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Tennis Picks 2019 (June 18th)

The next couple of days look a little iffy as far as the weather goes, but I think there is going to be enough time to get the matches throu...

Saturday, 25 May 2019

French Open Tennis Day 1 Picks 2019 (May 26th)

The second Grand Slam of the 2019 season is unique in that it begins on a Sunday and the First Round is played across three days rather than the traditional two used by the other three Slams. The French Open concludes the clay court season for most players on the main Tour, although there are gong to be plenty of clay court events for players to get into between Wimbledon and the hard court season beginning as well as for those on the Challenger Tour.

Nick Kyrgios may not be a fan, but I have always enjoyed the French Open and I am looking forward to revisiting to see the revamped grounds.

The new settings look very nice from the pictures we are getting from those already at Roland Garros, but some things have yet to change with Rafael Nadal going into the tournament as a strong favourite having finally won a title on the red dirt in Rome seven days ago.

His comfortable win over Novak Djokovic makes Nadal the man to beat in Paris yet again and I would not dissuade anyone who wants to back him to win the title in two weeks time. However it is hard to ignore the fact that Nadal's level has not been nearly as good as what he has been able to produce in the last couple of years and players like Dominic Thiem and Fabio Fognini have shown Nadal is beatable over the last couple of months.

However the Spaniard could not have asked for a much better draw and the majority of his main rivals are in the top half of the draw. It could mean Nadal is in a very good position to pick off whoever he meets in the Final in two weeks time and I'll say again that I really can't see anything but more of the same in Paris as Nadal wins yet another title here.

We will see Roger Federer back in Paris for the first time since he reached the Quarter Final in 2015. He has looked pretty comfortable on the clay courts considering the time Federer has spent away from this surface, but a slight injury issue is a concern. Roger Federer could be the person to oppose in his section of the draw, but the layers have also cottoned onto that fact judging by the prices on players to come out of the Third Quarter of the draw.

Novak Djokovic will be there or thereabouts, but the heavy loss to Rafael Nadal in the Rome Final makes it hard to believe he is going to hold all four Grand Slams at the same time for the second time in his career. I still think he is most likely to be opposing Nadal in two weeks time, but there are plenty of threats in the top half and his path looks much more difficult than the World Number 2's path through the draw.

Once again the women's event looks wide open in Paris and there are a number of players you could make a serious case for. The situation is a little more clouded because there are a host of leading names who are dealing with injuries including Serena Williams who is still searching for her 24th Grand Slam title to tie Margaret Court's record.

I still think the best we are going to see from Petra Kvitova will be at Wimbledon and the US Open, while Karolina Pliskova's results are better than her numbers and I think that may balance out.

My leans have to be with defending Champion Simona Halep and Kiki Bertens, but I can make a case to oppose both too. In such a wide open market I do think it makes most sense to avoid any outright selections here and I would not be massively surprised if at least one of the Finalists is a name that comes through the draw at a big price.

One piece of news that grabbed my attention early on Friday which seems to be growing as the day wore on was the Katie Boulter decision to withdraw from the French Open. It was a massive surprise when she was actually in the draw considering she has an injury which had ruled her out of the clay court season three weeks ago, but of course signing in and then withdrawing means she was entitled to £20,000 in terms of prize money from the event.

If you are unaware, last year a decision was made that those who entered a tournament but had to withdraw with an injury or an illness could receive half the amount they would have received for completing a First Round match at a Grand Slam. The decision was made to stop players who know they can't last a full match from taking to the court and then withdrawing which was the only way they could earn the prize money.

Splitting the prize money with a 'Lucky Loser' seemed a much better policy to ensure spectators were not short-changed too, but the Boulter situation has seen her come off in poor light.

It has grown as a story because of Boulter's insistence in saying that she thought she could compete in the tournament and that is why she entered her name into the draw. Everyone who follows tennis knows there was no way she could have actually played, but instead she has made the short trip to Paris to sign in and get signed out onsite to earn half the prize money as mentioned.

I tweeted on Friday I can understand the players feeling they are entitled to the money, but that it didn't feel right to me and I stand by that. To the average person this is going to look like a greedy decision and it does make a mockery of the rules when there is absolutely NO intention to play, which is most certainly the case here.

