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Friday, 31 January 2020

Weekend Football Picks and Fantasy Football 2020 (February 1-2)

The January Transfer Window is still open at the time of writing and some late deals could really be the reasons why some clubs have a very successful end to the 2019/20 season, while others perhaps look back with some regret.

The Premier League title race looks over, while three of the four Champions League places are almost certainly going with the current top three, but the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Wolves, Tottenham Hotspur and even Sheffield United will believe the final spot in the biggest Cup competition in European Football is up for grabs.

At the bottom Norwich City might already be preparing for a step back into the Championship, but 2 points separate 15th to 19th and spending some money now could be the reason clubs are still earning the profits of being in the top flight and others are not.

Transfer deadline day is also a bit of the pain in the backside for Fantasy Players as systems are tweaked and previously set starting players are now facing more competition for places, but I will get onto that at the bottom of the thread when looking at the Fantasy Football decisions being made for GW25.

Before that I will put down my thoughts for the Premier League games to be played this weekend. Ten days ago things couldn't have really gone much worse when Everton conceded twice deep into injury time to blow one pick, while Chelsea couldn't finish off ten man Arsenal to blow another.

Hopefully the end of a miserable and seemingly endless January can also turn the momentum for the Picks too.

Leicester City v Chelsea PickThe opening fixture from the Premier League this weekend comes from the King Power Stadium and both Leicester City and Chelsea will be having at least thirteen days off after this one in the first Winter Break placed in the top flight calendar in England.

The two teams are both chasing Champions League spots and you would have to say that Leicester City are almost assured of a top four finish if they can win this game. Brendan Rodgers' has seen his team move 14 points clear of 5th placed Manchester United and they are 8 points clear of Chelsea going into this weekend.

Leicester City were beaten in the League Cup Semi Final Second Leg during the week to miss out on a place at Wembley Stadium, and Rodgers is going to have to work on picking his players up. They have not been in consistent form since the turn of the calendar year, but Leicester City have perhaps been a touch unfortunate in matches to prevent them having a stronger run going into this fixture.

At least they are facing a Chelsea team who have also struggled for consistency of late and who have not signed the kind of reinforcements that were expected to arrive when their transfer ban was lifted. Things might have changed by the time you read this, but at the time of writing it looks like Frank Lampard will have to go with what he has.

His team do create chances, but they have lacked composure in the final third and Tammy Abraham's potential absence is a blow. However I do have to respect the fact that Chelsea have been successful creating chances especially as Leicester City have looked far from watertight at the back in recent matches and I would not be surprised if both teams scored.

The Foxes have a poor home record against Chelsea in recent years, but they will be happy with Frank Lampard's style of play that will leave his team susceptible to the counter attack. Jamie Vardy is likely going to be healthy enough to start and I think that will help Leicester City who I fancy will edge this match.

However the better option may be backing at least three goals to be shared out with the opportunities Leicester City are allowing at the back and that is going to be my play.

Bournemouth v Aston Villa Pick: 18th place hosts 16th place in the Premier League this weekend and make no mistake about it- this is a monster game for both Bournemouth and Aston Villa.

Ten days ago Aston Villa scored a late, late winner to beat Watford and move out of the bottom three while they also have a League Cup Final to look forward to. This should give them momentum and they will head to the south coast knowing Bournemouth have been struggling at both ends of the field.

However Bournemouth did beat Brighton 3-1 here in their last Premier League game and exiting the FA Cup on Monday night won't be a massive concern for Eddie Howe. Injuries have piled up throughout the season and Howe is hoping for a bit more luck on that front, although the lack of goals is beginning to be a real concern despite the comfortable win over Brighton.

They were a touch fortunate as the away side had some huge chances themselves and perhaps deserved more than they go, while you have to wonder if Howe has taken Bournemouth as far as he can anyway.

Picking a winner isn't easy as Aston Villa have struggled on their travels for much of the season and also look like a team who are defensively vulnerable. Aston Villa do have the best player on the pitch in Jack Grealish, and the momentum from the League Cup win over Leicester City, but I am not convinced.

A 1-1 draw might not do either team many favours, but I can see tension filling the ground and it might just mean a mistake either way settling things.

Crystal Palace v Sheffield United Pick: Two clubs who were considered amongst the pre-season favourites for relegation meet on Saturday with fans dreaming of a potential place in European Football for next season.

Sheffield United are also progressing nicely in the FA Cup and have a Fifth Round tie against a mid-table Championship club to come once Reading and Cardiff City complete their Replay. The signing of Sander Berge has shown the kind of ambitions this club have and they have long been tough to beat away from Bramall Lane.

At the same time Crystal Palace have had ten days to prepare for this game and look to be in healthier shape with some key players returning to the squad. They are well organised under Roy Hodgson, although a lack of goals does leave Crystal Palace vulnerable at times.

Again, picking a winner looks a very tough prospect and again I would not be surprised if the teams cancel one another out and with an error perhaps leading to one pulling out the win. My feeling is that this could be another draw, but I am largely guessing with all three results equally likely to come off.

I am surprised Sheffield United are the favourites away from home, but there is nothing screaming value in backing Crystal Palace either.

Liverpool v Southampton PickIt is going to be a party atmosphere for Liverpool fans over the next couple of months as the team is almost guaranteed to pick up their first Premier League title and first English title since 1990. Another win during the week has pushed Liverpool forward and it will take a miracle for them to blow a 19 point lead with just 14 Premier League games to play before the end of the season.

The key for Liverpool now will be to wrap up the title as soon as possible and then turn full attention to the defence of the Champions League. They may even still be in with a chance of winning The Treble, which would be a remarkable achievement that only one club has managed before in England, but Jurgen Klopp won't be allowing his players to think too far ahead.

So far he has managed that very effectively and the players should be focused on making it a thirteenth straight win at Anfield in the Premier League this season.

However you can't draw a line through a Southampton side who have lost 1 of their last 9 games in all competitions and who have won 4 away Premier League games in a row. Ralph Hasenhuttl deserves a lot of credit for sticking by his principles and former Liverpool striker Danny Ings has been vital to Southampton who will head to Anfield looking to make a game of things.

The last couple of visits have been difficult for Southampton who were 3-0 down by half time last season, but it is the first time Hasenhuttl will have taken The Saints to this ground. His system has seen Southampton challenge plenty of teams and they have recorded wins at current top four teams Chelsea and Leicester City, while Southampton led at Manchester City before conceding two late goals in a 2-2-1 defeat there.

Liverpool do have a strong run of clean sheets behind them, but teams are not being blunted- better finishing from Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United in matches against Liverpool last month would have threatened the clean sheets earned in those matches.

