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Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Australian Open Tennis Day 3 Picks 2019 (January 16th)

The first couple of days at the Australian Open have been highly frustrating if truth is to be told and that is mainly because of a swing of three matches that not only could, but should have gone the other way.

All three went against me and I have yet to receive a 'lucky' winner which does happen in Slams thanks to the longer format of the men's matches. Julia Goerges, Alja Tomljanovic and Dominic Thiem threw away incredible positions though and I am hoping the move into the Second Round can begin to get things turned around.

Even then I will say that panicking over a couple of bad days in the Grand Slam tournaments is simply not worth it. It's a long two weeks and there is going to be time for things to change, but I would much prefer to be writing out Day 4 selections knowing I've had my first winning day of the 2019 Australian Open.

The Second Round is going to be played on Wednesday and Thursday and it is the bottom half of both the men's and women's draws that get to go up first. It is still the time of the tournament where the top names are trying to ease their way through the draws with as little energy expended as needed and the Second Round does seem to produce a few mismatches on the court.

However no one can take anything for granted when they head out to the courts on what is expected to be another tough day for players with the heat in Melbourne, although it may not be as sunny as it has been in the first couple of days here.

Tomas Berdych - 6.5 games v Robin Haase: One of the more impressive First Round displays came from Tomas Berdych as the veteran continues his return to the Tour with some fine results. After reaching the Final in Doha Berdych had to be feeling he could make an impact here at the Australian Open, but even he must have been surprised at the ease in which he was able to beat Kyle Edmund, a Semi Finalist from twelve months ago.

However I made the point that Edmund was perhaps not at full health a couple of days ago and I'm sure that did play a part in the way the First Round match developed. In saying that, take nothing away from the Berdych serve which was a huge weapon on the day and the Czech player is another who has enjoyed considerable success Down Under which should help the confidence too.

I would expect the Second Round match against Robin Haase to be much tougher for Berdych, although Haase is not always at his most effective on the hard courts. His own First Round win looked straight-forward enough on paper as the Dutchman was able to move through without dropping a set, but the underlying stats showed it was a much closer match than that and Haase will need to pick up his play if he is going to challenge Berdych.

Haase has a decent serve which has to be given respect especially as the Berdych return game has declined, but the former is only holding at under 80% on this surface. The Grand Slam numbers have been even worse for Haase with his hold percentage down at 73% on the hard courts and I think he might just be worn down by Berdych in this match.

Even though Berdych has reached a Final in Doha and won a match here, the return numbers certainly have some room for improvement. It might not be a real problem for him in this Second Round match but it will be something that could catch Berdych out the longer he remains in the draw and with the competition ramping up in each passing Round.

You have to respect the fact that Haase actually beat Berdych on a fast hard court in Dubai two years ago, but the conditions in Melbourne may just be more to the liking of the former top 10 player. I think it will help him produce another strong win as he perhaps pulls away from Haase over the course of three sets and I will back Tomas Berdych to make it through to the Third Round with a cover of what looks a big number on paper.

Marin Cilic - 6.5 games v MacKenzie McDonald: The First Round match against home hope Bernard Tomic looked a difficult one for Marin Cilic, but the latter is a tough cookie these days and is very comfortable playing in Melbourne. He seemed to thrive in the atmosphere and was a convincing winner over Tomic who deserves a lot of credit for actually competing even when under the cosh, something he hasn't always done throughout his career.

Tomic will be looking to build on that over the course of 2019, but Marin Cilic moves on through the draw and is looking to go one better than twelve months ago. He should really have beaten Roger Federer in the Final, but Cilic has shown he can recover from setbacks and he should be pretty happy with his performance in the First Round.

2018 proved to be a very good year for Cilic on the hard courts as he improved his returning numbers again and the serve looked strong. He will need those aspects of his game working to have success over the next two weeks, and I am expecting Cilic to impose himself on this Second Round match.

His opponent is Mackenzie McDonald, an improving youngster from the United States who had an impressive win over the talented Andrey Rublev in the First Round. This will only be the sixth hard court Grand Slam match McDonald is playing, but he has shown toughness previously with the likes of Grigor Dimitrov and Robin Haase needing five sets to beat McDonald at the Australian Open and US Open respectively in 2018.

