Thursday, 3 September 2015

Euro 2016 Qualifier Picks 2015 (September 3-5)

There are two Rounds of the European Championship Qualifiers which will be played over the next few days and I will split up the picks into two different posts.

You can read a recap of the last weekend Premier League football that I wrote here.

The next two Rounds of the Qualifiers are going to start seeing some nations booking their places in France for next summer, but will also begin to create a clearer picture as to those that are ready to join them after the October Qualifiers.

It is also an important time for teams like the Netherlands who have had a poor year to try and get into a position to work their way into the top two places in their Group.

England should have qualified after their second game next week, but the likes of Wales, Scotland, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland will be hoping to join them in France and will all know where they stand.

Wales and Northern Ireland look best placed for automatic places along with England, while Scotland and Republic of Ireland could be fighting it out for the one Play Off spot in their Group behind Germany and Poland. Scotland have two big fixtures this week and can't afford to begin by slipping up in Georgia, while the Republic of Ireland have their two 'easiest' games remaining in the next few days.

All five of the British and Irish nations have winnable away fixtures in the first round of games this week and all should be coming away with the three points to move a step closer to their goals. However, next week are some much tougher games for the likes of Scotland and Northern Ireland to deal with so they have to make hay this week and ensure they go in with three points earned.

Belgium v Bosnia & Herzegovina Pick: After earning two points from the first four games, Bosnia & Herzegovina looked to have suffered a hangover from their World Cup adventure which was going to cost them a place in the European Championships in 2016.

They have won their last couple of games in the Group to put themselves back in contention in the section, especially for the Play Off, but any chance of a top two finish would be eliminated if they fail to win in Belgium on Thursday.

I can't see Bosnia having enough to be the first team to beat Belgium since September 2010 and there looks to be too much firepower for them in this game. Belgium are still trying to make sure they stay ahead of the likes of Israel and Cyprus who have gathered behind them after a surprising 1-0 loss in Wales, but Belgium have won 2 of their 3 home games in the Group and have yet to concede a goal.

The pressure is on Bosnia to try and get a result in this one, but I think Belgium have the players to pick them off on the counter if they begin to chase the game. Belgium are the better team and I think they hang onto Wales at the top of their section and hold off Israel for another round of games in the second of the automatic promotion positions.

Turkey v Latvia Pick: There is little room for error from Turkey if they want to make their way into the European Championship, but they have three home games remaining and their destiny remains in their own hands. This is the 'easiest' of the remaining games, but Turkey host the Netherlands and Iceland as well as travelling to the Czech Republic and are currently just 2 points behind Holland in the Play Off spots.

They can't afford to drop points here and I think Turkey will prove too good for Latvia despite playing two high-scoring draws against them the last two times they have hosted them.

Any underestimation of Latvia could cost Turkey, but they should be focused knowing this side earned a 1-1 draw at the Czech Republic in this Group. That is two dropped points that could cost Czech Republic one of the top two positions in the Group and it would be fatal to Turkey's chances of qualifying if they didn't win the game.

Aside from that result in the Czech Republic, Latvia have lost a lot of their away games in recent years and they aren't the best travellers. They don't often lose heavily, but it does happen and Turkey will be looking for the goals that can give them the momentum to take into their next three huge qualifiers and I think they win this by a couple of goals.

Georgia v Scotland Pick: If there is any real ambition from Scotland to finish in the top two spots in the Group, they have to win this game in Georgia and stay with Germany and Poland who play one another on the same day. A failure to win here would mean Scotland having to beat Germany at home next week, and I can't imagine there would be too many rushing to back that happening.

Win and Scotland's home game against Poland next month is likely to be critical for them in trying to overturn their positions and earn an automatic spot in France next summer.

Georgia have been beaten by Germany, Poland and the Republic of Ireland so Scotland have to follow suit, but it won't be easy and the 1-0 home win over Georgia should tell all the players that. They have lost 5 of their last 6 home gams in the Qualifiers and isn't just the big nations that have won here as Finland did in the last set of Qualifiers for the World Cup and Ireland have won here in this Group.

Scotland were beaten 2-0 in their only previous visit here, but Gordon Strachan has got his side scoring goals on their travels and that might be key. It will be a close match, but Scotland winning at odds against is the call.

Germany v Poland PickI do think Germany have struggled under the expectation since winning the World Cup, while some of the players might have also felt they have achieved their biggest goal and perhaps rested on their laurels a little. That contributed to a poor start in their Euro 2016 Qualifying Group, but Germany looked to have turned things around and have to be favoured to earn one of the top two automatic qualifying spots.

However, that could all change if Germany fail to beat Poland on Friday ahead of a difficult test in Scotland next week, especially if the Scots have won in Georgia earlier in the day.

An easy home win over Gibraltar was expected, but Germany have been pushed by both Scotland and the Republic of Ireland in home Qualifiers last year, although those came soon after winning the World Cup. This time around the players should be more rested having a proper pre-season behind them and I expect Germany will turn on the style.

You don't want to dismiss Poland out of hand as the only unbeaten team in this Group, but they have negotiated a pretty nice set of fixtures and their hardest games are perhaps yet to come. The win at home over Germany was impressive, but away games in Germany and Scotland will determine whether Poland are able to earn an automatic spot in France for next summer.

The late equaliser from Shane Long in Poland's away game in Ireland might be the damaging two points lost, but this is a nation that will look to be hard to beat on Friday and try to agitate the crowd. If they can hold Germany at bay early, the home team will begin to feel the pressure, but I think the summer break aids the Germans compared with last summer and they can win this game by a couple of goals.

However, Germany might be more concerned about making sure they get the job done on Friday by any means necessary which means focus in defence and I will back them to win this with a clean sheet.

Gibraltar v Republic of Ireland PickYou never know how important goal difference is going to be for the Republic of Ireland and Scotland and both of those nations have to look at the away game at Gibraltar as the chance to improve on that front.

Both Poland and Germany have large leads on the goal difference front so you have to think the Republic of Ireland produce an attacking performance in Gibraltar to try and bridge that gap.

It won't be easy because Gibraltar will look to make life as difficult as possible for as long as possible, but both Germany and Poland have come here and scored seven goals and the Republic of Ireland did hit seven at home against them. There is a lot of hard working players in the Ireland squad though and they need a little more creativity now they are missing Aiden McGeady, but Martin O'Neill should have enough quality to secure a comfortable win ahead of the home game with Georgia.

These next two games are essential for Ireland to win well to give them some confidence to take into their last two games against Germany and Poland as the team looks to get back on level terms with the teams above them. I would expect Ireland are capable of scoring at least five goals here and there is every chance they get a couple more than that so they look a decent shout to cover the Asian Handicap.

San Marino v England PickSan Marino are going to try and make life difficult for England as they did at Wembley Stadium for large periods, but anything other than a comfortable away win would be a huge surprise.

There is enough pace in the England team to unlock San Marino and they could book their place at France 2016 with a win while Wayne Rooney will be looking for the two goals to surpass Bobby Charlton as the top English goalscorer.

