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Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (February 8-17)

The English Winter Break is in play for the first time this season and I think it has not gone as well as the Premier League and the top clu...

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Tennis Picks 2019 (February 28th)

It has been an up and down kind of week, but there are still enough positives to take away to think it is going to be possible to bounce back from what was the first losing week of the season.

The tournament in Dubai has already reached the Quarter Final stage because the Final is due to be played on Saturday, but the rest of the events being played this week will complete the Quarter Final line up today.

As I have done all week, I am going to update the weekly totals once all the matches have been completed from the selections made. I will also add any selections from the ATP and WTA event being played in Acapulco when those markets are put together during the evening, but for now I have my Picks from Dubai and Sao Paulo which can be read below.

Gael Monfils - 4.5 games v Ricardas Berankis: There won't be many people who would argue against the natural talent and athleticism Gael Monfils possesses, but the Frenchman has perhaps not always focused on winning as much as he has on entertaining the fans. That has made Monfils a very popular figure on the Tour for fans and peers alike, but he has opened the 2019 season with a real focus and that has turned into some strong results.

He reached the Semi Final in Sofia and then backed that up by winning the title in Rotterdam the following weeks which has helped Gael Monfils begin to move back up the World Rankings. The numbers have been impressive on the hard courts in 2019 to produce the 11-2 record, but somehow Monfils has actually been even better this week in Dubai.

In the two wins over Marin Cilic and Marcos Baghdatis, Gael Monfisl has held 90% of his service games and he has put immense pressure on those opponents which has produced a 42% break percentage. Both of those numbers are up on the 83% and 32% marks he has set for the 2019 season overall on the hard courts, but even those are very strong numbers being set by Monfils and he should be heading into this match feeling very good about himself.

Ricardas Berankis will also be feeling very positive after coming through a couple of Qualifiers and beating an in-form Daniil Medvedev in the First Round. The Lithuanian has been playing very well on the hard courts, but generally he has been playing a much lower level than the one he is dealing with in Dubai and the win over Medvedev is a rare success over top 50 Ranked opponents on this surface.

While he has gone 2-1 in those matches in 2019, Berankis was 1-8 last season and his service and break percentages took a significant dent in those matches. He has been serving very well this week and in 2019 in general, but Gael Monfils is playing at an extremely high level and I think he will have a little too much for this opponent.

As well as Berankis' numbers indicate he is playing, Monfils' numbers are better on both the serve and return and I think that will see him earn a break more in each of the first two sets played and work his way to a cover of a big number.

Stefanos Tsitsipas - 3.5 games v Hubert Hurkacz: I might not have been behind him on Wednesday, but all credit has to be given to Hubert Hurkacz for the way he battled past Kei Nishikori. While a very good win on paper I do think Hurkacz was aided by his opponent who simply did not play anything like as well as he can.

It is unlikely Hurkacz will be able to rely on his opponent being out of sorts on Thursday in this Quarter Final as he faces Stefanos Tsitsipas for the second week in a row. Last week these players met in Marseille as Tsitsipas put a dominant win on the board over Hurkacz on his way to winning the title there.

On that day Tsitsipas produced one of his stronger performances when it comes to returning the serve and he will believe he can do the same here. As well as Hurkacz played against Nishikori, the serve was not as dominant as he would like and he has continued to just struggle when he has played the top players on the Tour on the hard courts.

Last week Hurkacz did not break the Tsitsipas serve and he won less than 20% of the points against the serve which will put him in a very difficult spot if he repeats that here. The serve has been a potent weapon for the Greek star in 2019 in general and very much so this week in Dubai as he has put two wins on the board to reach this Quarter Final.

I have mentioned before that it can be hard to trust Tsitsipas to cover big numbers because of a limited return game, but he has had his eye in so far this week. That has led to him breaking in just under 32% of the return games played and he did find three breaks of the Hurkacz serve last week in Marseille which will give him confidence to take in this Quarter Final.

Two breaks of serve may be enough for Tsitsipas to cover in this one if Hurkacz is not able to have much success getting into the return games. I think the Greek player can do that here and I will back him to cover the handicap in this Quarter Final.

Juan Ignacio Londero - 2.5 games v Hugo Dellien: The South American Golden Swing early in the season can give some of the lesser lights on the Tour a real chance to make an impact on a big stage. Both Hugo Dellien and Juan Ignacio Londero have spent a lot more time on the Challenger circuit rather than playing in these main ATP events, but both have made use of their opportunities and also improved their World Rankings over the last month.

In fact both players reached a career high World Ranking at the start of this week when the new Rankings were released. That would have given them a boost and now they meet in the Second Round in Sao Paulo looking to reach another Quarter Final.

Hugo Dellien did that last week in Rio de Janeiro, but Juan Ignacio Londero has been even more impressive after taking the title home in Cordoba to open up the Golden Swing.

One of the key reasons for the successes that both players have had is the strong returning numbers produced that has seen both Dellien and Londero break serve at a very good percentage on the clay courts. Their return numbers are very, very similar, but the Londero has been a significantly more effective server on the clay courts over the last thirteen months and I think that will make the difference for him here.

Juan Ignacio Londero should also hold the mental advantage in this one having beaten Hugo Dellien in six of their seven previous matches. That includes beating him in their last two matches in 2018 and again I think it is the serve and the slightly stronger one that Londero possesses which makes the difference for him in those head to heads.

I think he can use the serve to edge out Dellien again in this Second Round match and I will look for him to do that by a margin that covers this handicap.

MY PICKS: Gael Monfils - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Stefanos Tsitsipas - 3.5 Games @ 1.72 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Juan Ignacio Londero - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Casper Ruud @ 2.00 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Alexander Zverev - 3.5 Games @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 14-11, + 2.48 Units (50 Units Staked, + 4.96% Yield)

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Tennis Picks 2019 (February 27th)

After a pretty poor Monday, Tuesday proved to be a much better day at the time of writing although two Picks from the tournament in Acapulco have still to be completed.

If both of those can return as winners it will be a very good start to the week, but I will update the weekly record on Wednesday once the full set of Tuesday selections are in the books.

As is the case with the beginning of this week, I am going to put up my selections from the ATP Dubai and ATP Sao Paulo tournaments below and I will add anything from Acapulco once those markets have been formed through the evening.

Ricardas Berankis - 2.5 games v Denis Kudla: Both of these players have reached the Second Round in Dubai thanks to upset wins in the First Round and you have to think both are feeling very confident they can make the Quarter Final from this match.

Denis Kudla has really been having a hard time to open 2019, but he showed some real resilience to come back from a set down to beat Matteo Berrettini. In some ways Kudla was a little fortunate, but it will be a confidence boosting win for a player who had been 2-6 in 2019 before that First Round match and had dropped the first set by a comfortable margin.

