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Friday, 18 January 2019

Australian Open Tennis Day 6 Picks 2019 (January 19th)

Well that escalated quickly...

It was an awful day for the Tennis Picks on Day 5 and the first half of the Third Round matches with underdogs fighting hard everywhere you looked. An errant line call didn't help in one of my early selections and there isn't much you can do when a favourite covers in a match where you've backed the underdog.

Blindly picking the underdogs would have resulted in a big winning day for whoever went that way, but I can't get too down on things after dominating the Second Round selections on Wednesday and Thursday.

The main title favourites are all still in the draw so plenty of big matches are to come too, although Aryna Sabalenka's crushing loss at the up and coming super-talent Amanda Anisimova means the women's draw has lost the third favourite for the event. Caroline Wozniacki, the defending Champion, is also out but losing to Maria Sharapova can be written off as one of those things.

Truth be told it looks a very competitive half of the draw on the women's side, while the men's is getting us closer and closer to the Rafael Nadal versus Roger Federer match most would have been hoping to see at the conclusion of the draw.

Day 6 is another busy one with Third Round matches played throughout the site and you can read my selections below.

Kei Nishikori - 6.5 games v Joao Sousa: You can't really afford to spend hours on the court early in a Grand Slam especially not in the heat of the Australian Open. At some point those hours will catch up with you, but Kei Nishikori will just be pleased to still be needed in Melbourne having come through back to back five setters.

The match with Ivo Karlovic in the Second Round won't be as taxing as some others out there because of the short nature of the rallies, but emotionally Nishikori will have left something on the court. His First Round match ended halfway through the fifth set as young opponent Kamil Majchrzak suffered with cramp for some time.

Again you would have to say Nishikori shouldn't be feeling the physicality of these matches and instead I would hope he is going to have earned some confidence from battling through from tight spots. In the Third Round I would expect the match against Joao Sousa to suit him much more as it should be a rhythm match against the Portuguese and the superior quality should be generated from the Nishikori racquet.

Joao Sousa has had to come through two tough Rounds himself, although he did manage to get the job done in four sets against Philipp Kohlschreiber having needed five to see off Guido Pella. His numbers on the hard court indicate he is a player who will give his all, but ultimately is going to find it very difficult to compete with those that play at the level Nishikori does.

He had some good wins over top 20 players on the hard courts in 2018, but you could see the percentage of points won on serve and the percentage of games held takes a real dent. With both players not relying on a mammoth first serve it means they are going to get into rallies and Nishikori has shown his percentage of games held and break percentage increase significantly when playing opponents outside of the top 20 on this surface.

This is only the third time these players will face one another, but the first of those ended after seven games. Kei Nishikori dominated Joao Sousa on the clay courts in 2017 and I think that surface is arguably his weakest so I would expect Nishikori to have his most straight-forward win of the week.

Pablo Carreno Busta v Fabio Fognini: The underdogs were in great form on Friday in the bottom half of the Third Round draws, but I am hoping at least one more can carry that going when looking to get behind Pablo Carreno Busta in this match against Fabio Fognini.

These two players might not have met since 2017, but I do think the head to head is quite relevant with Carreno Busta having beaten Fognini in all five previous matches. Three of those matches took place on the clay and two of those were on hard courts and I do think it is a potential factor in determining the outcome of this match.

I favoured Carreno Busta before I read the head to head to be perfectly honest and the Spaniard is a player who has enjoyed playing in the Grand Slam events on the hard courts. He reached the Fourth Round in Melbourne twelve months and eighteen months ago he made the US Open Semi Final while he has produced some steady numbers on the surface in the last couple of years.

The last six months have not been very good for the Spaniard which does reduce some of the enthusiasm for this selection, and it also raises some questions as to how he is feeling following back to back wins. Pablo Carreno Busta didn't win a match following his retirement at the US Open in August until he arrived in Melbourne, but he was very close in a couple of those so again I am willing to take a chance with the Spaniard.

Fabio Fognini is an enigma and that makes him very dangerous, while he is comfortable on the hard courts and produced numbers that have to be respected. Over the last six months the Italian has won a title in Los Cabos and also reached the Final in Chengdu and Semi Final in Beijing, while he has looked strong in Melbourne having needed just five full sets to reach the Third Round.

Both players have very similar serving numbers on this surface so the key is going to be which one of them can get a read on the return the best. Both are very effective returning the ball, but in the head to head Carreno Busta has broken the Fognini serve 37% of the time compared with 20% the other way around and I will look for the underdog to reach the Fourth Round in consecutive seasons.

