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Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Australian Open Tennis Day 10 Picks 2019 (January 23rd)

The first men's and women's Semi Final matches were set on Tuesday at the Australian Open and it features a couple of the leading contenders facing upstarts who have had their best success at a Grand Slam event in the relatively young careers.

Rafael Nadal has been relentless throughout the Australian Open and it has looked clear enough for a few days that he is going to be very hard to beat in his current form. The Spaniard has not had the same type of consistent success on the hard courts as he has on the clay courts, but he has proven time and time again that he can be very strong in this surface as long as his body holds up.

He dismissed 'Next Gen' Francis Tiafoe in the Quarter Final with a thoroughly professional performance and Nadal goes on to face Stefanos Tsitsipas who once again held himself together at pivotal moments throughout his win over Roberto Bautista Agut.

The young Greek star actually gave away the first break in each of the first three sets played, but in two of them he managed to turns things around before winning a Fourth Set tie-breaker to move into his maiden Grand Slam Semi Final. I am sure many more are to come for Tsitsipas, but he is going to need to have a monster serving day to win this one as far as I am concerned.

Either that or have Nadal's body let him down as it did twelve months ago in a defeat to Marin Cilic in Melbourne.

There is a real heartwarming story in the women's draw and you would have to be made of stone to not appreciate Petra Kvitova.

The two time Wimbledon Champion suffered a knife injury a little over two years ago and it has taken time for her to really return to the kind of form the Czech player can play. I've always enjoyed watching Kvitova play, especially when she is playing as well as she is in Australia and it is going to take something special to beat her.

Ashleigh Barty has nothing to be ashamed of having made it to a Grand Slam Quarter Final for the first time and the Australian should have plenty more to give as the 2019 season develops.

Petra Kvitova will face one of the players who has newly entered my favourite list- Danielle Collins.

The American is not your normal tennis interview and while that seems to rub some people up the wrong way, I love the fact that Collins is not shy to admit where she sees herself.

Confidence and brashness together can be hard for many to see, but I loved Muhammad Ali and Collins is backing up her own talk in a big way. She is great to watch on the court with emotion being worn on her sleeve and I hope the smart player coming out of College can use this tournament as a springboard for much better over the course of 2019.

Beating Petra Kvitova is going to be very difficult, but I know Collins will believe she can do that and her fight shown so far in this tournament suggests she won't crumble or give this one up easily. Unfortunately Kvitova doesn't ask to dictate on the court and this could be a really fun match for thos who like big hitting tennis.

On Day 10 we complete the Semi Final line up with Rod Laver Arena hosting the remaining four Quarter Final matches in succession. It is a great day for the fans, but a long day with a Night Session in place too, although I think the fans will get a lot of bang for their buck.

In my opinion the two women's matches are better than the two men's on paper, but tennis is played on the court and not on paper so hopefully it is another strong day.

Day 11 is the last where multiple Singles matches are played on the same day and the last three days of the tournament see the Singles match scheduled for the Night Session which is great news for those who have been staying up through the night to watch the tennis in the United Kingdom.

A strong Day 9 has kept the tournament ticking along in the way I would have hoped ten days ago, but there is still work to do to lock in a positive event to open 2019.

Milos Raonic - 5.5 games v Lucas Pouille: You could have been forgiven for thinking the Australian Open may have come too early for Milos Raonic who is returning from an injury hit 2018, while Lucas Pouille had never performed well at this Grand Slam. Yet here we are with these two men making the Quarter Final of the tournament and I can guarantee both Raonic and Pouille recognise the path that has opened to them.

It can put some pressure on players when they realise how much they can achieve by winning a match, but Raonic and Pouille have both played in Quarter Final matches at Slams before so they should understand what is expected of them.

Out of the two players it is Milos Raonic who has made the Semi Final and Final of Grand Slams before so he may feel a little less pressure than his opponent. The run to this Quarter Final would have likely surpassed many expectations Raonic has had for himself and it is very difficult to ignore the head to head record against Pouille which has seen Raonic win all three previous matches including at the Australian Open in straight sets in 2016.

