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Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Tennis Picks 2017 (August 1st)

With one tournament being played in Europe and the other four events taking place in North America, it does mean the Tennis Picks will come out at two times this week.

Anything from Kitzbuhel will hopefully be written first and I will add any picks from the tournaments in Los Cabos, Stanford and Washington at some point after that once the 'order of play' is released. Those picks will still be able to be put together a number of hours before the start of play, and will also be the case with the tournaments in Cincinnati and Canada which are coming up as markets are not fully developed as early as the European ones for those of us based in the United Kingdom.

Last week was a difficult one for the tennis picks with so much bad luck surrounding the picks that it did make the frustration levels reach a significant high. There are bigger tournaments ahead in August which means I won't want another week like that one in what has been a difficult season so far for the tennis picks.

I haven't written anything about Novak Djokovic's decision to withdraw from events for the remainder of the 2017 season.

It was a decision I think Djokovic had to make in light of the injuries and emotional stress he has been feeling. But I am not sure he is going to have the immediate impact Roger Federer did on his return from a lay off at the Australian Open because of the different style of play Djokovic has.

While Federer can turn a match on his racquet, that aggressiveness is not shared by Djokovic and rediscovering the consistency that took the Serb to the top of the men's game is likely to take longer than Federer's attacking game returned. Some will question if Djokovic will ever return to the very top of the men's game, and I do think that could be a valid question with his aura of invincibility ended and some of the younger players perhaps ready to take the next step in their careers.

Ruling out a Djokovic return to peak form would be foolish considering how the likes of Federer and Rafael Nadal have played in 2017, but I do wonder if his style is one that can make a quick return to top form after the lay off he is going to be working through over the next several months.

Tuesday will see the remainder of the First Round matches across the tournaments and it is a busy day with the number of matches set to be played on the Tour. Hopefully it will be one where a positive return can be found.

Robin Haase - 3.5 games v Santiago Giraldo: You wouldn't really tick the mental strength column when breaking down the positives of Robin Haase's game so being 0-3 down to Santiago Giraldo in the head to head has to be a concern. However this is a tournament that Haase has played well in before, winning in Kitzbuhel twice before, although the two recent tournaments here for Haase have not been his best.

He is coming in off a run to the Semi Final in Gstaad although Haase has to pick himself up from the disappointment of losing in the Semi Final. Facing an opponent who has won two Qualifiers in the current conditions of a tournament can be tough too and these factors would usually be enough to put me off picking the Dutchman here.

However I am picking Haase to win this match and win by a wide enough margin to cover the games he is being asked to get the better of. The main reason for that is the performances of Haase this season compared with Giraldo whose numbers have declined since he last played Haase in 2015.

Giraldo has particularly been struggling on the clay courts which has to be a worry for the Colombian. His service numbers have been a real concern and Haase has been returning better than the last couple of years on this surface. It is possible the ball flies a little faster in the altitude, which will help Giraldo's serve, but I think Haase should be capable of getting involved in the return games and that area could be the key in earning his first win over Giraldo.

The Haase serve has been effective enough, although there are obvious concerns backing someone as flaky as the Dutchman can be. However he has enough of an edge at a tournament he has enjoyed in the past to come through with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Giraldo.

Jiri Vesely - 3.5 games v Yannick Hanfmann: It was a special week for Yannick Hanfmann in Gstaad having come through the Qualifiers and reaching the Final in Gstaad with some impressive wins under his belt. It was an emotional and physical week for Hanfmann who had to win all four of his main draw matches in three sets before finding Fabio Fognini too good in the Final.

It has moved Hanfmann to the brink of entering the top 100 of the World Rankings as he comes into this tournament at a career best Ranking of Number 125.

That is all a positive for Hanfmann but he hasn't had a lot of time to prepare for this tournament and now faces an opponent who is comfortable on the surface and who can play very well against players Ranked lower than himself. Jiri Vesely feels like a player who needs to be very confident to perform at his best and he tends to be in that position when expected to win a match.

Vesely has reached back to back Quarter Finals in Umag and Hamburg to show he is in good form on the clay courts and he has a very strong return game against players Ranked below him on this surface. That will be tested by Hanfmann if he is serving as well as he was last week, but I do think tiredness has to play a part in this one after investing so much to reach the Final in Gstaad.

I just can't ignore that and I think Hanfmann will be challenged by the Vesely serve which can lead to a 6-4, 6-4 win for the Czech player.

