Sunday, 25 January 2015

Australian Open Day 8 Picks 2015 (January 26th)

The Quarter Finals at the Australian Open have already set four intriguing matches across the men's and women's events, but another four matches will be set today and I have the feeling those will be 'good looking' ones too.

The business end of Grand Slam tournaments will generally provide plenty of drama and it is good to see the Australian Open has been leading up to these kind of matches into the second week of the event. We have already had some surprises, but generally the best players have got through and that is always a benefit to tournament organisers.

Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep making it through to the Quarter Finals also means three of the four outright picks remain very much in contention to win the respective tournaments. The daily picks also had a very good first week and it was another positive day yesterday as I hope to wrap up the week with positive results.

Kei Nishikori win 3-1 v David Ferrer: These two players both work extremely hard on the court and expect to see some long rallies with some exceptional tennis mixed in to boot.

I have always had a lot of respect for David Ferrer, but I think Kei Nishikori is a much improved player over the last twelve months with his run to the US Open Final a real confidence boost and a vindication for the hard work he puts in.

The feeling is that Ferrer has just dropped from the heights of a couple of years ago, even if he did win the title in Doha to open the season, and I think Nishikori will just have too much for him. However, Nishikori's serve could still do with some work and I do think Ferrer will fashion enough chances to extend this to four sets.

Nishikori has won 4 in a row against Ferrer, but he dropped a set in every one of those matches and I think he will likely do that in this one before coming through a tough Fourth Round match.

Novak Djokovic - 7.5 games v Gilles Muller: After coming through the first three Rounds fairly comfortably, Novak Djokovic should be feeling better in the second week now that he is over his illness.

This isn't the easiest of matches against a big-serving Gilles Muller who is playing very well at the moment, but Djokovic is the best returner on the Tour and I expect he will put enough pressure on Muller. Djokovic should create chances once he gets his eye in on the return and I think that will help him ease through to the Quarter Finals.

Djokovic was pushed by Fernando Verdasco in the Third Round, but I think that just focuses him a little more in this one and he will work through a 75, 63, 63 win.

Garbine Muguruza + 1.5 sets v Serena Williams: Some of the mistakes that Garbine Muguruza made in the last Round against Timea Bacsinszky won't be able to be ignored against someone of the quality of Serena Williams, but I also think the latter has been struggling through the first week of the tournament.

Williams has been able to recover from her slow starts in the first three matches at the Australian Open, but she was perhaps a little fortunate to not have bumped into someone like Muguruza earlier in the event.

The loss at the French Open to this opponent last season will not have been forgotten by Williams which will make her a more dangerous player in this one with the added focus. However, I can't ignore the early struggles she has had in 2015 and I think Muguruza can give Williams some real problems in this one.

I am not sure if Muguruza will be able to play well enough for long enough to beat Serena, but taking a set at odds against looks a big price.

Madison Keys - 3.5 games v Madison Brengle: The big question will be whether Madison Keys can back up her very impressive win over Petra Kvitova in the Third Round and I think she will with the advice being given to her by Lindsey Davenport.

Madison Brengle came through her Third Round match thanks in part to the mistakes made by CoCo Vandeweghe and I don't think Keys is going to be as generous as her compatriot was a couple of days ago.

The serve is definitely favouring Keys and, if she can look after that element of her game, I think that will help her come through this match in fairly routine fashion. Brengle played well enough over the last couple of weeks to reach the Final in Hobart and also win three matches here, but I don't believe she has a very big game that can't be exposed by someone like Keys.

This just feels like a 63, 63 kind of match that Keys should win.

Agnieszka Radwanska - 3.5 games v Venus Williams: Venus Williams had to weather an Italian storm in the form of Camila Giorgi in the last Round, but this is going to be a different kind of match for her to figure out. Agnieszka Radwanska isn't blessed with the same firepower as Giorgi, but she has the variation and defensive skills to extract errors from Williams and also has won the last three matches against Venus without dropping a set.

Radwanska has been very comfortable so far at the Australian Open and she has also been displaying a little more pop on her serve which may make things a little easier for her, although I have to say that Venus Williams has played well too.

The problem for Venus will be that she shouldn't be given a lot of unforced errors that Giorgi offered up in the last Round and Radwanska has been playing with a lot of confidence. If Williams serves well this could be a competitive match, but she will have to be a lot better than she was against Giorgi and I think Radwanska comes through 64, 64.

MY PICKS: Kei Nishikori Win 3-1 @ 4.20 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Novak Djokovic - 7.5 Games @ 1.92 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Garbine Muguruza + 1.5 Sets @ 2.25 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Madison Keys - 3.5 Games @ 1.83 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Agnieszka Radwanska - 3.5 Games @ 2.00 Ladbrokes (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 28-16, + 21.47 Units (85 Units Staked, + 25.26% Yield)

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Australian Open Day 7 Picks 2015 (January 25th)

I have a party to attend to on Saturday which means I don't have time for a full write up for the first of the Fourth Round matches that will take place at the Australian Open on Sunday.

One disappointment from the Friday was the demise of Petra Kvitova from the woman's draw, which is the first of the four outright picks that has exited the tournament. I'm sure she would have been a lot more disappointed than I am, especially with the chance to lay a marker for the 2015 season after her exit to the Madison Keys in the Third Round.

MY PICKS: Nick Kyrgios - 1.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Tomas Berdych Win 3-1 @ 4.00 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Andy Murray Win 3-1 @ 3.75 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Eugenie Bouchard - 5.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Ekaterina Makarova - 4.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 24-15, + 14.28 Units (77 Units Staked, + 18.55% Yield)

Friday, 23 January 2015

Australian Open Day 6 Picks 2015 (January 24th)

Where else can you begin at the Australian Open than with the exit of Roger Federer in the Third Round? After an under-par performance against Simone Bolelli, especially early in that Second Round match, most would have expected Federer to come out and dominate against Andreas Seppi, the Italian he had beaten ten times in a row and had only dropped one set against.