McDonald has some decent numbers with a decent enough serve backed up by some returning numbers that are comparative to what Cilic produces. However this is a big step up for the youngster who has struggled on the returning side of things when facing top 20 Ranked opponents on the hard courts in his relatively new career.

If Marin Cilic serves to the standards he usually sets then it will be very difficult for McDonald to break the serve and ultimately that means more pressure to hold onto your own. Unsurprisingly Cilic's numbers to take a serious tick upwards when he is facing players outside of the top 50 of the World Rankings in recent years, and the Croatian is dominant against those opponents in Grand Slam matches on this surface.

Cilic has covered this number of games in his last five completed hard court matches against opponents outside of the top 50 in the World Rankings and I will back him to do that here.

Roger Federer - 8.5 games v Daniel Evans: When Daniel Evans and Roger Federer met at Wimbledon in 2016 the former admitted he was very nervous and in awe of playing one of the greatest players of all time. Since then Evans has been through some personal troubles which means he should be appreciating his time back on the courts more than ever and that could relax him when he faces the two time defending Champion in the Second Round.

It is less than twelve months since Evans has returned to the Tour having been banned for using recreational drugs at a time when he looked to be on an upwards curve in the World Rankings. He hasn't been given the same kind of support that Maria Sharapova did on her return to the Tour for failing a drugs test and that has meant Evans being forced to go back and scrap on the Challenger Tour.

The British player was banned just after hitting a career best Number 41 in the World Rankings and he is still outside the top 150 coming into this tournament. Qualifying with three wins and then beating another Qualifier to make the Second Round will give Evans a significant boost as he looks to make sure he can reach the main draw of Wimbledon without the need to stress himself in the Qualifiers later this year.

Evans has had some strong hard court results over the last nine months, but suffice to say those have come in matches at a much lower level than what he faces on Wednesday. The numbers in his career when playing on the main Tour are no more than average, although I have to respect the fact that Evans has somehow produced an 11-4 record in main draw Grand Slam matches on the hard courts as he seems to thrive with the competition ramped up.

It can't go to a much higher setting than this one as he faces a Roger Federer who comfortably won his First Round match while most eyes were focused on Andy Murray's match played at the same time. Federer has shown a decline in his numbers on the hard courts over the last three seasons, but they are still at an extremely high level and I don't think Evans will be able to really challenge a player going for title number 100 over the next few days.

I am a little wary in backing Federer considering he has not really had much success covering the big spreads in recent Slams on the hard courts. Federer does have a 27-3 record since January 2016 in hard court matches at the Grand Slams, but only 6 of those wins would have seen him cover this number.

Even with that in mind, Federer's serve numbers are magnificent in that time and it will come down to whether he takes his break point chances when they arrive or not. I think he will have enough opportunities to get into a position to cover the number considering Evans serve can be something of a weakness as he steps up his opponent level and I will look for Federer to just ease his way past the British player in this Second Round encounter.

Rafael Nadal - 7.5 games v Matthew Ebden: At age 31 Matthew Ebden has been playing some of the best tennis of his career and he wasn't too far away from heading into his home Grand Slam as one of the Seeded players. Instead Ebden has been placed in a very difficult portion of the draw which means he is going up against World Number 2 Rafael Nadal in the Second Round.

It isn't that long ago that Ebden would have been seen as nothing more than a journeyman, but he entered the top 40 of the World Rankings for the first time at the end of the 2018 season. Over the first three months of the season Ebden has every chance of surpassing his best career Ranking and he has matched his 2018 run at the Australian Open by reaching the Second Round after beating Jan-Lennard Struff on Monday.

Now the Australian has the chance of his best ever run in his home Grand Slam as he attempts to reach the Third Round for the first time, but beating Rafael Nadal is a big ask.

The Spaniard has had some questions to answer about his overall fitness and the change in the service motion has been made because Nadal wants to get an opportunity to win points much quicker than he has in his career. That says something about where his team feel Nadal's body is, but he had no problems in a win over James Duckworth in the First Round.

No one will ever doubt that Nadal is better on the clay courts than he is on the hard courts, but his numbers on this surface are more impressive than you would imagine. Ultimately I would think Nadal comes up short against the very best players, but he is comfortable in matches like this one and I do think he will be a fairly routine winner.