Simona Halep - 5.5 games v Sloane Stephens: After coming so close to winning at the French Open and at Wimbledon, Simona Halep has to show she has the mental strength to deal with her setbacks again. She showed admirable heart at Wimbledon after the really disappointing way Roland Garros ended, but now Halep has to get back to the grind as she takes in a surprising appearance in Washington.

Usually we don't expect to see Halep until the Premier Events in Canada and Cincinnati, but perhaps she feels she needs to get over the disappointment of the last two Slams by getting back on the court. Darren Cahill has made it clear that he wants to see Halep focusing at all times and that has been rewarded with some really positive results over the last three months.

The push towards the US Open will begin for her on Tuesday and in normal circumstances a First Round clash with Sloane Stephens would be far from ideal. The American is going to be well supported here and has had some really good results on the hard courts in her career, although her record against the top 10 Ranked players needs to improve if she is to fulfil the potential people believe she has.

However these aren't normal circumstances as Stephens plays in just her second tournament in twelve months after an injury lay off from the Tour. She played well against Alison Riske at Wimbledon, but it was clear that Stephens is going to need time to get back to the level she once performed at and I am looking for Halep to be a little too good all around for her.

The head to head is only 3-2 in favour of Halep, but she did beat Stephens the last time they met on the hard courts. Barring the American having found some new levels of consistency on her return from injury since Wimbledon, Halep should be able to work her way to a 6-4, 6-2 win.

Alize Cornet + 3.5 games v Catherine Bellis: Most tennis fans who follow the sport outside of the Grand Slams may feel that Catherine Bellis has the kind of potential which will lead to a stronger career than the one Alize Cornet has been able to produce at this stage. Bellis has some very positive numbers which will see her really challenge for the biggest prizes if she can increase those as she gains more experience.

However I do think she may be slightly overrated in this First Round match in Stanford against the Frenchwoman who is capable of playing very well on the hard court. Cornet can be a tough character to trust as she is capable of falling away mentally at any given moment in a match, but she has the return game to trouble Bellis in this one.

If Cornet is serving to the kind of standards she can produce, then she can give Bellis a rough ride in this one and this feels like it may be one game too many being asked of the American to cover.

While Bellis has had some tremendous performances in her young career, she has also struggled at times under the expectations which is not going to be a surprise with her lack of experience. Losses to the likes of Kirsten Flipkens and Naomi Broady as a big favourite on the hard courts has to be a concern for Bellis and I do think she is a little better when going into a match without the expectation of winning.

Bellis is improving in those situations but Cornet can keep this one competitive in the early hours of the morning in the United Kingdom and I will back the Frenchwoman with the games to at least keep this one close.

Jordan Thompson - 2.5 games v Ruben Bemelmans: It is hard to gauge where Jordan Thompson is in his career at this stage having had some positive results and some really negative ones. That inconsistency is an obvious concern when backing Thompson fresh off reaching the Final in a Challenger a few days ago, but at least that is more hard court experience of late than Ruben Bemelmans.

This does feel like a match that belongs on the Challenger level compared with the ATP 500 one and I think both Thompson and Bemelmans have to see this as a chance to really improve the World Rankings.

The Thompson numbers at the Challenger level on this surface are impressive enough, but I do want to give Bemelmans his respect. He may not have had the consistency of others players on the Challenger Tour on the hard courts, but Bemelmans has reached the Final of one tournament and the Semi Final of another which deserves respect.

Bemelmans is also 1-3 as an underdog on the hard courts this season and that is the situation in which he finds himself on Tuesday. Playing an opponent who has reached the Final of an event just days earlier may be important, especially when you consider the heat in Washington which was affecting players on Monday, but I am looking for Thompson to have the slight edge which can be found on the scoreboard at the end of the match.

Serving well is going to be important for both players, but I will look for Thompson to battle his way to a 7-6, 6-4 win in this First Round encounter.

Kei Nishikori - 4.5 games v Donald Young: This is a match up that has worked in favour of Kei Nishikori more often than not with five wins in six matches against Donald Young. The first match back on the hard courts can be tough for any player and that might be the biggest factor against Kei Nishikori going into this Second Round match.

His opponent Donald Young has had plenty of positive results over the last few weeks and he has a strong winning record on the hard courts which have to be respected. However his numbers are down across the board in 2017 compared with 2016 on this surface and I do wonder if there is going to be a decline in those results over the next month.