At points this season Southampton have been guilty of being wasteful in the final third, but they will give this fixture a go and I think they can help produce a high-scoring game. It is hard to see Liverpool dropping points at the moment though and I will expect Liverpool to win a game featuring three or more goals shared out.

Newcastle United v Norwich City PickInjuries have been a real problem for Newcastle United and Steve Bruce, but the Winter Break will give the entire squad the chance to rest ailing bodies.

A strong run of form has helped Newcastle United just maintain a gap to the bottom three in the Premier League and has also meant the manager has picked strong teams for the FA Cup games played, but ultimately everything for this club is based around avoiding the drop.

That makes this fixture a big one for The Magpies as they can put Norwich City back in a very difficult position while moving clearer of those teams fighting to avoid the drop. In the main Newcastle United have been very good at St James' Park, but they can't overlook Norwich City who look to be healthier going into the weekend.

Daniel Farke's men are coming off an impressive win at Burnley in the FA Cup, but Norwich City have lost 4 of 5 away Premier League games including the last 3 in a row. They might be getting healthier, but Norwich City concede too many goals at away from home and they are short of confidence in those games.

Newcastle United have won 6 in a row at home against Norwich City and being at home should give them the edge in the contest. The goalless draw with Oxford United last week in the FA Cup was a poor result, but Steve Bruce will be looking for a couple of big efforts from his players and can inspire them to a success on Saturday.

Backing the home team on the Asian Handicap looks the best way to approach this fixture.

Watford v Everton PickTwo teams who are still in the 'honeymoon' period that comes with the appointment of new managers are meeting at Vicarage Road and I do think this is a very difficult game to call.

Both Watford and Everton have had some extra time to prepare for this fixture as both teams were beaten in the FA Cup Third Round. That competition likely meant more to Everton than it did to Watford, but both teams now will be focusing on the Premier League for the remainder of the 2019/20 season.

This fixture is more important to Watford than Everton in the overall scheme of things, and the home team are much improved under Nigel Pearson. They have been creating plenty of chances and scoring plenty of goals and I do think Watford can give Everton a lot of problems this Saturday.

At the same time Everton have to be respected considering the amount of shots they are generating under Carlo Ancelotti. They would be coming in with a lot of confidence if they had not remarkably blown a 2-0 home lead against Newcastle United last time out when they conceded twice in the final sixty seconds of the game.

Everton have still not been at their best away from home, but they created chances at West Ham United and Liverpool last month and this is a team who look to have key players returning to the squad for this fixture.

Games between these clubs have tended to be low-scoring at Vicarage Road in recent seasons, but the defensive vulnerabilities coupled with the attacking threat the two teams are producing might change that narrative. Neither team can convincingly suggest they are ready for a clean sheet, while both are comfortable going forward and creating chances.

Backing at least three goals to be shared out is the play.

West Ham United v Brighton PickThis is a huge game at the bottom of the Premier League table as both West Ham United and Brighton are firmly involved in the relegation battle that is developing.

Norwich City might find it very difficult to get back into contention, but just 2 points separate Brighton in 15th place and Watford in 19th place and West Ham United are sitting right in the middle of that mini-section of the table.

The fixture list looks very intimidating for West Ham United over the next two months and that only increases the pressure on them to get a result this weekend. They didn't play badly in the 0-2 home loss to Liverpool, but West Ham United have continued to look vulnerable at the back and that is hard to ignore.

David Moyes will be working on making them stronger defensively, but things are made all the more difficult in trying to earn results when key attacking players are missing. Even then they are creating chances and I would expect West Ham United to have some joy against a Brighton team who are missing two key defensive players and who have conceded at least once in 9 straight away games in the Premier League.

The management style of Graham Potter has given Brighton some impetus going the other way though and they should be able to expose the issues West Ham United have continued to have at the back. The Hammers have a single clean sheet in 10 home games in all competitions and I do think we are going to see goals in this match where a draw doesn't really do anything for either team.

Brighton would likely be the more likely to accept a point if it gets down to it, but West Ham United have to take chances and I will look for at least three goals to be shared out on what could be a wet day in East London.

Manchester United v Wolves PickThere will be some encouragement at Old Trafford thanks to the 0-1 win at Manchester City on Wednesday and the signing of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon. The Portuguese international is likely to go straight into the starting line up as Manchester City look to get back to winning ways in the Premier League where they were beaten by Liverpool and Burnley in their last couple of League games last month.

Things are going to be far from easy against a Wolves team who have been a stubborn opponent and who can create chances in the final third. They might not have scored in their last couple of games against Manchester United, but Wolves did have their chances and I think they benefit from having ten days to prepare for this game while Manchester United had away Cup ties to deal with.

It might be a factor in the outcome of this one and both teams had scored in 4 meetings between these clubs before the two FA Cup ties played last month. Manchester United have been creating chances at home and Wolves are a team who will offer one or two gilt-edged opportunities for opponents.

On the other side Manchester United have defended well enough, but they can't seem to avoid a mistake or two at the back which has proven to be costly. Burnley took limited opportunities to win here in the last Premier League game at Old Trafford and only three of the twelve League visitors to this ground have failed to score.

Wolves should be able to cause problems as they have every time they have played Manchester United and having the additional preparation time makes them dangerous. A 1-1 draw would not be a massive surprise, but I do think we could even see more goals than that, even though only a third of the last 6 games between the clubs have seen three or more goals shared out.

However I do think the better play is backing both teams to score when you think a couple of the last 6 between these clubs have ended 1-1. It's a decent enough price in a game which may not be as low-scoring as the layers believe.

Burnley v Arsenal PickIt is clear that Mikel Arteta is having an impact as Arsenal manager having recently taken over from Unai Emery and his players have largely responded as he would have liked.

The next several months will be used for analysing those who can be part of the future with the club and those that need to be moved on and it is not going to be an easy task for Arteta. Things will be much tougher to improve if Arsenal are not playing in European competition and that has to be the target for the manager along with having strong Cup runs in the FA Cup and Europa League.

Arsenal will head to Burnley with an 8 game unbeaten record to protect away from home, although they are facing a team who had back to back wins over two clubs currently inside the top five of the Premier League table. Granted Burnley were beaten in the FA Cup since the wins over Leicester City and Manchester United, but confidence won't be in short supply and Burnley simply have not dealt with draws in recent weeks.

They have won 8 and lost 11 of their last 19 games in all competitions, but Burnley will believe they can hurt an Arsenal team that still looks vulnerable at the back. Pablo Mari could make his debut here, but it will be an eye-opening experience at Turf Moor and facing the long balls and Chris Wood.

It is hard to believe Arsenal can earn a clean sheet with their vulnerabilities at the back and the set piece delivery that Burnley thrive upon. However they do have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang back in the squad and Arsenal will be encouraged by the amount of chances that Leicester City and Manchester United created against Burnley in those losses.