Novak Djokovic - 7.5 games v Denis Shapovalov: I have no hesitation in thinking that this is the kind of match in which Denis Shapovalov will want to thrive and produce his best tennis. The young Canadian has plenty of special shots in the locker, but he will need more if he is going to upset the World Number 1, although Shapovalov has shown he is not an easy out for opponents at the Grand Slam level.

History doesn't mean a lot when Shapovalov will take to the court though as he is facing one of the best returners I remember seeing on the Tour. The foundation for success for Shapovalov is built on being able to bang down big serve after big serve and make sure he is keeping pressure on opponents, but Novak Djokovic and his break percentage numbers are consistently high on the hard courts.

Shapovalov will need to serve at his very best if he is going to keep someone like Djokovic at bay and I think it is asking a lot of him with the pressure the World Number 1 is likely going to exert. The Canadian had a hold percentage of 81% in 2018 and won a strong 64% of points behind serve in the second half of 2018, but Djokovic is likely going to put that number under severe examination.

Playing against top 20 Ranked opponents on the hard courts shows Shapovalov's real weakness has been on the return of serve and I am not sure he is going to get much change out of Djokovic. With the additional information those top players have on Shapovalov, his numbers against those top 20 Ranked players on the hard courts saw his hold percentage dip below 80% in 2018 and the percentage of points won behind serve dropped by 3% between 2017 and 2018.

That may not sound a lot, but it shows that these players can get a read on what Shapovalov is going to want to do and the best returner in the business will certainly get his eye in as this match develops. I think that is ultimately what will happen with Djokovic looking stronger and stronger and Shapovalov needing to fight off more and more break points as we enter set two and set three.

If he serves out of his skin then Shapovalov can potentially steal a set or push Djokovic all the way, but I can see a double break in perhaps the final set they play which helps the World Number 1 pull away and cover a big margin of games.

Elina Svitolina - 5.5 games v Shuai Zhang: Flying under the radar at a Grand Slam event probably suits Elina Svitolina down to the ground, but the attention will pick up if she can reach the second week at the Australian Open.

For all of her success on the Tour, Svitolina's Grand Slam record is pretty poor with just three previous Quarter Finals on her resume. At 24 years old you would have to say the window to win a Slam might not be as wide as Svitolina would like with the women's game producing some uber-talented players that are already beginning to make an impression on the Tour.

Svitolina is a strong favourite to get past Shuai Zhang but she needs to respect an opponent who has reached the Quarter Final as a Qualifier at the Australian Open previously. However the Third Round is as far as she has gotten in any Slam since January 2016 and Zhang's hard court numbers are not that impressive.

Those numbers took a decline in both serve and return departments in 2018 compared with 2017 and she showed very little form prior to the Australian Open. Now she has to face a top 20 Ranked player who should have earned plenty of confidence by winning the WTA Finals at the back end of 2018 and who has been a strong winner in the two matches played in Melbourne.

On the other side of the court there is a player who has been pretty consistent on the hard courts but has perhaps been let down by the mental side of the game. Elina Svitolina can lay a real dud of a performance when she feels the pressure is on her, but I don't think that will be the case in this match against Zhang who she beat for the loss of just three games in their sole previous meeting which came on the hard courts in North America three years ago.

Both players will be looking to remain steady behind the serve to give them their best chance of winning this match, but Svitolina has the edge on the return and I believe that will eventually show up. It is not a small spread, but Svitolina has been very good in Melbourne so far this week and she can win this by a comfortable margin as she breaks down the Zhang game.

Madison Keys - 1.5 games v Elise Mertens: This is a really good looking Third Round match at the Australian Open and both Madison Keys and Elise Mertens are going to feel confident going into the match. Last season Mertens had a stunning run through to the Semi Final at the Australian Open to really make her first big impact on the Tour, but Keys has been a little more consistent on this surface as she has made it through to the US Open Final in 2017 and Semi Final of the same tournament in 2018.

It is a battle of styles in this one with the power of Keys going up against the defensive skills and movement around the court of Mertens and that makes it a fascinating match.

Power can be very attractive when watching a tennis match and Keys in full flow is a great player to watch. She can bludgeon the ball as hard as just about anyone who plays the game, male or female, and the hard courts are clearly where she plays her best tennis.

The serve is absolutely a key weapon for Keys and she has to make sure she is following up the big first serve with the heavy groundstrokes to prevent Mertens from getting in a rhythm around the court. The first two or three shots for Keys are going to be key for winning points as she doesn't really have the consistency or stamina to outlast Mertens in the much longer rallies.