It was another slow start from Federer to drop the first set, but it looked to be a momentum turner when he recovered a break of serve not once, but twice in the second set. The second break of serve had been handed to Seppi when Federer inexplicably left a ball that he could have comfortably smashed for a winner which subsequently caught the sideline to give Seppi the 5-4 advantage.

Once that set went into a tie-breaker, you would have had to feel Federer was the more likely winner, but his serve was off for much of the day and another unforced error cost him that set and ultimately was going to cost him the match.

There was signs of life in a third set captured by the former World Number 1, but Seppi sealed the match in another tie-breaker which was capped off by the most stunning of winners.

This is going to lead to more questions about Federer and whether he has another Grand Slam in him, although I ruled that out last season when you could see he didn't quite have enough to live with the best players over a best of five set match. I still think Federer is a threat at every Masters event that isn't played on the clay courts and the right draw at Wimbledon could see him get very close to an 18th Grand Slam title if he is going to achieve that anywhere.

I just also think there will be a few more days like Thursday when Federer would formerly have dismissed challengers who are now able to perhaps sense an upset if they can make the match competitive early. Federer still has a lot to offer the Tour, but winning seven best of five set matches may not be there any more.

The Federer story will have dominated the headlines at the Australian Open after the likes of Andy Murray, Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal all won in dominating fashion to move into the second week of the tournament. Grigor Dimitrov played arguably one of his worst matches over the last twelve months, but still had enough to see off Marcos Baghdatis, while another impressive winner was Tomas Berdych who dominated Victor Troicki in a straight sets win.

With the way the results have been coming through, the Australian Open looks to have a very good second week lined up for the fans. Most will already be anticipating the Grigor Dimitrov-Andy Murray Fourth Round match, while Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic will ensure some lively atmospheres as the home crowd finally have some new blood to back.

The Fourth Round line up will be completed on Saturday and the first Grand Slam of the 2015 season is certainly laying down a very strong marker for the standard we may expect to see.

It was the first losing day of the tournament for the picks as some bad luck mixed with some bad picks resulted in a poor day in the office. However, I am still happy with the way the first week has gone (as long as it is wrapped up nicely on Day 6)  and the outright picks are all still alive despite a huge number of Seeds dropping from both draws.

The exit of Roger Federer does open up the bottom half of the draw for someone like Rafael Nadal, although the likes of Andy Murray and Grigor Dimitrov will believe the winner of that match can go all the way to the Final. Novak Djokovic will get his first test of the tournament on Saturday against Fernando Verdasco, while Simona Halep has eased her way through to the Fourth Round.

Hopefully Petra Kvitova can make it four for four from the outright picks that are still running when the second week of the Australian Open gets going on Sunday.

Stan Wawrinka - 7.5 games v Jarkko Nieminen: There are some concerns about a potential problem with the Stan Wawrinka elbow, but he has had a chance to rest it with this Third Round match in mind and I think the match up is a potential good one for him.

I respect what Jarkko Nieminen has done in his career as he has given some of the best players some real problems on the court, but age is catching up with him and the serve is still something of a liability, especially the second serve.

The Finn will be able to cause some problems on the Wawrinka serve, while being left-handed gives Nieminen another advantage, but the defending Champion won't be easily rattled and I think he will be able to dominate enough of the points to record a 75, 63, 63 win.

Kei Nishikori - 6.5 games v Steve Johnson: Kei Nishikori had to dig deep to see off Ivan Dodig in the Second Round and his experiences at the US Open should stand him in good stead in what is the nearest thing to a home Grand Slam for the Japanese star.

Dodig is a come forward attacking player that is problematic if a player is not on form, but Steve Johnson should play a match that is much more balanced and allows Nishikori to get into rhythm.

There will be times that Nishikori will be under pressure on his own serve, but his return game should also produce chances on the Johnson serve and that may eventually wear down the American. Johnson served well in his loss to Nishikori earlier in the season, but the courts here are playing slow enough for Nishikori to create more opportunities and I like him to win this one 63, 64, 64.

David Ferrer win 3-1 v Gilles Simon: David Ferrer and Gilles Simon will both look back at their careers and see some similarities in their style of play as well as the fact that both have probably overachieved with the talent they have been given.

This match should feature a lot of long rallies as neither player has the dominant serve that sets up a lot of easy points, while breaks of serve could also be common because of that issue.

It is a repeat of a match from the US Open that Simon won in four sets and the Frenchman has won their only 2 outdoor hard court matches which will give him the mental belief that he can win this match too.

I expect it to be tight and a few points here and there will make all the difference in deciding who wins and loses, but I think Ferrer can outwork Simon this time as he was not himself at Flushing Meadows last September. However, this is unlikely to be a straight sets win and I like Ferrer coming through 64, 46, 76, 63.

Venus Williams - 3.5 games v Camila Giorgi: The Italian Camila Giorgi has made an impact in a few Grand Slam tournaments over the last eighteen months and has already beaten one of the Seeded players in this Australian Open draw.

However, beating Venus Williams, who is playing with the swagger and belief of a few seasons ago, is a completely different task and I think Giorgi is up against it when facing the Auckland Champion.

Giorgi is a little hit and miss on the tennis court, but she is going to be faced with some dominating power on the other side of the court and may be rushed into making mistakes. Williams will have to serve well to make sure she remains in control of the match, but her ability to get up to the net and put away volleys gives her the edge in this match.

I also think Giorgi is a player that has struggled with her consistency and may just find Venus Williams a step too high at this moment and I like the veteran American to come through 75, 63.

Serena Williams - 6.5 games v Elina Svitolina: I don't think it is missing the point by saying that Serena Williams has not been at her best so far at the Australian Open and that someone like Elina Svitolina definitely has the tools to make this a very competitive Third Round match for the American.

However, Svitolina is still someone that can struggle against the very best players on the Tour and Serena Williams remains amongst that elite group on the WTA Tour.

Svitolina had to really dig deep to beat Nicole Gibbs in the last Round and this is also a player that has been beaten by Maria Sharapova convincingly earlier this season. Some may argue that Sharapova is in far better form than Serena Williams, but the latter has already secured two bagels in the tournament and I think she can go up a gear or two when she needs to which should help her pull away in this match too.

