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Wednesday, 31 August 2016

US Open Tennis Day 3 Picks 2016 (August 31st)

I have to say that the luck didn't seem to be with me early on with the Day 1 Picks at the US Open as I saw players fail to complete the job in what looked to be strong positions.

Gael Monfils was the dominant player in his win over Gilles Muller, but needed a special play to come back from 5-3 down in the third set tie-breaker to win that one in straight sets when I had picked Muller to win a set. I then saw Pablo Cuevas win the first two sets 6-3, 6-2 against Dudi Sela before dropping the third set with a 0-6 scoreline which cost me any chance of that cover.

Earlier I had Bjorn Fratangelo lose three more points over two sets against Guido Pella, but somehow lose both sets, although one really poor pick with Monica Puig not getting into her stride at all.

The luck didn't change in the evening as Jack Sock won 3-2 in sets against Taylor Fritz rather than 3-1 thanks to giving up the fourth set without any fightback, but fortunately two winners late in the day at least turned the day around. It still means a losing start to the day, but the way the luck was heading it was looking like being a truly terrible start to the tournament.


What a couple of days of picks for me so far... I've literally been about 15 points from having a winning record, yet all those picks have ended up losing. How does Grigor Dimitrov win a first set 6-2 and then struggle to break again in the next two sets? Or Cuevas winning 6-3, 6-2 and then losing 0-6 in the third set?

I've had players blow big leads in tie-breakers, others throwing away sets to save themselves from physically breaking down and players seemingly with the momentum needing to simply win their match going and losing over the first couple of days.

Seemingly this happens to me every year at the US Open and this has always been my worst Grand Slam in terms of how the picks perform. But I can't also expect this miserable run of being on the wrong side of every big point being played the rest of the way and I am looking for the US Open to owe me big time the rest of the way.


Novak Djokovic - 8.5 games v Jiri Vesely: Just as he had in Toronto, Novak Djokovic had to have some work done on the right upper arm in the First Round while he continues to deal with wrist issues on the left hand. After dropping the second set, Djokovic ran through the gears to beat Jerzy Janowicz but there are still some doubts about his overall fitness.

Djokovic tried to ease those when telling the gathered press that he is getting better every day and is looking to peak in time for the business end of the tournament in New York. Personally I am not sure what to think about Djokovic's chances to beat the best players with the issues he is dealing with, but I do think he will get some revenge over Jiri Vesely who stunned Djokovic in three sets on the clay in Monte Carlo.

That was a huge win for Vesely who also had a strong run at Wimbledon, but the Czech player still produces too many inconsistent performances to be seen as someone ready to make the breakthrough on the Tour. For every successful result, Vesely has a comfortable defeat at the hands of Marcel Granollers and Filip Krajinovic, while he was very fortunate that his opponent suffered severe cramps in the First Round when on the brink of upsetting Vesely.

Vesely doesn't have the best set of results on the hard courts and I don't think he makes as much use out of the lefty serve as he should do. Obviously the concern about Djokovic's injuries does play a part in my thinking, but I think the World Number 1 looked better in the last two sets against Janowicz and I am going to take his comments about improving at face value as I look for a dominant 63, 63, 63 win to be recorded.


Mikhail Youzhny - 1.5 sets v Guido Pella: The veteran Mikhail Youzhny has begun to move back up the World Rankings and he is on course for his most wins on the main Tour since 2013. The start of 2016 saw Youzhny restore some lost confidence with three successive wins on the Challenger Tour, and he has been winning more matches on the main Tour.

Youzhny had an impressive win over Martin Klizan in the First Round and that follows a run to the Second Round in Cincinnati where he had to come through the Qualifiers. Wins over Brian Baker and Taylor Fritz show that Youzhny is not quite ready to hang up his racquet just yet and I think he can get the better of Guido Pella in this Second Round match.