You have to credit a player who is able to stay in a match through tough times, but Kudla could be facing more of those against the very talented Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis.

One of the criticisms of Berankis' career is that he has not found the consistency to be playing at this level on a regular basis, but the win over Daniil Medvedev in the First Round shows what he is capable of. That comes after winning two matches in the Qualifiers and Berankis has won a Challenger event earlier this season too.

Berankis has been playing well on the hard courts with an 83% hold percentage so far, but the wins have been racking up thanks to a very strong return game. In his fourteen matches in 2019 on this surface, Berankis has broken at just under 30% of the time and he should be able to get into the Kudla service games with the way the American has been playing.

A win in the First Round will help, but Kudla is still holding at 75% on the hard courts and struggling to recover if he does fall behind. He did manage that against Matteo Berrettini, but Kudla has broken in 14% of the return games played on the hard courts in 2019 and I think Berankis can get the better of him like he did at Winston Salem last year.

These two players have met twice before on the hard courts and it is Berankis who has the better returning numbers. I think that will be the case on Wednesday in the Second Round match between them too and I will look for the Lithuanian to cover and reach the Quarter Final.

Kei Nishikori - 4.5 games v Hubert Hurkacz: It was perhaps a little closer than I would have liked, but Kei Nishikori was able to get the better of Benoit Paire and cover a big spread in the First Round and earn us a winner. I think you can stick with the same market in the Second Round especially now that Nishikori will be a little more familiar with the conditions in Dubai where he is making his debut this week.

As expected it was not always straight forward for Nishikori who found Paire in good form. Early in the match Nishikori had to save a huge amount of break points, but he begun to get stronger he moved through the second set and I think he should have the majority of the play in this one as soon as we get into rallies.

He will still have to respect Hubert Hurkacz whose serve has been a potent weapon for him on the hard courts and he has held at just a tick under 90% of the service games he has played on the surface. However it is easy to ignore the fact that the majority of the matches Hurkacz has played this season have come against players Ranked much lower than the one he will play in the Second Round and we have yet to see the Polish player really produce his best when facing some of the best players on the Tour.

Hurkacz has not won any of his six previous matches on the hard courts against players Ranked in the top 50. A couple of those matches have been fairly competitive but the others less so including a defeat to Stefanos Tsitsipas earlier this season.

The numbers underline the problems for Hurkacz who has held just 60% of his service games in those six matches against the top 50 Ranked opponents. He has really struggled on the return of serve too and I think Kei Nishikori could be playing well enough to make enough balls back in play on the return of serve to wear down Hurkacz in this one.

Kei Nishikori's return game saw him break the Benoit Paire serve three times in the First Round and I think he can match that in this Second Round match. That will give him a chance to cover this number on the handicap and I think Nishikori can get the job done on Wednesday.

Marton Fucsovics - 2.5 games v Jan-Lennard Struff: The upset win over Milos Raonic has seen Jan-Lennard Struff move through to the Second Round in Dubai, but he will be the underdog again in this match against Marton Fucsovics.

In the last four years Struff has been a competent server on the hard courts, but he is put under pressure by an average return game. It means the German will go into many matches he plays knowing he can't afford to have a slip on the serve if he is going to work his way into a winning position, but knowing you can't drop serve can really affect a player at key times of a match.

The chances might be a little better to recover against Fucsovics who has been holding serve at just under 80% of the games played on the hard courts in 2019. However he has still put a number of wins on the board because of what looks to be a return game significantly superior to the one that Struff will bring to the court.

I also have to say that Fucsovics has seen his overall numbers dented by some one-sided losses to the elite players on the Tour, namely those inside the top 20 of the World Rankings. The Hungarian is actually 5-0 on the hard courts against players Ranked outside the top 50 and in those matches Fucsovics has seen his hold percentage move from 79% overall in 2019 to 86% when those matches have been against the players lower down the Rankings.

At the same time the return of serve has remained strong and Fucsovics should be well rested for this one and I do think he can edge out Struff in this Second Round match.

You have to acknowledge how well Struff can serve which makes this a tougher spread to cover than you may think. However I think Fucsovics is returning the ball well enough to believe he can find a couple of breaks of serve during the course of this match and it may be enough for him to cover.

MY PICKS: Ricardas Berankis - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Kei Nishikori - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Marton Fucsovics - 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Tomas Berdych - 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Pablo Cuevas - 2.5 Games @ 1.72 William Hill (2 Units)
Saisai Zheng - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Bianca Andreescu - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Peter Gojowczyk + 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Diego Sebastian Schwartzman - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Alexander Zverev - 4.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet365 (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 9-6, + 2.82 Units (30 Units Staked, + 9.40% Yield)

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Midweek Football Picks 2019 (February 26-27)

There are three rounds of Premier League Football matches to be played over a ten day period and that is exciting news for Fantasy Players with three GameWeeks to negotiate.

The last set of Fantasy Players identified were a mixed bag, but I hit a couple of small priced clean sheet players and also found three strikers at less than 6.4 million in the official Fantasy game that all scored in the last GameWeek. That is good news, but the quick turnaround means another look at those you may think about targeting as well as my thoughts on how the latest round of League games will develop.

Cardiff City v Everton Pick: The Premier League has a full midweek round to be played on Tuesday and Wednesday and there are some big points on the line at the top and bottom of the table.

Cardiff City will understand that and Neil Warnock must recognise the importance of the home form down the stretch if they are going to avoid an immediate return to the Championship. The 1-5 home defeat to Watford would have really hurt the players on Friday, but the mood would only have darkened when seeing Burnley, Newcastle United and Crystal Palace all earn priceless wins to move a little clearer of the bottom three.

Those results do put some pressure on Cardiff City to respond as they try to move clear of Southampton who are a point and one place behind in the relegation zone. The latter have a very winnable home game against Fulham to come on Wednesday so Cardiff City have a chance to at least attach some pressure to that fixture by beating an out of sorts Everton team.

Marco Silva won't be able to complain of any fatigue as Everton have not played for over two weeks and that will have given him a chance to help the players reset after a poor run of form. His team have been beaten in 5 of their last 6 games in all competitions and they have also lost 4 of their last 5 away from home which makes Everton a vulnerable favourite at the Cardiff City Stadium.

Both teams have shown some weakness defensively in recent games though and I think that will make the two managers both confident they can oversee a victory. A draw isn't really an ideal result for either team so I do think we will see teams trying to get forward and win this game and I will be surprised if both teams are not able to find their way onto the scoreboard in this one.

The situation suggests neither will sit back and hope to take home a single point if we are in that stage going down the stretch too and games featuring Cardiff City and the better teams in the Division have tended to produce goals. Everton may not be considered one of those teams and I was tempted to oppose them on the Asian Handicap but have been put off by the way Cardiff City capitulated against Watford on Friday evening.