When it is all said and done, I do expect Williams to record a 64, 61 win and move through to the second week without really being tested for a full match.

Victoria Azarenka - 5.5 games v Barbora Zahlavova Strycova: Over the last nine months or so, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova has continuously shown she belongs at this stage of Grand Slam tournaments and is a threat to go even further. She reached the Semi Final at Wimbledon which would have given the Czech player a lot of confidence in her game, but this is a very tough match up for her.

Victoria Azarenka loves playing at Melbourne Park and she has already come through two tough matches against Sloane Stephens and Caroline Wozniacki without dropping a set and that should have her battle hardened for this match.

She also dismissed Zahlavova Strycova in straight sets here last season and Azarenka looks a player perfectly at peace with what she wants to achieve in the 2015 season. There is a real stubborn streak in the former Champion here and I think Azarenka is ready to make a concerted challenge here with those two wins under her belt.

Azarenka has the strut back in her stride which should help her come through this tough match and I like her to eventually prevail 63, 63.

CoCo Vandeweghe - 2.5 games v Madison Brengle: CoCo Vandeweghe was so impressive in her Second Round win over Sam Stosur that I think it will have given her enough confidence to beat her compatriot Madison Brengle in this Third Round match.

Brengle has played well in her first two matches here, but she is coming in off a long week in Hobart when she fell short against Heather Watson in the Final and you have to think that all that tennis will eventually also have an impact on her game.

It has been a very good start to the 2015 season for Brengle, but the younger American has really begun to string together some consistency in her game. Vandeweghe can use her power to try and dominate Brengle in this match and she has won the last two matches against Brengle without dropping a set.

As long as there isn't a negative reaction to beating a home favourite, Vendeweghe comes through 64, 64 for me.

MY PICKS: Stan Wawrinka - 7.5 Games @ 2.10 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Kei Nishikori - 6.5 Games @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
David Ferrer win 3-1 @ 4.00 Boyle Sports (1 Unit)
Venus Williams - 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Serena Williams - 6.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Victoria Azarenka - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
CoCo Vandeweghe - 2.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 19-13, + 8.04 Units (64 Units Staked, + 12.56% Yield)

Weekend Football Picks 2015 (January 23-26)

The FA Cup takes centre stage this weekend and I have to say it was another uninspiring draw in the Fourth Round of the competition. The majority of the favourites should progress fairly comfortably and even the potential 'upsets' look like they could be 'trendy' picks from the ties to be played over the course of four days.

It does mean that we could see some epic Cup action going forward as long as the majority of big teams remain in the competition with the draw for the Fifth Round to be made on Monday prior to Stoke City's visit to Rochdale.

I wrote a short piece about Louis Van Gaal and the reasons I found the comparison to David Moyes way off the mark prior to the game against Queens Park Rangers which can be read here.

This round of games can be a little difficult to predict with managers deciding to rest players and the ambition of certain clubs perhaps a question mark. I'd keep a keen eye on team news where possible even though most teams have had seven days to prepare for the game and are not back in action until the following weekend.

Cambridge United v Manchester United Pick: Manchester United have regularly been given tough draws in the FA Cup, but none of the fans or the management can really complain with Yeovil Town and then Cambridge United in the Third and Fourth Round respectively. However, Manchester United did make heavy weather of Yeovil Town in the last Round and Cambridge are likely in a better place from a confidence level which makes this a tougher test than most would like to admit.

Louis Van Gaal isn't concerned with the egos in his squad so it can't be seen as a surprise that the Dutchman has warned this is far from a cakewalk for the Premier League side. It is a competition that most of the fans are very keen to see Manchester United do well after some under-performing seasons and failure to pick up this piece of silverware since 2004.

United have reached two Finals since then, although the last of those was eight years ago, and the fact that there is nothing but Premier League games scheduled for the rest of this season means there is an expectation that Manchester United challenge in this competition.

They will have to play better than they did at Huish Park in the last Round when it took something special from Ander Herrera for the deadlock to be broken, but Manchester United have been struggling to dictate games in their current 3-5-2 formation. Van Gaal is unlikely to change that system just because the fans are demanding for a return to the 4-4-2 set up that helped break the deadlock at Loftus Road, but it does mean there will be a lot of possession for United without necessarily causing Cambridge a whole host of problems as the gap between League Two and the Premier League would suggest.

Cambridge have scored plenty of League goals at home and would have been buoyed by watching the tape of the Yeovil game against Manchester United when the home side got into a couple of decent positions. Yeovil have been struggling to score all season anyway, but that isn't an issue for Cambridge who will test this Manchester United back line with a lot of direct football and crosses into the box.

I know Manchester United have 3 clean sheets from their last 4 away games in all competitions, but that has been partly through sheer luck and I wouldn't be surprised at all if Cambridge score in this one. You'd have to think the added Manchester United quality sees the away side also score and potentially grab the winner late in the day, but the price on both teams scoring looks the more appealing route in this Fourth Round tie.

Blackburn Rovers v Swansea Pick: In recent weeks, Swansea have taken a couple of really heavy defeats and there are some question marks as to where this side are going now that Wilfried Bony has been sold on to Manchester City. They would have been without their striker for this game anyway, but Swansea need to bounce back from their embarrassing 0-5 home loss against Chelsea last weekend at the Liberty Stadium.

A live Cup tie at a side that has been performing pretty well in the Championship through the course of the season looks ripe for an upset for Swansea, but Blackburn Rovers are dealing with teams chasing their own top strikers. While Jordan Rhodes looks unlikely to move in this transfer window, Rudy Gestede has admitted he is 'not in the right frame of mind' to play for Blackburn with rumours suggesting he is in for an imminent move to Crystal Palace.

That may mean Gary Bowyer doesn't start Gestede in this one and Blackburn have already failed to score in their last 2 home games, while they have lost 2 of their last 4 at Ewood Park. Swansea have the pace in the wide areas to really cause the home team some problems in this one and I think they can bounce back from last weekend with a place earned in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup and one step closer to returning to Wembley Stadium for the first time since winning the League Cup in 2013.