Sean Dyche does get the best out of his squad, but Burnley have to ride their luck at times and I do think we are going to see goals in the first of two live games to come on Sunday. The last 4 between these clubs have all produced three or more goals shared out including earlier this season at the Emirates Stadium and at Turf Moor last season.

Both teams scoring would be the least I would expect from this fixture and Burnley's run of 19 games without a draw means I will also be looking for one of the teams to find a way to win the game and secure at least three goals shared out on the day.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City PickJose Mourinho versus Pep Guardiola is always going to lead to some headlines, but both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City have been underachieving in the Premier League this season.

You have to think both managers are looking to rebuild somewhat in the summer, but both will also believe their current squads are good enough to challenge for silverware in the next four months. Tottenham Hotspur are alive in both the FA Cup and Champions League as they look to maintain their League form to challenge for a top four berth, while Manchester City are looking to defend the two domestic Cups they won last season and improve on Quarter Final exits in the Champions League.

The Premier League is thus likely to be more important for Tottenham Hotspur than Manchester City in the next couple of months. Manchester City are in a very strong position for a top four finish, but Pep Guardiola does not want his players to drop their intensity as they bid to take some momentum into the big Champions League games coming up.

No one will dispute that Manchester City are not as strong as they have been in the last couple of years, but they are still a team that creates a lot more chances than they allow. Jose Mourinho is likely going to want his Tottenham Hotspur team to frustrate their visitors and so the pattern of the game is not too difficult to predict.

However Tottenham Hotspur have not really looked like they defend well enough to contain Manchester City and their best chances are going to be to try and get after what has been a vulnerable defence all season. Aymeric Laporte is likely to miss out which makes them even more vulnerable at the back, but Jose Mourinho doesn't always want to take the risks that are needed and I can only see Manchester City bouncing back here.

They seem to be more at ease playing away from home and I think Manchester City will earn some revenge for some controversial VAR decisions which have cost them in a couple of games against Tottenham Hotspur over the last ten months. Manchester City will need to show better finishing than they did at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, but they are more than capable and I think Manchester City will dictate the play and win by a comfortable margin against a defensively vulnerable Tottenham Hotspur team.

MY PICKS: Leicester City-Chelsea Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.72 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool & Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Coral (2 Units)
Newcastle United - 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.99 Bet365 (2 Units)
Watford-Everton Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
West Ham United-Brighton Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester United-Wolves Both Teams to Score @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Burnley-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.93 Bet365 (2 Units)

January 2019/205-12, - 14.66 Units (34 Units Staked, - 43.12% Yield)
December 2019/2016-14, - 0.58 Units (60 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
November 2019/209-16, - 12.66 Units (50 Units Staked, - 25.32% Yield)
October 2019/2016-14-2, + 6.14 Units (62 Units Staked, + 9.90% Yield)
September 2019/2013-9-1, + 8.82 Units (46 Units Staked, + 19.17% Yield)
August 2019/2014-17-2, - 8.78 Units (64 Units Staked, - 13.72% Yield)

Fantasy Football GameWeek 25
The January Transfer Window officially closes a little over twelve hours before the GW25 deadline of the FPL game, but this is the time of the season when you have to almost re-evaluate some teams.

Manager changes, system tweaks and new signings can all make what had been nailed on starters suddenly look vulnerable for playing time. John Lundstram, a Fantasy Football Cult Hero in the 2019/20 season is facing new competition in his midfield spot and has already been losing some playing time and is definitely a member of my squad that looks like he will need to be replaced sooner rather than later.

It helps that Sheffield United are one of four teams that are going to be facing a 'Blank' week in GW28 so expect him to be moved before that week. I do like the Sheffield United fixtures though so I am intrigued by whether there are options from their squad that can be signed up, although that Blank is an issue.

Other teams soon to be sitting out are Aston Villa, Arsenal and Manchester City and I think Jack Grealish may only have a couple of weeks left in my squad until the make up game is announced.

These are things we have to begin thinking about, while the looming GW31 is the one that most should be focusing on. At the moment eight of the ten Premier League games scheduled for that week are going to be postponed for FA Cup Quarter Final action, although those issues will be cleared up early next month when the Fifth Round is completed between March 2nd and 4th.

You can make some predictions though after the draw and I would be surprised if the following games are played:

  • Chelsea vs Manchester City (the latter travel to Sheffield Wednesday in the Fifth Round)
  • Manchester United v Sheffield United (both facing lower League clubs in the Fifth Round and one of these clubs is surely going to win)
  • Leicester v Brighton (The Foxes host a lower League team in Fifth Round)
  • Southampton v Arsenal (the visitors travel to Portsmouth in the next Round, while Southampton will face Norwich City at home if they can win the Replay at Tottenham Hotspur next week).
There is still the potential for as many as all eight of the fixtures of that GameWeek to be postponed and I do think that is going to be a key in determining how I am going to be playing the four Chips we have (assuming the Triple Captain was not used in GW24 like some did).

I will have more thoughts on that once the FA Cup Fourth Round Replays and the FA Cup Fifth Round is in the books, but I do think we should begin to prepare for that GW in case you want to use the FH at a different time. If those games are postponed as could be the case, that will be when I use my Free Hit Chip and I will use my second Wild Card to manage the squad for the DGWs once they are confirmed in the March International Break.

My GW25 Team
The only positive from GW24 was the fact that I held onto my Triple Captain after my actual Captain Sadio Mane played less than a half in the Double GameWeek Liverpool enjoyed.

His injury has made my transfer ahead of GW25 an easy one as I replaced him with the in-form Mohamed Salah. I am likely going to be using a transfer a week through this month to just shape my squad with some players already on my list to be removed.

For GameWeek 25 my team is as follows.

Alisson- home game against Southampton.

Harry Maguire- I am not sure Manchester United will get a clean sheet in their home game with Wolves, but they did in both fixtures against them last month.

Federico Fernandez- home game against Norwich City who are one of the weakest away teams in the Premier League.

Caglar Soyuncu- no doubt that Leicester City have come off the boil, but he looks the best option for me in a three at the back system.

Mohamed Salah (C)- home game with Southampton should see Liverpool create chances.

Kevin De Bruyne- always capable of an assist or a goal.

Jack Grealish- Bournemouth have looked very weak at the back and Jack Grealish is at the heart of almost everything positive that Aston Villa produce.

Pablo Fornals- seems to be out of favour under David Moyes, but a home game against Brighton and attacking options are lacking at West Ham United.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin- away game at Watford looks tough, but the English striker has been thriving under Carlo Ancelotti.

Troy Deeney- has been in fine form and he should have one or two chances against this Everton team.

Roberto Firmino- hasn't scored a League goal at Anfield in a long time, but fixtures look kind for Liverpool over next couple of months.