However I think we will see chances for goals in this one and my feeling is that there will be at least three goals shared out by the two teams in an important League fixture on Tuesday.

Fantasy Star: Sol Bamba- the focus has to be on a better defensive performance and Everton have been struggling for goals. Sol Bamba is a genuine threat from set pieces too.

Alternative: Richarlison- like last season Richarlison has just lost a bit of form in the last couple of months, but the big threat for an Everton team that have found goals hard to come by.

Huddersfield Town v Wolves Pick: It has not escaped my attention for a while that Huddersfield Town are going to be pretty big underdogs in every game they have left to play in the Premier League and that is the case again during the week.

You can't really imagine a team losing 14 of 15 games in all competitions and then seeing that run extend all the way through to the end of the season, but Huddersfield Town look short at both ends of the field. They don't earn too many clean sheets and they don't score enough goals and when you put both of those things together you are not going to win too many matches.

In fact you are going to need to do very well to even earn draws and that has been the case for Huddersfield Town. At home they have conceded at least two goals in 5 of their last 7 games in the Premier League and Huddersfield Town have lost all 7 of those fixtures.

The Terriers do have a good recent record against Wolves and their last League win actually came against this opponent, but the latter look significantly improved now.

One concern in backing Wolves at odds on is that they are also guilty of perhaps not scoring as many goals as they should, while a strong defence doesn't keep as many clean sheets as they perhaps should too. That was my feeling when analysing their game at Bournemouth last Saturday, but Wolves created enough chances to win that game and I think they can be more clinical against an opponent lacking confidence.

Wolves are bringing in a healthy squad and they are a team that have scored in 7 of their last 8 away games in the Premier League. Draws at Fulham and Bournemouth are a concern when selecting them, but Huddersfield Town look someway short of even those teams and I think Wolves will find a way to break them down and earn an important three points.

Fantasy Star: Raul Jimenez- in a hot streak of form in front of goal and has to be the main threat for Wolves here.

Alternative: Diogo Jota- things have not quite broken for him, but Diogo Jota could be amongst the goals at the John Smith's Stadium with a bit more luck going his way.

Leicester City v Brighton Pick: I think the common assumption was that Claude Puel would likely be removed as Leicester City manager at the end of the season, but the 1-4 home loss to Crystal Palace on Saturday means the move was made much earlier than anticipated. On Sunday morning Puel was told he was sacked and it has come at a time when Leicester City may have to appoint an interim manager before going for one of the targets rumoured in the summer.

Turmoil at the King Power Stadium could be the right tonic for Brighton to take advantage of as they make their way to the East Midlands looking for a vital three points to take them away from the relegation drop zone. Results this past weekend have left Brighton 3 points clear of Southampton, but they have slipped to 16th place in the Premier League table and with some huge games coming up.

Putting a win on the board will give Brighton the confidence to take into those fixtures, but they may have hoped Leicester City had kept Claude Puel in charge for one more game.

The players at Leicester City were clearly not happy playing in the Puel system and my feeling is that we are going to seeing a response much like what Manchester United had when a disliked manager was removed. I don't anticipate Leicester City winning as many games as Manchester United have put together, but this is a squad that looks to be underachieving and I would not be surprised if they performed much better than they have been.

In saying that I do think Leicester City could have earned a lot more positive results over the last month with a bit more luck and better composure in the final third. The majority of those games were away from home though and I think this is the kind of fixture where the players can show the fans that they had been held back by the manager rather than underperforming themselves.

It is a difficult game to read with the uncertainty that comes from sacking a manager, but I am giving Leicester City the edge. After sacking Claudio Ranieri the players responded with a 3-1 win over Liverpool at home, while they were beaten in their first game after sacking Craig Shakespeare but then went unbeaten in 5 and won 4 of those games.

I am expecting a reaction from the home players here too and I think they may edge out a Brighton team who have not travelled well all season and who have lost 4 of their last 5 away Premier League games. Brighton have conceded at least two goals in 4 straight on their travels in the League and I will back Leicester City to earn the three points in this one.

Fantasy Star: Jamie Vardy- probably the most critical voice of Claude Puel in the dressing room and I can see Jamie Vardy producing a top game in a 'freer' system.

Alternative: James Maddison- should also be happier in a new system for Leicester City and plays in an advanced position to create chances and get on the end of those too.

Newcastle United v Burnley Pick: The television companies decided to shift their coverage from the expected Manchester City versus West Ham United game to this one between Newcastle United and Burnley because of the defending Champions playing in the League Cup Final on Sunday.

A few weeks ago that might have been a real disappointment for the neutrals hoping to tune in, but both Newcastle United and Burnley are off important home wins and playing with real confidence at the moment.

Both clubs will have targeted this fixture as a real chance to move away from the bottom three in the Premier League and I think it has the makings of a decent game as the managers have overseen a number of wins for both clubs. Newcastle United have won 3 in a row at home in the Premier League and scored at least twice in each win, while Burnley are unbeaten in 8 Premier League games and have won 5 of those to move clear of the relegation zone.

With the way both Newcastle United and Burnley have been approaching games I actually think there may be more attacking football on display than you would normally associate with Rafael Benitez and Sean Dyche. Both clubs have been scoring plenty of goals of late and used formations and personnel that do produce in the final third.

Picking a winner really isn't that easy and I am surprised Newcastle United are as short as they are to win this game. They have beaten Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town here in recent games which deserves respect, but Burnley have shown they are capable of picking up points from those around them and have they have avoided a defeat in their last two visits to St James' Park.

That is my feeling in this one too that Burnley will do just enough to avoid a defeat. They have gone back to the strengths of last season where they defended resolutely and produced some telling play in the final third to pick up results and the return of Tom Heaton in goal has proved to be a masterstroke for the club.

One goal could be all it takes to separate these clubs on the day, but Burnley have scored in 4 of their last 5 away Premier League games and I think that could be enough for them to at least avoid a defeat.

Fantasy Star: James Tarkowski- could need a big defensive effort for Burnley to get a result here and James Tarkowski is something of a leader for them in those positions.

Alternative: Solomon Rondon- if anyone is going to break the Burnley resistance it could be the in-form Venezuelan.

Arsenal v Bournemouth Pick: The race for the top four looks like it could go down to the wire with Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea perhaps chasing down the one place behind Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

At the moment it is Arsenal who are in control of that Champions League spot, but they can't afford to drop points on Wednesday considering what is coming up next. After this League game Arsenal face Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium before hosting Manchester United around the Europa League Last 16 tie with Rennes and so this could be a pivotal few weeks for a club looking to return to the top table of European Football.

There should be a confidence in the Arsenal camp that they can at least put another three points on the board on Wednesday as they have won 7 in a row at home in the Premier League. In 6 of those wins they have scored two or more goals and Arsenal are facing a Bournemouth team they have a very good record against.

