of Kohlschreiber and I also think it is important to note that Smyczek has yet to win a match on the main Tour over the last few weeks despite those Qualifier wins.

It is a big ask to beat Kohlschreiber despite the German only being 10-6 on the hard courts in 2017. However his numbers on serve have remained steady over the last three years with the improvement made by Kohlschreiber coming in the returning side of things which has helped him produce a solid winning record on the surface.

The numbers just haven't been as strong for Smyczek which is perhaps not a great surprise considering he is Ranked almost outside of the top 200. The Smyczek serve can begin to get a little predictable while he does tend to struggle when facing top 50 Ranked opponents.

One concern for Kohlschreiber will be trying to avoid the complacency that can filter into his game at times when matched with those players he is expected to beat. I am hoping the crowd will play a part in creating an atmosphere which makes this the competitive environment in which Kohlschreiber won't lose focus. If that is the case I would expect Kohlschreiber to find his way to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win.

Tomas Berdych - 5.5 games v Ryan Harrison: There have been some positive moments for Tomas Berdych in 2017, but there have also been plenty of signs that this is a player on the back end of his career. The return game has been lacking enough times to put Berdych in an almost impossible position to win matches and the lack of tennis between Wimbledon and the US Open has to be a concern.

He will be facing Ryan Harrison and a pro-Harrison crowd in the First Round at the US Open, but this has previously been a match up that Berdych has enjoyed. He has won all three previous matches against Harrison which includes a four set win over the American at Wimbledon a couple of months ago.

On that day only a sloppy performance in the third set gave Harrison any chance after Berdych dominated much of the match. Harrison has a fairly limited return game and that is going to make it tough to get into the Berdych service games which in turn puts plenty of pressure on Harrison's own serve.

While that is a decent weapon for Harrison, he does throw in a sloppy game or two per set and that is the reason he has struggled to really put the consistent wins together. 2017 has been a better season in general for Harrison, and he did reach the Final in Atlanta last month, although Harrison has since gone 1-3 in his next three hard court tournaments.

Berdych also beat Harrison at the Australian Open back in January and it was only that poor third set at Wimbledon where the latter has been given a chance to win a set. Overall the match has been on the Berdych racquet and I am looking for the former top ten player to work his way to a 6-3, 7-6, 6-4 win to move through to the Second Round on Thursday.

Barbora Strycova - 4.5 games v Misaki Doi: There are a number of matches on the women's side of the draw where the initial feeling is that there will be a number of breaks of serve. This First Round match between Barbora Strycova and Misaki Doi does feel like one of those matches and that will make it a little dangerous to ask one of the players to cover as many games as in this one.

However I do think Strycova has enough of an edge to get the better of Doi for long enough to get the job done and that is why I am looking to keep her on my side on Tuesday. While the Strycova serve can be a little inconsistent, in general it is a decent weapon for the Czech player and she is facing an opponent who has not always produced the kind of returning that would be required in a match like this.

The faster surfaces can give Doi trouble on the return and that is where Strycova has to feel she can at least double the breaks of serve that her opponent is able to put together. Strycova also has a serve that can be strong on her day, whereas Doi is less likely to keep the pressure off of her serve and that can help contribute to this number of games being covered.

Strycova has won both previous matches against Doi including coming back from a set behind to lose just two more games on her way to a win in Wuhan in 2016.

Neither player has been in great form on the hard courts this past few weeks but Strycova looks to be the stronger player all around on this surface. After a few battles in games, I think Strycova will begin to win the bigger points and she can come through with a 6-4, 6-3 win to move past this test.

Coco Vandeweghe - 4.5 games v Alison Riske: Two American players meet in the First Round of the wide open women's draw at the US Open, but if any of these two are being tipped up for glory in New York City, it has to be Coco Vandeweghe. Reaching the Final in Stanford will have given Vandeweghe encouragement, although her results since then have been difficult with two losses to Madison Keys and one to Agnieszka Radwanska.

To be fair to Vandeweghe, she is not facing someone of that level when taking on Alison Riske in the First Round here. Vandeweghe crushed Riske when they met at Wimbledon a couple of months ago and the recent form by the latter is not exactly inspiring ahead of this match.