I won't be surprised if the latter happens and England have found it easier to play their football in San Marino than at home in the past with their two highest goalscoring results coming in the away games. That might have something to do with the pressure of 80,000 people expecting England to score lots of goals and their three previous home wins have come by 6-0, 5-0 and 5-0 scores.

On the other hand, the two away wins came with 1-7 and 0-8 scores and England can play with a lot of freedom while some players can put a decent goalscoring mark on the record in a game like this. England were 0-5 up by half time when they visited San Marino in 2013 and I think they are going to record a routine win and they should be able to cover this Handicap mark.

Ukraine v Belarus PickThis is a big game for the Ukraine to try and stay on the coattails of both Spain and Slovakia above them and they can make a move in the Group knowing those two nations are playing one another. They can't take anything for granted against Belarus, especially with the expectation that the crowd will place on them, but Ukraine have to take their time and wear down their visitors.

It has been a poor section for Belarus who might have expected to challenge for a Play Off place at the very least, but their four points have come in away games in Macedonia and Luxembourg. However, Belarus did lose all 4 away games in the World Cup Qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup and Ukraine should have enough about them to win this game.

Ukraine might be looking ahead to what could be a vital Qualifier in Slovakia next week, but their focus has to be on the task at hand or that game might not mean as much as they would like it to. They have to avenge the home loss to Slovakia to have a chance to finish in the top two in the Group, but that will only matter if they can beat Belarus on Saturday.

It'll be far from easy for Ukraine, but Belarus might not have the fight that the home team have with qualification almost gone for them and I expect Ukraine to win this by a couple of goals and use that momentum to travel to Slovakia next week.

Spain v Slovakia PickUkraine have kept the pressure up on Spain in 2nd place in the Group and they might have pulled level with the Spaniards by the time this game kicks off on Saturday evening. With a visit to the Ukraine to come in the final two Qualifiers next month, Spain will know they need to win their remaining two home games to make sure they don't need to be involved in a Play Off for a place in France next summer.

I do think Spain will have enough quality to do that even if they are not as good as the teams that won the European Championship twice and the World Cup from 2008 to 2012. They have won their 3 home games in the Group and Spain will likely see Slovakia relying on the counter attack in this game so it will be about the home team breaking them down.

Slovakia may also be playing the long game knowing they have a 'bigger' game with the Ukraine just days later, a game that could be the key to automatic qualification. Avoiding defeat in one of their next two games will give Slovakia a real edge to finish in the top two knowing Ukraine and Spain will be playing one another next month and that might be the mindset as they visit Spain.

If Spain get in front, Slovakia could start thinking about the next game at home against Ukraine and I think that could allow the Spanish team to earn revenge for their loss in Zilina. That distraction may also allow Spain to win this one by a couple of goals and clear the handicap.

MY PICKS: Belgium - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Turkey - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.75 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Scotland @ 2.05 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Germany - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Republic of Ireland - 4.75 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
England - 5.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.14 Bet365 (2 Units)
Ukraine - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Spain - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)

August Update16-31-1, - 24.34 Units (94 Units Staked, - 25.89% Yield)

Season 2014/15159-208-5, - 20.22 Units (647 Units Staked, - 3.13% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

US Open Day 3 Picks 2015 (September 2nd)

It looks like being a frustrating day for the picks as two players in a strong position to win their matches, and cover the number, saw their opponents pull out with injuries on Tuesday.

That is a disappointment, but it raises the problem with the amount of retirements there have been throughout the first two days of the competition as the intense heat of New York City plus a long season takes its toll on the players. It is hard to know what can really be done about players cramping up during matches as Thanasi Kokkinakis did, although anyone who is going into a Grand Slam with a slight injury can't be made to withdraw.

It is a lot of money for a First Round defeat and some players know they have worked very hard to get into the main draw that they don't want to lose the money that a withdrawal prior to their match would effectively mean. There are some suggestions of players being given at least 50% of their match fee even if they withdraw prior to the first match simply as a means to encourage players to perhaps pull out when they aren't sure they can complete a match, but I am not sure how it will all work.

Up to this point it has been a more settled day compared to the stunning upsets that came out of the Monday matches, but there are still some big names that have yet to play and who knows what the rest of the evening will bring.

On Wednesday we are on to the Second Round matches as the top half of the draw is back in action and hopefully the winning picks aren't the ones that are seeing retirements as they did on Tuesday.

David Goffin - 6.5 games v Ricardas Berankis: I am a big fan of the David Goffin game and I think the best of five set matches are a very good time to back the Belgian in his current form. While he can be a slow starter, Goffin is clearly a smart player who works things out on the court and that has seen him begin to break down opponents and eventually come through in matches.

As I have said many times about Goffin, he might not be able to win a Grand Slam with the power limitations compared to the very top players, but he can see off opponents like Ricardas Berankis despite the clear talent the Latvian possesses.

There have been flashes from Berankis through his career, but the 25 year old has struggled for consistency with his high-risk tennis. He also has to work hard behind the serve and that is something that Goffin will sympathise with and this could actually be one of the better matches in terms of the type of tennis we will witness on Wednesday.

However, Berankis has already played a five setter in what has been very hot conditions in New York City and I do wonder how much he will have in the tank. It will likely begin close as both players are capable of creating break point chances and have some very talented shots in the locker, but eventually I think Goffin prevails in a 75, 64, 62 kind of win once he breaks down Berankis mentally and physically.

David Ferrer - 6.5 games v Filip Krajinovic: It has been a long time since we saw David Ferrer on the court having missed Wimbledon and the last two months of tennis with an injury. The rustiness showed early in his First Round match against Radu Albot and the first two sets were very tough, but Ferrer was able to fight back from dropping the opening set and eventually broke down his opponent.

That is what Ferrer has been able to do for much of his career as he has outlasted opponents and he is going to have to do something similar against Filip Krajinovic.

The young Serbian player is unlikely to match the achievements of compatriot Novak Djokovic, but he did represent his nation in the Davis Cup Quarter Final in July and has produced two Quarter Finals and won a tournament since then. OK, those tournaments have all been at the Challenger level and on clay, but Krajinovic was a convincing winner in the First Round too in his first match on the hard courts since the Miami Masters.

Confidence won't be an issue and other players have used strong runs on the Challenger Tour to propel their game on the main ATP Tour so don't dismiss Krajinovic easily. However, he is now facing the ultimate grinder in Ferrer who should be in a better place for his First Round win and rallying with the Spaniard over three hours is tough for anyone.

Another slow start from Ferrer can't be a surprise, but I think this time he'll just dig in to take the first set and push on from there for a 75, 63, 63 win.

Evgeny Donskoy + 2.5 sets v Marin Cilic: The current US Open Champion Marin Cilic had to battle through a couple of tie-breakers to see off Guido Pella in the First Round in that straight sets wins. Not many have tipped Cilic to be a threat to defend the title he won last season in Flushing Meadows, but most would expect him to move into the Third Round and a potential blockbuster of a match against Grigor Dimitrov.

I am not going to argue with those who think Cilic will play his part and win this match, but I think he looks an awfully short price to win this one in straight sets. His opponent Evgeny Donskoy doesn't have the same level of experience as Cilic and doesn't play at this level too often, but he has been performing strongly at the Challenger level in recent hard court tournaments.