Manchester City v Middlesbrough Pick: After losing to Arsenal last weekend, Manchester City are going to want to get back some confidence ahead of a vital game against Chelsea next weekend by winning this Cup tie. Manuel Pellegrini has been consistent in picking his best sides for the Cup competitions in this time as Manchester City manager and I believe he will use the likes of Sergio Aguero and David Silva to ensure they are not upset by an in-form Middlesbrough team.

There should be plenty of confidence in the Middlesbrough dressing room after a decent run of form has propelled them to second in the Championship, but this is still a big step up in class. The side have proved they can handle that by pushing Liverpool all the way to penalties in the League Cup earlier this season, but they are now facing a Manchester City side that will be itching to put the loss to Arsenal behind them.

The defensive performances for City have been pretty poor of late and I can imagine that will have been a focus for Manuel Pellegrini over the past week, but the return of Sergio Aguero and another week of fitness behind him can help the side overcome this challenge.

Sheffield Wednesday almost upset Manchester City here in the last Round, but I think this will be a little more routine for the home win and allow Middlesbrough to concentrate on making trips like this a more regular occurrence in the new season.

Liverpool v Bolton Wanderers Pick: The performance against Chelsea in the League Cup Semi Final will have given the Liverpool fans at Anfield the positive feelings that saw them get very close to winning the Premier League title last season. Brendan Rodgers has been saying for a few weeks that his Liverpool team had turned a corner and were getting their confidence back, but he might be a little concerned with the number of draws Liverpool have been having at home.

The 3-4-3 system seems to be getting the best out of the players at his disposal and while there will be some changes in preparation for the game against Chelsea during the week, Liverpool will be looking to book their place in the Fifth Round without the need for a replay.

Liverpool have looked much more menacing going forward over the last six weeks than they have for much of the season and Bolton Wanderers will have a tough time trying to contain them. Neil Lennon has done a very good job in his short time at Bolton, but this is a big step up from the usual level of competition they have been facing and he is likely to set his side up to be hard to beat.

However, falling behind could see a couple of heads drop and the class difference really begin to be highlighted in this contest. If Liverpool show a little more composure in the final third, they should be too strong for Bolton and go into the League Cup Semi Final against Chelsea in good heart.

Bristol City v West Ham United Pick: This is going to be a tough Fourth Round tie for West Ham United to win at the first instance and I think they are a little short to do that against Bristol City who are playing with plenty of confidence. They won't be intimidated in getting at West Ham in front of their own fans and Bristol City have played well enough at Ashton Gate to think this is anything but an easy draw for West Ham.

However, Sam Allardyce has clearly placed some importance on the FA Cup this season and I think he will pick a strong side that will try and match the physicality of a team from the lower Leagues. They have been playing so well in the Premier League that I can understand why the layers have kept West Ham as a short favourite here, but I do think they have just struggled to get over the line in recent games.

There have been plenty of draws in West Ham games of late and Bristol City's strong record at Ashton Gate may give them enough confidence to at least get a chance to take this back to Upton Park.

The television cameras have picked this game in the hope they will see an upset on Sunday, but I think it might end up being a tie that needs a replay to decide which side moves through to the Fifth Round.

Aston Villa v Bournemouth Pick: One of the teams that I said may not be interested in how they get on in the FA Cup are Aston Villa, although Paul Lambert is certain to be telling his team that they can build momentum from a Cup run. Unfortunately for Aston Villa, they have been given a stern examination in the Fourth Round against high-flying Bournemouth from the Championship and even home advantage may not be good enough for the Premier League club.

Aston Villa just haven't been scoring goals this season and their 7 home goals won't be an intimidation for Bournemouth who have found hitting the back of the net less of a chore than their hosts. Bournemouth are coming in off a disappointing 1-0 loss at Leeds United during the week, but the had scored at least twice in 5 straight away games before that and even one goal may be enough for them to secure an upset.

The home side did beat Blackpool in the Third Round thanks to a late Christian Benteke goal, but that is the only goal Aston Villa have scored in their last 4 games at Villa Park and Bournemouth are a much better team than the Seasiders. Bournemouth have already knocked out West Brom in the League Cup this season, albeit at home, while they gave Liverpool a scare in the Quarter Final of that competition.

If Bournemouth can show some composure in front of goal that they lacked against Liverpool, they can win this one and move into the Fifth Round of the FA Cup.

Brighton v Arsenal Pick: Both Brighton and Arsenal have shown some good form of late, but you can't ignore the talent difference between the two squads that will take to the field on Sunday and I do think Arsene Wenger will want to maintain the momentum earned from the win at Manchester City last weekend.

Brighton have really picked up form since Chris Hughton came in to replace Sami Hyppia as manager, but the majority of their best results have come away from the Amex Stadium. That might be because Hughton can make them tougher to beat in Stadiums where the onus is on their opponent to attack so this game with Arsenal may suit the game plan.

However, it is going to be tough to hold back an Arsenal team that has scored at least twice in 5 of their last 6 away games in all competitions and who will be looking to back up that win from last weekend. I would be surprised if Wenger makes a host of changes to his side with seven days before they need to play again and the Frenchman won't want to see his side have an additional replay to deal with.

A better defensive shape was also in operation last weekend and Arsenal can use that foundation to a successful away win in the FA Cup. With goals being scored by the side, Arsenal should be too strong for Brighton and I will back them to win by a couple of goals or more.

Rochdale v Stoke City Pick: There are a few Premier League teams that can give the FA Cup a really good go this season with their League form under control and Stoke City are one of those teams. Recent form has seen them move away from the relegation zone and Mark Hughes knows the feeling of winning this famous old trophy and understands the benefits for himself if he can add silverware to his managerial CV.

Stoke City have played well in the Cup in recent seasons and it has taken the best teams to knock them out of the competition- Manchester City beat them in the Final in 2011 and the next three seasons have seen Liverpool, Manchester City (again) and Chelsea as the teams to have knocked Stoke out.

