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Sunday, 14 January 2018

Australian Open Tennis Day 1 Picks 2018 (January 15th)

The first Grand Slam of the tennis season will begin on Monday and I am looking forward to both the men's and women's draw and hoping we are going to get to see some brilliant tennis over the next couple of weeks.

Timing is an issue with the majority of matches taking place while we sleep in the United Kingdom, but the evening sessions means early risers and late sleepers will all get a chance to watch the tennis over the next fortnight.

I have made a few outright picks from both events being played at Melbourne Park and those can be read here.

The rain in Melbourne has played havoc with the Qualifiers this week as most should have been completed by Saturday. However there are a few to get through on Sunday and that means some of the First Round matches that have been scheduled for Monday have not even been set yet (at the time I am writing this post).

On Day 1 we will see the top half of the men's draw and the bottom half of the women's draw get underway. The weather looks a lot better this week so there will be plenty of tennis to enjoy and I am looking forward to a couple of really good weeks to get the 2018 season off to bang.

Onto the Day 1 Australian Open Tennis Picks from the First Round matches scheduled.

Pablo Carreno Busta - 5.5 games v Jason Kubler: The hard courts are not the favoured courts for a player like Pablo Carreno Busta, but it would still be a surprise to see the Spaniard Seeded player beaten in a match like this. While he doesn't have the same penetration through the courts as the big hitters on the Tour, Carreno Busta certainly has the consistency to force mistakes out of an inexperienced opponent.

Jason Kubler will have the home support here and he has come through the Qualifiers to win a Challenger event in 2018 which will have given him a boost in confidence. However that also highlights the difference in levels that Kubler and Carreno Busta play at with the former having to play Qualifiers to get into a Challenger level event compared with Carreno Busta who is a Seed at a Grand Slam tournament.

The run to the Semi Final at the US Open last year was unexpected, and that has boosted the Carreno Busta Ranking, but he has struggled since then. In fact Carreno Busta has won just one match on the Tour following the loss to Kevin Anderson in New York City and his sole appearance in a competitive match in 2018 saw the Spaniard go down against talented youngster Borna Coric.

A lack of confidence could be the biggest factor against Carreno Busta here, but it should be a decent match up for him and I would expect he can outlast Kubler in the First Round.

Kubler has to be respected with the Challenger title under his belt, and as a former Junior standout, but I think Carreno Busta will do enough to wear him down over four sets. As the match wears on there could be opportunities for the Seeded player to win a set with a couple of breaks of serve and he should be able to cover this number.

Andreas Seppi - 5.5 games v Corentin Moutet: This is the Grand Slam debut of Corentin Moutet and it is in fact the first main Tour match the 18 year old Frenchman is playing in his career.

That should mean a few nerves from a player who has been mainly participating in Futures and Challengers events, although it has to be noted that Moutet has had good success at that level over the past couple of years. Now he takes the step up to face better competition and it is veteran Andreas Seppi who is the First Round opponent for him.

Andreas Seppi won a Challenger event in preparation for the Australian Open so is in good nick despite the drop in the World Ranking. It is an important tournament for him having reached the Fourth Round at Melbourne Park last year and the conditions have suited him as the Italian has taken some big scalps here over the years with wins over Roger Federer and Nick Kyrgios behind him.

There will be chances for Moutet in this match simply because of all the tennis Seppi had to play last week to win the Challenger event in Canberra. The Italian also has a serve that can be attacked and I wouldn't be massively surprised if the youngster is able to take a set.

However it will be tough in the first best of five set match of his career to really keep the consistency at the level Moutet will like. That is where Seppi should be able to turn things in his favour and I can see a situation where fatigue helps wear down Moutet against a player who has shown his ability to win long matches in Australia in his career. Eventually it could lead to Moutet losing some belief which can see Seppi pull away for a win and a cover of this number of games.

John Isner - 4.5 games v Matthew Ebden: There have been definite signs that John Isner's best days are behind him. Having a booming serve helps, but his overall play is not at the level it once was and that does mean Isner has a few more issues looking after his serve if players are able to block the ball back into play.

The returning game has always been something of a weakness, but being unable to generate mental pressure with his own serve has been an issue for Isner.

The serve does mean Isner can be in a position to win many matches this season, but the tie-break record doesn't feel like the best over the last twelve months and that is a problem for Isner. While I think he will still have some deep runs, Isner might be a candidate for a few early exits in events even in matches where he is heavily favoured.