Donskoy has reached the Quarter Final, Final and won a Challenger since Wimbledon on this surface and the confidence was carried over into the US Open qualifiers. Winning three more matches there and then a fairly comfortable First Round winner makes Donskoy a dangerous opponent, especially as he pushed Marin Cilic to three sets on an indoor hard court last year too.

And you have to say that Marin Cilic is battling through a lot of tie-breakers in recent weeks on this surface, a lottery really if Donskoy can put together seven impressive points. I do think Donskoy has to take one of the first two sets because his head may drop once finding himself 2-0 down in sets, but he is playing with confidence and Cilic is certainly a vulnerable player to dropping a set so backing the Russian to take at least one at odds against has to be the play.

Grigor Dimitrov - 6.5 games v Mikhail Kukushkin: Someone like Mikhail Kukushkin is the kind of player that can one day turn up on the court and play like someone who should be Ranked far higher than his current 56 World Ranking. On other days he can be very, very average and it is hard to know what to expect with Kukushkin on any given day.

For the most part Kukushkin has really held himself together when representing Kazakhstan in the Davis Cup and that is where he has had his biggest wins. It has not really happened for him in the Grand Slams with his previous best being a Fourth Round at the Australian Open and Kukushkin had lost in the First Round at all three previous Slams in 2015 before Yen-Hsun Lu retired on Monday.

If Kukushkin is on form, Grigor Dimitrov has to be really careful, but anything less and the Bulgarian should be able to back up his impressive First Round win. There have been some issues bothering Dimitrov through 2015 and I do wonder if that has played a part in his relatively poor season, but the win over Matthew Ebden in the style it was produced will have built some confidence.

Dimitrov still looks someone who is on the edge of losing that, but he should be able to get into a rhythm in this one which is important for him. I wouldn't be surprised if Kukushkin wins a set, but I think Dimitrov progresses 46, 63, 62, 64.

Benoit Paire - 5.5 games v Marsel Ilhan: The biggest concern in backing Benoit Paire is that he is going to produce an 'after the Lord Mayor's show' kind of performance after producing the biggest upset on the men's side of the draw at the time of writing.

Benoit Paire beat Kei Nishikori in five sets on Monday and he will have needed the time to recover both mentally and physically before he takes on Marsel Ilhan who benefited from Radek Stepanek's retirement. Paire showed tremendous strength of character to win a fourth set on Monday in the tie-breaker and then take the decider, but the Frenchman has to back that up and produce a run that those who believe he can reach the top of the game expect of him.

Beating Nishikori has opened up his section and Paire has to take advantage, and he is rightfully favoured to beat Ilhan who has had a hard time moving his game up to the main ATP Tour level. There are some things to like about the Ilhan game as he has a decent first serve and can produce some very good shots off the ground, but consistency, or lack thereof, is an issue which has cost him at the highest level.

There is no doubting that Paire is a hard player to trust to back up good performances, but he has performed better at the Challenger level than Ilhan and should have the edge when it comes to consistency. If he can serve well too, Paire should have enough for a 63, 46, 64, 63 win.

Rafael Nadal - 8.5 games v Diego Sebastien Schwartzman: I have only seen some highlights of the way Rafael Nadal played against Borna Coric and also read a few reports which all seemed to be very positive about the Spaniard. It was expected to be a test for him and one he looks to have passed impressively and I think the match up with Diego Sebastien Schwartzman is going to be perfect for Nadal to back up that First Round win.

I am not trying to be disrespectful to Schwartzman, but the Argentinian is one of the shorter players on the Tour that has to really work for every point he is going to win. He doesn't get an awful lot of help out of the serve and now faces an opponent who is going to play every point, or at least try to, as if it is the last of his career.

That has been the feature of Rafael Nadal and he produced more positive moments in his win over Coric that will give him some confidence. Nadal spoke about those positives, which has been rare for him in 2015, and I do think this is a kind match up for him.

I have no doubt that Schwartzman will produce some stunning tennis at times that gets the crowd behind him, but ultimately it is tough to defend on hot days on the fast hard courts. Nadal was serving well in the First Round and anything similar to the numbers produced in that match should see him ease through to the Third Round after a 63, 61, 64 win.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - 4.5 games v Anett Kontaveit: It wasn't a great start to the 2015 season for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, but there have been signs that the Russian is bringing her game together. She has reached the Semi Final in Baku, Final in Washington and Quarter Final in Cincinnati, while Pavlyuchenkova also had an impressive win over Magdalena Rybarikova in the First Round.

All of those are positives for Pavlyuchenkova, but she has to pull it together for this Grand Slam as she looks to move back up the World Rankings. There is a lot of power in the game that has to be admired, but Pavlyuchenkova's movement has perhaps been the downside as well as the mental focus in matches when things begin to go against her.

It is never easy to face an opponent you are unfamiliar with and Anett Kontaveit will be that as well as someone who has had four wins at the US Open already including the qualifiers. That makes Kontaveit dangerous but the majority of her matches have come at the level below the main WTA Tour and the youngster has failed to really bridge that gap when coming up against it.

That makes her win over Casey Dellacqua impressive, but Pavlyuchenkova is another step up for Kontaveit and I expect the Russian to have a little too much in a 63, 64 win.

Serena Williams - 7.5 games v Kiki Bertens: I promise I have chalked up Kiki Bertens' performance at Wimbledon down to just one of those days and it hasn't been a major influence in this pick.

At Wimbledon, Bertens won just one point against the Petra Kvitova serve and now faces perhaps the best serve in the women's game in history when she goes up against Serena Williams on Wednesday. I don't think Bertens crumbles in the same manner as she did in SW19, but there is a big talent gap to bridge here and Serena Williams does look a player on a mission.

It does have to be said that Serena Williams has actually ground her way through the last couple of Grand Slams she has won and hasn't really dominated to the point of covering a number like this. However, Bertens has suffered two bagels, two breadsticks and a 62 and 63 loss in the Grand Slams this season to lesser players than Williams, while her hard court record is nothing to write home about.

There is a slightly vulnerable side to Serena Williams early in a draw, but it doesn't look like it will come in this Round and I expect the favourite to make serene progress after a 62, 61 win.

Ekaterina Makarova - 5.5 games v Lauren Davis: Heather Watson admitted her disappointment with her level of performance in her defeat to Lauren Davis on Monday, but some credit has to be given to the diminutive American for maintaining her attacking game throughout.

She will need to do the same against Ekaterina Makarova, but it looks a big ask for Lauren Davis to beat the Russian unless there is still the lingering injury issue that Makarova has been dealing with. Makarova did look solid enough in the First Round win and her power is going to be a real issue for Davis to deal with, especially as she doesn't get a lot of help out of her own serve.

On the other hand, Davis is going to have to find a way to make effective returns off the first serve Makarova possesses and it does feel that she will have to do a lot more than is natural to turn this match in her favour. Makarova will have the edge in terms of serve, power off the ground and that is going to be difficult for Davis to deal with consistently.

With Makarova being able to play first strike tennis off the return, I am expecting her to come through this one 64, 62.