Add to that the fact that Bournemouth have conceded at least two goals in 8 straight away Premier League games and lost all of those and I can't see beyond an Arsenal win here.

Unai Emery's team have been a touch inconsistent from game to game, but they have maintained strong form at the Emirates Stadium and this is a team that will create plenty of chances here. They were not as clinical against Southampton as they would have liked once moving into a 2-0 lead, but Arsenal could have more joy in this one against this Bournemouth defence.

Since Bournemouth have been promoted to the Premier League Arsenal have beaten them by two or more goals in all 3 of the games at the Emirates Stadium. That feels the most likely outcome of this one too and I will back the home team to cover the Asian Handicap.

Fantasy Star: Alexandre Lacazette- seems to be the player Unai Emery trusts to lead the line at home and scored on Sunday. Should have had two in reality.

Alternative: Henrikh Mkhitaryan- also on the scoresheet on Sunday and a key player in the system employed by the manager. I expect Arsenal to be on the front foot in this one.

Southampton v Fulham Pick: We are certainly at that time of the season when the term 'relegation six pointer' will be used more often around the media, but there really isn't a better way to describe the Southampton versus Fulham match to be played in the Premier League on Wednesday.

For both clubs this fixture comes at a time when they have not been in the best form, but they can't make excuses for not performing as they could find themselves in a desperate spot come the end of March. After this fixture Southampton face Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur before going on a two week break thanks to the FA Cup Quarter Final matches scheduled for mid March, while Fulham follow up with fixtures against Chelsea, Leicester City, Liverpool and Manchester City to close out the next month.

With both clubs in the position they are in, failing to win this one will really increase the pressure on the players to earn points from very difficult games.

You have to say the game means more to Fulham who are already 8 points from safety and will be at least 10 points behind if they lose here. With just 30 points left to play for after this one and with those fixtures mentioned, Fulham could find themselves out of the Premier League in early April if they can't earn something here.

Southampton are also under pressure after back to back Premier League losses and it will feel like a much bigger game if Cardiff City were to beat Everton on Tuesday and be 4 points clear of The Saints at the end of the night. That does put pressure onto the players who are short of options in the final third and I think this is going to be a very interesting game.

The home team look short considering recent results, but it is hard to trust Fulham with a defence that can't keep clean sheets for love nor money. However Claudio Ranieri's men have caused some problems going the other way and I think this has the makings of a fixture that could be similar to the one when they met at Craven Cottage earlier this season.

On that day five goals were shared out in a topsy-turvy fixture and I think these two teams know a draw doesn't do a lot for them. I would expect the managers to take chances with that in mind and Fulham may be more ready to take the risks they need with the points meaning that much more to them than for Southampton.

Neither team can really look at their defensive record and feel confident sitting on a lead either and so I will back at least three goals to be shared out here at the same price as the home win is set. I feel a lot more confident we will see goals than expecting a Southampton win and that will be my selection from this huge fixture for both clubs.

Fantasy Star: Nathan Redmond- Southampton are short of numbers up front which means Nathan Redmond could lead the line against a porous Fulham defence.

Alternative: Ryan Babel- Southampton are also pretty weak defensively and Babel has enough pace to get into a position to add to the goal scored on Friday evening.

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur Pick: Two of the top six clubs meet on Wednesday evening and it is no surprise that the television companies have picked this London derby to be brought to those wanting to watch some Premier League Football on the box.

It is a very important game for both Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur as they chase Champions League spots with 11 games left to play.

Tottenham Hotspur are much closer to the top two than the three teams chasing them, but the loss at Burnley was a devastating blow to any potential title challenge they were going to be able to put together. Mauricio Pochettino confronted the officials who had made some questionable decisions, but in reality he must have been furious with his players who have made it a habit to get close and then manage to produce a terrible result to avoid really being involved for the big prizes.

They will head to Stamford Bridge looking to avenge their League Cup Semi Final exit and Tottenham Hotspur may be hoping to exploit any lingering issues in the Chelsea camp as the fallout of Kepa's refusal to be substituted in the League Cup Final continues to be felt.

It would be a surprise if Kepa starts this one as Maurizio Sarri may want to remind the players who is in charge, but this is not a game where the manager can take too many chances with his team selection. The positive performance produced by Chelsea on Sunday was not rewarded with silverware and Sarri will quickly be under more pressure if his team were to lose further ground in the race for the top four.

For the most part Chelsea have continued to find their best form at Stamford Bridge and I do think they will look at the suspect Tottenham Hotspur defence and feel they can exploit them. The 0-2 loss to Manchester United in the FA Cup was a blow for Chelsea, but they have won 6 of their last 7 here and that includes beating Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup Semi Final Second Leg.

Tottenham Hotspur have also conceded at least two goals in their last 3 away games in all competitions and I do think the two teams can combine for at least three between them on Wednesday. 7 of the last 9 games played between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have hit that number, while 7 of the last 8 at Stamford Bridge between these rivals has done the same.

Picking a winner is not easy, but I think it could be an entertaining watch while we find that out and backing at least three goals here looks the play.

Fantasy Star: Eden Hazard- the main man for Chelsea and was instrumental in helping them past Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup Semi Final.

Alternative: Harry Kane- boring suggestions from this fixture, but I anticipate goals and Hazard and Harry Kane should not be too far away from the main action.

Crystal Palace v Manchester United Pick: For the second time in a row at Old Trafford you could have perhaps questioned the substitutions made by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when put under the pressure of needing to make quick decisions thanks to injuries on the pitch. Bringing on Jesse Lingard when knowing he was perhaps not fully fit and asking for 70 minutes seemed bizarre at the time and Manchester United didn't respond to the changes very well against Liverpool for a small period of time.

All credit has to be given to Solskjaer for getting the players in at half time and getting them organised where Manchester United were perhaps unfortunate to not beat Liverpool and there is a growing demand he is given the manager's job permanently.

It might still be too early for that decision to be made as Manchester United continue their fight for silverware in the FA Cup and trying to finish in the top four in the Premier League.

An injury crisis has come at a very difficult time when Manchester United are being asked to play every few days and this is a big test for them on Wednesday against an improving Crystal Palace team.

Injuries perhaps affected what Crystal Palace could do earlier in the season, but Roy Hodgson has a host of attacking options now and the 1-4 win at Leicester City on Saturday underlined that point. However The Eagles have suffered with injuries at the back over the last week and that could leave them vulnerable to a Manchester United team who have scored plenty of away goals of late.

My fear in this game is that both teams will be looking to counter attack and that may make it a tight fixture, while I would not put anyone off backing Crystal Palace with the start on the Asian Handicap. They might not have beaten Manchester United in 10 attempts at Selhurst Park, but Crystal Palace blew a 2-0 lead against them last season and this Manchester United team may be short of the numbers and the quality to get back into the fixture.