Is this match one of those? Matthew Ebden will have the home support but he is a player who has struggled when he has made the step up to main ATP level competition. Ebden also has a 0-3 record against Isner which is likely to play a factor in this First Round match with the last of those coming in the Newport Final in July.

The conditions should be ones that Isner will enjoy and while Ebden can push this into a couple of tie-breakers, and perhaps win one, I also think the Australian does offer up a few chances on his serve. Isner has found those breaks of serve in their previous matches against each other and I think he can win this in either three or four sets.

I will be expecting Isner to win one or two of those sets with a break of serve and I think that will be enough to ensure he can cover what is a big number for the American even in a best of five set match.

Rafael Nadal - 10.5 games v Victor Estrella Burgos: There have been some questions about the fitness of Rafael Nadal going into the Australian Open, especially as he pulled out of the first tournament he had entered without hitting a ball. However he looked good in the Tie Break Tens competition and I think the World Number 1 is ready for a big tournament.

He is certainly given a very good chance to ease into the tournament with an opening match against veteran Victor Estrella Burgos.

Estrella Burgos had a decent run in Canberra last week, but the tennis he plays these days mostly come at that Challenger level. His loss was one sided to Andreas Seppi in the Semi Final and Richard Gasquet beat Estrella Burgos for the loss of just two games in Doha.

The problem for Estrella Burgos is going to be how to win points against Nadal even if the Spaniard is not at 100%. The serve won't generate too many easy points and Nadal is going to be too strong in most rallies which makes it difficult to see how this match can be that competitive.

There isn't much room for mistakes from Nadal when it comes to covering as many games as this one, but this match really does feel like a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 one. However Nadal has been able to produce some one sided sets during his ascent to the World Number 1 spot over the last twelve months and this is a match that the Spaniard should be able to dominate and I am looking for that to be reflected in the final score.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - 7.5 games v Kevin King: Coming through three Qualifiers to reach the main draw of a Grand Slam does earn plenty of respect for those players who can achieve that. Kevin King has managed to do that this year, but the competition ramps up significantly for him as he takes on a former Australian Open Finalist in Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

The Frenchman did reach the Quarter Final here at Melbourne Park last season, but generally Tsonga did not have a good time in the Grand Slams. He will be looking to improve at a tournament that Tsonga has enjoyed down the years and it would be a big surprise if someone like King is able to get the best of him in a best of five set match.

The majority of King's time is spent below the main ATP Tour level and he hadn't shown a lot of form in recent months to think he was ready to Qualify for a Grand Slam. An early loss in a Challenger event in Noumea was the only appearance in 2018 prior to the Qualifiers here in Melbourne Park and it is going to take something special for King to beat Tsonga.

The more interesting question is whether King can stay within the number of games set on the handicap. He is playing an opponent who can be a little predictable in his returns and Tsonga has had issues with big spreads in the past if he begins slowly.

However I do think King's serve is one that Tsonga should be able to make some penetrative returns from, especially the second serve, and that should give him every chance to at least win one set with a couple of breaks. At some point I also think fatigue could be a problem for Kevin King, both mentally and physically, and that should also aid Tsonga who should prove far too strong in this First Round match.

Alison Riske - 3.5 games v Kirsten Flipkens: I am not sure where I stand about Alison Riske- there are times I have watched her play and thought she should be higher up the Rankings and others when I struggle to understand how she wins matches. There is nothing really spectacular about Riske, but the American is a decent competitor and can produce some pop off the ground, while her movement is decent enough too.

A very similar player is Kirsten Flipkens, but I think Riske is slightly better in most departments except perhaps movement around the court. That is partly the reason Riske has a 2-0 head to head record against Flipkens as she is also able to get a few more cheaper points out of the first serve.

That is going to be critical for Riske if she is going to win this match and I do think she can do that. Flipkens also had to pull out from the tournament in Hobart during the week and I do wonder if she is going to be at full health in this First Round match against an opponent who has gotten the better of her in their two previous matches.

In both of those wins it was the serve that made all of the difference for Riske and the conditions in Melbourne should be to her liking. It isn't going to be too hot and so both players should be able to compete in the long rallies that will develop, but it is those 'cheap' points difference that should see Riske come through.

I am expecting Riske to win this one in straight sets and she should be good enough to cover this number of games too.