Bench- Michael McGovern, John Lundstram (is he now out of favour at Sheffield United?), James Ward-Prowse (tough away game at Anfield), Serge Aurier (Tottenham Hotspur struggle for clean sheets and now host Man City).

Australian Open Tennis Day 13 Picks 2020- Women's Final (February 1st)

We are down to the final four at the Australian Open and on Saturday we will get to crown the first Grand Slam Champion of the 2020 season as the Women's Final is played.

Both Sofia Kenin and Garbine Muguruza have had a day to prepare for the Final and they will both be full of belief ahead of a huge match for both players. A huge improvement in their World Ranking is a bonus, but being a Grand Slam Champion is a whole different level and can spark a career.

Sofia Kenin-Garbine Muguruza over 21.5 games: This may not have been the Women's Final that most would have expected to see at the Australian Open in 2020, but it is further proof that the sport on this side of the road is very, very competitive.

Since Serena Williams won her last Grand Slam in 2017 we have had nine different Grand Slam Winners from the next eleven Grand Slam tournaments played with only Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka managing two wins in that time. Garbine Muguruza won her second Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2017 so she will be looking for another and has the experience edge in the match.

That has not been a huge problem for Sofia Kenin so far in this tournament and her win over home favourite Ashleigh Barty in the Semi Final shows she can handle the nerves. There have been some big things expected of Kenin, but the 21 year old has not had a big impact at Grand Slam level before this tournament and so you have to credit her for the way she has been handling things match by match.

The Kenin serve has continued to fire at an unexpected level and it has helped her largely control the flow of matches. In a quality serving match in the Semi Final, I was surprised to see Sofia Kenin hang in long enough to beat Ashleigh Barty, although it was a very tight match by the numbers.

Garbine Muguruza also came through a very tight match as she edged out Simona Halep in the battle of the two time Grand Slam Champions. In that match it was the return of the Spaniard that helped her through the match as she broke the Halep serve four times, while you have to credit the Muguruza serve for becoming the first that restricted Simona Halep to less than five breaks of serve in the tournament.

It really feels like the Australian Open Final is going to be one in which both Sofia Kenin and Garbine Muguruza are going to be able to showcase their serving talents. Neither is a great returner, but they build confidence from the way they are able to serve and I do think the winner is going to be the player that can just find a way to just make a few more big returns.

In the conditions it could be another tight, competitive match like we saw in the Semi Finals a couple of days ago. Both players will be confidence behind serve and three of the last four Women's Australian Open Finals have gone the distance wth this one feeling very possible to go the same way.

Sofia Kenin beat Garbine Muguruza in three sets when they met in Beijing at the back end of last season, although they were three one-sided sets. I am not sure the match is going to ebb and flow to that degree in this one, but I would not be surprised if we need at least one Tie-Breaker and that should give this pick a chance of being a winner even if there is a close, two set match played.

Picking a winner isn't easy- Garbine Muguruza has found a better level in the tournament, but Sofia Kenin is playing with a lot of confidence at the big moments. My feeling is that the experience of the Spaniard is going to prove to be decisive, but I would be most surprised if one of these players was able to run away with the match.

MY PICK: Sofia Kenin-Garbine Muguruza Over 21.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 37-30, + 7.68 Units (136 Units Staked, + 5.65% Yield)

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Australian Open Tennis Day 12 Picks 2020 (January 31st)

So the Women's Final was set on Thursday and Novak Djokovic overcame a slow start to dominate Roger Federer and move into the Final of the Men's tournament which he is looking to win for the eighth time.

It should be a couple of good Finals regardless of who Djokovic faces on Sunday, but he will be a big favourite and I do think the Women's Final between Sofia Kenin and Garbine Muguruza will be the more competitive of the two to come.

On Day 12 at the Australian Open we only have the one Singles match and that is the second Men's Semi Final. The Tennis Picks had been on a strong run, but Thursday was more difficult with a 1-2 finish.

A stronger start from Novak Djokovic might have helped produce a winning record, but it is what it is and at least the tournament is in a position to produce a positive return. Much will depend on Novak Djokovic going on and winning the Men's Final on Sunday, but we will get to that in a couple of days time.

Dominic Thiem - 1.5 sets v Alexander Zverev: The main reason I am not more bullish about Dominic Thiem's chances to win this Semi Final has to be the fact that he spent over four hours on court to finally edge out Rafael Nadal in the Quarter Final. This is not the first long match the Austrian has had to play at the Australian Open and he is playing a relatively fresh Alexander Zverev who has quietly made his way through the draw.

Prior to the tournament I am not sure either of these players would have been considered genuine Finalists considering their recent records- Dominic Thiem has long played his best tennis on the clay courts rather than the hard courts and had never made a Quarter Final here, while Alexander Zverev had been struggling massively with his serve and had never reached a Quarter Final at a Grand Slam outside of Paris.

However both players have been in very good form and have some solid looking wins on the board. Both have been serving very well, but I have noted that Zverev has just had one or two difficulties on the return in his last couple of matches. He is not winning a lot of points on the return, but Zverev is winning the big points and the German has broken in eight games from twenty break points created in the last couple of matches.

The Zverev serve has been surprisingly effective throughout the tournament despite the fact he looked to be struggling with that shot prior to the Australian Open.

He is going to need all of that against Dominic Thiem whose own serve has been a very important weapon throughout the tournament too as he takes advantage of the conditions. It has given Thiem some freedom when it comes to the return of serve and I think his overall numbers have been a little more consistent than Zverev's which could be key to the outcome of the match.

Their head to head matches shows Dominic Thiem has an edge on the return of serve over Alexander Zverev and that has led to a 6-2 lead. The Austrian is 2-1 on the hard courts having won the last two meetings on the surface including a straight sets win over Zverev at the ATP Finals in London in November.

In the last two matches Dominic Thiem's edge on the return has proven to be quite significant and I think he can use his experiences to win this match. If it goes the distance you would think the fatigue issues could strike Thiem and so I do think he is likely to push to get this done in three or four sets.

Alexander Zverev has been in fine form over the last twelve days, but this has not been a good match up for him and I think Dominic Thiem out-serves him on his way to another Grand Slam Final.

MY PICKS: Dominic Thiem - 1.5 Sets @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 36-30, + 5.48 Units (134 Units Staked, + 4.09% Yield)

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Australian Open Tennis Day 11 Picks 2020 (January 30th)

The final four players in both the Women's and Men's draws at the Australian Open have been set and Novak Djokovic has to be considered a strong favourite to defend the title he won here last year. The Quarter Final defeat for Rafael Nadal also means Djokovic will move to World Number 1 if he can win the Australian Open for an eighth time on Sunday and I would not be backing against that happening.