Belinda Bencic - 5.5 games v Misaki Doi: Winning the Canadian Premier Event having beaten the likes of Eugenie Bouchard, Caroline Wozniacki, Sabine Lisicki, Ana Ivanovic and Simona Halep would have given Belinda Bencic a lot of belief in her game and those who support her will also have been encouraged by the performances. Add in Serena Williams to that list and you can understand why Bencic has been tipped as a future Grand Slam winner and World Number 1 in the women's game.

The new 'Swiss Miss' made a very strong start to the US Open and many would have tipped her up as a dark horse prior to the draw last week. Now we know that Bencic will have to beat both Venus and Serena Williams if she is going to surpass her Quarter Final run here last season and it might be a little while before we see her make the big impact in a Grand Slam tournament.

This year it is a Fourth Round at Wimbledon which has been Bencic's best run, but she is in very good form and I think she can lay down more markers with her second impressive win of the tournament. You know what you are getting out of Misaki Doi who is a solid competitor but who generally finds the top players a little too good for her.

Doi beat Daniela Hantuchova in the First Round, but Belinda Bencic is another step up and the form being produced should see her ease through this match. There should be enough break points earned by Bencic to make this a fairly routine 63, 62 kind of win and I think she does win tidily.

Venus Williams - 4.5 games v Irini Falconi: It has been a long time since Venus Williams was a factor in the US Open draw and four consecutive losses at the Third Round or earlier is not what many would expect from the former World Number 1. Of course there has been some injuries and illness that have factored into those early defeats and Venus Williams may feel she received a 'get out of jail' card in the First Round and can build upon that.

It hasn't been great preparation for Venus Williams heading into the US Open, but she should still be too good for Irini Falconi who has struggled badly. Falconi has suffered a number of heavy losses since Wimbledon on the North American hard courts and to players that are not of the level of Williams so this is a very difficult match for her.

Playing in the evening will give Williams some comfort away from the heat and she has the all around bigger game than Falconi which means this match will be on her racquet.

Some of the play this summer has been erratic from Venus Williams so there is a chance that she self-combusts in the evening session, but I think she has too many weapons for her compatriot. As long as Williams remains focused, she should progress with a straight-forward 64, 63 win.

MY PICKS: David Goffin - 6.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
David Ferrer - 6.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Evgeny Donskoy + 2.5 Sets @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov - 6.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Benoit Paire - 5.5 Games @ 1.85 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Rafael Nadal - 8.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Serena Williams - 7.5 Games @ 1.73 Bet365 (2 Units)
Ekaterina Makarova - 5.5 Games @ 2.10 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Belinda Bencic - 5.5 Games @ 1.85 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Venus Williams - 4.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)

US Open Update: 11-6, + 8.21 Units (33 Units Staked, + 24.88% Yield)

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

US Open Day 2 Picks 2015 (September 1st)

In each of the Quarters of the draw for both men's and women's events there are eight Seeds and I had in my outright preview that the Second Quarter of the women's draw is an open one with doubts about Maria Sharapova.

The Russian Number 3 Seed pulled out on Sunday on the eve of the Grand Slam leaving seven Seeds in that section but those Seeds were embarrassed in the First Round on Monday.

Number 7 Ana Ivanovic, Number 10 Carla Suarez Navarro, Number 21 Jelena Jankovic and Number 30 Svetlana Kuznetsova were all knocked out on Monday and the most open portion of the women's draw certainly looks like one that is going to produce a surprise Semi Finalist now.

At the time I am writing this, Karolina Pliskova, the Number 8 Seed, has also been knocked out of the tournament as a somehow top ten player continues to produce nothing at Grand Slam events. That means her Third Round at the US Open remains her best ever performance in a Grand Slam event and that also makes me wonder if she is able to maintain a top ten spot consistently.

The men's draw has avoided the big upsets like the women's draw has, but it has had arguably the biggest upset of the day as Kei Nishikori was beaten by Benoit Paire. That's last year's Finalist Nishikori being beaten in the First Round, although he did have some injury issues coming into Flushing Meadows and now might mean a significant drop in the World Rankings.

That has always been the biggest concern about Nishikori as to whether he can physically maintain his health in what is a long and tough Tour. It's not the first time he has gone into a Grand Slam with some sort of ailment which has prevented him from having a deep run at the Majors and Nishikori might be a player that fails to fulfil his potential to the maximum because of these injuries.

I will provide an update of the US Open Picks record on Tuesday lunchtime with some matches from the picks made on Monday yet to be played. In the meantime you can read my outright picks here.

Day 2 at the US Open will conclude the First Round matches in both draws as every player gets their campaign underway and it should be another strong day of tennis at Flushing Meadows.

Richard Gasquet - 6.5 games v Thanasi Kokkinakis: I am a big fan of the potential that Thanasi Kokkinakis has flashed on the Tour, but I think there are a few mental barriers to overcome at the moment and I don't think he will have enough to keep up the challenge against Richard Gasquet.

This is a tough First Round match for Gasquet, but I am not sure Kokkinakis is feeling too pleased about being dragged into the Nick Kyrgios-Stan Wawrinka controversy. It has put his opponents on edge as we saw when he played Ryan Harrison and the fans will also 'know the name' after that controversial moment.

For a young player, this is not the kind of attention they want at this stage of their career and it has also been a long season for Kokkinakis as he tries to get through the grind that can set in on Tour. All of these aspects will affect the play from a mental standpoint and a player like Gasquet is solid enough to take advantage.

They met in Cincinnati recently where Gasquet had to battle through a difficult first set before pulling away in the second and the feeling is a similar story will develop in Flushing Meadows. Kokkinakis hasn't been getting the most of the return games of late and Gasquet will get enough serves back in play as the match develops to find a way to outmanoeuvre him on the court and earn break point chances.

In a best of five sets match there are lulls in the play, but I think Gasquet battles through his difficult moments by looking after the second serve better than Kokkinakis and prevails 76, 62, 64.

Mikhail Youzhny - 2.5 Games v John-Patrick Smith: Another couple of players that met recently on the North American hard courts are Mikhail Youzhny and John-Patrick Smith who were Qualifier opponents at the Canadian Masters in Montreal. On that occasion it was Youzhny who got off to a fast start and held off Smith in two sets and I think the veteran could have the edge in this one too.

I don't know if Youzhny will come out on the Tour in 2016 as he has seen his wins go from 39 in the 2013 season to less than half that number in 2014 (18) and currently stands at less than half again with 8 going into the US Open. The veteran still plays some good stuff, but he might just have lost half a step with his movement and is beginning to fail the consistency that he had a couple of years ago.

However, he will still believe he is too strong for someone like John-Patrick Smith even if the Australian had a strong run at the Challenger in Vancouver (reached the Final) and has also won three qualifiers to get into the main draw. The wins in Vancouver will give Smith confidence, but he didn't beat too many players that would be favoured to beat Youzhny and his losses to the Russian and Lleyton Hewitt in Washington are troublesome.

It will take some work from Youzhny in a best of five set match to get this done, but I think the veteran uses all of the experience he has accumulated in his career and finds a way into the Second Round after a 63, 36, 63, 64 win.