Suffice to say that Rochdale are not of the level of those teams, but Keith Hill is doing a magnificent job getting this team into a position where they can perhaps challenge for a Play Off spot in League One. Confidence won't be in short supply, but Stoke City are capable of mixing it with this side from a physical standpoint and that may see them hold the edge in the contest.

Rochdale have won their last couple of home games and upset Nottingham Forest, but Stoke City are in better form than Forest were going into that game. If Stoke can continue producing tough defensive performances as they have in a couple of recent away games, the Potters should prove too strong in this one and book a place in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup for the third time in five seasons.

MY PICKS: Cambridge United-Manchester United Both Teams to Score @ 2.63 Coral (1 Unit)
Swansea to Win @ 2.45 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)
Liverpool - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Bristol City-West Ham United Draw @ 3.60 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Bournemouth to Win @ 3.10 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Arsenal - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Stoke City to Win @ 1.73 Coral (2 Units)

January Update5-12-2, - 9.34 Units (33 Units Staked, - 28.30% Yield)

December Final25-19-1, + 18.70 Units (81 Units Staked, + 23.09% Yield)
November Final17-21, - 0.59 Units (69 Units Staked, - 1% Yield)
October Final8-18, - 14.79 Units (47 Units Staked, - 31.47% Yield)
September Final12-18, - 2.28 Units (41 Units Staked, - 5.56% Yield)
August Final8-22, - 19.92 Units (51 Units Staked, - 39.06% Yield)

Season 2014/1570-98-1, - 18.88 Units (289 Units Staked, - 6.53% 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)

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Australian Open Day 5 Picks 2015 (January 23rd)

The big match between Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka was played in the night session on Thursday and it was the former World Number 1 Azarenka who earned her place in the Third Round. Azarenka is unseeded here this year, but the Australian Open has been her favourite Grand Slam tournament and a win over Wozniacki is actually very impressive considering the form of the latter over the last six months which has propelled her back into the top ten of the World Rankings.

Azarenka is definitely on the road back up the Rankings after injury adversely affected the 2014 season for her and she went into the tournament as one of the dangerous floaters in the draw that could do some real damage. However, the negative of going into the tournament unseeded is that Azarenka has been given one of the toughest draws out there and it won't get easier just because she has knocked out the highest Seed in her section of the draw.

Can Azarenka win the tournament? I still think that is a big ask considering the talent of players she is going to have to beat in consecutive Rounds, but a Quarter Final, or perhaps a Semi Final, would be a successful tournament. It does also give her the confidence to take into the rest of the season as Azarenka looks to return to prominence on the WTA Tour after missing as much of 2014 as she did.

Thursday also looks like it could have potentially been Lleyton Hewitt's last appearance at the Australian Open after the veteran let a two set lead slip in his defeat to Benjamin Becker. Hewitt only lost three games in the first two sets, but couldn't maintain the form he showed early in the match, although he didn't announce a retirement as of writing.

However, Hewitt mentioned the Davis Cup being the next big tournament which suggests he wants to continue, but the Australian team has been freshened up during this Grand Slam and his place in the Davis Cup is definitely not secured. If Hewitt is left out of the Australia team, he certainly may begin to think this is the final season of his long career, although I am leaning towards him playing one more Australian swing in twelve months before calling it a day.

Day 4 was a fairly quiet one when it came to surprises as the majority of the players expected to move through to the Third Round managed to do just that. The biggest surprise was Roberto Bautista-Agut going out to Gilles Muller on one of the outside courts, but generally it was a day when all the favoured players earned their place in the Third Round.

I can't complain too much with a fourth straight day where the picks came back as winners, but it could have been an even better day if Hewitt had held on to his two set lead against Becker. Feliciano Lopez did go through in very fortunate fashion, but Boyle Sports void when matches are not completed so the Adrian Mannarino injury that saw him withdraw in the fourth set was not good for him or me.

Grigor Dimitrov - 5.5 games v Marcos Baghdatis: Marcos Baghdatis is loved in Melbourne and is bound to attract a large amount of supporters for his Third Round match against Grigor Dimitrov. Baghdatis won't be short of confidence having seen off David Goffin in four impressive sets in the Second Round, but this is also another step up in class and a gap that I don't think the Cypriot will be able to bridge.

As well as Baghdatis has played in the first two Rounds here, this is a different level of challenge and I think Grigor Dimitrov is going to be proved too good.

Dimitrov has been very comfortable in the tournament so far, but I think the belief is also there that he expects to be performing at the business end of every event he enters now. The Bulgarian will have plenty of supporters in this Third Round match too, while he has dismissed the challenge of Baghdatis the last two times these players have shared a court.

There is no doubt that the first couple of sets could be highly competitive if Baghdatis is serving well, but I expect Dimitrov's superior fitness and confidence to come through in a tough 76, 64, 63 win.

Richard Gasquet - 3.5 games v Kevin Anderson: Kevin Anderson may be the higher Seed in the draw, but Richard Gasquet is a player that I expect will get the better of the big South African in a good looking Third Round match.

Both players have been comfortable in the earlier Rounds, but I think Gasquet can nullify the Anderson serve to some extent in this one and I would expect the Frenchman to win enough of the rallies from the baseline to take control of the match.

There will be times that Anderson will get through his service games very quickly and Gasquet has to avoid the frustration creeping into his mind which may lead to errors in his own service games. However, I think Gasquet has enough experience playing Anderson that he should go into the match knowing what to expect and I believe he will win key points to move into the Fourth Round.

I don't think this will be a straight-forward win for Gasquet but I do think he comes through 64, 67, 64, 76.

Rafael Nadal - 7.5 games v Dudi Sela: Rafael Nadal had to dig deep within himself to beat Tim Smyczek in the Second Round as he recovered from being 2-1 down in sets as well as stomach cramps to avoid the upset. That win might be exactly what Nadal needs to build the confidence levels that he had been lacking going into the Australian Open and the Spaniard now becomes a threat to win the whole tournament.