The Women's tournament remains wide open with three of the four remaining players having a serious case to make to add to Grand Slams they have won before. The outsider might be Sofia Kenin, but she looks a player who has a huge self-belief although beating two Slam Champions in a row with the relative inexperience she has would be a huge surprise.

Both Women's Semi Finals are played on Thursday and we also have one Men's Semi Final scheduled for Day 11 at the Australian Open. I am still not convinced it is fair to have one Men's Finalist having an additional day between matches to recover compared with the second Finalist, but the Australian Open is the last of the Slams to still have that occurring. At least there is a day between the second Semi Final and the Final to be played on Sunday unlike the US Open of years gone by which had no rest days between their Semi Final and Final before making the change to try and get things on a level playing field for the Finalists.

My Tennis Picks from Day 11 can be read below and I am looking to round out this tournament with the kind of strong form we have seen over the last week. It has turned a negative start into a real positive and I am hoping to kick on with the three selections made for Day 11.

Ashleigh Barty - 4.5 games v Sofia Kenin: Dealing with the real sense of expectation might be the main reason we have not seen the best of Ashleigh Barty at the Australian Open so far in 2020. Even then Barty has made her way through to the Semi Final of her home Grand Slam and is looking to end the long wait for an Australian Champion in Melbourne Park.

She had to ride out some difficult moments in her Quarter Final over Petra Kvitova having recovered from dropping her second set of the tournament in the Fourth Round. While the wins have come, Barty has perhaps been a touch fortunate in the last couple of Rounds and will definitely need to pick up her level if she is going to win a second Grand Slam title within the last eight months.

Overall the hard court numbers over the last twelve months have been impressive from Ashleigh Barty and it is no surprise she is a fairly strong favourite in this Semi Final. While not blessed with a huge amount of Grand Slam experience at this stage of a tournament, Ashleigh Barty's win at Roland Garros last June means she has a lot more experience than Sofia Kenin who has made the second week of a Grand Slam for the second time in her career and is in a week of firsts having played a maiden Quarter Final and now Semi Final at this level.

The American has benefited from the way the draw has opened up in her section having yet to face an opponent Ranked inside the top 34 in the World Rankings. You still can't take away the run from Kenin, but she has not been a dominant winner in any of her last three matches and the level goes up considerably if Barty can produce anything near her best.

The Sofia Kenin serve has been a big weapon for her throughout this tournament and she is doing enough to keep herself on top of opponents. That is going to be key for her in this Semi Final, although Ashleigh Barty is the best returner she would have faced in this tournament so far.

These players have met five times before and it is the Australian who leads 4-1 which includes a win at a Grand Slam (last year's French Open) and also a 2-1 lead on the hard courts. Those previous matches have been competitive, but Barty has had the edge when it comes to the return of serve and I think that is going to be an important factor in this one too.

While Kenin has been consistent with the kind of success she has had on the return in the three hard court matches, we have seen Ashleigh Barty really hurt her in the two matches she has won. In those Barty has won at least 48% of the points played on the Sofia Kenin serve and I do think the Australian's Grand Slam experience will stand her in good stead in this first Semi Final.

The line looks a tough one for the World Number 1 here, but I am going to look for Ashleigh Barty to just find the breaks of serve she needs to move through to the Final with a cover.

Garbine Muguruza + 2.5 games v Simona Halep: For someone who has reached World Number 1 and who has won two Grand Slam titles it is perhaps a surprise to read that Garbine Muguruza is only playing in her eighth Grand Slam Quarter Final at the Australian Open this year.

The Spaniard converted that into her fifth Semi Final with a good win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and the little time spent on court over the last three matches should put Muguruza in confident mood. In her previous four Grand Slam Semi Finals, Garbine Muguruza converted the first three into an appearance in the Final, although two years ago she was beaten at the French Open at this stage by upcoming opponent Simona Halep.

Simona Halep took less than an hour to rip through Anett Kontaveit in the Quarter Final and she has maintained her run of at least five breaks of serve in every match played at the Australian Open. The Finalist here in 2018 looks to be peaking at the right time with her best performances being saved for the latter stages of the tournament and it is going to be very difficult to knock her out of her stride now.

This might be a different challenge for her though as Muguruza has proven to be a very confident player the longer she can stick around in tournaments. Garbine Muguruza also has two top ten wins in the Australian Open already and has been serving very, very well in making use of the conditions at the event.

It has allowed Muguruza to free her arm when it comes to the return of serve and she clearly does enjoy playing in Melbourne having produced her second most Grand Slam wins here. Her 3-0 record against Simona Halep on the hard courts will give the Spaniard some confidence, although it does have to be noted that these two have not met on this surface since August 2017 when Muguruza dropped one game in crushing Halep in the Cincinnati Final.

The match goes to show what Garbine Muguruza is capable of at her best, but she does not have the best hard court numbers over the last twelve months. In fact during that time it is Halep who has looked the more accomplished on the surface and so she is rightly favoured to win this match.

However I do think Garbine Muguruza is playing well enough to at least keep things competitive and she may have a chance for the outright upset if serving like she has been in this tournament. I would expect the return of serve to have success against this Simona Halep serve, although the key for Muguruza is using the conditions and not push too much towards the lines against an opponent who can play some superb defensive tennis.

There haven't been too many epic Women's matches at the business end of the Australian Open, but this may be one of them and I am taking the games with the underdog.

Novak Djokovic - 6.5 games v Roger Federer: Thirteen Australian Opens have been won by Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer combined and there has only been one winner in the last ten years outside of these two players. This year Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer meet in the Semi Final and it is very difficult to see anything other than a win for the defending Champion and World Number 2 Djokovic.

There were one or two doubts about Roger Federer prior to the tournament having decided to skip the inaugural ATP Cup and make his 2020 debut on the Tour in Melbourne. Injury concerns or at least the fact that Federer was unlikely to be at full health was balanced out by what looked to be a very good draw through to the Semi Final.

Surprisingly it has been far from straight-forward for the former World Number 1 who needed to recover from 8-4 down in the Champions Tie-Breaker against John Millman in the fifth set in the Third Round. He followed that up with a four set win in the Fourth Round, but Federer was then in a life or death Quarter Final against Tennys Sandgren having saved seven Match Points and also overcoming what sounded like a groin issue.

Roger Federer himself admitted he was lucky to still be in the tournament and the numbers backed that up. The 38 year old has spent over nine and a half hours on the court in his last three matches which has to be a major concern knowing the physical test that Novak Djokovic is always going to offer and I am not sure there has been enough recovery time for Roger Federer here.

Novak Djokovic has won thirteen sets in a row at the Australian Open since dropping one in the First Round and he has only dropped serve once in the last four wins. At the same time Federer has been dragged into long matches, Novak Djokovic has spent just over ten hours on the court in total at the tournament and that freshness should give him a clear edge in the match.