It was a solid win for Pella in the First Round as he won the big points in the first two sets to effectively end Bjorn Fratangelo's tournament in the straight sets win. Those two sets saw Pella win just three more points than the young American, but I am not ready to believe he is suddenly an effective hard court player after one positive result.

He is unlikely to receive as many unforced errors from 0-30 positions on serve against an experienced campaigner like Youzhny who will recognise the big points better than Fratangelo did. If Youzhny can play those better than Fratangelo then I think he can win this match in either three or four sets and current form suggests Youzhny is going to be a little too good for Pella in this one.


John Isner - 5.5 games v Steve Darcis: It was almost the biggest success of Steve Darcis' career at the end of 2015 when he came close to helping Belgium win the Davis Cup. He started the Tour following the main circuit, but the majority of the latter months have been spent on the Challenger Tour and Darcis prepared for the US Open with a number of clay court events.

Since the French Open Darcis has won two titles on the Challenger Tour and reached two other Finals, all on clay courts, and that will improve confidence. Darcis took that into the US Open Qualifiers before coming back from 2-0 down in sets to beat Jordan Thompson in the First Round.

Now the challenge in front of him has increased both in stature of opponent and World Rankings when he meets John Isner. There is almost a full foot in height differential between the players, but both might be in a similar place physically after Isner escaped an upset in the First Round by coming from 2-0 down against Frances Tiafoe, another young American hope.

This has been a disappointing summer for Isner who usually produces big results on the North American hard courts. Isner even lost the Number 1 American tag for a week but he has to have picked up some much needed confidence in winning from 2-0 down in the last Round. His serve is always going to be a huge weapon and I think that will build pressure on Darcis whose own service games will give Isner one or two chances to break serve.

Ultimately I think Isner is in a much better place in terms of recent hard court matches and I think he is likely to be more used to having long matches early in Grand Slam tournaments and recovering for the next one. He will likely have a more comfortable time in the office when it comes to getting joy from the serve and I think Darcis will give up a couple of breaks of serve which will give Isner the 63, 76, 64 win.


Kyle Edmund - 5.5 games v Ernesto Escobedo: There is a lot of hype around Kyle Edmund in Great Britain after some solid performances for the Davis Cup team. Personally I am not sure whether I truly believe he is going to be the next top player from Great Britain with inconsistent results through his short career even if he had an impressive win over Richard Gasquet in the First Round.

That did come against an out of sorts opponent and not the Gasquet that has reached the top 10 of the World Rankings. It is easy to read too much into that one win going into the Second Round, but I would urge some caution as Edmund has suffered some really poor losses on the hard courts since helping Great Britain get past Serbia in the Davis Cup.

Edmund has been beaten as a 1.40 or shorter favourite in two of his four losses since that Davis Cup tie and it has to be a concern. Once again Edmund will be a short favourite in this match but you have to feel he is going to be too good for Ernesto Escobedo who is still outside the top 200 in the World Rankings, at least until the end of this tournament.

Escobedo did win the Lexington Challenger in preparation for the US Open, but his lack of experience at Grand Slam level has to work against him. These two have played before too with Edmund proving too strong after a tight couple of sets were split and I think we will see something similar in the Second Round. I wouldn't be surprised if Escobedo is able to win a set, but I am looking for Edmund to come through with a 75, 67, 62, 63 win.


Jack Sock - 4.5 games v Mischa Zverev: There might have been some worrying signs for Jack Sock in the First Round win over Taylor Fritz as he went into a fifth set at the US Open. This is a tournament where Sock has been forced to retire in each of the last two seasons thanks to the hot and humid conditions and we saw more of the same on Monday in New York City.

However this time Sock showed more physical strength to come through in five sets against Taylor Fritz. You have to be impressed with the mental side of things too as Sock could have fallen away having thrown away a 2-0 lead in sets, but he managed to hold himself together for long enough to pull through.

This does look a better match for Sock when he takes on Qualifier Mischa Zverev, but the latter will be respected having won four matches in Flushing Meadows already. However it has to be said that while Zverev has won a fair few matches on the hard courts, they have mainly been off the main Tour and this is a big test for him.