He has admitted that he is feeling a lot better on Thursday and Nadal also has the benefit of playing in the night session- that means extra recovery time for this Third Round match, while also avoiding to play in the heat of the day.

The match with Dudi Sela should see some long rallies, but it is going to be tough for Sela to match the firepower that will be coming from the other side of the court. Sela has had to battle hard to come through the first couple of Rounds here but I think it will be tough to do that against a Nadal who has had a scare and should be that much more focused now.

After some entertainment for the fans in attendance, Nadal to come through 62, 63, 63 for me.

Julia Goerges - 3.5 games v Lucie Hradecka: It has already been a very strong tournament for Lucie Hradecka, but she won't want it to come to an end in the Third Round after qualifying for the Singles draw and then knocking out Ana Ivanovic. Hradecka has done things the tough way too with wins in the first two Rounds despite going a set down.

That means three of her five wins over the last seven days have all come by three sets and I do wonder if that will eventually lead to fatigue.

Julia Goerges has shown signs of recovering her form having suffered an alarming dip in the World Rankings over the last couple of years and she has put together two impressive wins. There are still some erratic moments in her game that will give Hradecka chances, but Goerges has limited those moments over the last couple of games and in her run in Auckland.

Goerges actually beat Hradecka in Auckland after taking advantage of the latter's run of matches that had seen her qualify and come through the First Round with a lot of tennis under her legs. That also means the German has won 4 of the previous 5 meetings between these players and I like Goerges to come through with a tough 64, 75 win.

Simona Halep - 6.5 games v Bethanie Mattek-Sands: Simona Halep has played like one of the favourites to win the Australian Open, but she will be tested by Bethanie Mattek-Sands in this Third Round match. However, Halep should have too much consistency for the American in this match and I expect that to help the end result for the World Number 3.

Mattek-Sands is a fun character, but she can be a little inconsistent on the tennis court- there are times she plays with a lot of heart and determination which makes her a threat, but finding the consistent form to knock off someone as good as Halep is asking a lot.

And it has to be said that Halep has been in impressive, no nonsense form since the start of the season. In fact, aside from her first match of the season, Halep has won 6 straight matches where she hasn't given up more than six games in a match.

Bringing that sort of belief into this tournament has helped Halep become one of the favourites to take home the first Slam of the season and I think she outworks Mattek-Sands in a 63, 62 win.

MY PICKS: Grigor Dimitrov - 5.5 Games @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)
Richard Gasquet - 3.5 Games @ 1.92 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Rafael Nadal - 7.5 Games @ 1.73 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Julia Goerges - 3.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Simona Halep - 6.5 Games @ 1.83 Sporting Bet (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 18-9, + 14.58 Units (54 Units Staked, + 27% Yield)

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Australian Open Day 4 Picks 2015 (January 22nd)

There was some high drama on the third day of the Australian Open as both Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal had to dig deep within themselves to avoid being early casualties of a tournament that has seen a number of the Seeds already exit the event.

Maria Sharapova faced a couple of match points in her win over Alexandra Panova, while Rafael Nadal was 2-1 down in sets to Tim Smyczek before turning things around. Nadal had also been suffering from some dizzy spills and admitted he had been cramping up in the match, but he showed why he has won so many Grand Slam events and could really prove to be a turning point for him in the remaining ten days.

Roger Federer was another big name player who was behind in his match as he lost the first set to Simone Bolelli which culminated with him suffering from some type of bee sting. However, Federer's aggression turned the match around and he ended up being a comfortable winner, while Andy Murray is yet another former Grand Slam Champion in the bottom half of the draw and moved into the Third Round without any difficulties.

It has already been a fun tournament with a lot of the tension and drama that has been missed from some Grand Slams over the last twelve months, and I am very much looking forward to the remainder of this event.

The picks had another winning day on Wednesday and I can't be too disappointed by that considering some of the difficulties that players faced in the heat of Melbourne. All four outright picks are still running in the event, although only just in the case of Rafael Nadal, as the Second Round is completed on Thursday.

Feliciano Lopez v Adrian Mannarino: Two left-handed players meet in the Second Round and it is considered a pick 'em contest because of the form differing form that Feliciano Lopez and Adrian Mannarino have begun the 2015 season.

While Mannarino reached the Final in Auckland last week and was also a Semi Finalist in a Challenger tournament, Lopez was beaten early in the tournament he played in preparation for this match. Lopez was also pushed into a very long First Round match against Denis Kudla which he won 10-8 in the Fifth, while Mannarino was a comfortable straight sets winner.

However, I still think Lopez is the stronger player with more ability than his French opponent and I think he will dig deep enough to come through the match. Lopez does prefer the faster conditions more than the slower courts and the Australian Open aren't the quickest hard courts, but the Spaniard is aggressive and that can force mistakes from Mannarino if he is able to attack the net.

Mannarino has been getting more consistent results on the main Tour these days, but I still think Lopez comes through with his net play proving to be the difference.

Fernando Verdasco - 6.5 games v Go Soeda: Another left-handed Spaniard that I believe will come through his Second Round match is Fernando Verdasco and I think he will prove to be too good for Go Soeda.

Verdasco is no longer a threat to go deep in Grand Slam events consistently, but he still has the power and ability to beat players who are as limited as Soeda. The Japanese player came through a tough First Round match in five sets, but he won't find Verdasco has charitable in this Second Round match and the heavier shots will be coming from Verdasco's side of the court.

He can be a little more erratic these days, but Verdasco remains a player that could be amongst the lower Seeds when it comes to the Grand Slam tournaments. He should find a couple of breaks of serve in a single set and dominate much of the match and I think Verdasco beats Soeda fairly comfortably as long as he maintains concentration.

Soeda rarely plays in the main draw at the Grand Slams and his lack of real experience at this level can aid Verdasco in a 64, 62, 64 win.

Lleyton Hewitt v Benjamin Becker: Lleyton Hewitt came through a couple of wobbles in his First Round match to earn his place amongst the headlines in Australia which have been dominated by younger players coming through the Rankings. Hewitt has missed his chance to win the Australian Open, but he remains very popular with the locals and I think he can beat Benjamin Becker as the underdog on Thursday.

