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Monday, 17 February 2020

Tennis Picks 2020 (February 17th)

In 2019 I begun the season with a strong run of winning weeks on which the foundation for the season successes were built upon. That followed a strong finish to 2018 to put another profitable season in the books and I was hoping the 2020 season would see a good opening put together too.

Thanks to a couple of weeks ending strongly and a pretty consistent last week it has been the case and a third winning week of tournaments was produced at the end of the previous set of events.

A 3-1 Saturday from the Semi Final Tennis Picks ensured another positive week was produced, but there is no time to pat ourselves on the back as a new game begins on Monday.

This week we have two important tournaments being played, one each on the ATP and WTA Tours- the former have an ATP 500 event in Rio de Janeiro on the clay courts, while the top names on the WTA Tour head to the Middle East for the first of two important events as a Premier Event is played in Dubai before a bigger event in Doha next week.

Without a doubt the biggest news story going into this set of tournaments has to be the return of Kim Clijsters at 36 years old. The last time we saw this multiple time Grand Slam Champion was back at the US Open in 2012, but Clijsters announced she was looking to return to the Tour and a slight delay to the time frame means she is back and ready to go in Dubai.

This is a big tournament so it is no surprise she has been handed a very tough opening match, but the layers might be off with their prices and Kim Clijsters is hard to ignore with a 6.5 game head start.  I won't be going with her as the rhythm may be a little off, but this is a top player and we have seen Kim Clijsters come back from some time away from the Tour and still return to close to her very best tennis.

Of course at 36 years old it is a lot different when doing the same in your mid-20s, but I wish Clijsters the very best and I hope she gets all she wants out of her return to the Tour.

In a lot of the weeks on the Tour we do see the early days of the tournaments being filled with Qualifiers being completed and a shortage of matches can mean a shortage of Tennis Picks. That may not be the case this week with the tournament in Dubai concluding on a Saturday, while there are three other events in Marseille, Delray Beach and Rio de Janeiro that are also getting underway.

Any selections from the tournaments in North and South America will be added to this thread and you can also see the updated season totals for the Tennis Picks below.

Amanda Anisimova - 3.5 games v Barbora Strycova: 2019 was a difficult year for the 18 year old Amanda Anisimova who is a supreme talent on the WTA Tour. She did reach the French Open Semi Final and was beaten by the eventual Champion Ashleigh Barty, but injuries hurt in the second half of the year.

Nothing would have prepared the American for the unexpected passing of her father who had been a huge influence on her career and I think Amanda Anisimova has to be given some space to get over that. While it is never going to be easy to lose a parent, Amanda Anisimova has come into the 2020 season looking to fulfil the promise her father felt she had and I do think the current World Number 29 is as talented as any youngster on the Tour.

It has not been the most ideal beginnings to the new season with the early loss at the Australian Open particularly disappointing. However over the last couple of years we have seen the kind of potential Anisimova has on the Tour and she has played well enough on the hard courts to believe she can get the better of the veteran Barbora Strycova.

A strong 2019 overall has helped the Czech player improve to Number 30 in the World Rankings, but Strycova has had her main success as a Doubles player and reached Number 1 in those Rankings. Even with that in mind, Strycova has constantly mentioned retirement even while reaching the Wimbledon Semi Final and it was still on her mind before the 2020 season begun.

That has perhaps contributed to a 1-3 start to the season on the hard courts as Strycova plays her first Singles tournament since the Australian Open too. Over the last year Barbora Strycova has found it more and more difficult in hard court matches as she has perhaps lost some of the energy around the court and a relatively vulnerable serve now looks more exposed when you think of the downward trend on her returning numbers.

While the Amanda Anisimova serve has not been operating at full tilt in 2020, she is definitely the stronger returner of the two players having won 47% points against serve compared with Barbora Strycova's 42% mark so far. Even looking back over a twelve month period you can see the Anisimova return has been superior and I also believe her serve is more likely to set up a couple more holds than the Strycova one which gives the young American the edge.

These two players met a little over two years ago when it was the veteran who was higher Ranked, but I do think Amanda Anisimova is much improved from when she beat Barbora Strycova 6-3, 6-3 in Auckland and I will look for her to win and cover here.

Alison Riske - 1.5 games v Ons Jabeur: When these two players last met a little over two years ago, both Alison Riske and Ons Jabeur had to enter Qualifiers to earn a spot at some of the biggest tournaments on the Tour. At that tournament in Miami, Riske and Jabeur were both Ranked outside the top 100 in the World Rankings, but times have changed for both.

In fact both players enter this tournament at a career best World Ranking with Alison Riske at Number 18 and Ons Jabeur at Number 45. The latter reached the Australian Open Quarter Final last month and, at 25 years old, Ons Jabeur will feel she is ready to take another step in her career.

Alison Riske was unfortunate to lose her Fourth Round match at the Australian Open last month, but she is playing with confidence. Her hard court numbers are a touch disappointing in recent years as you would expect most North American players to be very comfortable on the surface, but Riske has opened 2020 in fine form and I do think she is going to have a slight edge in the match which can see her move through to the Second Round.

Confidence won't be an issue for Ons Jabeur either after playing so well in Melbourne, but her overall hard court numbers are inflated by facing some overmatched opponents who are not Ranked inside the top 100. The Tunisian rode her luck a little bit in her run at the Australian Open and the hard court numbers are not as impressive when focusing on the level of opponent she has been facing.

It is the serve which has proven to be vital for Jabeur in the early part of 2020 and it will be interesting to see if she can maintain numbers which are significantly better than what we have seen from her in recent years. The second serve in particular has been strong for this player, although the return numbers have remained steady and so there will be pressure on Jabeur to make sure she keeps serving at the level she has opened in 2020.