The Raonic serve has been working to almost perfection and he has only faced five break points in his four matches here. However the Canadian will want to have played the big points a little better as he has been broken four times from those five break points faced, but I am not sure Pouille's average return game is going to get much joy out of the Raonic serve here.

The Frenchman has linked up with former Grand Slam Champion Amelie Mauresmo, but his return game at the Australian Open has remained average with just 16% of those games resulting in a break of serve. That return has been a real weakness for Pouille for some time and it says a lot that he has only created two break points against Raonic in three matches against the Canadian and the big server has held at over 97% of the time.

It puts some real pressure on Pouille and while he has been serving well and Raonic is not exactly Novak Djokovic when it comes to returning, mentally it will be a challenge to keep things going if he can't get near the Raonic serve. Even in the run to the Quarter Final and including the devastating win over Alexander Zverev, the Raonic return numbers are not that impressive.

They haven't needed to be to win matches though and you may think one or two breaks of serve is all Raonic is going to need to win this match relatively comfortably. Milos Raonic has had success attacking the Pouille serve in their three previous matches, although the one in 2018 on the grass courts of Stuttgart was unsurprisingly serve orientated.

Even then Raonic broke serve and he does have a break number of over 23% against Pouille and I do think the Canadian is serving well enough to win this match by a good margin.

Trusting Raonic to break serve and cover big spreads is not easy, but he has been in fine form in Australia and I would not be surprised if Pouille was to offer some lapses of concentration on which the Canadian can pounce upon.

Novak Djokovic - 7.5 games v Kei Nishikori: There were some uncomfortable signs from Novak Djokovic at the end of his gruelling win over Daniil Medvedev and the World Number 1 admitted he will need some time to recover. He clutched his back and looked to be short of energy in a tough encounter against a young, hungry opponent who pushed Djokovic all the way to the finish line.

Ultimately Djokovic came through and will have had almost a full 48 hours before he is being asked to come back to the court. The match with Kei Nishikori should hold no surprises for Novak Djokovic with these two being paired together for the eighteenth time and more importantly is the fact that Nishikori has needed five sets in three of his four matches at the Australian Open.

Confidence will be high having made an unbeaten start to the 2019 season, but Nishikori has twice needed to come from two sets down including in the last Round against Pablo Carreno Busta. His opponent left the court steaming after a controversial point was awarded to Nishikori in the final set breaker, but you could see how much the win meant to Nishikori and his team.

Picking themselves up emotionally and physically won't be easy for Nishikori whose game does not match up well with Djokovic's. If the World Number 1 is close to 100% it really is going to be very difficult for Nishikori who was beaten at Wimbledon and the US Open by Djokovic in 2018 and both times relatively comfortably and by a wide enough margin to cover the games being asked of the Serb in this Quarter Final.

In the Grand Slam matches between these two, Djokovic holds at just under 85% of the time while Nishikori is down at 63%. That's a huge margin and I don't know how the Japanese star bridges that while those numbers become 83% and 53% for those players respectively when they have played on the hard courts.

Novak Djokovic has been in very good form throughout this tournament and while these players are holding at about the same rate, it is Djokovic who is breaking at almost a 20% higher rate.

The fitness issues for the Number 1 Seed are a concern, but there is no way Nishikori can be in great physical shape for this one. The match with Pablo Carreno Busta was a long one with intense rallies and I will back Novak Djokovic to continue his dominance of this opponent with the assumption he is relatively in good shape to compete.

Naomi Osaka - 2.5 games v Elina Svitolina: This looks to be a very interesting Quarter Final match between the current US Open Champion and a player who has flattered to deceive in the Grand Slam events. Naomi Osaka is playing at her home Grand Slam with the Australian Open representing Asia and the Pacific, but she seems to be very level headed and her experiences of the US Open just a few months ago will stand her in good stead.