He can't under-estimate Becker though, especially as the German has previous in ending the hopes of a veteran in front of his home crowd. While he has never really reached the upper echelon of the men's game, Becker will always be remembered by me, and others, as the man that beat Andre Agassi at the US Open and ended the career of one of the most popular players of all time.

Becker won't be bothered by the home support in that regards, but Hewitt has the return game to extract errors from the other side of the court, especially against a player that can be a little erratic in his play. Hewitt has to serve better than he did at times in the First Round, but the veteran Aussie can move through to the Third Round from the first match in the night session with a gritty display that perhaps needs five sets to get the job done.

Venus Williams - 5.5 games v Lauren Davis: The veteran American takes on one of the younger players trying to break through from that nation and I think Venus Williams underlines the form that helped her beat Lauren Davis 60, 63 in Auckland on the way to the title there.

Venus Williams will have to serve well to keep Lauren Davis from making this a scrappy match and doing that will give her a great chance of winning this match fairly comfortably. If Williams can set up the short ball on serve and consistently remain on the front foot, it will be difficult for Davis to get too much joy on the return and also help ease the path through to the Third Round.

For all of the hard work and scrambling ability that Davis will offer, her own serve is something of a weakness against players that can produce as much power as Venus Williams. Second serves are going to be extremely tough to win and holding serve is going to be a challenge through this match.

As long as Williams brings her form into this match, she should be a 63, 63 winner.

Serena Williams - 6.5 games v Vera Zvonareva: If this match had taken place even a couple of years ago, Vera Zvonareva would definitely have had her supporters in her aim to upset the odds against Serena Williams.

That is especially the case because Serena Williams hasn't looked at the top of her form in the opening weeks of the 2015 season, but Zvonareva herself is fighting through tough times. Injury has restricted Zvonareva to trying to reach her previous highs and I am not sure she has enough in the tank to keep up with Williams in this one.

It is going to be tough graft for Zvonareva and she will have painful memories of the last time she shared a court with Williams when she was beaten while winning just one game. There will be times this match looks competitive because of the lack of form that Williams has displayed, but I still expect her to outwork Zvonareva and eventually break the Russian's heart in a 63, 61 win.

Dominika Cibulkova - 1.5 games v Tsvetana Pironkova: When these prices were first released, I was surprised that Dominika Cibulkova was as big a price as she was, but the money seems to have come in for the Australian Open Runner Up from twelve months ago. She has dominated the head to head with Tsvetana Pironkova and came through a tough First Round match against Kirsten Flipkens which should set her up for this match.

There is a lot of power that Cibulkova brings to the court and I think she has more belief in her own game than Pironkova, although the latter should get a lot of loud support from the local Bulgarian fans.

Pironkova did play well in Sydney in defence of the title she won last season, but she faltered in the Australian Open. This year she took advantage of the illness that Heather Watson was suffering thanks to 'girl things', but Cibulkova is not likely to be as unready to compete.

A battling first set can be followed by a more routine second and I like Cibulkova winning this 75, 63.

Petra Kvitova - 6.5 games v Mona Barthel: There are still times that Petra Kvitova either pushes too hard or she loses a touch of concentration that allows opponents to remain competitive in matches, but she has the look of confidence that will have come from the opening weeks of the 2015 season.

Kvitova has a title to her name and also a Semi Final and she has built up to the Australian Open in perfect fashion. She dismissed Mona Barthel for the loss of just two games at Wimbledon last season and, while this is going to be closer, I do think Kvitova is a comfortable Second Round winner too.

Barthel won a tough First Round match, but had previously lost her first two matches in the 2015 season, but the German can put together some big tennis which will cause problems for Kvitova.

However, the power is on Kvitova's side of the court and I think she is a more consistent player that will eventually break through with a 63, 62 win in this Second Round match and avoid the fate that has befallen some of the Seeds in the women's draw.

MY PICKS: Feliciano Lopez @ 1.90 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Fernando Verdasco - 6.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Lleyton Hewitt @ 2.20 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Venus Williams - 5.5 Games @ 1.73 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Serena Williams - 6.5 Games @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Dominika Cibulkova - 1.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Petra Kvitova - 6.5 Games @ 1.93 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 14-7, + 11.18 Units (42 Units Staked, + 26.62% Yield)

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Australian Open Day 3 Picks 2015 (January 21st)

More Seeds were knocked out of the women's draw on Tuesday, but the match that everyone has been looking forward to since the draw was made was set in the Second Round as Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki both made it through their First Round matches.

It is still a huge surprise to see Azarenka unseeded here this year, but that just goes to show how injury hit her 2014 season was and I am expecting her to make some big leaps up the Rankings during the course of 2015. Caroline Wozniacki was in stunning form over the last six months of the season to the point that my normally critical response to her was lessened and I actually respected the fact that she has become a little more aggressive in her play.

The men's draw has avoided any major surprises just yet, even if some less informed journalists seemed to believe Alexandr Dolgopolov's exit was a huge upset. Dolgopolov has been suffering with some sort of injury ahead of the tournament to the point that his participation was not guaranteed so I can't say I was overly surprised that he failed to make it beyond the First Round.

All of the outright picks have moved through to the Second Round, which is a bonus considering the Seeds that were knocked out in the women's draw, and the first two days have been positive. I have made a couple of very poor picks, but I hope to improve as the next two weeks continue.

Andy Murray - 8.5 games v Marinko Matosevic: The home support is going to inspire Marinko Matosevic, but he is going to need a lot more than that if he is going to make this competitive let alone actually beat Andy Murray in the Second Round. Mad Dog is a fun kind of character to watch, but he is wildly erratic in his play and even his decent serve is going to be tested to the full by Murray's ability to get balls back in play.

They have met twice before and Murray has been a fairly comfortable winner both times, while Matosevic has yet to take more than three games in a set against him.

He will be aggressive and look to fire up the crowd, but Murray is so experienced that it is hard to see this ending in anything but another win for the British Number 1. I expect Murray to earn at least a couple of breaks of serve in a single set and that should set him up for a 64, 62, 63 win.