The lefty serve makes any player dangerous and there is a question about Sock's physical ability to get through matches in the heat you see in New York. However I think he has proved he can handle it a little better by coming through a really difficult First Round encounter and I am looking for the American to make this one a little more straight-forward as he goes through 63, 36, 63, 64.



Marin Cilic win 3-1 v Sergiy Stakhovsky: At Wimbledon I backed Sergiy Stakhovsky with a lead on the set handicap when he played Marin Cilic and the Ukrainian came in for me as a winner. However it was clear that Cilic was the superior player and helped him improve to 5-0 on the head to head against Stakhovsky and there hasn't been anything to suggest that will change after this Second Round match.

Once again the match will likely be on the racquet of Cilic and he is a big favourite having played well and won the title in Cincinnati. As a former winner of the US Open, Cilic will have plenty of backers but he is being asked to cover a big number, while I can't ignore the fact that Stakhovsky has managed to hold himself together for long enough to take a set off of Cilic in each of the last four matches they have played against each other.

The question mark around that possibility happening here is because Stakhovsky had lost all three matches played since Wimbledon and also had to retire from a match with Reilly Opelka in Los Cabos. His win over Gastao Elias in the First Round came in five sets too which would have taken something away from a physical perspective and it does mean Stakhovsky looks ripe for the taking in this one.

However I think a small interest in him keeping up the trend of taking a set off of Cilic has to be taken. I can't imagine Stakhovsky can do more than that, but everyone knows Cilic can wander mentally when in control and I think backing him to win in four sets looks the call.


Andrey Kuznetsov - 1.5 sets v Albert Ramos-Vinolas: One of the things I have to say about Andrey Kuznetsov is that I have seen him produce some really quality tennis at times against some of the better players on the Tour. I have been looking for him to get a little more consistency in his game which would see him move up from his Number 47 World Ranking and perhaps begin to be Seeded in Grand Slam events, although he hasn't quite been able to do that.

This is a real chance to put together some big Ranking points though as he tries to get into the Third Round for the third time in four Slams in 2016. Kuznetsov has had a pretty poor summer on the hard courts with injury and a loss of form affecting his game, but I think the match up with Albert Ramos-Vinolas is a good chance for the Russian to put together back to back wins.

I have a lot of respect for the Spaniard who has won a title in the summer, albeit on the clay courts, but I don't think Ramos-Vinolas is comfortable on the hard courts. Ramos-Vinolas has never had a winning record on the hard courts and he needed five sets to beat veteran Julien Benneteau in the First Round.

Backing up those tough matches in Grand Slams can be difficult and this surface might not allow Ramos-Vinolas to build the point as he would like. I think the edge definitely belongs to Kuznetsov who had a good looking win over Thomaz Bellucci in the First Round and I expect him to come through in three or four sets.


Roberto Bautista Agut win 3-1 v Federico Delbonis: I can understand why some of the professional players decide to play in events the week before a Grand Slam tournament, but it does mean reaching the business end of that tournament have played a lot of tennis in a short period of time. Roberto Bautista Agut did reach the Final in Winston Salem last week, but he came through a challenging First Round match in four sets and has had a couple of days to prepare for this one.

It does look a difficult match against Federico Delbonis who is capable of producing some very good tennis, even on surfaces where he is not at his most natural. It is no surprise the Argentinian has his best results on the clay courts, but he showed tremendous character to come from 2-0 down in the First Round to beat Brian Baker in five sets.

The edge has to be given to Bautista Agut when it comes to confidence levels as Delbonis had lost seven in a row before the win over Baker. However he did reach the Fourth Round in Indian Wells which shows Delbonis can play on this surface and the Bautista Agut serve will give him half a chance as long as he is looking after his own side of the court.

