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Monday, 15 January 2018

Australian Open Tennis Day 2 Picks 2018 (January 16th)

The one issue with the Australian Open for us in the United Kingdom is that the majority of matches are played while we get out beauty sleep, especially during the weekday when working days are ahead of us.

I do love the Australian Open, but that is a reason it is my fourth favourite Slam simply because a lot of the matches I see are highlights rather than having the chance to watch it live.

It also means these posts are mainly focusing on the tennis picks from the day with news of how the 'previous' day has gone actually coming a couple of days after the event.

I will have a chance to keep the totals updated by the time I post the threads as the matches should all be completed by then.

On Day 2 we will the completion of the First Round matches with the bottom half of the men's draw and the top half of the women's draw getting going.

Steve Johnson - 5.5 games v Denis Kudla: At the time of writing, the American entries into the Australian Open are being decimated, but they can guarantee at least one player through to the Second Round of the men's draw. The big favourite to progress is Steve Johnson who has dominated Denis Kudla when they met early in their careers, but Johnson has not been in the best form in recent months.

While Kudla had not been pulling up too many trees himself, he is a player who has won three Qualifiers to get into the main draw and that has to give him a boost in confidence.

The problem for Kudla is that everything he does is perhaps done a little better by Johnson with the one area of strength likely to be the movement around the court. However in the quicker conditions that players had been talking about in Melbourne Park I would expect Johnson's power to allow him to hit through the court and wear down Kudla.

Johnson also should have a big advantage when it comes to the serve and that should mean he is in a strong position to get past his compatriot in this one. An issue with covering this number of games is the limited return game that Johnson has, but he should be able to get his teeth into the Kudla service games when he does see a few second serves and I am expecting the higher Ranked American to come through in straight sets.

Something like a 6-3, 7-6, 6-4 win for Johnson looks the way this match will develop and it won't always be easy for him with Kudla able to work hard and force Johnson to hit one more ball. However I think Kudla's own serve may cause problems and I like Johnson to come through and cover.

Novak Djokovic - 7.5 games v Donald Young: There are so many questions to answer for Novak Djokovic on his return to the Tour after deciding to end his 2017 following an injury withdrawal at Wimbledon last July. The elbow injury is one that Djokovic had said he had been dealing with for some time, but he does believe he is coming in healthy and ready to compete at a tournament he has enjoyed in his career.

However the questions linger after Djokovic decided to miss the event he had entered in Doha to open the 2018 season. Since then he has played an exhibition match against an ill Dominic Thiem and also participated in Tie Break Tens in Melbourne last week, but we won't really know how the former World Number 1 is feeling until he begins his event here on Tuesday.

Dropping down the World Rankings has meant Djokovic has been given a tough draw if he wants to replicate what Roger Federer did twelve months ago off a long lay off of his own.

In saying that, I think Djokovic will be comfortable with the First Round match against Donald Young who can play some spectacular tennis but who can also produce some real dross. He will give Djokovic a rhythm to build into the match and it is Djokovic who has dominated their two previous matches including in Eastbourne last year just days before he was going to call time on the 2017 season.

Young has had a tough start to 2018 with a disappointing loss to Joao Sousa in Auckland last week. That comes after a pretty disappointing second half of the 2017 season and I think the Young serve is one that can be attacked with joy by Djokovic.

Covering the number won't be easy if Djokovic is not feeling at 100%, but I think he will work his way into this match and begin to pull away from Young. The Djokovic serve will likely give Young a few chances to break, but I do think he can play the bigger points better than the American and that should lead to the margins on the scoreboard getting wider after each passing set.

There is a chance Young may even take a set, but I think Djokovic will produce at least a 6-3 and a 6-2 set which should mean he has the opportunities to cover this number.

Daniil Medvedev v Thanasi Kokkinakis: There are two young stars in Australian men's tennis and I thought Thanasi Kokkinakis would perhaps get a little further than Nick Kyrgios as I believe Kokkinakis is a little stronger mentally. Injuries have stunted his growth on the Tour, but the 21 year old is back to full health now and looking forward to a strong 2018.

The fans will be excited to see Kokkinakis at his home Grand Slam, but I am still surprised he is favoured to beat Daniil Medvedev, another of the young talents on the Tour who are beginning to make a name for themselves.

Medvedev has opened 2018 with a title win in Sydney and he showed plenty of confidence throughout the week having come through the Qualifiers before blazing a path through the main draw. There is a question about the amount of tennis he had to play last week to win that title in Sydney, but confidence won't be a problem for the Russian who has plenty of power in his game.

I would give the edge to Kokkinakis behind serve, but Medvedev beat the Australian twice on the grass courts last season while really getting a hold of the serve. Some of that may have been down to Kokkinakis not being at full health as he had recently returned from an injury lay off, but Medvedev will come into this First Round match with plenty of belief that he can get the better of his opponent.