Richard Gasquet - 7.5 games v James Duckworth: Another Australian who will be taking on a Seed in the Second Round is James Duckworth, but he will need Richard Gasquet to be off the pace to keep up with the Frenchman in this one.

2014 was a disappointing season for Gasquet considering how well he had played the season before, but I think an injury had a lot to do with that and he is considered to be in a much better place in 2015. The early form he has displayed shows he could be back in a position where is too good for the likes of Duckworth, although unlikely to really challenge the top players on the Tour.

Gasquet has a decent first serve, but I think he will make hay in this one by out-rallying Duckworth for much of the match. When they met at Wimbledon last June, Gasquet played a couple of sloppy of games which made it much closer than it should have been, but he dominated the last two sets in a fashion that he will look back on with confidence.

If Gasquet can avoid those sloppy moments, he should be too good for Duckworth and come through 63, 63, 64.

Grigor Dimitrov - 8.5 games v Lukas Lacko: I don't think you can doubt the pure natural ability that Lukas Lacko can sometimes display with a tennis racquet in his hand, but Grigor Dimitrov has improved so much over the last eighteen months and can win this match going away.

I have seen Lacko produce enough quality to remain competitive in matches, but he is willing to try and go toe to toe with any opponent and producing even a little under par is not going to cut it against someone like Dimitrov.

On first glance I thought this was a lot of games for Dimitrov to be handing away, but Lacko is a player that lost in 3 of the 4 Grand Slams of last season without getting within this number. Two of those losses came to Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, but the other was to Dominic Thiem and Dimitrov is playing with confidence and returns well enough to find a couple of breaks of serve in a single set.

'Baby Fed' may have to come through a tie-breaker in one set, but a similar scoreline that Djokovic produced here last season in on the cards and Dimitrov can progress with a 63, 76, 61 win.

Roger Federer - 7.5 games v Simone Bolelli: These two played a very competitive Davis Cup match last season, but that was on a very quick court which may have aided Simone Bolelli and I am not expecting this one to be so close.

Both Bolelli and Roger Federer came through their First Round matches fairly comfortably, but the extra aggression in the Federer game that has been evident over the last twelve months should keep the Italian under pressure. This is a match in which Federer should feel fairly comfortable as Bolelli is likely to play with the clay court style of keeping rallies going and should eventually allow the aggression of Federer to take control.

Better performance on the break points is key for Federer, but I still think he can come through with a fairly routine 63, 76, 61 win.

Rafael Nadal - 9.5 games v Tim Smyczek: All it takes is a couple of bad service games and this number of games is very tough to overcome, but Rafael Nadal showed enough in the First Round to think he can dismiss the challenge from Tim Smyczek who qualified for the tournament before beating Luke Saville.

Nadal only lost 7 games in his opening match here and his experience might be something of an intimidation for Smyczek who is fairly limited by what he can produce on the court. Smyczek is going to have to work for every point he gets and he was destroyed by Roberto Bautista Agut at both the Australian and US Open tournaments in 2014.

The problem for Smyczek is Nadal is going to work hard for every point too and his quality should prove too much for the American. As I have stated, this is a lot of games for Smyczek to be getting, but I think Nadal wins the match 63, 62, 62.

Bernard Tomic - 2.5 games v Philipp Kohlschreiber: Bernard Tomic took the chances that came his way in a win over Philipp Kohlschreiber in Sydney earlier this season, but that was a far closer match than the 64, 63 scoreline would suggest.

However, I do think Tomic can ride the momentum of playing in front of his own fans to move through to the Third Round even if Kohlschreiber has enough experience to deal with the crowd being against him. The problem for the German is that he has had a tough start to the season and this may be something of a down year for Kohlschreiber, while I am also expecting Tomic to have a much better 2015 season.

Melbourne Park has been good to Kohlschreiber in the past, but his lack of form going into the tournament and Tomic's previous solid performances at this Grand Slam may help the Australian take away some of the headlines that have been reserved for a couple of his younger compatriots over the last couple of days.

It is unlikely to come in straight sets, but I like Tomic to come through 64, 36, 76, 63.

Karolina Pliskova - 5.5 games v Oceane Dodin: Oceane Dodin surprised Alison Riske in the First Round, but the young French hope will need to dig really deep to beat someone in the form that Karolina Pliskova has been displaying.

Pliskova is definitely a player making a move up the Rankings and this is the kind of match that she should begin to dominate after she gets a feel of what Dodin is going to be able to produce on the court.

The serve is effective from Pliskova and I think that will be a good foundation from which she can take control of this match in the second set. I do think it may take some time for Pliskova to really get this match under control, but I do think that helps her come through with a 64, 62 win.

Sara Errani - 3.5 games v Silvia Soler-Espinosa: Sara Errani has slipped out of the top ten after a difficult 2014 season on the Singles Tour, but I still think she has shown enough in the Grand Slam tournaments to suggest she will be too good for Silvia Soler-Espinosa.

Both of these players are more comfortable on the clay courts, but Errani has shown more consistency on the hard courts and I think that helps her in this Second Round match. Errani has won their three previous matches without losing a set and the Italian should take some confidence from her First Round win which is the first in the 2015 season.

This is already the furthest Soler-Espinosa has been at the Australian Open in her last six appearances at Melbourne Park and I think she will be outworked by Errani who can extract errors from better players than the Spaniard.

It has all the makings of a comfortable 64, 63 win for Errani and I expect to see her move through to the Third Round.

MY PICKS: Andy Murray - 8.5 Games @ 1.92 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Richard Gasquet - 7.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Grigor Dimitrov - 8.5 Games @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Roger Federer - 7.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Rafael Nadal - 9.5 Games @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Bernard Tomic - 2.5 Games @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Karolina Pliskova - 5.5 Games @ 1.73 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Sara Errani - 3.5 Games @ 1.73 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Australian Open Update: 9-4, + 8.28 Units (26 Units Staked, + 31.85% Yield)