These two did meet in a competitive match on the grass a few years ago, but that isn't largely relevant. What does feel more relevant is the fact that Ebden was holding serve at less than 80% of the time on the hard courts in 2018 and that is a number that is going to be challenged by Nadal who managed to break the Duckworth serve six times in the First Round.

I think Nadal will get close to that many breaks in this one too and that should see him have a chance of covering this number.

Donna Vekic - 5.5 games v Kimberly Birrell: It is hard to believe that Donna Vekic is still only 22 years old but she does look like someone who is improving again after a few lean years. She is now at a career best Ranking inside the top 30 of the World Rankings and her win in the First Round over Kristina Mladenovic means Vekic is capable of improving that World Ranking by the end of this tournament.

It was a strong win for Vekic in the First Round and has added to what has been a good start to the 2019 season. At the start of the season Vekic reached the Semi Final in Brisbane and her numbers on the hard courts have improved in each of the last three seasons which suggests this is a player on the rise.

Sometimes you can be critical of the mental strength displayed by Vekic, but in other matches against top quality opposition there looks to be a real player inside of her.

The Croatian will need to bring her positive form into this Second Round match as she deals with being a big favourite when taking on an opponent who will receive considerable home support in Kimberly Birrell.

Birrell is at a career best Ranking too, but she is still outside the top 200 although will likely see that improve at the end of the Australian Open having gotten through one Round. At 19 years old you would have hoped to see more from Birrell, but her numbers have not been very strong on the hard courts despite facing players much lower down the Rankings than she will see on Wednesday in the Second Round.

There have been some positive results for Birrell in the 2019 season, but she will need Vekic to be off her game to really have a chance. You can't deny this is a pretty big number for Vekic to cover, but she looks like an improving player on the hard courts and I think she will have every chance of wearing down the young home hope through some powerful hitting and I will back Vekic to move through to the Third Round with a good looking win.

Maria Sharapova - 4.5 games v Rebecca Peterson: There may have been some doubts as to how healthy Maria Sharapova is going into the Australian Open, but those were almost erased in her convincing win over Harriet Dart in the First Round.

Sharapova didn't drop a game in crushing the Qualifier but the matches are only going to get tougher for a player who has yet to get back to the heights she was at before the eighteen month drugs ban kicked in. The Russian has done well enough to get her Seeding back, but she is only Number 30 in the World Rankings and that is not going to sit well with someone who is expecting to be competing for Grand Slam titles.

One of the problems for Sharapova has been an inability to get more out of the serve like she once did. It used to be a big strength for her, but these days opponents don't fear the Sharapova serve and while her numbers on the hard courts remain decent, they are also nowhere near what she was producing prior to the ban.

In the Second Round Sharapova faces the talented Rebecca Peterson who was a strong winner in the First Round.

If Sharapova is not feeling her game, Peterson definitely plays well enough on the hard courts to cause problems for her. However much will depend on the Sharapova serve, because the Peterson serve is one she should be able to attack with some conviction and it is the returning of the Swedish player which really causes problems for opponents.

The numbers are less impressive when Peterson has stepped up to play opponents inside the top 50 of the World Rankings and I think that makes a difference in this Second Round match too. I do think Rebecca Peterson will make an impact in the match, but ultimately I do think she comes up short against Sharapova and I expect the former World Number 1 to win in straight sets with at least one break than Peterson in each of them.

MY PICKS: Tomas Berdych - 6.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Marin Cilic - 6.5 Games @ 1.72 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 8.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Rafael Nadal - 7.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)
Donna Vekic - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Maria Sharapova - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Fernando Verdasco - 5.5 Games @ 1.72 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Kevin Anderson Win 3-1 @ 3.75 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Grigor Dimitrov Win 3-1 @ 3.75 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Sloane Stephens - 5.5 Games @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Caroline Garcia - 5.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Caroline Wozniacki - 5.5 Games @ 1.72 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Petra Martic - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Boyle Sports (2 Units)

Australian Open 2019: 11-13, - 5.20 Units (48 Units Staked, - 10.83% Yield)

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