The Alison Riske serve can be a little hit and miss, but she has been returning very well and it is a part of her game that is a touch stronger than Jabeur's. It might prove to be the return of serve that can help Riske beat Jabeur for the second time in their professional meetings and I am going to look for the American player to do just enough behind her own serve to cover this line even if the match needs three sets to separate them.

Marketa Vondrousova - 3.5 games v Anastasija Sevastova: The final First Round match being played in Dubai on Monday features two players who have both been on the brink of cracking the top 10 of the World Rankings in their career. However things have been a little more difficult for Anastasija Sevastova in recent months which has seen her drop out of the top 40 in the World Rankings.

The Latvian lost her opening four matches in 2020, but stunned Serena Williams in a Fed Cup match earlier this month. That victory has to give her some confidence, but Sevastova will have to find her rhythm very quickly in this match against a young Czech player who looks like she is still improving in each passing week.

Marketa Vondrousova has not had the best start to 2020 and she might be much more comfortable on the clay courts, but 2019 showed she is more than capable of playing on this surface too. The lefty serve will give her an edge against opponents, although we have yet to see that this season, while Vondrousova has been returning well and can at least pressure Sevastova.

A part of the reason we may have seen a slower start to 2020 for Marketa Vondrousova is the lay off from the Tour after Wimbledon last year, but she looks like she does have room for improvement on the start made.

The two players actually have very similar numbers behind serve to open the season, but Vondrousova has a clear edge when it comes to the return of serve and that could be evident in this match. Conditions will be a lot different compared with when they played at Roland Garros in 2019, but we did see Marketa Vondrousova dominate that match thanks to her return of serve and over the last twelve months the younger player has won 48% of return points played on this surface compared with the 41% mark Anastasija Sevastova has produced.

Dubai has tended to be amongst the faster hard courts we see on the Tour and that may aid Anastasija Sevastova, but I do think Marketa Vondrousova is the stronger player. Breaks of serve might be coming at a high rate in this one, but I will look for the superior returning of the Czech youngster to prove to be a difference on the day and lead to a good looking win.

Benoit Paire - 1.5 games v Gregoire Barrere: The third indoor hard court of the month in Europe begins in Marseille this week and two Frenchmen meet in the First Round looking to begin a strong run at the event. Out of the two players it is Gregoire Barrere who has at least put some wins on the board since the end of the Australian Open as Benoit Paire tries to snap a three match losing run.

Benoit Paire has dropped back to Number 20 in the World Rankings and he will need a good run to just turn things back around having fallen in the First Round at the tournaments in Pune and Rotterdam. In the main it has been a decent enough start to 2020 for Paire, but his hard court numbers remain fairly average and that usually makes him a favourite that I am not interested in backing.

However this feels like a match in which he might be a touch under-rated when taking on a compatriot who has produced a lot of recent wins against opponents he would be expecting to beat. When Gregoire Barrere has stepped up to take on top 100 Ranked opponents on the hard courts in 2020 he drops to 5-5 in those matches and his numbers are not that impressive.

Both players have very similar successes behind the serve, but it is Paire who holds a real advantage when it comes to the break of serve and that could prove to be critical in his favour. Gregoire Barrere has broken in just 18% of return games when playing against top 100 Ranked opponents on the hard courts so far this season compared with Benoit Paire's mark 24% against top 100 Ranked opponents.

That difference on the return might just be enough to believe the higher Ranked Frenchman can win this match and the prices has shortened on Benoit Paire since the opening odds were released.

Benoit Paire will also hold a mental edge having beaten Gregoire Barrere twice before including a win on an indoor hard court in Metz last year. In that last match Paire might only have earned one more break of serve than Barrere in the match, but he was winning 10% more points on the return than his compatriot and that is a significant edge.

I will admit that Benoit Paire can be a hard player to trust with a tendency to be very inconsistent within sets, let alone matches or weeks on the Tour. The three matches lost in a row will have hurt, but he is playing someone in Gregoire Barrere who has yet to really get going on the main Tour and the superior returning of the higher Ranked player is set to give him the advantage.

Marton Fucsovics - 2.5 games v Alexander Bublik: This is an interesting First Round match between a player who looks to be at peak form versus a younger opponent looking to fulfil some potential. Marton Fucsovics has dropped down to Number 73 in the World Rankings, but he has opened the season with an 8-4 record and some solid performances from those matches.

His opponent Alexander Bublik is Number 55 in the World Rankings, but he is 4-5 this season and I am not surprised he is set as the underdog in the match.

Regardless of the Rankings, it is Fucsovics who has been playing the better tennis of the two players. They have similar numbers behind serve, although it is Bublik who has been able to play the bigger points slightly better which has led to a slightly superior percentage of service games being held.

The actual points won behind serve have been similar for both players, but Marton Fucsovics has had a significant edge when it comes to the return. The Hungarian has won 41% of return points compared with Bublik's 35% mark and it has led to an 18% difference in games in which breaks have been secured in favour of Marton Fucsovics.

They are 1-1 from past meetings, but Marton Fucsovics has won their sole hard court meeting and edged the return numbers to get into that position. I have to respect the fact that Alexander Bublik can serve very big when he gets into a rhythm, but at this moment of time it is Fucsovics who has been playing the better tennis and he can move through to the Second Round in Marseille with a win and a cover as the favourite.

MY PICKS: Amanda Anisimova - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Alison Riske - 1.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Marketa Vondrousova - 3.5 Games @ 1.72 Bet365 (2 Units)
Benoit Paire - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Marton Fucsovics - 2.5 Games @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)

Season 2020: + 28.56 Units (279 Units Staked, + 10.24% Yield)

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