Kevin Anderson - 5.5 games v Andrey Rublev: A title win in Winston Salem on Saturday just a couple of days before the start of the US Open will have given Kevin Anderson a confidence boost, but physically means there is a fair bit of tennis in the legs. Of course a first title since 2012 has to be celebrated by Anderson, but I do wonder if there is going to be enough left in the tank to challenge for a place in the second week.

Without sounding harsh, Anderson doesn't really have big expectations to win a Grand Slam and so winning the title last week was probably a bigger deal than resting for the US Open. He still has a big serve that can see him conserve more energy than a long week may suggest and Anderson has the chance to play himself into the draw with this First Round draw against Andrey Rublev.

The young Russian looks like another that could be a star of the future and he has had some big results this year as well as the inconsistencies that will come from being a young player on Tour. Rublev has rubbed some opponents up the wrong way which has perhaps caused them to lose their focus, but Anderson doesn't strike me as someone who gets caught up in 'game playing' and will keep doing what he does.

I'd expect Anderson to eventually get the chances on the Rublev serve and he was pretty clinical for the most part last week when the break points presented themselves. If he can continue to do that, I'd see Anderson wear down the younger player and come through with a 75, 63, 64 kind of win.

Thomaz Bellucci - 5.5 games v James Ward: He reached the Third Round at Wimbledon after taking advantage of the withdrawal of David Ferrer and James Ward hit a career high Ranking as he finally broke into the top 100 of the World Rankings. However, things haven't exactly gone from strength to strength for the British player since then.

In fact it has all been a sharp downwards curve for Ward who has lost 8 Singles matches in a row including the Third Round loss at Wimbledon. Some of the losses are understandable to the likes of Gilles Simon and Alexandr Dolgopolov, but defeats to Michael Berrer, Yasutaka Uchiyama and Ze Zhang tells me that Ward's entry to the top 100 might be a one and done for him in his career.

Ward's serve is a vulnerable one, while his forehand is erratic at best. The backhand is a respectable shot, but lefty Thomaz Bellucci is going to give that side a real working over and I expect the Brazilian to be too strong in this First Round match.

It is fair to say that Bellucci's best results have been on the clay courts, but he is a capable player on the faster surfaces, although he will have to serve well just to build some momentum and confidence. He has some solid wins this last six weeks but Bellucci can sometimes lose focus which makes this number a difficulty to cover.

However, Ward has to be very short of confidence with 8 losses in a row behind him and the fight and belief might not be at the level expected. After a tight opening set, Bellucci may begin to take control and wear down Ward in a 76, 63, 63 win.

Lleyton Hewitt - 4.5 games v Aleksandr Nedovyesov: I am not allowing nostalgia to decide my picks for me having backed Mardy Fish to win his First Round match yesterday and picking Mikhail Youzhny and now Lleyton Hewitt to follow him through to the Second Round.

This is the final US Open for Hewitt who will have great memories of past performances here and I think he has a draw he can take advantage of. The Australian beat Aleksandr Nedovyesov in the final rubber of the Davis Cup tie between Australia and Kazakhstan in July, although Nedovyesov had had to play on all three days of that tie.

That is going to give the mental edge to Hewitt anyway, but the bigger factor may be that Nedovyesov hasn't played any hard court tennis since that Davis Cup tie either. In fact, Nedovyesov hasn't played on the hard courts since taking part in some Challenger events earlier in the year and I am not sure how much comfort he feels on this surface.

Nedovyesov did reach the Second Round here last season, but Hewitt has the fans behind him on his farewell Tour and can use that to his advantage. He hasn't been playing too much hard court tennis himself over the last six weeks, but will have been playing in North America to get used to the conditions expected rather than European Challenger clay courts and I expect that to show up on the scoreboard at the end of the match.

After a tight couple of sets that perhaps goes each way, I like Hewitt to come through 64, 57, 63, 64.

Gilles Muller - 5.5 games v Ruben Bemelmans: It is not often that you want to back a player like Gilles Muller to cover what is a relatively high number because of his return game. While I expect Muller to always produce decent serving numbers, his returning game can be hit or miss, although I have been tempted in by decent form over the last couple of months.

2015 has been a good season for Muller and a strong end could see him perhaps get into a position to be Seeded when the Australian Open rolls around in January. After being very successful on the Challenger Tour in 2014, Muller has bridged the gap to the main draw with some solid results through the season and he should remain too good for Ruben Bemelmans.

The Belgian continues to play the majority of his tennis on the Challenger circuit, but he hasn't been winning as many matches as he might have liked of late. He did earn a main draw place at the US Open so has to be respected, but Bemelmans is someone who can lose his focus and allow Muller to get in front where he will be hard to be pulled back from.

Both are left handers so the angles shouldn't be able to surprise the other and I think that also gives Muller an edge as Bemelmans might have been expecting to surprise an opponent. If Muller can take what should be a tight first set, I expect he takes control of the match and moves through 76, 63, 64.

Ryan Harrison v Rajeev Ram: There isn't a lot I am going to say about this match between two American players who don't have big expectations but to try and build some Ranking points in their home Grand Slam.

Rajeev Ram did win a title in Newport on the grass in July and he has been the slightly more productive player in terms of results over the last few weeks on the North American hard courts. However, I like Ryan Harrison's game a little more all around than Ram's and I believe he can make enough balls back in play to prevail in the longer rallies that develop.

Both do look for the big shot early in the rally and I do think there will be plenty of unforced errors on both sides of the court, but the bigger upside comes from Ryan Harrison in my opinion. I actually thought Harrison would be closer to 1.40 to win this match, so I was surprised by the actual price being offered.

This could potentially be a five setter but I will back Ryan Harrison to move through.

Stan Wawrinka - 7.5 games v Albert Ramos-Vinolas: This is a big number and not always one that Stan Wawrinka has a lot of success in surpassing, but I think he can do enough to do that against Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

The Spaniard is a clay court specialist who has had no intention of playing on the hard courts this summer, but Ramos-Vinolas is a lefty which makes him an awkward customer. Of course the natural shot for him is to go into the right handed backhand, but that doesn't end well for too many people when playing Stan Wawrinka.

It will come down to whether Ramos-Vinolas makes full use out of the lefty serve- the first delivery is strong, but the second is much more attackable and Wawrinka should have success against it. You have to think Wawrinka is in a better place after the controversy of Montreal which is now three weeks ago and he did have a couple of tough wins in Cincinnati to build some confidence.

Wawrinka has dominated the head to head against Ramos-Vinolas, but the matches have been competitive which is a concern for this number. However, the lack of motivation for Ramos-Vinolas on the hard courts might show up if he falls behind early on and Wawrinka can have his most straight-forward win over the Spaniard as he cruises through 63, 64, 63.

Andy Murray - 6.5 games v Nick Kyrgios: The British media have described this as a really dangerous First Round draw for Andy Murray, but he has gotten the better of Nick Kyrgios comfortably in the past and I am not sure the Australian receives too much support on a big Arthur Ashe Court after recent controversies.