At the worst Boulter's image would have taken a PR knock, but I am not sure how the rules can be changed to protect the integrity of the sport. It's not a good look for the player as it stands though and I think Boulter is going to need to really repair what is fast becoming a damaging story for her.

The Tennis Picks have been in good shape for 2019, but last week was a disappointing one. I have updated the season total below.

With the huge amounts of early Round matches to get through, my plan is to write down a few thoughts for some of those and then add the remaining selections for the day in the 'MY PICKS' section below. Hopefully Sunday and Day 1 of the French Open is the beginning of a really strong tournament to add to the numbers for the season before the Tour shifts to the grass court season and the run up to Wimbledon 2019.

Roger Federer - 6.5 games v Lorenzo Sonego: The French Open is unique amongst the four Grand Slams in that it begins on a Sunday and the First Round is played across three rather than the usual two days. With that in mind the organisers were always going to put a couple of the standout matches and the big names out on the courts on Sunday and it is Roger Federer's return to Roland Garros that will have the fans most excited.

In recent years Federer has decided it was best for his durability on the Tour that he skips the clay court season, but he has been back out there battling in 2019. The results have been pretty decent, but Federer may feel he could have achieved more if not for an injury that saw him pull out of the Rome Masters and with better draws considering four of his five clay court matches have come against top 50 Ranked players.

Unsurprisingly that won't be the case when Federer begins his French Open tournament as he looks to win a second title here ten years after completing the career Grand Slam in Paris. However Federer is facing an improving player in Lorenzo Sonego who is very comfortable on the clay courts and who reached the Quarter Final of the Monte Carlo Masters.

The Italian's serve has been a big weapon for him on the clay as he has held 84% of the games played behind the serve in 2019. It is the returning numbers that have taken a serious dent when you only consider the Sonego performances in main ATP Tour matches, but the serve has remained pretty consistent in his eight matches against top 50 Ranked opponents even though Sonego has lost the last four of those.

Sonego's last three losses have been close defeats in that situation which suggests he can give Federer something to think about here. However I am not expecting Sonego to have a lot of success against the Federer serve which is being held in 87% of service games played on the clay in 2019.

I think it could take Federer a bit of time to get to grips with the Sonego game, but he should be good enough to break down the Italian over the course of a best of five set match. While the Sonego serve could keep him competitive, four of the last five top 50 Ranked players he has faced on the clay courts have created seven or more break points and I would expect Federer to turn the screw once he moves in front.

In recent years Federer has made a very strong start to Grand Slam tournaments and he has covered this line in ten of his last twelve completed First Round matches at this level. Lorenzo Sonego should be competitive, but it is a big challenge in front of him facing the aura of Roger Federer in only his second match against someone in the top 10 of the World Rankings.

Marin Cilic - 7.5 games v Thomas Fabbiano: It has been a really tough 2019 for Marin Cilic whose numbers are down across the board and that has seen him struggle to make an impact in any tournament he has entered. The Croatian has reached just one Quarter Final this year, although that did come in a clay court event played at the Madrid Masters earlier this month.

Food poisoning prevented Cilic from taking part in the Quarter Final on that occasion, but another relatively poor showing in the Rome Masters means there won't be a rush to back Cilic in being in the business end of the French Open.

The serve has been a real issue for Cilic which is a surprise considering that is usually a strong part of his game. His numbers on the clay courts are significantly down behind the serve compared to the last couple of years as his hold percentage has dropped from a high 80% range to 73% in 2019. If it wasn't for some decent returning numbers Cilic's performances might have been even worse than what he has produced.

It does make it difficult to believe in him, but I do think Cilic has a decent First Round match to open the tournament.

Thomas Fabbiano has not really produced his best tennis on the clay courts and that could be a slight surprise considering the Italian would have likely grown up on that surface. Fabbiano has found it very difficult to look after his serve on the surface and he has consistently been below the 69% hold mark since the 2016 season.

In previous years the Italian has been able to rely on a strong return game, but he is breaking in just 18% of return games in 2019. That makes it much tougher on his own service game and is a big reason Fabbiano is just 1-4 on the clay courts this season.

Fabbiano is just 1-8 in his clay court matches against top 50 Ranked opponents in his career and breaks in just 15.5% of return games played against those opponents. In this match I think the Cilic return game is going to be one that puts Fabbiano under immense pressure and he might get out of a few more service games if the Italian continues to struggle on the return as he has when he faces the better players on the Tour.