You just can't ignore the fact that Federer has not been serving that well in the tournament and I do wonder if the injury he is dealing with is preventing from getting full extension on that shot. Now he has to deal with one of the best return players of all time and one who has been developing a stronger serve which has me favouring Novak Djokovic to not only win, but win well.

Unbelievably they are meeting in a Grand Slam match on the hard courts for the first time in four years when Novak Djokovic crushed Roger Federer at this tournament in the Semi Final. Novak Djokovic has won their last five Grand Slam matches overall and also the last five they have played in Slams on the hard courts so I don't think he will be short of confidence.

Roger Federer had snapped a four match losing run on the hard courts when beating Novak Djokovic at the ATP Finals in London in November, but he looks fatigued and not at 100% for this Semi Final. You can't discount how competitive matches between these players have largely been, but Federer will need Djokovic to come off his level to have a chance in this one with the time spent on court and the healthier World Number 2 having the majority of edges.

Just looking at this tournament and you can't deny that Novak Djokovic has been a lot better than Roger Federer and it would be something of an upset if the latter can make this a really competitive Semi Final.

MY PICKS: Ashleigh Barty - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Garbine Muguruza + 2.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Novak Djokovic - 6.5 Games @ 1.72 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 35-28, + 7.66 Units (128 Units Staked, + 5.98% Yield)

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Australian Open Tennis Day 10 Picks 2020 (January 29th)

The last of the Quarter Final matches that were played on Day 9 at the Australian Open was perhaps the most straight-forward of the four that were completed.

It might not have looked that way when looking at the scoreboard and noting that three of the four matches ended in straight sets, but Sofia Kenin and Ashleigh Barty were involved in close matches that could have easily swung another way.

Those two are ready to meet in the Semi Final in a couple of days, while Novak Djokovic largely made light work of Milos Raonic to earn his place in the last four.

However the best match of the day saw Roger Federer come through in five sets against Tennys Sandgren and the former World Number 1 was right to suggest he was 'lucky' to get through. All of the chances were with the American who missed seven match points, while the overall numbers from the match suggested that Sandgren was the player who deserved to win.

Roger Federer was suffering with an injury too and he does not have very long to get ready for this match which is likely going to see the layers set him as a significant underdog against Novak Djokovic. Matches between these players have been close over the last few years, but Djokovic has had the edge and he looks to be in much better shape all around in this one.

That's all for another day and the focus on Day 10 at the tournament is the remaining four Quarter Final matches that are scheduled to be played.

Tennis Picks from those matches can be read below.

Simona Halep - 3.5 games v Anett Kontaveit: For much of the Australian Open Anett Kontaveit has been in imperious form, but she had to ride out some difficult moments and also rally from blowing a big lead in her win in the Fourth Round. The final set saw Kontaveit lose a 5-1 lead, but hold herself together in a 7-5 win, although it was a match that could have easily gone another way with a couple of bounces of the ball.

The win will have given the Estonian confidence and she has crushed Belinda Bencic on her way through to the Quarter Final. Anett Kontaveit has been flying on both the serve and return so far in Melbourne and it does make her dangerous, although she does have a pretty poor record against top 20 and top 10 players on the hard courts.

She will be facing one of those in this Quarter Final as Simona Halep maintained her run of straight sets wins in the tournament when dismissing the in-form Elise Mertens in the last Round. The levels have been consistent from Halep throughout this tournament and she broke Mertens five times in the Fourth Round meaning she has managed that total in all four matches played at the Australian Open.

The return has always been a big part of the Simona Halep game, but she is also holding things together behind the serve even if the percentage of points won behind that shot is not as strong as the number Anett Kontaveit has produced in the tournament. Despite that, Kontaveit has faced eleven more break points than Simona Halep across the four matches at the tournament and I do think the edge has to be with the former World Number 1 in this Quarter Final.

In their two previous matches Simona Halep's return and serve have been a lot more efficient than Anett Kontaveit's. However it has been three years since they last met one another and so I am not sure the head to head has a major impact in this game.

Over the last twelve months there might not be much between these players in terms of the basic numbers, but Anett Kontaveit has struggled when facing the best players on the Tour on this surface. I have a lot of respect for the way Kontaveit was able to blow Belinda Bencic off the court, but Simona Halep is in good form and I do think she can wear down the Estonian in a good looking match.

Garbine Muguruza - 3.5 games v Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: Two of the hottest players in the Women's tournament meet in the Quarter Final and I do think both Garbine Muguruza and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will understand the opportunity in front of them.

Garbine Muguruza has won two Grand Slam titles and reached the Final of another, but she has yet to surpass the Quarter Final at either of the Slams played on the hard courts. Her best effort was a run that ended in the Quarter Final in Melbourne in 2017, but the performances of the Spaniard in the last two Rounds suggests she could be peaking as she has done at Grand Slam tournaments at the right time in the past.

Her opponent Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova did win the Australian Open Juniors title, but she has not found the consistency on the professional Tour that she would have liked. Not many would have predicted this being a player that would not have been able to crack the top 10 of the World Rankings, but that has been the case so far in her career and at 28 years old chances are beginning to run down to win a Slam.

While the Russian has not played in a Grand Slam Semi Final before, she is going to be trying to make the breakthrough having been beaten in the Quarter Final in five previous Slams and Pavlyuchenkova has reached that Round at all four Grand Slams played. Her best successes have come at the Australian Open where she is playing in her third Quarter Final having reached this Round in 2017 and 2019.

Only one of the five previous Grand Slam Quarter Final losses have been uncompetitive so nerves have not really affected Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in a manner you may have expected. She has been serving very well at the Australian Open in 2020 and Pavlyuchenkova's return numbers would have been much better if she had been more efficient when it comes to the break points behind created.

The Russian has created at least fourteen break points in each of her last three matches here, but you do have to wonder if the accumulated time on court is going to be a detriment to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. She has now spent over seven hours on court to win her last three matches and faces Garbine Muguruza who needed a little more than two hours to win back to back matches behind a huge serve having won 77% of service points across those two matches.

It is the serve that is going to be the dominant shot for both, but Muguruza also looks to be peaking with her return and I do think that gives her the edge in the Quarter Final. Over the last twelve months the numbers on the hard courts have been similar, but I do think the Spaniard is playing the stronger tennis and she should be the fresher player at this stage of the tournament.

Garbine Muguruza also has the better head to head record, although their last hard court meeting was three and a half years ago. While those head to heads should not be a major factor in the match, I do think the Garbine Muguruza return proved decisive in those matches and the feeling is that we are going to see something similar here.