Outwardly it might not bother Kyrgios that much, but he has lost two matches in a row fairly easily since his comments to Stan Wawrinka in Montreal and I still believe he is dealing with some sort of elbow issue which affects the serve. Murray has broken down the Kyrgios game having won all eight sets competed and six of those sets has seen the Australian win three games or fewer.

Murray is a very effective returner when it comes to nullifying big serves and making sure they get back in play and I think he will do the same to Kyrgios and force mental mistakes from his opponent. The controversial youngster is never far away from throwing in a shocker on serve and I think Murray will break him down mentally and physically in this First Round match.

Kyrgios does love the big occasion, but I think this season is taking a toll on him mentally and Murray will prevail in the night session match with a 64, 63, 64 win.

Petra Kvitova - 6.5 games v Laura Siegemund: Petra Kvitova has dominated in New Haven in recent seasons and won her third title in four years at that event prior to the US Open. Unfortunately for Kvitova, she has failed to build on that momentum at the final Grand Slam of the season despite having a game that clearly transfers onto the hard courts.

Her First Round match looks like one that should suit Kvitova who played the Final in New Haven on Saturday and has had a couple of days to build up the energy reserves ahead of her first match here.

Any player that comes through three qualifiers has to be respected, but Laura Siegemund has played the majority of her matches off the hard courts and this is a sharp increase in level of competition to what she has faced. The evening conditions may slow down the ball a bit which might only aid Kvitova to get set to unleash her powerful groundstrokes and it is hard to look beyond the World Number 5 winning this match with something to spare.

Kvitova has to serve well, but she was doing that in New Haven for the most part and I think she is going to make a very good start and record a 62, 63 win.

MY PICKS: Richard Gasquet - 6.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Mikhail Youzhny - 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Kevin Anderson - 5.5 Games @ 1.73 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Thomaz Bellucci - 5.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Lleyton Hewitt - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Gilles Muller - 5.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)
Ryan Harrison @ 1.80 Betway (2 Units)
Stan Wawrinka - 7.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Andy Murray - 6.5 Games @ 1.73 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Petra Kvitova - 6.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

US Open Update: 7-2, + 9.27 Units (17 Units Staked, + 54.53% Yield)

Monday, 31 August 2015

Weekend Football Thoughts 2015 (August 29-30)

The first international break of the new season is upon us and the first four rounds of the Premier League have been very interesting.

By the time the League kicks off again, the transfer window would have slammed shut and there are still expected to be some big moves made in the market before the Midnight deadline on Monday 31st August in Europe and 6pm on Tuesday 1st September in England and Scotland who have a Bank Holiday on the Monday.

Chelsea in Crisis?
Anyone who thought the Chelsea win at West Brom last Sunday was going to be a turning point for their season were in for a rude awakening on Saturday as the Champions were beaten 1-2 by Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge.

Jose Mourinho was very disappointed with the performance and his pretty open criticism of some of his more experienced players was surprising. This is usually not his style of management and it is clear that Mourinho isn't happy with the recruiting policy of the Chelsea board this summer with the next 24 hours crucial for them to bring in the players the manager has wanted.

It seems unlikely that Chelsea will be able to lure John Stones and Paul Pogba in this current transfer window, but I still think the team is going to be freshened up in the next game at Everton after the international break. That break has also frustrated Mourinho was said he can't do much when only four players are left at the training ground for the next ten days, but the manager has to find a way to get his side going and quickly.

Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas has been off the pace in the early going, while the rest of the defence haven't been able to make up for their poor performances. Eden Hazard has yet to spark into life in the new Premier League season and Chelsea have drifted eight points behind Manchester City in the table already. How many would seriously have predicted that a Jose Mourinho Chelsea team would have conceded at least two goals in each of their opening four games in the Premier League?

There does seem to be a negative undercurrent that has filtered through Stamford Bridge and Jose Mourinho has regularly had a tough third season at previous clubs. I do begin to wonder whether he can only get a team to shine for a couple of years before looking to shift any blame in performances onto anyone but himself, which won't sit well with others at the club.

Last week it was a back handed compliment to the owner, this week it is some of the players that have failed to perform, but all of this isn't masking the clear unhappiness that Mourinho is displaying.

The next set of games between the international breaks are going to be huge for Chelsea and they are not going to be easy: Everton away, Maccabi Tel Aviv at home, Arsenal at home, Walsall away, Newcastle United away, Porto away and Southampton at home.

To get back into the title race, Chelsea have to find a way to pick up at least 10 points from a possible 12 in the League and will also be expected to make a positive start to the defence of the Capital One Cup they won last season as well as the Champions League. It's a difficult task and one that will show us how much character and belief is left in a Chelsea squad that might just have seen a number of players go over the edge of being productive performers at this level.

Potential Surprise Top Four Candidate?
No one should be rushing for the panic button after four games in the Premier League and the table will have a much clearer feel at the end of the next set of games leading to the second international break of the season.

However, the surprising start to the Premier League has perhaps shown that teams are more evenly matched than ever before and there is a potentially surprise name that could challenge for a top four berth.

Manchester City, if they stay healthy, have always been my favourite because I simply think they have the best eleven in the Premier League and enough options off the bench to cover short term injuries and suspensions. They look like they have come out meaning business this season and I think they could be tough to peg back if they can balance the Premier League and Champions League commitments.

Going into the international break, Manchester City remain the only team with wins in all four Premier League games played, but the top four is made up by Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Swansea City. Now it would take something special for those teams to maintain their top four challenge simply because they don't have the same squad depths as the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool, but all three may also look at how long Southampton lasted within range of the top four last season.

If any of those three teams can add to their squads, or more importantly maintain the status quo after the transfer window, one of them may possibly surprise for a little while longer. If I was to pick the one team that could perhaps be that team, I would pick Swansea City who have looked pretty good defensively, but also look like a team that will create chances and score goals under a really good manager in Garry Monk.

Swansea have already taken four points off of Chelsea and Manchester United and have a decent set of fixtures coming up which could see them build confidence and extend the run of form they have displayed.

Harry Kane Confidence Issues
In the summer Manchester United were being linked with a £40 million bid for Harry Kane and I took to Twitter with my opinion that the striker needs more than one good season before a transfer of that magnitude should be made.

He had struggled for goals at the end of last season and I was expecting a drop off from Kane this season even though he was going to lead the line for Tottenham Hotspur in every Premier League game.

So you might think I want to bash a striker that hasn't scored a League goal yet right? That would be wrong.

I think it is too early to claim I was 'right' with my opinion of the striker because he is clearly in a down period where the confidence is shot to bits. The picture above was a chance where Kane had been put clean through on goal, but his first touch was of a player that didn't feel good about his ability to score, even though last season he would have found a way to put the ball past Tim Howard.

One of my criticisms of Kane was that a lot of his goals came from poor touches and eventually those won't work out as they did almost every time last season. That touch on Saturday when clean through was of a player still finding his feet at the top level and that was my main reason I didn't want him to sign for Manchester United.

But I also do think it is a confidence issue and that he needs a deflection to aid him or one to come off the wrong part of the foot... He just needs to see the ball hit the back of the net and I think he can rediscover some form, although I also think Kane is unfortunate with the limited support he is getting from this Tottenham Hotspur team.