Defensively Manchester United have looked a little better over the last month, but I am anticipating Crystal Palace to create chances and this could be another fixture in this round of Premier League games that feature at least three goals.

Manchester United do have 4 clean sheets in a row away from home, but Crystal Palace look healthier up front and have scored in 5 in a row at Selhurst Park. The injuries in defensive areas should give United their chances too and they still have Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez who can create and score goals.

3 of the last 4 between these clubs on this ground have finished with three or more goals shared out and I think that may be the case again on Wednesday.

Fantasy Star: Wilfried Zaha- was the key to Crystal Palace's win over Leicester City on Saturday evening and will want to show his former club what they are missing.

Alternative: Romelu Lukaku- back in his favoured Number 9 position if Marcus Rashford is ruled out as expected and Crystal Palace suffering with key defensive personnel missing.

Liverpool v Watford Pick: There is no doubt that Liverpool have just stumbled over the last month after Manchester City seemingly handed them the chance to take full control of the Premier League title race when losing 2-1 at Newcastle United. Since that result Liverpool have drawn 3 of their last 4 Premier League games including the goalless draw at Old Trafford on Sunday and there has to be some elements of pressure affecting the players.

Being back at Anfield should be good news for Liverpool who have remained very strong here despite the 1-1 draw with Leicester City and goalless draw with Bayern Munich in the last four weeks. In between they have crushed Bournemouth 3-0 and Liverpool have won 8 of their last 9 League games in front of their own fans.

That should give them confidence to take into a fixture with an in-form Watford team, but one that could be dealing with some mental demons in this one. Liverpool have beaten them by a five goal margin in each of the last two games played between them at Anfield, while they also recorded a 0-3 win at Vicarage Road earlier this season.

Those margins of defeats can't be too far from the mind of the Watford players who will want to show they are better than those results. However I would fear for them if they were to fall behind early in this fixture and it is the only thing that is really putting me off backing the visitors with what I consider to be a big start on the Asian Handicap.

Watford last played on Friday compared with Liverpool on Sunday and The Hornets had a much more comfortable night than their opponents had at Old Trafford. Watford also look like they have the fresher squad going into this match with the potential absence of Andrew Robertson and Roberto Firmino a blow for Liverpool to deal with.

In the last few weeks Watford have shown some real resilience away from home and they were even leading at Tottenham Hotspur. Those heavy losses here do bother me, but Watford have every chance to make this a much more competitive outing against a Liverpool team who are under pressure to respond to recent results which have allowed Manchester City to close on them.

For Liverpool this is all about finding a way to win the fixture and I think it could be a tense day in the office for them. If Watford can score I would think this start given to them on the handicaps will offer them every chance to cover and I will back the visitors on their current form to do that.

Fantasy Star: Mohamed Salah- has not been in the best of form, but scored four goals against Watford here last season.

Alternative: Ben Foster- if Watford are going to surprise, the goalkeeper has to have a big game and he has been in the form to do that.

Manchester City v West Ham United Pick: On paper you can understand why the layers are taking no chances by pricing Manchester City as short as they are to win this game, but there has to be some comeback from the League Cup Final going to Extra Time and the emotion sapping penalty shoot out.

Injuries have been the main factor out of the Cup Final with Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho lost until next month and they join John Stones and Gabriel Jesus on the sidelines. There is still plenty of quality for Pep Guardiola to pick from, but tiredness has to be a potential factor against a West Ham United team who last played on Friday.

Manuel Pellegrini's side have caused problems for opponents when at their best, but they are a hard team to get a read on. One week they are battering Liverpool from pillar to post, but on another they are being beaten 3-0 at Wolves and perhaps fortunate not to have conceded double that amount.

West Ham United can't afford to be off their game in this one if they are going to challenge Manchester City and I do think they can at least trouble a defence that is not going to be at full strength. The Hammers have pace and some decent quality in the final third and I think they may get on the scoreboard for a fourth consecutive visit to the Etihad Stadium.

It is still hard to think they will get a result here considering the amount of goals being conceded by West Ham United away from home in the last six weeks. However the best play may be backing them to score in a losing effort and at the price that could be the best option on a day where it is hard to really know what kind of West Ham United team will turn up.

I do think it will be difficult for them to not expose some tiredness in the Manchester City team and the injuries at the back though and so that is my selection from this Premier League fixture to round out the game week.

Fantasy Star: Sergio Aguero- who else could it be but the player who has scored two hat-tricks in his last two starts at the Etihad Stadium?

Alternative: Kevin De Bruyne- getting closer and closer to full fitness and is a key for Manchester City. Tends to play his best games at home too.

Fantasy Advice
Anyone making their Fantasy Selections for each GameWeek are going to have some inspired selections and some not so inspired.

That was the case for me this past weekend, but you can see the players I've highlighted for GameWeek 28 below.

Goalkeeper 4.8 Million and Above
Alisson (Liverpool- 6 Million): Honestly there are not a lot of choices from the top priced goalkeepers this week, but the one most likely to keep a clean sheet is Alisson in my opinion. I have Ederson starting in my team, but I wouldn't waste money on a top keeper this GameWeek.

Goalkeeper 4.7 Million or Less
Rui Patricio (Wolves- 4.5 Million): It's a good price to get into the Wolves defence for an away game at Huddersfield Town. They do have Cardiff City at home next so could be good for a couple of clean sheets.

Defender 5 Million and Above
Harry Maguire (Leicester City- 5.4 Million): Always a chance of a goal from 'slab head' and Leicester City look to be entering a good run of fixtures.

Fabian Delph (Man City- 5.3 Million): I'll admit I can see West Ham United scoring against a tired Manchester City, but Fabian Delph may be employed in midfield and you can't turn your nose up at the potential assist and scoring chances that could present him.

Defender 4.9 Million and Below
Joel Matip (Liverpool- 4.9 Million): Looks to be assured of a place in the Liverpool defence at the moment with injuries in those positions in the squad.

Florian Lejeune (Newcastle United- 4.4 Million): An alternative to Jamaal Lascelles who I highlighted in GameWeek 27. Slightly cheaper option.

Midfielder 6.8 Million and Above
Eden Hazard (Chelsea- 10.8 Million): Has given Tottenham Hotspur fits in the League Cup Semi Final and is the key for Chelsea if they are going to win this game and get back into top four contention.

Leroy Sane (Man City- 9.5 Million): Only played in Extra Time for Manchester City in the League Cup Final and likely to be one of the attackers to freshen up the line up.

Paul Pogba (Man United- 8.9 Million): With the likes of Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford expected to miss out, the Frenchman will have to be the key to help Manchester United win at Selhurst Park.

Midfielder 6.7 Million and Below
Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Arsenal- 6.7 Million): A bit risky as he seems to be in and out of the team, but scored and assisted on Sunday and should get plenty of chances to open up this Bournemouth team.