For Elina Svitolina winning the WTA Finals in Singapore was expected to be the big breakthrough she needed to show she can handle the pressure of playing at these huge tournaments. She has a chance to show what she has learned but you can't ignore the fact Svitolina has never been beyond the Quarter Final at any Grand Slam and she has really fallen away in her three previous matches played at this stage of a Slam.

In the last couple of Rounds Svitolina could have easily crumbled in her matches against Shuai Zhang and Madison Keys, but both times she was able to rally and then show some toughness to go through. I do think the win in Singapore will have helped her, but this is another big test against someone who hits the ball very hard and can take the racquet out of Svitolina's hands.

Naomi Osaka has needed three sets in each of the last couple of Rounds and she has fallen a set down in both of those matches before fighting back. That is impressive enough, but I have to say I have really admired the fact she has worked out two very awkward opponents and not allowed the defensive skills of Su-Wei Hsieh and Anastasija Sevastova to rattle her.

In this tournament Osaka has been producing slightly better numbers on both the serve and return but this does feel like a close match. It is Elina Svitolina who won both their head to head matches on the hard courts in 2018 in Dubai and Miami and she did have the better of the return of serve out of the two players and that could be a critical factor in such a close looking match.

My slightest of edges goes to Naomi Osaka though who I think can have the power to dictate the direction this match goes. Both Zhang and Keys showed you can rattle the Svitolina game if you start hitting through the court and the Ukrainian is under some pressure to show she is capable of winning a Slam having never been beyond this stage before.

The pressure has gotten to her in those matches previously and I will back Naomi Osaka to move through to another Grand Slam Semi Final.

Serena Williams-Karolina Pliskova over 21.5 games: This is the Quarter Final I am looking forward to the most on Wednesday when Serena Williams takes on big hitting Karolina Pliskova. The top half of the women's draw is loaded with talent and all three matches left to play to determine the Finalist from his half of the draw look like they could be special on paper, but let's first focus on this Quarter Final.

In the 2016 US Open, Karolina Pliskova stunned Serena Williams in the Semi Final, but in 2018 Serena had some revenge when beating the Czech player in the Quarter Final. Both matches could have easily gone the other way too and I do think this is could be another real battle.

Both players are very much relying on a big first serve and then being able to play first strike tennis. Neither of these two players will want to offer up too many second serves for the other to attack while taking the break point opportunities when they come up will be very important, especially for Karolina Pliskova.

She only took 2/12 at the US Open in September, but Pliskova has been very strong on the return in this tournament and taken 20/43 break points created in her four matches. A crushing win over Garbine Muguruza in the Fourth Round has kept the roll going after the Czech player won the title in Brisbane while the serve has been firing as she would like.

Of course Serena Williams will test both of those areas of Pliskova's game, but the American is coming off a tough Fourth Round win over Simona Halep when she only just held herself together in the final set. That might be the low point of this tournament for Serena Williams who continues to produce big serves, but I do think she is perhaps more vulnerable than she has been in throughout her career.

Players are not overawed by Williams as they once were and Pliskova has to feel her best tennis will give her every chance of success. I am not sure to be honest, but I do think she has the capability of winning at least one set in this match which should help push the match over the total games line set.

If they both serve as well as they can, I can see this match having two tight sets being competed and there is every chance they need a decider to work out the outcome. None of their previous three matches have gone the distance which would be a concern, but I do think both players are performing at a very high level that suggests neither will allow themselves to be steamrolled out of the way.

There is always a fear Serena Williams will do that to any opponent when she really feels her tennis, but I will back at least twenty-two games to be needed in this Quarter Final that should excite the fans.

MY PICKS: Milos Raonic - 5.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)
Novak Djokovic - 7.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Naomi Osaka - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Serena Williams-Karolina Pliskova Over 21.5 Games @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)

Australian Open 2019: 53-42, + 15.65 Units (187 Units Staked, + 8.37% Yield)

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