The signing of Son Heung-Min from Bayer Leverkusen will be music to the ears of Kane, while Tottenham Hotspur still believe they can persuade West Brom to sell Saido Berahino to them and getting both in might be exactly what Kane needs to get back to scoring the goals that Spurs fans have come to expect.

Strange August Results
I said at the start of the season that August produces a number of strange results with teams getting back to the competitive action from a long lay-off and trying to shake off the pre-season.

However, the Premier League has been even more difficult to predict than usual and one statistic has really highlighted that.

There have been just nine wins from forty Premier League games played this season.

Imagine that, a League that produces about a 48% home win rate through the course of the season has seen less than 25% of the games this season end with a home winner.

Take away Manchester City and Swansea City and it becomes five wins in thirty-six Premier League games, a 13.88% strike rate for home wins.

No one can deny that is a weird statistic, but some of the stories out there about home advantage no longer being relevant are just taking in a small trend and making a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to their conclusion. If this lasts for three months, you could perhaps argue that home advantage has been lessened, but over the years these teams have won the highest percentage of Premier League games and I still expect that trend to show up later in the season.

I do think the open transfer window has led to some uncertainty in teams which hasn't helped when playing in front of their own fans. Some players don't want to be at clubs and so perhaps are being stifled at home where the pressure of expectation is on them, while other clubs perhaps will settle down once they know what their squad make up will be going into the next four months.

It will be interesting to see what the percentage of home wins has become at the next international break so it will be something I will keep an eye on.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

US Open Day 1 Picks 2015 (August 31st)

The final Grand Slam of the season is ready to begin and the opening day has the two defending Champions from last year playing their first match as Serena Williams and Marin Cilic are both in action. The favourite in the men's event is also in action as Novak Djokovic is scheduled for the day session on Arthur Ashe and there is plenty of intriguing tennis that is going to be played through the day as the top half of the First Round draw is all set for action.

I have put down my thoughts in relation to potential winners of the US Open which can be read here.

The First Round of a Grand Slam event can offer plenty of opportunities to make picks and this tournament is no different. Hopefully it will mean a strong start to the tournament which gets underway at 4pm British time on Bank Holiday Monday.

David Goffin - 5.5 games v Simone Bolelli: This has been a breakthrough year for David Goffin who has already surpassed his best in terms of wins in a single season on the main Tour and that has led to him reaching World Number 14. I like David Goffin, I like the way he plays, but he might always have an issue when he plays against the very best players in terms of a lack of power compared with those guys.

That isn't the issue against someone like Simone Bolelli who is a good solid veteran of the Tour who is having a very good season of his own. In fact, Bolelli is one win away from matching the same number of main Tour wins as in the past five seasons combined and that confidence can't be underestimated.

The Italian hasn't shown too much appetite for playing on the hard courts in preparation for the US Open though and I think Goffin will get a handle on him and eventually wear him down. Bolelli does have a decent game that transfers onto the faster surfaces with a solid first serve that can give him the chance to dictate rallies.

However, I think Goffin has shown he can turn things around when figuring out what his opponent is bringing to the table. He did that in Wimbledon and I think Goffin will win his second match in a row over Bolelli in the 2015 season having lost on the hard courts in Sydney earlier in the year.

Mardy Fish - 6.5 games v Marco Cecchinato: This is the last tournament that Mardy Fish will be playing in his career and the American would love to have one more run at the US Open. After a long absence off the Tour, that is unlikely, but I still think Fish has enough in the tank to beat a player that has spent the majority of his time at the lower level than the main Tour and who is clearly a clay court specialist.

That isn't taking anything away from Marco Cecchinato because he did win three qualifiers in Winston Salem last week, although the Italian was hammered pretty convincingly in the main draw there and in a qualifier in Cincinnati.

Of course Fish hasn't done a lot of winning since playing some tournaments this past six weeks, but that had to be expected from his comeback. He did have a very good win over the out of form Victor Troicki, but playing a best of five sets match will be difficult from a fitness perspective for Fish.

Even with that in mind, Fish has the big serve and the heavy groundstrokes to hurt Cecchinato and I think the crowd is going to be so behind the home player that it could potentially rattle his opponent. This is a big number for a player that hasn't played much tennis in eighteen months, but I think Fish rides the emotion of his final tournament and wins this one 63, 75, 64.

Grigor Dimitrov - 7.5 games v Matthew Ebden: 2015 has been a difficult season for Grigor Dimitrov compared with 2014, and his form going into the US Open could be described as sketchy at best. There is little doubt that confidence has been shaken as shown in his loss to Andy Murray at the Cincinnati Masters, but I have a feeling this could be a strong couple of weeks for the Bulgarian.

He has landed in the open Second Quarter of the draw and has a real chance to earn a confidence boosting win in the First Round when he faces Matthew Ebden, a qualifier from Australia.

Winning three matches is obviously a boost for anyone so Ebden is going to go in confident, but he has failed to bridge the gap with the main level in the past. He has some nice shots in the locker, but Ebden's serve will give players of the quality of Dimitrov a chance to get into a position to break serve.

The question is where Dimitrov is at mentally? He has suffered some personal and professional upset in recent weeks, but you have to think things are beginning to settle down for him. He had his best run at the US Open last year, finally getting beyond the First Round, and Dimitrov should find enough in the locker to see him off as long as he is mentally in the right frame of mind in Flushing Meadows.

After a couple of tough sets, I expect Ebden might just drop his level and Dimitrov can take advantage in a 76, 63, 62 win.

Tommy Robredo - 5.5 games v Michael Berrer: Tommy Robredo is the kind of player that is happy to drag opponents deep into matches and back his own superior fitness to see him through. That has led to some long, grind it out style Grand Slam matches for him in the past, but matches he has eventually been able to prevail in.

He enters the US Open in some good nick of late and Robredo should be able to wear down Michael Berrer if he can weather the early German storm that is likely to come. Berrer has won three qualifiers to reach the main draw at the US Open and his lefty serve can give him an awkward weapon that his opponents have to deal with.

The serve coming from a left hander is always something that takes a bit of time for players to get used to, but Berrer is comfortable backing it up with serve-volley tactics. That can see him pressure opponents who want to get involved in rallies by bunting the ball back in play which Robredo may be looking to do, but I do wonder if the 35 year old has enough bounce in his step to keep closing the angles at the net.

If Berrer is forced to dig in from the baseline, there will only be one winner of this match, so he has to try and attack Robredo early, even when in the returning games. Doing that might see Berrer even nick a set, but Robredo should eventually be too strong and I expect him to wear down Berrer in a 67, 64, 63, 64 win.

Rafael Nadal Win 3-1 v Borna Coric: One of the most intriguing First Round matches at the US Open in the men's draw has to be the one between Rafael Nadal and Borna Coric. It is clear that the tournament organisers feel the same with this being one of the two night session matches on the Arthur Ashe court as the future of the ATP takes on a player hope is not the past.

Rafael Nadal is not coming to New York City with many supporters expecting him to go all the way to the title as a disappointing 2015 gets into the final furlong. Some may consider Nadal is never going to get back to his best, but I don't think this is a time to draw a line through his name going forward although 2016 is going to be a big season for the Spaniard.