It would be a surprise if either player falls apart in a straight sets win and I would not be massively surprised if a deciding set is needed to decide who makes it through to the Second Round. I just had Medvedev down as the favourite here and he could be value to 'upset' Kokkinakis as the slight underdog.

Dominic Thiem-Guido Pella over 36.5 games: It looks like Dominic Thiem is over an illness which meant he had to pull out of his Semi Final in Doha to open 2018 and there will be plenty of people who will back the Austrian for a deep run at the Australian Open. There is so much to like about the Thiem game, especially early in the season when he hasn't killed himself with poor scheduling, although he is in for a test in the First Round against Guido Pella.

The Argentinian player had a good week in Doha himself to open the 2018 season and was a narrow loser to Andrey Rublev in the Semi Final.

Pella is a lefty which could cause some problems, but I do think the majority of the match will be dominated by Thiem whose backhand should be comfortable rallying into the Pella forehand. I also think Thiem is the superior server which should show up on the hard courts at Melbourne Park, but there are a couple of doubts around the top ten player.

One is the fitness, although I have already said I expect Thiem is very much over the illness he had earlier in the month. The second is that Thiem has lost both previous matches against Pella including one on the hard courts a few months ago in Chengdu.

On that day it was Pella who won the serving day, but that match also took place in the second half of the season when Thiem is not as good after the schedule he plays early in the season. However it does suggest Pella can come in and cause some problems for Thiem even if he is not able to earn the upset and I can see this match going at least four sets.

A couple of those sets should be tight ones that get close to the tiebreaker and I think the two players can combine to surpass this total number of games. Ultimately I think Thiem will win the match, but Pella is more than capable of taking one or two sets himself and I will look for a competitive match to provide at least thirty-seven games.

Tomas Berdych-Alex De Minaur over 37.5 games: Over the last couple of years there has been a clear decline in the Tomas Berdych game and that has resulted in plenty of upsets as the layers try to catch up. There is still enough in Berdych to produce some big runs when he does get some momentum behind him, but I think the prices for this First Round match suggests the layers are beginning to understand that the 32 year old is not the player he once was.

There will be plenty of people tipping up the upset when Berdych faces another home hope in Alex De Minaur who is part of a new generation of men's players in Australia.

De Minaur has given plenty of encouragement that he is ready to take the next step in his career having produced some strong results in Brisbane and Sydney in preparation for this tournament. The youngster was a Semi Finalist in Brisbane and then a Runner Up in Sydney and wins over the likes of Milos Raonic, Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco will have given De Minaur the belief to have a strong Australian Open.

His opponent had a poor showing in Doha when Berdych was upset by Jan-Lennard Struff and I think this is going to be a very exciting match. There is every chance that De Minaur can earn the upset, but I don't think Berdych will go away easily and this has all the makings of a four or five set match going late into the evening at Melbourne Park.

Both players will be looking to dominate behind the serve and I do think both will also have a little difficulty getting their returns going to the level they would desire. That does make me believe we are going to see three really competitive sets and barring a straight sets win for either, which would be a surprise to me, I think these two players will help surpass the total games line.

Watch out for a couple of key tiebreakers in the middle of this match and look for both Berdych and De Minaur to have their successes during the course of the battle.

Roger Federer - 8.5 games v Aljaz Bedene: He may have won two Grand Slam titles last season, including at the Australian Open, but Roger Federer is still 'shocked' that he is the favourite going into the 2018 edition of the tournament at 36 years old. It does say a lot about how well Federer played in 2017, while he has been looking very good at the Hopman Cup in his only appearances in 2018 and Federer is definitely the player to beat this week as far as I am concerned.

He gets to open the defence of his title against Aljaz Bedene who is back to representing Slovenia having spent a few years under the Great British banner.

Bedene is a tough competitor, but his game should be one that Federer enjoys and there isn't a lot of form that the Slovenian is bringing into this match. He has taken early losses in his two appearances in 2018 and I do think the Bedene style will mesh perfectly for Federer and allow the World Number 2 to ease his way into the tournament.

The break point chances should be dominated by Federer and that will give him every chance of covering a big spread in this First Round match. I do want to note that Federer may have won two Grand Slams last season, but he didn't blow away opponents as his return game can still be a little loose with the break point conversion rate not always the best.

If he allows Bedene to get comfortable in saving break points then this will be a closer match than I would expect, although Federer should always be comfortable enough to win in straight sets. The form displayed in Perth suggests Federer is feeling very good about his game at the moment and I think he is healthier than he was going into Melbourne Park twelve months ago.

While a big number as I have said, Federer is capable of producing a couple of sets with a double break of serve and I can see him progressing with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 kind of win as he lays down a marker for the tournament. Bedene should be respected as he is rarely blown off the court, but in recent years he has twice played a player Ranked in the top two at a Grand Slam and both times he was beaten by a nine game margin.