First strike tennis can work for Keys against Mertens, a player comfortable on the hard courts but not reaching the kind of levels that Keys has. The Belgian did beat a top 20 Ranked player here at the Australian Open last year, but Mertens is 1-4 in those matches at this tournament or the US Open and her numbers take a sharp decline when facing the best players on the Tour.

When these two players met at the US Open in 2017, the Keys first serve proved to be the difference maker and I think that will be the outcome of this one. The American has just been a little stronger both in the serve and return department than Mertens on the hard courts and I think that will see her get the better of this opponent in a fascinating Third Round match.

Garbine Muguruza - 3.5 games v Timea Bacsinszky: No tennis match should really be starting after 11pm at night, but it is almost embarrassing for a tournament to have two players going onto the court at thirty minutes past midnight.

That was the situation for Garbine Muguruza and Johanna Konta and the issue really became highlighted because the two players then embarked on an epic match that didn't conclude until 3:12am... Think about that, a Grand Slam tennis match finishing just eight hours before the grounds were due to open for the next day's play.

It is terrible to be honest regardless of the fact that it meant I could watch some live tennis on my lunch-break and towards the end of the working day in London. The Australian Open had to move the match and now the question is does Muguruza have enough time to recover from that match as she is due out to play her Third Round match.

This has the makings of another potential battle for Muguruza when she takes on Timea Bacsinszky who is trying to return to the top of the women's game after injury setbacks. The Swiss player has been a dominant winner in her first two matches at the Australian Open, but she has shown little form in the warm up events and her return to the Tour has not exactly seen Bacsinszky pulling up trees.

She is quite strong mentally and Bacsinszky can use a of slices to try and confuse her opponents and it has worked against players who perhaps don't know her game that well. That isn't the case against Muguruza who has a strong head to head record against Bacsinszky and has been performing at a higher level on the hard courts.

Muguruza is hard to trust on a good day because she can be so erratic with her play, but she gets enough out of the serve to keep the pressure on Bacsinszky. She did not return well in the Second Round win over Johanna Konta, but Bacsinszky doesn't serve as well as the British player does and I think Muguruza will be able to earn a couple more breaks of serve than her opponent as long as there are no lingering issues out of the outrageously late finish a couple of days ago.

Karolina Pliskova - 2.5 games v Camila Giorgi: 2018 was a difficult year for Karolina Pliskova and I do say that relatively to the kind of standards she has set for herself on the hard courts. She did reach the Quarter Final at the US Open in the second half of the season, but Pliskova was involved in some very tough matches and the numbers declined from 2017 which will have disappointed her.

2019 has begun much differently with a title already secured in Brisbane and two very good wins in the Australian Open to extend her run to seven straight wins. That will give Pliskova confidence, but she is playing a very dangerous opponent in Camila Giorgi who has the kind of skills that can take the racquet out of the hands of almost any player on the Tour.

The Italian will be willing to go for her shots all day long, but the problem with the high-risk high-reward tennis is that it is almost impossible to produce for two hours on the court. She may need to do that against one of the better players out on the Tour, but Giorgi has lost her last six matches in Grand Slams played on the hard courts against opponents in the top 20 of the World Rankings.

It does have to be said that Pliskova has struggled over the last six months when playing top 50 Ranked players on the hard courts. Her serve has not been as dominant as she would like, but I think she could be aided by someone like Giorgi who will decide to swing at everything which is not going to be a really smart tactical game as far as I am concerned.

At times Giorgi will look unplayable and I am sure she will cause some problems, but I am not surprised that it is Pliskova who has the winning record between these two players. The Czech player will be steadier throughout and I don't think she will change her game plan and instead will wait for the fire of Giorgi to flame out as it tends to do.

Karolina Pliskova is playing very well at the moment although the spread seems to take into consideration the fact the second half of 2018 was a little erratic from her. She may even drop a set here, but I think Pliskova will win and Giorgi has a habit of falling apart somewhat when the tide does turn against her.

MY PICKS: Kei Nishikori - 6.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Pablo Carreno Busta @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Novak Djokovic - 7.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Elina Svitolina - 5.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Madison Keys - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Garbine Muguruza - 3.5 Games @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)
Karolina Pliskova - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Qiang Wang @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)
Simona Halep - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
David Goffin + 3.5 Games @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Borna Coric - 5.5 Games @ 1.72 Bet365 (2 Units)
Alexander Zverev - 7.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)

Australian Open 2019: 34-29, + 5.13 Units (124 Units Staked, + 4.14% Yield)

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