In the other corner under the lights is Borna Coric who at eighteen years old is considered one of the bright sparks that could reach the top of the men's game. He already has a win over Rafael Nadal so I don't think he will be overawed by the occasion, especially with the confidence he has displayed in interviews and matches since that win.

However, physically Coric is still on the build and his forehand remains an inconsistent shot that can break down. Fortunately his backhand is a strength going up against the Nadal forehand, but Coric is someone who will have some sloppy moments which has to be expected from a young player finding his feet.

It would be a major upset if Coric was able to beat Nadal in a best of five set match, but the latter has become accustomed to surprise losses in Grand Slams already this season. I just don't believe this will be one of those, although Coric's chances of taking a set are underestimated and Nadal winning in four has to be worthy of a small interest.

Ana Ivanovic - 4.5 games v Dominika Cibulkova: It has been difficult for Dominika Cibulkova to rediscover the form that took her to the Quarter Final at the Australian Open since returning to the Tour after a lay off of three months. Cibulkova missed the entire clay court season ahead of the French Open and she has lost a fair few matches while struggling for wins since Eastbourne.

She did put together a couple of tough, battling wins in New Haven last week to give her some confidence, but Ana Ivanovic has been too powerful for her in their last couple of matches and can make it three wins in a row against Cibulkova.

The US Open hasn't been a great tournament for Ivanovic in the past, but she is a popular face around these parts and should receive plenty of support. Anyone who has read my outright preview will see that I think Ivanovic is ready for her best run at this Grand Slam and I think she can make a very strong start.

Her losses in Toronto and Cincinnati have been franked by the form that Belinda Bencic and Serena Williams have shown and the win over Sloane Stephens is a solid result. The wind in New York usually plays havoc with the Ivanovic game and is partly responsible for her bad record here, while she is also a fairly inconsistent sort of player, but it looks a warm day and the Serb might be able to get off before the wind picks up on Monday.

If she can keep her game face on, I think Ivanovic wins a difficult looking First Round match 64, 63.

Karolina Pliskova - 5.5 games v Anna Tatishvili: For someone who is up to World Number 8 in the Rankings, you have to be surprised by the poor Grand Slam record Karolina Pliskova has in her career. Imagine this, a top ten player who has never been beyond the Third Round at a Grand Slam and who has been beaten in the Second Round at every Slam played in 2015.

That is a stunning record and one that you just wouldn't expect would be good enough to see a player reach the top ten of the World Rankings. Karolina Pliskova has plenty of solid results behind her, but is never far away from a surprising loss and is the kind of player that backs up those who feel the WTA talent pool is very thin behind Serena Williams.

Pliskova does have a title to her name this season and has reached four other Finals which has helped her march up the World Rankings, but she has to make an impact in a Grand Slam. Her best result came here last season and facing a qualifier in Anna Tatisvili should give Pliskova the perfect opportunity to make a strong start to this US Open.

The last three times that Tatisvili has reached the main draw at the US Open has seen her run ended by top 20 players in very convincing fashion. She hasn't had a great season and struggled to bridge a gap between herself and top players and Pliskova should have too much power for her in this First Round contest. Once Pliskova finds her feet, I think she comes through 64, 62.

Eugenie Bouchard v Alison Riske: I have been highly critical of some of the losses that Eugenie Bouchard has had to take this season, but I do think the Canadian can perhaps avoid a First Round defeat against Alison Riske who she has dominated in recent matches.

That includes a win over the American in Eastbourne which was a rare high moment for Bouchard during that portion of the season and I think she can beat her again. That despite coming in off a loss where Bouchard won one game against Roberta Vinci in New Haven and clearly hit a new low for her confidence.

Jimmy Connors has been working with Bouchard this week to try and help her find her mentally and her game is not really in a position to go deep into the event, but I also think Alison Riske has been struggling. Riske has produced some wins this summer, but mentally it might be tough for her to beat Bouchard having created chances to break serve in their meeting in Eastbourne, but failing to convert those.

There is little doubt Bouchard is the more talented player although three wins on the Tour since Indian Wells is an embarrassing record for her to deal with. One of those wins came against Riske though and I do think the latter might just struggle emotionally to get the job done which should help Bouchard through in a pick 'em contest.

Coco Vandeweghe + 4.5 games v Sloane Stephens: This has to be one of the more difficult First Round matches that Sloane Stephens could have asked for as she looks to back up her first title in Washington with her best run at the US Open. All eyes are on a potential Third Round match with Serena Williams later this week, but Sloane Stephens won't want to overlook Coco Vandeweghe who reached the Quarter Final at Wimbledon.

It has been difficult for Vandeweghe to back up that performance on the North American hard courts where you think her game would be well suited and she has only gone 1-4 over the last six weeks. Some of those defeats have been heavy as well as disappointing, but her serve should give her a chance to put Stephens under some pressure.

The backhand side should be dominated by Stephens and the big question for Vandeweghe is whether she can rediscover some form having had her two best Grand Slam results first at the Australian Open and then surpassed at Wimbledon in 2015. She has a serve that should provide her with some cheap points and she has to try and shift the pressure onto Stephens who the American crowd will be much more familiar with.

Actually completing the upset might be beyond Vandeweghe in current form, but she has the quality to make this a competitive match and backing her with a healthy number of games could be productive.

Daria Gavrilova + 4.5 games v Maria Sharapova: Another underdog that looks to be given too many games is Daria Gavrilova who faces Maria Sharapova in the First Round. This pick has plenty to do with the doubts surrounding Sharapova and how healthy she is to make a real run at the final Grand Slam of the season.

There has been no competitive action from Sharapova since Wimbledon as she has been limited by a leg strain and even now some are suggesting that she could pull out of the draw. I think Sharapova does try and give this a go, but this is a very difficult First Round match for her, especially as Gavrilova beat her at the Miami Premier Event earlier this season.

Gavrilova hasn't exactly been in dominant form since Wimbledon as the move onto the hard courts hasn't worked out as planned, but she is still playing and that competitive edge can show up in the match. She hasn't had a real impact at the Grand Slam level yet, but Gavrilova has plenty in her favour to perhaps pick up her biggest win of her career.

Even if she can't win the match, this is a lot of games to get against an opponent who will need time to find her feet on the court after an almost two month lay off. It will be tough for Sharapova to immediately come out and start spraying winners everywhere so the key for Gavrilova is to play solid tennis and make sure she doesn't give the match away without taking away anything from her aggressive style which has brought some big wins this season.

If Gavrilova can just stay focused and not let her emotions take over in this match, it should be close if not produce the biggest casualty of Monday's tennis in New York City.

EDIT NOTE: I just finished writing this post when the news broke that Maria Sharapova has pulled out of the US Open so the last pick made is not in play.

MY PICKS: David Goffin - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Mardy Fish - 6.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov - 7.5 Games @ 1.73 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Tommy Robredo - 5.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Rafael Nadal Win 3-1 @ 3.75 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Ana Ivanovic - 4.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Karolina Pliskova - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Eugenie Bouchard @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Coco Vandeweghe + 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Daria Gavrilova + 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)