The two time Grand Slam Champion looks to be playing the big points a little better than Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and that might be the difference on the day. I would have loved this selection if the game handicap had been one game lower like the initial line came out, but I am still happy enough to back Garbine Muguruza to wear down Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in this one too.

Alexander Zverev - 1.5 games v Stan Wawrinka: This looks to be a fascinating Quarter Final between a young player looking to reach a maiden Grand Slam Semi Final against a veteran who has won multiple Slam titles but still surprisingly made his way through the Australian Open draw.

Stan Wawrinka is a former Champion here, and he looks to be over some of the injury concerns which saw him slip down the World Rankings. He did reach two Grand Slam Quarter Finals in 2019, but he is back at this stage for the first time since 2017 at the Australian Open.

The hard court numbers produced by Wawrinka over the last couple of years have not been the most impressive, particularly the return of serve where he has had some difficulties. Breaking serve has tended to be a problem for him, but Wawrinka has played well enough in this tournament and he did create eleven break points during his Fourth Round upset of Daniil Medvedev.

However you would think he is going to be tested by Alexander Zverev who has reached a Quarter Final at a Slam for the first time away from the French Open. The German has quietly gone about his business having been in poor form at the ATP Cup and Zverev has yet to drop a set which means he should be fresher than Stan Wawrinka even though the latter has benefited from the Third Round win over John Isner which ended prematurely when Isner pulled out in the second set.

Even then Stan Wawrinka has spent a couple of hours more on court and Alexander Zverev has been serving with huge success through the first four Rounds. It does have to be factored in that only one of those four opponents are inside the top 50 of the World Rankings, but Alexander Zverev has won matches in exactly the fashion expected which should have boosted confidence.

Alexander Zverev has dropped serve five times in the tournament and it has allowed him to take chances on the return. His overall performances have been at a consistently good level and Stan Wawrinka has just about edged out a couple of opponents and there has to be some questions about the fatigue building up despite ending as strongly as he did against Daniil Medvedev a couple of days ago.

The German had a considerable edge on the return of serve in their previous matches, but I think the bigger factor here is going to be how well Alexander Zverev handles the occasion. In his two previous Grand Slam Quarter Finals he has invested so much into those tournaments to get to that Round that he had nothing let to give, but this time he should be the fresher player and I think Alexander Zverev can come through in what may develop into an epic Quarter Final.

Rafael Nadal - 4.5 games v Dominic Thiem: This is going to be the fourteenth time Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem are meeting on the Tour, but all but one of the last thirteen have been played on the clay courts. They have previously met five times at Grand Slam level and Rafael Nadal has won all of those matches, but the most competitive was a Quarter Final at the US Open in 2018 which was won by the Spaniard in five sets.

Rafael Nadal made an awful start in that Quarter Final as he dropped the first set 0-6 and it was a very competitive match all around. It is the only time Dominic Thiem has reached the Quarter Final at a Grand Slam outside of the French Open, although he has been impressive so far in Melbourne as he matched the run in New York City eighteen months ago.

The Austrian crushed Gael Monfils in the Fourth Round, but he has dropped three sets during his run to the last eight in Melbourne. At least the last match was fairly routine which means Dominic Thiem has had the full amount of time expected to get himself mentally and physically ready for this challenge and he will also be hoping Nadal is suffering from any tiredness that may have lingered from spending over three and a half hours on court in beating Nick Krygios in the Fourth Round.

One set was dropped in the victory for Nadal who has been cruising through the tournament prior to the Fourth Round. The serve has been a huge weapon for Nadal who has dropped it just twice in the last three Rounds and winning a huge percentage of points meaning opponents have earned just three break points in those matches too.

The Dominic Thiem serve has also been in good order for the most part, but the first three opponents faced in Melbourne all created seven break points in their matches against him. In the main Thiem has been in fine form behind his own serve, but this is now going to be tested by a returner like which he has not faced in the tournament and I think Rafa Nadal is playing well enough to find the break point chances like he has throughout this tournament.

Over the last twelve months Rafael Nadal has been the stronger hard court player than Dominic Thiem by some distance. That match back in New York City eighteen months ago saw Nadal make a very slow start, but as long as he can weather the early storm his serve has the slight edge which can see the World Number 1 end up pulling away and securing a good looking win on the day.

MY PICKS: Simona Halep - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Garbine Muguruza - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Alexander Zverev - 1.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Rafael Nadal - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 32-27, + 4.46 Units (120 Units Staked, + 3.72% Yield)

Monday, 27 January 2020

Australian Open Tennis Day 9 Picks 2020 (January 28th)

The plan for the day was all set up- I was going to watch the United FA Cup tie and by around 8, 8:30 in the evening I would have finished my research and been able to produce the Day 8 Picks for the Australian Open.

And then the news hit me.

Kobe Bryant was gone. Along with his 13 year old daughter Gianna as Kobe accompanied her to a basketball practice.

I'm not a Lakers fan, but I am a basketball fan and for a long time I could enjoy the PlayOffs for what they were as the New York Knicks have long failed as an organisation.

More importantly I am a fan of individual players in a sport where one player can carry a franchise and not many have done that better than Kobe Bryant.

A five time NBA Champion and his 'Mamba Mentality' saw Kobe come up big at the very biggest moments- he was the generational talent between Michael Jordan and LeBron James and he put his name alongside the very finest to play the game.

A legend who was certain to enter the Hall of Fame in 2020, Kobe transcended the NBA having had an impact on sportsmen and women around the world.

Everyone knows Kobe the same way everyone knows Michael Jordan and LeBron.

And in his post-basketball career Kobe continued to achieve things no one could have predicted with an Oscar win, while no one will ever doubt the devotion he had to his family.

I honestly can't believe he is gone.

Things like this put everything else into perspective and I will be honest that I couldn't feel the energy to pick the laptop up and write down thoughts for Day 8 at the Australian Open. The unexpected passing of a legend who I had grown up watching and reading about made it hard to focus on anything but feeling for his fans and his family.

Even now I can't quite believe he has gone, but time will begin to heal all. Replacing a husband/father and a daughter/sister is impossible for the family, and the NBA won't be the same going forward with the impact Kobe had on so many in the League.

It hurt very much on Sunday night hearing the awful news, but life does slowly begin to return to some normality. People can be guilty of taking things too seriously, but Kobe put it best- 'life is too short to get bogged down and be discouraged. You have to keep moving. You have to keep going... Just keep on rolling'.

After all this it does feel 'meaningless' to write down my thoughts on the Quarter Final matches at the Australian Open. However we have to keep going and appreciate the greatness we enjoy as sports fans around the world.

Ultimately this should be nothing but a bit of fun- there are more important things in life without a doubt. You can read my thoughts on the four Australian Open Quarter Finals scheduled for Tuesday below.