James Maddison (Leicester City- 6.6 Million): Claude Puel is gone and I expect the Leicester City players to produce some big results in the weeks ahead. James Maddison is a key to that happening.

Nathan Redmond (Southampton- 5.3 Million): Likely leading the line for Southampton and playing against a Fulham defence that have conceded two or more away goals in their last 4 away Premier League games.

Forward 6.5 Million and Above
Romelu Lukaku (Man United- 10.7 Million): It is a lot of money, but Romelu Lukaku could remind the Manchester United fans of what he can do from the Number 9 position in the potential absence of Marcus Rashford.

Jamie Vardy (Leicester City- 8.8 Million): The player who seemed to most dislike playing under Claude Puel could have a big game in the first since the Frenchman was sacked as manager.

Raul Jimenez (Wolves- 6.9 Million): The value keeps going only one way on Raul Jimenez in the official Fantasy game, but he keeps providing the goods and should have chances against Huddersfield Town.

Forward 6.4 Million and Below
Chris Wood (Burnley- 6.2 Million): I highlighted his team mate Ashley Barnes on Saturday and he did score in the 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur. Chris Wood also scored and has now hit four in his last three Premier League games.

Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool- 5.6 Million): He could earn a rare start with Roberto Firmino expected to miss out. Liverpool have scored 11 goals in their last two at Anfield against Watford so having a cheap striker in your team from Liverpool could pay dividends. Very short term pick though.

MY PICKS: Cardiff City-Everton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.20 Bet365
Wolves @ 1.86 Bet Victor
Leicester City @ 1.86 Bet Victor

Burnley + 0.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.81 Bet Victor
Arsenal - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.97 Bet365
Southampton-Fulham Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Bet Fred
Chelsea-Tottenham Hotspur Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Bet365
Crystal Palace-Manchester United Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Bet Victor
Watford + 1.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.81 Bet Victor
Manchester City & Both Teams to Score @ 2.50 Bet Victor

Tennis Picks 2019 (February 26th)

It was an up and down Monday, but I will have used it as a learning experience as I have made a few adjustments to a couple of players going forward.

I was a little unlucky to come away with a losing start to the week as Taro Daniel should really have worked his way to a win over Marco Trungelliti, while Roger Federer missed a cover by one game after going through the first two sets without making as much of an impact on the Philipp Kohlschreiber serve as he perhaps should have done.

It happens and I also had a bad selection thrown in which means coming away with three losses from five picks made.

On Tuesday there is a whole host of matches scheduled to be played in the ATP events in Dubai and Sao Paulo. As will be the case every day this week, I will add the selections from the Acapulco event later once those markets and order of play have come together. Of course we could have another situation like Monday where I didn't have any selections from the Acapulco event because nothing hit my mark, but we will see on Tuesday.

What I do know at the time of writing is these are my Tennis Picks from the two tournaments I have mentioned and you can read them below.

Kei Nishikori - 4.5 games v Benoit Paire: In a somewhat surprising development Kei Nishikori is playing at the ATP Dubai tournament for the first time in his career. You do tend to worry when a player arrives at a new tournament and looks to work their way into understanding the conditions at the event, but Nishikori is one of the top names on the Tour and I don't think that can be an excuse if he is upset in the First Round.

A bigger test may come from opponent Benoit Paire who has beaten Nishikori twice before on the professional Tour. Both previous wins for Paire against Nishikori have come on the hard courts including when he upset him at the US Open, but their most recent match came in Tokyo at the back end of last season and it resulted in a very comfortable win for Nishikori.

2019 has started very well for Nishikori who has won one title and reached the Quarter Final and the Semi Final in the other two events he has played. The hard courts have been very good to Nishikori throughout his career and he would love to put another big week in the books before heading to the tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami and over the next few weeks the Japanese player could be heading back towards his career high Ranking.

Nishikori has produced some very good numbers on the hard courts with a strong 84% hold percentage backed up by an almost 28% break percentage. Those numbers are considerably up on 2018 when he was returning from injury, while the service numbers are about as good as Nishikori has ever produced on this surface.

I would expect Nishikori to have too much for Benoit Paire who is very talented, but also never seemingly too far away from hitting a run of losing a number of games in a row. The Frenchman is just 6-7 on the hard courts in 2019 and he is likely to find a little more difficult to hold serve and is perhaps not as clinical at breaking serve as his opponent in this one and that could be the difference maker and also give Nishikori the chance to cover a big number.

For all the talent Paire has, he is someone who has struggled when facing the top 20 Ranked players on the Tour. That is underlined by his numbers on the hard courts against those opponents in recent years where Paire has struggled to hold above 68% of his service games and has a sub 20% break percentage. It does have to be said that Nishikori's game is one that won't overwhelm Paire and he will have his chances in this one, but his two previous losses in Dubai have ended up being very one-sided and I think the Number 1 Seed in the draw covers in this First Round match.

Stefanos Tsitsipas - 4.5 games v Matthew Ebden: Any time a player wins a title you do have to wonder how much they are looking forward to spending another long week on the Tour, but I am not sure that is the case for Stefanos Tsitsipas. He won the title in Marseille on Sunday, but over the last year he has followed up other deep runs and successes in tournaments by producing some strong tennis in the following week.

It won't be lost on Tsitsipas that this is a big tournament being played in Dubai and he should have plenty of confidence to take into the event.

He is not someone I have been very keen on backing simply because he has a pretty average return game on the hard courts, but there is no denying Tsitsipas is a very talented player. In a lot of cases I would consider this to be far too big a number for someone struggling on the return to cover because you could need three more breaks of serve than drops of serve if you are going have a chance to get over the number.

On serve I don't really worry so much about the Greek youngster considering he has held 84% of service games on the hard courts in 2017 and 2018 and has moved that number up to near 90% in 2019 so far. Stefanos Tsitsipas is now facing Matthew Ebden whose return of serve has been letting him down so far and been the main reason he is 2-4 on the hard courts in 2019.

The Australian reached a career high in the World Rankings in October, but he looks certain to be moving down the Rankings in the the weeks and months ahead. This has been a level that has routinely been too much for Ebden to deal with and the 71% hold percentage on the hard courts in 2019 should mean even a limited returning game like the one Tsitsipas possesses could have more success than usual.

When Tsitsipas has faced those players outside of the top 20 of the World Rankings the return game has been a little better than his overall numbers. It should mean he has some chances to break serve in enough games to cover this handicap and I think the youngster can back up the title win in Marseille by earning a spot in the Second Round in Dubai with a good looking win on the scoreboard.

This feeling is helped by Ebden having lost two matches to top 20 Ranked players in 2019 and holding just 64% of service games in those matches. I do note that both losses are against two very strong returners, but I think Tsitsipas can outperform his usual numbers here too.