Ultimately I do think Bautista Agut will be too good for Delbonis in this one and I think he moves through to the Third Round. I am not sure he will do it in straight sets though and I will back the Spaniard to go through with a second consecutive four set win.


Monica Niculescu - 3.5 games v Ana Bogdan: There have been a few surprise results in the US Open already with Monica Niculescu ousting Barbora Strycova one of those. The Romanian hasn't had a lot of success during the summer which made the upset a little more surprising, but Niculescu will be expecting to continue her run when she faces compatriot Ana Bogdan in the Second Round.

It is a run through the Qualifiers that has seen Bogdan reach the Second Round, but she has to put an emotional win to the back of her mind if she is going to beat Niculescu. Bogdan was down a set and 5-2 in the last Round, but she fought back to beat Sorana Cirstea and might feel she is playing with 'house money' now.

However Bogdan also has to get over the mental obstacle of having been beaten by Niculescu in their two previous matches. Those have both come on the clay court, but both Bogdan and Niculescu have been more productive on the hard courts which might mean Bogdan will feel she can be more competitive.

You have to feel the Niculescu game is going to take some figuring out for Bogdan and I think the higher Ranked Romanian will be able to battle through to a 63, 46, 63 win.


Svetlana Kuznetsova - 3.5 games v Caroline Wozniacki: There have been some suggestions in the media that Caroline Wozniacki maybe in the final throes of her career. Injuries have really affected the former World Number 1 which has seen her drop to Number 74 in the World Rankings and the feeling is that she might not have the desire to put in the work to get back up the Rankings.

Wozniacki is only 26 years old so any talk of retirement will be considered premature, but all tennis players have been playing for so long that the ambition has to come out of them. That is especially the case when the drop in the World Ranking means no more automatic places in the top tournaments and Wozniacki has to wonder what is her goal if she is not going to win a Grand Slam title.

I think she has believed she can do that, but perhaps that belief has dimmed in recent months. This is now a big challenge for Wozniacki as she takes on Svetlana Kuznetsova who has shown how a veteran can stay in touch with the top players even in the later stages of their own career.

This has been a huge season for Kuznetsova who is back in the top 10 of the World Rankings and has already secured her most Tour wins in a single season since 2009. It is no surprise Kuznetsova has had some poor results considering her veteran status, but there have been a lot of successes in 2016 including title wins and reaching the Final in Miami. The Russian has had the better of Wozniacki in four of their last five matches and the form suggests she will be too good again and by a large enough margin to cover this number of games.


Roberta Vinci v Christine McHale: Roberta Vinci has assured herself of her place in US Open history after beating Serena Williams in the Semi Final in 2015 and ending the American's chances of completing the calendar Slam. Vinci was not able to go on and win the tournament, but she should be given plenty of support even though she is facing an American in New York City again.

I am a little surprised Vinci is set as the underdog in this one as I was expecting her to be a pretty short favourite. It hasn't been a standout season for Vinci but she has plenty of wins under her belt and her best Slam performances as a Singles player has come at the US Open which can't be underestimated.

The Italian has won her two previous matches against McHale, although the last was in 2013, and it hasn't been like McHale has been in great form this summer which makes this close to a pick 'em contest a surprise. There is enough consistency in the Vinci game to extract errors from McHale even if there will be moments when the American is able to hit through the court and take the game away from Vinci.

However McHale has shown in a loss to Misaki Doi recently that the players who are able to get plenty of balls back in play can extract enough errors to beat her and Vinci can certainly do that. The Vinci first serve is effective enough and I will back the US Open Finalist from 2014 to roll into the Third Round.


Elina Svitolina - 5.5 games v Lauren Davis: This has been a memorable summer for Elina Svitolina who has been on the Tour so long that is easy to forget she is only 21 years old. A win over Serena Williams at the Olympic Games was huge for Svitolina and she also reached the Final in New Haven last week.