Coco Vandeweghe - 3.5 games v Timea Babos: 2017 has proven to be a breakthrough year for Coco Vandeweghe with strong runs in both hard court Grand Slam tournaments helping her up to Number 10 in the World Rankings. Many have felt Vandeweghe has the big game to become a Grand Slam winner, and her improvement on the backhand wing is certainly helping out.

That had been a glaring weakness Vandeweghe had, but she is becoming much more competent on that side which is backing up a big serve and forehand she does possess. It certainly means Vandeweghe is a threat to win the Australian Open, but she has to make sure she does not overlook Timea Babos despite the poor 2017 the Hungarian had.

This year has opened up with a Quarter Final run in Shenzhen for Babos after finishing with 15 fewer wins in 2017 as she had achieved in 2016. There is a big game in Babos who has a decent serve and heavy groundstrokes and I think that has to be respected by Vandeweghe if she wishes to avoid the upset.

With the way Vandeweghe was playing in 2017, I do think she will make sure she is well prepared for this match too. The American has to feel this is a big chance to win a Grand Slam with a decent draw and in the 'weaker' half of the draw, but Vandeweghe has to make sure she doesn't look too far ahead.

If she can concentrate, I would imagine Vandeweghe can win a big hitting match with the superior serve proving to be the difference between the two. Timea Babos is likely to have a better 2018 than she did in 2017, but the first Slam of the year should end in the First Round here as Vandeweghe is able to come through in straight sets.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - 4.5 games v Kateryna Kozlova: This is a large number of games for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to cover if she comes out with the inconsistency she can sometimes produce on the court. However I think the match up with Kateryna Kozlova is one that the Russian should enjoy and I am going to back her to win this First Round match by a relatively comfortable margin.

This is the first match of the season for both players on the main Tour, although Kozlova suffered an early loss in an ITF tournament to open 2018.

Both players will look to dictate behind heavy groundstrokes, but I think Pavlyuchenkova is the superior player and that is enough to give her the lean in this First Round match. There are times when her serve can be a little erratic, but Kozlova will be put under pressure on her own delivery and it is Pavlyuchenkova who I believe will be able to dictate the rallies more often than not.

The hard courts are the favoured surface for Kozlova and the majority of her better results at this level have come on the surface. That does make her potentially dangerous, and she can get into a positive frame of mind and run through games to keep this closer than expected, but I think a lot will have to come down in her favour in terms of taking her break point chances and playing the big points on the Pavlyuchenkova serve.

I just believe the Russian is going to have this match on her racquet and I can see a break more in each set leading to a 6-3, 6-4 win for Pavlyuchenkova.

Caroline Wozniacki - 5.5 games v Mihaela Buzarnescu: After winning the WTA Finals in October, Caroline Wozniacki comes into the 2018 Australian Open as the Number 2 player in the World Rankings. The Dane might feel she won't have too many better chances to win a maiden Grand Slam with the way the draw has panned out this week, and Wozniacki showed strong form when reaching the Final in Auckland.

She faces a somewhat familiar opponent in Mihaela Buzarnescu after meeting each other in the US Open First Round back in August. On that day Wozniacki breezed through the first set before having to battle in the second and this match feels like it might be similar.

Much of that is down to the fact that Wozniacki's serve can be attacked by most professional players, although Wozniacki is in fine form in recent months and should have the mental fortitude to come through difficult moments. Wozniacki has not been able to produce her best tennis at the Australian Open in recent years, but I don't think she would have come in with as much confidence as this year since her time as the World Number 1.

Buzarnescu has to be given plenty of respect having reached the Final in Hobart last week before a three set loss to Elise Mertens. She is also playing some of the best tennis of her career at 29 years old with 2017 proving to be the best season Buzarnescu has had on the Tour and will see her step up to the main Tour level going forward.

The lefty can cause problems for Wozniacki, but there will be times when the difference in levels between the players should be evident. That should give Wozniacki every chance to put a run of a few games together which can help her cover this number in the First Round and I will back the Dane to do that.

MY PICKS: Pablo Carreno Busta - 5.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Andreas Seppi - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
John Isner - 4.5 Games @ 2.10 William Hill (2 Units)
Rafael Nadal - 10.5 Games @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - 7.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Alison Riske - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Coco Vandeweghe - 3.5 Games @ 1.72 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Caroline Wozniacki - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)

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