Jaume Munar - 4.5 games v Pedro Sakamoto: Coming through the Qualifiers makes those players a potential threat to those in the main draw as they are used to the conditions in which they are playing. One of those making his way though to the main draw is Pedro Sakamoto who should get plenty of support from his home Brazilian crowd as he plays the first main draw match of his career.

It is a pretty late time for a player to reach this level like Sakamoto has, but he did reach a career high World Ranking earlier this month. That career high Ranking is Number 376 in the world and it goes to show the kind of gap in quality he is going to try and bridge this week in Sao Paulo.

Wins over Matteo Donati and Carlos Berlocq have to be respected especially as Sakamoto fully deserved to win both thanks to some strong serving.

He is going to need all that when he takes on Jaume Munar in the First Round of the main draw and the young Spaniard's run to the Quarter Final in Rio de Janeiro last week has seen him reach a career high World Ranking this week. That run is the third straight Quarter Final reached by Munar in the South American Golden Swing, but he has yet to get over that hump although it still means he is playing at a considerably higher level than his opponent in this one.

This is a big number for Munar to cover despite the wins he has put together over the last month on the clay courts. His serving stats are not quite as good as he would want, while Munar has perhaps underwhelmed a little bit when it comes to breaking serve.

Munar is still winning a strong number of return points, but he has perhaps not played the big points as well as he would have liked. It is going to be very important for him to attack the Sakamoto second serve and put the Brazilian under some pressure and Jaume Munar is also someone who looks to have the superior return game compared with his opponent in this one.

The unfamiliarity with Sakamoto could aid the lower Ranked player to keep the first set close in this one. There won't be much Munar can learn about him prior to this match beginning and I do think it will take a bit of time to know what is coming from the other side of the court.

However I would expect Munar's higher quality to then begin to shine through and I think that will happen in time for him to have a chance of covering this number. This handicap has not been an easy one for the Spaniard to cover and he has had some upset losses to players Ranked outside the top 100 which would worry me, but Sakamoto will have to play at a level he has not really shown in his career to win this match. He could serve his way into a position to keep it close, but I think Munar will wear him down and eventually find a way to win a set with a couple of breaks of serve which should be critical when it comes to covering in this one.

Juan Ignacio Londero - 2.5 games v Paolo Lorenzi: The South American Golden Swing has proved to be very important for Juan Ignacio Londero who has reached a career high World Ranking after winning his first main ATP Tour title. He could have perhaps hoped to have had better runs in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro after winning the title in Cordoba, but the draws could have been kinder and the same could be said here in Sao Paulo.

The First Round has pitted Paolo Lorenzi against Londero and the Italian has a 3-1 head to head advantage over him. The last two of those wins have come on the clay courts, although Lorenzi and Londero have not faced one another since 2015 and I do question the schedule Lorenzi has put together for himself in February.

The veteran took in the first clay court event this month in Cordoba, but Lorenzi then decided to play a couple of hard court events in the United States. It is a surprising decision from a player whose best successes have come on the clay courts and I do think it leaves Lorenzi vulnerable against Londero as he returns to this surface.

In the last couple of years there have been signs of decline from Lorenzi on the clay courts and in 2019 he is 1-2 having held 72% of his service games and broken in just 18% of the return games played. Compare that to Londero who has held at 80% and broken at 33% on the clay courts in 2019 and won the title in Cordoba and I do endorse the Argentinian being set as the favourite in this First Round match.

I do have to respect Lorenzi as being someone who can make life very difficult for players on the clay courts when he is feeling at his best. He should be confident after putting some wins together on the hard courts over the last couple of weeks too and I don't anticipate the change in surface to affect the veteran who has enjoyed playing on the clay courts throughout his career.

However I can't ignore the signs of decline of his ability on this surface and Juan Ignacio Londero has been playing well enough to put Lorenzi under pressure. I would not be that surprised if we see three sets to separate the players, but Londero looks like he has the edge both on the return and the serve and he can win this match and cover the number to move through to the Second Round.

MY PICKS: Kei Nishikori - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
Stefanos Tsitsipas - 4.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Jaume Munar - 4.5 Games @ 1.72 Bet365 (2 Units)
Juan Ignacio Londero - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Albert Ramos-Vinolas - 1.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Hubert Hurkacz - 1.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Marcos Baghdatis - 4.5 Games @ 1.72 Bet365 (2 Units)
John Isner - 2.5 Games @ 1.72 Bet365 (2 Units)
Alexander Zverev - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Danielle Collins @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 2-3, - 2.74 Units (10 Units Staked, - 27.40% Yield)

Monday, 25 February 2019

Tennis Picks 2019 (February 25th)

The Tennis Tour is a long one for the players but it can also feel like a long one when it comes to making Picks from week to week.

I honestly don't know anyone who can say with a straight face that they can pick winner after winner in each passing week so you have to expect there are going to be some tough times and the first one I suffered through in the 2019 season took place last week.

I had a horrible time picking the WTA Dubai matches, while I didn't have a lot more success anywhere else in what turned into a poor week. After the Friday action I was convinced the best policy was to take the weekend to reset and try and get back on the horse on Monday.

There is another stop in Dubai this week as the ATP players take in a tournament for the week with the tournament here considered an ATP 500 one. That means Roger Federer is back on the court after his surprise loss at the Australian Open in the Fourth Round, but he is not the top Seed with that place taken by Kei Nishikori.

We have another ATP 500 event being played in Acapulco which is headed up by Rafael Nadal, while the only WTA event being played this week takes place at the same venue.

Finally the Golden Swing in South America comes to a close this week with a stop in Sao Paulo.

After this the entire Tour will shift attention to the two big North American events that are played in March beginning with Indian Wells and moving through to Miami. That will conclude the hard court season until July and the build towards the French Open will begin in April which is always a time I love watching tennis even more than normal.

The Tennis Picks from the Acapulco event will be added to the thread on Monday with the order of play to be released at some point during Sunday evening. Before that I have had a look at the ATP events in Dubai and Sao Paulo and you can see my Picks below as I look to get this week off to a positive start after the disappointment of last week.

Marton Fucsovics - 2.5 games v Damir Dzumhur: One of the players on the Tour that I don't like opposing too much is Damir Dzumhur and the main reason for that is there is clearly a talented player there. When he is feeling his best tennis he can be very tough to beat, but I think this spread is at least one game shorter than it should be when he faces Marton Fucsovics in the First Round at the ATP Dubai tournament.

The conditions in Dubai tend to play a bit faster than the other hard courts on the Tour which is always something you want to consider when making picks from this tournament. We will know more about the court is playing after a couple of days here, but I think a faster court might not be too the liking of either of these players which should negate the factor.