Riske has lost her last three matches on the hard courts and she has won just twelve games in that time. Her serve is one that can be attacked and even a returner like Vandeweghe, who has struggled on that side of her game, can get enough looks to play first strike tennis against a weak delivery and put Riske on the back foot.

The Vandeweghe serve is a big weapon, but she can be guilty of failing to back that up with some poor groundstrokes, although I do think this is perhaps a match up that she can enjoy. Riske can defend well and that can extract errors from Vandeweghe, although it is tough to do that continuously on the faster hard courts.

There will be moments when Riske is able to put Vandeweghe on the run and earn the errors, but I think there will be plenty more chances for Vandeweghe to hit through the ball and put Riske on the back foot. After a while that power should prove to be the difference maker for the higher Ranked American and Vandeweghe can move through with a 7-5, 6-2 kind of win for a place in the Second Round.

Kirsten Flipkens - 3.5 games v Madison Brengle: There are a lot of similarities with the way Madison Brengle and Kirsten Flipkens approach their tennis on the court and I imagine there are going to be some rallies between them. The difference may be the slightly superior serving that Flipkens is able to produce, while another key to the match may be her ability to get up to the net and shorten the points.

The latter aspect of the Flipkens game could be a huge advantage against Brengle who employs a lot of looping balls when trying to stick in rallies while on the run. That defensive work can be solid enough against those who are wanting to stick to the baseline, but someone like Flipkens can sneak in and put away volleys to just force Brengle to change her own game plan.

Flipkens should also be confident with a 9-3 record on the hard courts over the last few weeks which included a run to the New Haven Quarter Final a few days ago. That has given her enough time to recover physically from the five matches won there and also means Flipkens should be feeling very good about where her game is.

The hard courts have been a surface on which Brengle has been able to produce some solid results even if she has not been able to play a lot of tennis since Wimbledon. That does make her someone that Flipkens will need to respect, although the Belgian player has beaten her twice in the two previous matches and that includes a crushing win over her on the grass in Hertogenbosch in June.

The serving has been working, Flipkens has continued to return effectively and has the head to head to all lead to me picking her to get past Brengle and cover this number of games.

Madison Keys - 4.5 games v Elise Mertens: You have to give Elise Mertens a lot of respect for getting as much out of her game as she has been in 2017 and she can be a tough customer to get past. Even with that in mind, Madison Keys is entering the US Open as one of the leading home contenders to win the title and has been playing well enough over the last few weeks to feel she can go far.

Keys won the title in Stanford and was only narrowly beaten by the in-form Garbine Muguruza in Cincinnati which is good form to take into the US Open. Last year Keys reached the Fourth Round at the US Open, but the big hitter looks to be rounding into form at the right time.

She can't overlook this First Round opponent after seeing Elise Mertens reach the Semi Final in New Haven last week. Mertens was able to get the better of some solid hard court opponents in that run before Dominika Cibulkova was too strong for her, but she will feel she can get the better of those rallies that last more than five or six shots.

Getting to that stage will be difficult as Mertens will have to deal with the Keys power and also find a way to get some effective returns from the first serve. If she can do that the upset could be on, but Mertens could find it difficult to keep Keys from attacking her own serve which makes it tough to see that happening consistently enough.

Last year Mertens was able to win a set from Muguruza when they played in the First Round here, but I think Keys may prove to be a little more solid in this one. There will be some tough moments to ride out, but Keys can come through with a 7-5, 6-3 win to give the night crowd on Arthu Ashe something to celebrate before Roger Federer begins his own US Open journey.

MY PICKS: Richard Gasquet - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Donald Young - 1.5 Sets @ 1.91 Boyle Sports (2 Units)

Marcos Baghdatis @ 2.00 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Feliciano Lopez - 1.5 Sets @ 2.10 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Philipp Kohlschreiber - 5.5 Games @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Tomas Berdych - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Barbora Strycova - 4.5 Games @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)
Coco Vandeweghe - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Kirsten Flipkens - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Madison Keys - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Boyle Sports (2 Units)

US Open Update: 3-6, - 6.68 Units (18 Units Staked, - 37.11% Yield)