Coming from a set down to obliterate Mandy Minella in the First Round has only boosted the confidence that Svitolina has to be feeling heading into the US Open. She is favoured to reach the Third Round against Lauren Davis, who will receive the home support, especially as the American has been out of form recently.

Davis had a three set win in the First Round and has reached the Final in Washington this summer. However she had been beaten very easily in the two matches between those sets of results and Davis has also been brushed aside by Svitolina in their two previous matches.

The problem for Davis will always be the diminutive height and the lack of free points coming from the serve. It means she is on the backfoot whenever she is serving, especially against the power Svitolina possesses, and it will just need a couple of holds for the Ukrainian to cover this number. I can see a tough opening set being replaced by a more comfortable one for Svitolina once she gets a rhythm on the return and move into the Third Round behind a 75, 62 success.

MY PICKS: Novak Djokovic - 8.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Mikhail Youzhny - 1.5 Sets @ 1.85 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
John Isner - 5.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Kyle Edmund - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Jack Sock - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Marin Cilic Win 3-1 @ 4.33 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Andrey Kuznetsov - 1.5 Sets @ 2.25 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Roberto Bautista Agut Win 3-1 @ 4.00 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Monica Niculescu - 3.5 Games @ 1.83 William Hill (2 Units)
Svetlana Kuznetsova - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Roberta Vinci @ 1.95 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Elina Svitolina - 5.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)

US Open Update: 3-11, - 13.74 Units (25 Units Staked, - 54.96% Yield)

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

US Open Tennis Day 2 Picks 2016 (August 30th)

Recent years have seen the US Open heavily affected by the weather which sped up the decision to put a roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium. This year the roof will be in play for the first time but the first couple of days looks like it won't be needed which is just Sod's Law.

The good weather does mean we will get through the entire set of matches in the First Round and get this tournament on track early on.


Grigor Dimitrov - 8.5 games v Inigo Cervantes: The last fifteen months have been tough to be a Grigor Dimitrov fan as their man has struggled for form and consistency. However there have been some signs that Dimitrov is perhaps getting his confidence back after a poor time on the Tour as he reached the Quarter Final and Semi Final of the two Masters events in Toronto and Cincinnati in the lead up to the US Open.

Of course there have still been some poor results, notably the early loss in Washington when Dimitrov was beaten by Daniel Evans, but he looks in a strong position in this First Round match against Inigo Cervantes who spends almost all of his time on the clay courts.

The Spaniard has been taking in Challenger events on the clay courts in recent weeks, but his World Ranking meant an automatic path into the US Open draw. You would be a fool to withdraw for no reason, especially with the prize money in the main draw of Grand Slam events, but I also think it is going to be tough for Cervantes to make this a really competitive match.

Cervantes has played well at times in his limited hard court matches in 2016, but he hasn't played too many of the best players. In one he did meet Milos Raonic and was dismissed while winning four games and I think Cervantes has issues on the faster surfaces because his serve is vulnerable. I expect that might show up in this one and Dimitrov can eventually wrestle control of the match in a 64, 64, 61 win.


Stan Wawrinka win 3-1 v Fernando Verdasco: There are a couple of really good looking First Round matches to be played at the US Open and this is one of those, on paper at least. The names will be familiar to many fans of tennis, but Stan Wawrinka is still at the peak of his powers compared with Fernando Verdasco whose best days might be behind him.

There is still an upset in the locker for Verdasco though as he showed when beating Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open back in January. The Spaniard has also pushed Bernard Tomic and Kei Nishikori in five set losses in the other Grand Slams this season while Milos Raonic needed to overcome Verdasco in four tough sets here at the US Open in 2015.

Verdasco has been a little inconsistent this summer, but he still has that big performance in the locker which makes him a dangerous opponent for Wawrinka. Unlike Andy Murray or Novak Djokovic, Wawrinka is far less consistent from the back of the court and can have these really terrible days in the office, while Verdasco will be confident having beaten Wawrinka at Queens a couple of months ago.