Last week Young was hammered by Lukas Lacko in Atlanta where he won just four games and he is going to be challenged by a returner as effective as Nishikori can be. While Young's own returning numbers are not that impressive, he is facing an opponent whose serve can be vulnerable when Nishikori is not feeling at his very best.

I would be concerned about that, but Nishikori should feel comfortable in the match up and that is important for him. While he may take some time getting used to the hard courts back underneath the feet, Nishikori can eventually have too much for Young and break down the American's game.

That should lead to a 6-4, 6-3 win for Nishikori who would have covered this number of games in 3 of the last 4 best of three set matches between these players on the hard courts.

Mischa Zverev - 2.5 games v Guido Pella: One player who is potentially going to be overrated going into the hard court season is Mischa Zverev whose numbers on serve are far below where you may expect on this surface. That is a problem for the German with the bigger tournaments ahead, but I still think he will be too good for Guido Pella in this Second Round match in Washington.

Like with many of the Seeds here in Washington this week, Zverev has to work his way back onto the hard courts against an opponent who has been playing in Atlanta last week and won a First Round match here this week. That may make Pella a dangerous player for Zverev, but the hard court numbers of the Argentine over the last three years are far below average.

His serve has not had the impact he would have liked and that is going to give someone like Zverev a chance, even if the German's return game is limited. However Zverev has produced some solid numbers on the return on this surface in 2017 and I think he will find himself in a position to break serve at least twice during the course of the match.

The Pella return has struggled on this surface although he may feel he can have an impact against Zverev if he can make a few awkward returns. Those will come against a player who will look to rush the net as much as possible and produce the serve-volley game that saw him make a big breakthrough at the Australian Open.

A first set tie-breaker could be in the offing, but I can see Zverev using that to help him get past Pella with a 7-6, 6-4 win.

Fernando Verdasco - 3.5 games v Ernesto Escobedo: You can see the steady decline in the Fernando Verdasco service numbers on the hard courts over the last three years. It is no surprise that the veteran is beginning to show his age in the numbers, but Verdasco has been continuing to win matches because his return has been a few points better than it has been in recent years.

The declining service numbers do make Verdasco more vulnerable to the upset, but I think the match up should be a good one for him against young American Ernesto Escobedo. The latter's service numbers on the hard courts have not been that impressive and Verdasco's return game should prove to be very successful over the course of the match.

It also has to be noted that Escobedo's return numbers are not that good and he might not be able to expose the declining Verdasco service numbers.

They have met once before in 2017 and Verdasco won a narrow match against Escobedo in two tight sets. The numbers on that day definitely leaned towards Verdasco in line with his season numbers and the same can be said for Escobedo, numbers which should see Verdasco have enough to win this one by a slightly wider margin.

Escobedo was beaten last week by Jared Donaldson and won just four games on the day. In this one he may win a few more games, but Verdasco can win this one 6-4, 6-4.

Peter Polansky - 2.5 games v Yasutaka Uchiyama: The draw in Los Cabos is not exactly the most loaded when you note two players who were in the Granby Challenger last week have been given direct entry into the tournament this week. The First Round match between Peter Polansky and Yasutaka Uchiyama is important for both as it gives them a chance to add some significant Ranking points compared to their usual level.

Both players are much more likely to be found on the Challenger circuit and it is Polansky who has beaten Uchiyama twice on the hard courts in 2017 at that level. That includes a victory over him in Granby last week with the biggest concern for the Canadian being fatigue having reached the Final there before heading over for this tournament.

That could be an issue, but Polansky has shown the superior numbers on the hard courts compared with Uchiyama whose two losses to Polansky have both come since Wimbledon. That's a tough position to be in mentally and the numbers from those matches definitely make for better reading for the Canadian.

It is Polansky who has been the superior returner in both of those matches and he has also been able to protect the second serve more effectively. Combining those two factors has given him the edge and I do think he can make it a hat-trick of wins over someone who will have the mental obstacle to overcome.

Uchiyama may have taken some notes from the last two matches that makes him more effective in this one, but I am looking for Polansky to find his way to a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win.

MY PICKS: Robin Haase - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Jiri Vesely - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Simona Halep - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Alize Cornet + 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Jordan Thompson - 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Kei Nishikori - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Mischa Zverev - 2.5 Games @ 1.73 Bet365 (2 Units)
Fernando Verdasco - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Peter Polansky - 2.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 0-2, - 4 Units (4 Units Staked, - 100% Yield)

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