There is no doubt this is a big number and Cilic could be someone to oppose sooner rather than later, but in this First Round match I think he will be able to come through at least one set with a couple of breaks of serve more than Fabbiano. That should set Cilic up for the cover and I will back him to do that.

Grigor Dimitrov - 6.5 games v Janko Tipsarevic: When Grigor Dimitrov won the ATP Finals at the end of the 2017 season most thought it was finally going to be the time when the Bulgarian kicks on and challenges for Grand Slam titles. The last eighteen months have been much tougher than expected for Dimitrov who has slipped down to Number 47 in the World Rankings and has made more changes to his coaching staff.

There is definitely some sort of mental block in play at the moment for Dimitrov who has been playing some decent tennis during the clay court season, but who has had lapses within matches to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Both the service and return numbers have actually improved from his clay court performances twelve months ago. In 2019 Dimitrov has held 80% of his service games played on the clay and broken in 24% of return games, but it is difficult in backing a player who has struggled at key times within matches.

However Dimitrov looks to have a decent start to the French Open when he takes on Janko Tipsarevic who is making his way back from another injury lay off. The Serb was a very good player in his day, but Tipsarevic's peak Ranking came in April 2012 and in recent years he has struggled to put a full year together on the Tour.

So far Tipsarevic has been returning well enough to believe he can cause problems for Dimitrov, a player he took to four sets at the Australian Open back in January. On that day Dimitrov was clearly the superior player though and I still think he is playing well enough to see off Tipsarevic in the First Round here at the second Grand Slam of the season.

I would expect Dimitrov to have success returning serve against Tipsarevic who has held 76% of service games in 2019 on the clay courts, but that has come against players that have not been Ranked in the top 50. The step up is one that could be difficult for the Serb to make at this stage of his return to the Tour and I would expect Dimitrov to create the majority of break points and he can pull away from Tipsarevic as he did at the Australian Open.

Throughout his career Tipsarevic has had a tough time facing players Ranked in the top 50 on the clay courts. His numbers have backed that up and I think Dimitrov can come through what looks a more difficult match on paper than it may prove to be in reality.

Matteo Berrettini - 6.5 games v Pablo Andujar: Twelve months ago the Italian making waves at the French Open was Marco Cecchinato, but this time around it may be Matteo Berrettini who is looking to make a big impact at this level. The last twelve months has seen Berrettini come on leaps and bounds on the clay courts and I do think he is someone who could cause one or two problems for even the very best out there.

In the last twelve months Berrettini has produced a 21-6 record on the clay courts which includes his 11-3 record in 2019. All of those matches have been played on the main ATP Tour and Berrettini has won a couple of titles in that time, while all but a handful of those matches have come against top 100 Ranked opponents which underlines the improvements Berrettini has made.

The serve has been a huge weapon for Berrettini who has held 86% of his service games on the clay courts over the last twelve months. Those numbers have stayed steady throughout 2019, but the real improvement looks to have been made on the return of serve as the Italian has broken in one of four return games played on this surface during this season.

Matteo Berrettini is going to need to be at his best from the off in this one as he faces Pablo Andujar who has always played his best tennis on the clay courts. Pablo Andujar has some strong numbers on the clay courts over the last couple of years and that includes a 16-4 record on the surface in 2019, although it can't be forgotten that the majority of the matches have been played at Challenger level rather than on the main ATP Tour.

The Spaniard did reach the Final in Marrakech back in April, but his three losses on the main Tour have come by comfortable margins. Andujar has not won more than five games in the three losses suffered at the main ATP level on the clay courts and his service numbers have dipped from a 75% hold down to a 71% hold number.

The biggest impact has been on the return of serve as Andujar has broken in 22% of service games in main ATP Tour matches on the surface compared with his overall number of 34% in 2019. It highlights the level of opponents on which Andujar's record has been built and I do think he is going to find it tough to compete with Berrettini over a best of five set format if the latter is at his best.

I can't deny this is a pretty big number on the handicap, but I think Berrettini is capable of covering it. I would imagine Berrettini's strong serving will keep the pressure on Andujar who can't rely on protecting his serve as well as the Italian can. At some point I would expect Berrettini to win a set with a couple of breaks of serve more than Andujar and I think that will give him every chance of winning this match while covering this number.