Even with that in mind, I am struggling to see Verdasco win more than a set against one of the Semi Finalists from the US Open in 2015. I do think the Spaniard can take a set though with his style of play and Wawrinka's ability to go walkabout in matches from a mental standpoint, and a small interest in the Seeded player to go through in four is the call.


Ivo Karlovic - 1.5 sets v Yen-Hsun Lu: A couple of retirements contributed to Ivo Karlovic's terrible start to 2016, but there has been a change in the last few months. Since reaching the French Open Third Round and Wimbledon Second Round, Karlovic has turned things around with two title wins and reaching the Final of another tournament.

That should give Karlovic plenty of confidence to take into this First Round match against Yen-Hsun Lu even if the big Croatian was surprisingly beaten by Juan Monaco in Cincinnati.

His opponent has had solid successes at the Challenger level, but he has been a mixed bag of results over the summer on the hard courts. Lu did reach the Quarter Final in Winston Salem last week for a boost ahead of the US Open, but he had been just 2-4 in hard court matches since Wimbledon and I do expect Karlovic to be a little too good at key moments.

Karlovic has returned well enough to think he can pressure Lu and he will be confident he can get the better of any tie-breakers they play. Previously these players are 4-4 in tie-breakers played against one another so I wouldn't be surprised if Lu is able to take a set in this one, but I think his serve is more likely to offer up the break points and Ivo Karlovic can come through in three or four sets.


Feliciano Lopez - 1.5 games v Borna Coric: This is an interesting First Round match and I have to say I feel Borna Coric might be a little overrated thanks to an impressive showing in Cincinnati. He had to eventually pull out of that tournament thanks to a knee injury after wins over Gilles Simon and Rafael Nadal, but I think those wins have the layers believing this will be closer than I do.

Feliciano Lopez reached the Final in Los Cabos and that comes after winning the title in Gstaad. I do think Lopez will enjoy the conditions in New York with the slightly quicker hard courts surely going to aid what is an effective serve, and Lopez did reach the Quarter Final here last year which highlights how good he can be on the surface.

As much as I do think Coric is going to be one of the top players on the ATP Tour in years to come, I am not sure he is quite there yet as he looks for the consistency to start moving up the World Rankings. The run in Cincinnati was a surprise considering the recent form Coric had displayed on the Tour, while Coric has also been defeated in the First Round at the last two Australian Open Grand Slam tournaments as well as the last US Open.

His serve can be strong at times, but Coric is never far away from throwing in a sloppy game too and I do think Lopez is going to be too strong. It might take four or even five sets, but I think Lopez will ultimately come through and also cover this small number.


Dominic Thiem - 5.5 games v John Millman: This has been a career year for John Millman who has almost quadrupled the most number of wins he has had in a single season on the main Tour. You have to have a lot of respect for the way Millman has performed on the Tour as he makes use of every ounce of talent he possesses, but this is an opponent who is clearly stronger than Millman.

The Australian had a really strong run in Winston Salem last week but he has been inconsistent on the hard courts through 2016 and was beaten in the First Round in Flushing Meadows last season. The confidence will be improved this time around and Millman has reached the Third Round at the Australian Open and Wimbledon in Grand Slam events already this season.

It hasn't been the summer that Dominic Thiem would have expected after a really positive start to the 2016 season. The last twelve months has seen him improve markedly to the point of being a top 10 Ranked player, while Thiem has every chance of competing in the ATP World Tour Finals in November.

However he is just 1-4 on the Tour since Wimbledon and Thiem has not had a really deep run on the North American hard courts since a Quarter Final appearance in the Miami Masters in 2015. The sole victory did come against Millman though and I think the match up is one that Thiem should enjoy as he should be able to get plenty of returns in play and can use his superior groundstrokes to good effect.

In Cincinnati Thiem was a 75, 61 winner over Millman... I expect this to be a closer scoreline in the sets played, but Thiem to ultimately come through and cover this number.