Sofia Kenin - 3.5 games v Ons Jabeur: This has to be the most surprising Quarter Final at the Australian Open in 2020 as Sofia Kenin and Ons Jabeur have put a number of upsets in the books to reach this Round of the tournament. Actually all of those upsets have been produced by Ons Jabeur who has been the underdog in three of her four matches at the event and that is the case for her again on Tuesday.

It should not be a big problem for her mentally, but the pressure is increasing on both players who are not used to being involved at this stage of a Grand Slam. Both will look at this match up as a wonderful chance to reach a Grand Slam Semi Final and I do think it could come down to which of the two players handles the occasion best.

I do think nerves are going to be at play on both sides of the court, although Sofia Kenin may have a mental advantage having won three previous matches against Ons Jabeur. That has to be important, while Kenin has also been playing at a superior level to the Tunisian who has done very well to reach the Quarter Final but also won some close games to just about edge past opponents.

The serve has been a big part of the successes for Jabeur and she has been able to just about keep herself in matches through some close moments to take advantage despite not having the best return numbers. Ons Jabeur has taken her chances when they have been presented which does make her dangerous, but I also like the way Sofia Kenin has been playing on the return.

For the most part in this tournament the American has also served well and I do think it is going to be the reason she edges through to the Semi Final. Her superior return game should also show up and was the reason Kenin was able to beat Jabeur in their sole previous hard court match and I will look for the favourite to cover the line.

Ashleigh Barty - 1.5 games v Petra Kvitova: In 2019 Petra Kvitova and Ashleigh Barty became very familiar with one another having met five times on the hard courts over the course of the season. The first two of those matches were played in Australia where Kvitova was able to get the better of the home hope on both occasions including a thumping win at the Australian Open twelve months ago.

They met at the same stage of the 2019 Australian Open and that was the most one-sided of the five matches played as Kvitova perhaps took advantage of some of the Barty nerves.

Those should be easier to deal with, although not completely out of play, by Ashleigh Barty who has won a Grand Slam since that meeting twelve months ago. Perhaps even more important is the fact that Barty has won the last three matches between these players on the hard courts and there has been a real edge in the return numbers across those matches that will give the World Number 1 real confidence and rightly has her down as the favourite.

Making it a closer match is the levels the two players have produced so far in this tournament with Petra Kvitova definitely operating at the higher level. The last Round was perhaps tighter than it should have been, but the Czech player will largely be very happy with the serving and that has allowed her to take big swings off the return to put herself in a strong position to win matches.

On the other hand Ashleigh Barty had a really difficult win over Alison Riske, although that has been a bad match up for her in the past. Finding a way to bounce back from a miserable second set has to give the World Number 1 further confidence as she looks to be come the first Aussie to win the home Grand Slam since 1978.

The return has largely been good enough too and over the last twelve months Ashleigh Barty does have a slight edge over Petra Kvitova. The fact she has found the win in the last three hard court matches between these players and has a considerable edge on the return in those three wins is another positive factor for the top Seed.

I do think we are going to see a top quality match, but I like Ashleigh Barty as the narrow favourite to progress to the Semi Final and earn a measure of revenge over Petra Kvitova for the defeat twelve months ago.

Roger Federer - 7.5 games v Tennys Sandgren: Two years ago Tennys Sandgren came out of left field to have a strong run at the Australian Open as he reached the Quarter Final. That was only the third time he had played in the main draw of any Grand Slam and since that run Sandgren has reached just a single Fourth Round in seven Slams played.

That all changed over the last few days as the American has once again managed to work his way into the Australian Open Quarter Final. Two years ago Tennys Sandgren was beaten in straight sets by Hyeon Chung, but this time the challenge is even tougher as he takes on Roger Federer.

The Swiss superstar has not been at his best in this tournament, but the performance in the Fourth Round was very encouraging and the hope is that Federer is peaking at the right time. There are clearly still some areas to improve if Federer is going to win the Australian Open yet again, especially when it comes to the serve and being in a position to prevent as many break points as he has been giving up.

Where Roger Federer has excelled is on the return of serve and that is going to be key for him in this Quarter Final to make things easier for himself. It does have to be said that Tennys Sangren possesses a serve that can be very difficult to break when at his best, and he has been able to play the big points very well in the tournament so far.

In each of the last three matches played by Tennys Sandgren it is the opponent who has managed a lot more break points than himself, but where the American has been clinical when chances are presented he has also been good enough to save the majority of break points being faced.

I would not be massively surprised if one set is very competitive in this Quarter Final, but ultimately you have to believe Roger Federer is going to eventually take command. I just can't see Tennys Sandgren continuing to raise his level when the break points come up as he has been so far at the Australian Open and not when Roger Federer has been knuckling down and playing those big points efficiently too.

This is a big spread without a doubt, but I do think Roger Federer can work his way to the cover.

Novak Djokovic - 5.5 games v Milos Raonic: This has been a big tournament for Milos Raonic who is looking to move back up the World Rankings with a solid set of results behind him. It has been something of a surprise when you think the Canadian was beaten in his only match prior to the start of the tournament, but he has been in monstrous form as far as his serve is concerned and that has put opponents under intense pressure to stay with Milos Raonic.

Even then it will take a special effort from Raonic to beat Novak Djokovic as the World Number 2 and defending Champion in Melbourne continues to make easy work of his draw. The Serb did drop a set in the First Round, but he has been largely dominant and Novak Djokovic has only been broken once in his last three matches.

You do have to say that Djokovic has perhaps not hit the heights you would expect from the return of serve, but he has managed to produce at least four breaks of serve in each of the matches played here. There is perhaps some room for improvement in the amount of points being won on the return of serve, but Novak Djokovic has been looking very good so far.

It will be interesting to see how he can do against the Milos Raonic serve which has yet to be broken in this tournament. In previous matches between these players Novak Djokovic has broken in 30% of return games played against the Canadian on the hard courts, although their last match up was eighteen months ago.

That was a very close match and Milos Raonic has continued to be a very strong server over the last twelve months on this surface. His return continues to be a little limited and that has shown up in the last couple of matches even though Raonic has found a way to earn the breaks he has needed to win sets.

Novak Djokovic has been very confident looking after his serve though and I do think he is going to be able to wear down Milos Raonic. When they met at the Australian Open in 2015 it was Novak Djokovic who won the match and he got stronger and stronger in a straight sets win.

This one might be closer, but I think the Serb will prove too strong and test the Milos Raonic to a level that has yet to be faced in this tournament so far.

MY PICKS: Sofia Kenin - 3.5 Games @ 1.85 William Hill (2 Units)
Ashleigh Barty - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 7.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Novak Djokovic - 5.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 29-26, + 1.34 Units (112 Units Staked, + 1.20% Yield)