Albert Ramos-Vinolas v Laslo Djere: It is only a couple of years since Albert Ramos-Vinolas reached the Quarter Final at the French Open, but his performances have been declining since then and he has slipped to the edge of the top 100 in the World Rankings. He is the underdog in this First Round match against the improving Laslo Djere who is close to becoming a Seed for future Grand Slam events and who has played some of his best tennis on the clay courts.

In each of the last five seasons Djere has been improving his numbers on the clay courts and in 2019 he has won a big title in Rio de Janeiro on the surface. It has to be a big reason he is favoured to win this First Round match, but I think Djere could be upset here.

During the year Djere has held 81% of the service games played on the clay courts and he has broken in 23% of return games. However I think those numbers have been inflated by the strong showings Djere had on the clay courts of South America during the Golden Swing following the Australian Open earlier this year.

Since the shift to the European clay courts Djere has seen his hold percentage drop down to 80, but the significant decline has been on the return impact. So while the hold percentage dropped from 83% during the Golden Swing portion of the season to 80% over the last two months, Djere's return numbers have swung from 30% of breaks in return games down to 18% and I think that makes him vulnerable in this First Round match.

Albert Ramos-Vinolas has been much more consistent across the course of 2019 on the surface, but his slight improvement on the return side of the game over the last two months has been crucial for him. It would have been nicer to back a player who had perhaps won more matches than Ramos-Vinolas has been able to do, but he looks to be playing at a better level than Djere going into this tournament.

That makes him appealing as the underdog especially as Djere is also trying to make his first impact at a Grand Slam. The Serbian is 1-6 in Grand Slam matches in his career and has lost both previous matches at the French Open. With the experience Ramos-Vinolas has at this event and the recent performances of the two players, I am going to back the veteran Spaniard to upset Djere as the underdog even if Ramos-Vinolas' best days are now behind him.

Remember there are some layers who are offering to payout if your player goes 2-0 up in sets in the men's singles event at the French Open. You can get a decent price from Bet365 for this selection with that policy in play and that is why I am recommending them here.

Alison Van Uytvanck - 2.5 games v Sara Sorribes Tormo: This is one of the matches being played on the outer courts on the opening day of the French Open, but it piqued my interest. I had Alison Van Uytvanck down as a healthy favourite to beat Sara Sorribes Tormo, but the layers are making this a closer match than that.

In terms of the games market, I would have expected Van Uytvanck to be asked to cover at least one more game than the spread which has been laid out. I am not suggesting she is a top quality clay court player, but Van Uytvanck is capable of performing on this surface and generally operates at a higher level than her opponent.

Losses to Belinda Bencic and Maria Sakkari on the clay courts are not ones to be overly concerned about. There has also been a real improvement in the return numbers being produced by the Belgian and I think that is going to be put some serious pressure on Sorribes Tormo.

Of course the Spaniard is going to be very comfortable on the clay courts and the majority of her wins do come on this surface. However it should be noted that Sorribes Tormo has made hay when playing against players that are not Ranked inside the top 100 and her career record of 10-30 against those players on the clay courts has to be a real concern.

In 2019 Sorribes Tormo has pushed Naomi Osaka and Sloane Stephens on the clay which is very respectable, but she has also suffered comfortable losses to Andrea Petkovic and Ons Jabeur. The Spaniard has also failed to win a main draw match at the French Open with this being the third attempt to do so, and I do believe Van Uytvanck is playing with enough quality to beat her here.

It could take three sets to do that, but even then I do think the Belgian can cover the number on the level she is able to reach and I will back her to do that here.

MY PICKS: Roger Federer - 6.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Marin Cilic - 7.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov - 6.5 Games @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Matteo Berrettini - 6.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Albert Ramos-Vinolas @ 2.20 Bet365 (2 Units)
Alison Van Uytvanck - 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Kei Nishikori - 6.5 Games @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Marton Fucsovics-Diego Sebastian Schwartzman Over 35.5 Games @ 1.85 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Philipp Kohlschreiber - 5.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Garbine Muguruza - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

Season 2019: + 65.06 Units (737 Units Staked, + 8.83% Yield)

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