Steve Johnson - 7.5 games v Evgeny Donskoy: When these players met at the Olympic Games, I backed Steve Johnson to have enough to cover a 4.5 game handicap and the American did that easily enough. Now that doesn't automatically mean he is going to be as strong when he plays Evgeny Donskoy in the US Open, but I do think Johnson will have enough in the locker to make sure he comes through this match relatively easily.

This has been a fine few months for Johnson who has put together plenty of wins which actually had him become the Number 1 American player on the ATP Tour for a week. He has since lost that place, but Johnson has a chance to move back up the World Rankings after being beaten in the First Round here last year when receiving a difficult draw as the Number 47 in the World Rankings.

Johnson has reached the Third Round once before at the US Open, but he has disappointingly been beaten in his first match in his other five appearances in the tournament. Those have come when the confidence won't have been strong as this year and he is playing an opponent in Donskoy who has struggled on the hard courts when coming up to the main Tour.

The key for Johnson with what looks a big number is serving well. Doing that will keep the pressure on Donskoy and Johnson has shown at the Olympic Games that he can break the Russian's serve and I think that will be the difference maker in this First Round match. After a tight couple of sets, I expect Johnson to break the spirit and belief Donskoy has and come through with a 75, 64, 62 win.


Kiki Bertens - 1.5 games v Ana Konjuh: There are a few really good young players on the WTA Tour who are still perhaps a little away from truly announcing themselves on the Tour. One of those is Ana Konjuh and there are some big things expected from the 18 year old in her career, although I don't think anyone should be surprised she is experiencing ups and downs on the Tour considering she is still growing into her body.

This looks a tough First Round draw for Konjuh against Kiki Bertens who had a memorable run to the Semi Final at the French Open. Winning a title and reaching the Final of another has boosted her World Ranking, but recent form has been poor and you can see why the layers are offering Bertens to win this one and asking her to cover a small number.

Bertens has lost four in a row now, but she will have seen the Konjuh game just a few months ago when they met in Miami and the Dutchwoman won that match fairly comfortably in the Qualifiers. However it came down to a lot of breaks of serve so this match could easily turn the other way if Konjuh improves in that department.

My feeling is that Bertens has just hit a wall but also had tougher matches of late. I think she is fortunate that Konjuh has been up and down herself which is no surprise for a young player and I will look for Bertens to take advantage of the added experience she has. It might not be pretty at times and there might be a few breaks of serve, while the heat and humidity is more of an unknown factor, but I do think Bertens wins this one 63, 57, 64.


Sam Stosur - 2.5 games v Camila Giorgi: You never know what you are going to get out of Camila Giorgi when she takes to the court as her form can be as good as a top 10 player, but on a bad day she looks like she has not picked up a racquet before. It has been a difficult season for the Italian who might have her first losing record in a season on the main Tour since 2013 barring a significant upturn in form over the next two months.

A First Round match against former Champion Sam Stosur looks a difficult one for Giorgi and I think the Australian will be too good for her. As weak as the backhand might be, Stosur should have more success behind the serve and is unlikely to be as guilty of as many double faults as Giorgi will be.

Those can be fatal to any chances of progressing and Giorgi has been doing a lot more losing than winning when it comes to hard court matches. In all honesty it hasn't been the most productive summer for Stosur who has been inconsistent on the hard courts and certainly might not be at 100% when it comes to what is already her weakest shot on the backhand side.

I am just not sure Giorgi is playing at the level to upset the Australian in this one and I believe Stosur is just going to hold herself together for long enough to come through 75, 64.