Those did come against Novak Djokovic in Melbourne and New York City, but Federer is playing at the kind of level where he can match that here.

Naomi Osaka - 4.5 games v Kristina Kucova: Both Williams sisters are now missing in the Australian Open draw, but Naomi Osaka has admitted that she has regularly been stopped with people confusing her and Serena Williams. She will be hoping to make a bigger name for herself at the Australian Open which is essentially a home Slam for the Japanese youngster with the bright future.

There is much to like about the 20 year old and the game she brings to the court. Power is never going to be an issue for Osaka, but she will be the first to admit she needs to put together more consistency if she wants to fulfil the potential so many believe she has.

Osaka will get an opportunity to make a strong start at the tournament with a First Round match against Kristina Kucova who has slipped outside the top 200 in the World Rankings. Kucova made her return to the Tour at Sydney last week where she failed to Qualify for the main draw and this is a tough match for her against a big hitting opponent.

Kucova also had a miserable 2017 which was hurt by injuries and a loss of form and has contributed to the slip in the World Ranking. That lack of confidence could hurt her chances of earning the upset in this First Round match and I think the power Osaka will bring to the court will allow her to get on the front foot in most rallies barring unforced errors dominating her game.

It was the first serve and a powerful return game which helped Osaka beat Kucova comfortably when they met in Miami last year. I can see those numbers being similar in this one as Osaka is able to move through to the Second Round with a cover of this number of games.

Heather Watson - 2.5 games v Yulia Putintseva: Over recent years it has usually been a really good idea to oppose Heather Watson when she is favoured to win a Grand Slam match. Whether that is outright or on the spread was neither here nor there as Watson has really struggled for consistency and she is some way behind the likes of Johanna Konta when it comes to British tennis.

However I am making a rare decision to actually back the British player in the First Round when she takes on Yulia Putintseva, although the latter has to be afforded plenty of respect. Putintseva is a ferocious competitor and she will look to bully Watson from her game plan, although it does have to be said that her serve is a real weakness and has to be exploited by the lower Ranked player.

The World Ranking doesn't mean anything to the layers with Watson favoured after a really good run in Hobart last week where she Qualified for the main draw and then reached the Semi Final before Elise Mertens proved to be too good. Watson has struggled to back up big weeks though, which is a concern, but she has plenty more wins than Putintseva who has had two early exits in 2018.

Much of this match is going to be on Putintseva's racquet with the aggressive style, but Watson has to make sure she is hitting through the court when she gets her chances. The Watson first serve is the better of the two and she has to make sure she stays on the front foot when she does get that delivery into play, while also not getting too frustrated by a very strong mover.

Watson's own movement is strong too and I can see this match having some really long, gruelling rallies in hot conditions which can be tough. However I do think Watson is capable of winning this match in three sets thanks to the slightly superior serving she can produce and I will look for her to cover this number in a win to move through to the Second Round.

Ashleigh Barty - 4.5 games v Aryna Sabalenka: It has been a remarkable twelve months for Ashleigh Barty who decided to make her return to tennis after switching sports to cricket for a while. Performances have been good enough to move her into the top 20 of the World Rankings and the home fans at the Australian Open will believe Barty can go deep in the draw here.

That is partly down to a strong week in Sydney where Barty reached the Final before losing in three sets to the in form Angelique Kerber and the Australian is certainly a capable player against anyone on the Tour. Consistency has been the key word for many in the women's draw and so it won't be a surprise if someone comes out of left field and reaches the Final and Barty has the game to do that.

She should be too good for First Round opponent Aryna Sabalenka, but much will depend on how well Barty can handle the pressure that will be on her shoulders. Last year no one would have expected much from Barty during her run to the Third Round, but this time around she comes in as the main Australian hope in the women's draw.

Sabalenka has to be respected having won back to back matches in both Shenzhen and Hobart, but she did find the better players she met far too good in both tournaments. I think Sabalenka will have a few chances against the Barty serve, but she has to make sure she is keeping her opponent off balance if she wants to earn the upset.

The Belarusian can also produce some pop off the serve and the ground and that makes her potentially dangerous. However I think Barty's game is in good shape at the moment and she can win the big points in this one to help her move through to the Second Round with a 6-4, 6-3 win with Sabalenka perhaps making too many unforced errors over the course of an hour and a bit out on court.

MY PICKS: Steve Johnson - 5.5 Games @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Novak Djokovic - 7.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Daniil Medvedev @ 2.20 Bet365 (2 Units)
Dominic Thiem-Guido Pella Over 36.5 Total Games @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)
Tomas Berdych-Alex De Minaur Over 37.5 Total Games @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 8.5 Games @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Naomi Osaka - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Heather Watson - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Ashleigh Barty - 4.5 Games @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 5-4, + 1.24 Units (18 Units Staked, + 6.88% Yield)

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