Over the last thirteen months Dzumhur has been under some pressure on the hard courts because his serve has been a weakness. So far in 2019 Dzumhur is holding just 52% of the service games he has played on the hard courts and that means he is under immense pressure to get his return game working way above the level you can really expect from anyone on the Tour.

That pressure to break back and stay in matches may be the reason Dzumhur has only broken in just under 17% of return games despite the return being a strength for him. His numbers on that side of his tennis are someway down on 2018, but Dzumhur has more to offer although we may not see that completely in this one against a player who has reached one Final on the hard courts already in 2019.

The one thing Marton Fucsovics has done very well in 2019 on this surface is beat the players he is expected to beat. He might have an 8-5 record on the hard courts, but Fucsovics is 7-1 against players Ranked outside the top 20 and his numbers have backed that up with especially the serve where Fucsovics has held at a much higher rate when facing those outside the elite of the Tour.

These two players met in Shanghai at the back end of the 2018 season and it was the Fucsovics serve which proved to be the difference maker. I think that may be the case here too and I think he can cover a number I believe is one short of where it should be at the least.

Roger Federer - 4.5 games v Philipp Kohlschreiber: The ATP Dubai tournament has been one that the top names have been happy to play as it covers the ATP 500 commitment they need to fulfil for their World Rankings and the financial rewards have made it worthwhile for them. Over the years we have had some of the very best take the title home in Dubai and this year the headline player on the ATP Tour heading to the tournament is Roger Federer.

He is scheduled to play on Monday in the opening evening session of the tournament and the Number 2 Seed should be able to make his way through to the Second Round without too many difficulties.

Roger Federer faces his friend Philipp Kohlschreiber and the two veterans will be very much aware of what the other brings to the court. This is going to be their fourteenth professional match against each other and it is Federer who has won the previous thirteen matches including all seven played on the hard courts.

The last of those of matches came a little over twelve months ago and while Federer has remained pretty steady on the hard courts, Kohlschreiber is clearly a declining force. It is the return numbers that have really shown that in the last few years on the hard courts, but Kohlschreiber may feel he can serve his way into a competitive match.

So far in 2019 Kohlschreiber has held 89% of his service games and it has to be noted that Federer's return game let him down at the Australian Open. While he is still playing at a very high level, Federer's return has just shown signs of decline too in each of the last three years and I do wonder if he can turn that around at this stage of his career.

Roger Federer's serve is still a huge weapon for him though and I think that can be used to pressure Kohlschreiber in this one. It is a huge number for him to cover when you think of the way he was returning in Melbourne, especially if Kohlschreiber is at his best on that side of his tennis, but the match up is a good one for Federer and I think the odds against quote for him to cover this number has to be worth considering.

In their matches against one another on the hard courts, Kohlschreiber has not had a lot of success returning the Federer serve. He did serve very well to get out of a couple of jams when they played in Rotterdam in February 2018, but I think Kohlschreiber may just feel the pressure against someone who has broken him in 1/4 return games on the hard courts in their seven matches on this surface.

That could lead to the breaks of serve Federer needs to cover a big number and I will look for the former World Number 1 to get this week off to an impressive start.

Roberto Carballas Baena v Maximilian Marterer: The layers are having a hard time separating these two players in the opening Round of the ATP Sao Paolo tournament which begins the main draw action on Monday.

Both Roberto Carballas Baena and Maximilian Marterer have taken in the South American Golden Swing but neither has been able to make the kind of impact they would have liked. At least Carballas Baena has reached the Quarter Final in one of the three events that have been played over the last month, which is considerably better than any run Marterer has been able to produce.

It is not easy to produce the big serving numbers on the clay courts as it can be on the hard courts, but both Carballas Baena and Marterer have looked after that side of their game well enough. The slight edge has to be given to the lefty serve of Marterer and I think that is why the layers believe this could be a tough match to predict because Carballas Baena has been having some difficulty in getting through his service games over the last month.

The Spaniard has still held almost 75% of his service games, but there is room for improvement on that front. However I am giving him more chance of winning this match because of the return of serve where Carballas Baena has had more success than Marterer on the clay.

Over the last twelve months Marterer is only breaking at a little under 19% of return games played on the clay courts and that makes it tough to believe in him on this surface where holding serve can be so difficult. If Marterer falls behind it is tougher to think he can recover compared with Carballas Baena whose break percentage is at 30% over the same time period.

I won't be surprised at all if we need to see the full three sets to determine which of these players is going to move through to the Second Round. However I think Carballas Baena's return game coupled with more wins produced over the last month compared with Marterer could prove to be the difference on the day in what is a pick 'em contest.

This will be the fifth meeting between Carballas Baena and Marterer with all four previous matches played on the clay courts. Those have been split 2-2, but the two wins for the Spaniard have been much more convincing than Marterer's including their last match which was played in May 2018. It is Carballas Baena who has held at 70% compared with Marterer's 62% in those previous matches and I think the Spaniard can take the lead in their professional head to head.

Taro Daniel - 1.5 games v Marco Trungelliti: One of the most memorable images of the French Open last year had to be the post Marco Trungelliti put onto his social media pages showing him travelling in a car between his mother and grandmother from Barcelona to Paris. A late 'Lucky Loser' spot had opened up for Trungelliti into the main draw at the second Grand Slam of the 2018 season, but he had left the site and had to make the journey back to Paris as he highlighted the life of those lower down the World Rankings.

A win in the First Round only added to the story, but Trungelliti has not really made a consistent impact at the higher levels of the Tour. The Argentinian has yet to crack the top 100 of the World Rankings, but he should be comfortable on the clay courts with the majority of his time spent on the surface in 2018.

Those matches have mainly come at the Challenger level and Trungelliti has yet to have any success on this South American Golden Swing having lost both matches played in Qualifiers over the last month. It has been a real struggle for Trungelliti when it comes to holding his serve, but the bigger issue is the 5% break percentage he has through those two matches where he has won a total of thirteen games in four sets.

His opponent Taro Daniel has not exactly been pulling up too many trees of his own, but it did need eventual Rio de Janeiro Champion to knock him out in the Second Round last week. While he has yet to really get things going in 2019 on the clay courts, Daniel has been decent on the surface in recent years and I think he can edge out Trungelliti.

The numbers do suggest this could be a close match and the layers tend to agree, but I think Daniel and Trungelliti tend to operate at different levels. Taro Daniel has been very strong when he has faced opponents outside of the top 100 in the World Rankings on the clay courts while Trungelliti does not play too many opponents inside the top 100.

You have to respect the fact that Marco Trungelliti will be very comfortable on the clay courts, but Daniel can edge him out in this one and I will back the latter to cover the games in this one too.

MY PICKS: Marton Fucsovics - 2.5 Games @ 1.72 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Roberto Carballas Baena @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Taro Daniel - 1.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Karen Khachanov - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

Season 2019: + 38.58 Units (363 Units Staked, + 10.63% Yield)