MY PICKS: Grigor Dimitrov - 8.5 Games @ 1.83 William Hill (2 Units)
Stan Wawrinka Win 3-1 @ 4.00 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Ivo Karlovic - 1.5 Sets @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Feliciano Lopez - 1.5 Games @ 1.80 William Hill (2 Units)
Dominic Thiem - 5.5 Games @ 1.80 William Hill (2 Units)
Steve Johnson - 7.5 Games @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Kiki Bertens - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Sam Stosur - 2.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet365 (2 Units)

US Open Update: 2-5, - 4.34 Units (12 Units Staked, - 36.17% Yield)

Monday, 29 August 2016

US Open Tennis Day 1 Picks 2016 (August 29th)

The final Grand Slam of the tennis season will get underway at Flushing Meadows on Monday 29th August and there won't be many out there that will look to back against yet another Novak Djokovic versus Andy Murray Final in a little under two weeks time.

Of course there are some doubts about Djokovic having had a personal issue at Wimbledon and admittedly struggling with a wrist issue this summer, while an early loss at the Olympic Games might just have the rest of the field believing the World Number 1 is not at his best. He still goes into the US Open as the short favourite, but I imagine many fans and journalists actually might have Andy Murray as the favourite having won the Olympic Gold Medal and following that with a run to the Final in Cincinnati.

Like many of the top names in Flushing Meadows, the shoulder issue might be a slight concern for Murray backers, but it is hard to look beyond the top two names in the market and expect neither to win the title here.

In saying that, injuries at this time of the season does mean that the US Open can provide surprising winners much like the Australian Open can provide surprise Finalists early in the new Tour year. This has been an era dominated by the 'big four' of men's tennis, but the US Open has seen Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic win the title here, although the Final of 2014 is unlikely to be repeated as Cilic and Kei Nishikori reached the Final as dark horses.

Serena Williams is another big name coming in as favourite but with big question marks around her form having played little tennis since winning Wimbledon and losing at the Olympic Games to Elina Svitolina. The pressure will have eased from twelve months ago when she was looking to match Steffi Graf's 22 Grand Slam Singles titles as well as winning the calendar Grand Slam coming into the US Open, but fitness is a concern and Williams will be tested immediately as she faces Ekaterina Makarova in the standout First Round match.

Her World Number 1 Ranking is also under threat in New York with the likes of Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza, the two other Grand Slam winners in 2016, looking to add the US Open to their collection as well as top spot in the Rankings. You would be a fool to rule out Serena Williams, but she does look a vulnerable favourite and I am going to be interested to see how she handles Makarova in the First Round.

The likes of Sam Stosur (2011) and Flavia Pennetta (2015) have won titles at Flushing Meadows and wouldn't have had a lot of backers when they did. The three years in between have been dominated by Serena Williams but this is a tournament that can see a surprise winner and the big prices that perhaps appeal the most are Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova who have had solid summers.

I don't think either player can be massively trusted, but if they can build some steam up in the tournament and Serena Williams is shocked in the First Round and you never know. Pliskova has a terrible Grand Slam record, but I have a feeling she is the kind of player who will suddenly put seven wins together and her tournament success in Cincinnati has to be respected.

All I hope is that it is a fun two weeks for us to watch and I can finish up with a healthy winning record after the last two weeks have been poor for the picks made on the Tour.

Day 1 begins on Monday and I will be looking for a strong start to the US Open which has usually been my weakest Grand Slam of the four over recent years.


Bjorn Fratangelo - 1.5 sets v Guido Pella: There are a number of young American players on the Tour who are hoping to be the next big thing on the men's side of things and Bjorn Fratangelo is one of those. He is perhaps just below the likes of Reilly Opelka and Taylor Fritz who are expected to be next generation of American players who are going to be looking to make an impact at the Grand Slam level, but Fratangelo has had a decent enough summer to be looking to progress in New York.

The draw does look a good one for Fratangelo against Argentinian Guido Pella whose best work comes on the clay courts and who has lost his two hard court matches since Wimbledon. That means Pella has lost four in a row on the hard courts, while he has not won a match in four attempts in the main draw at the US Open.

However Pella has to be respected as a lefty which can cause problems for players, while he has twice won three matches in a row to Qualify for the US Open so clearly can produce on the surface. It also should be noted that Fratangelo is yet to win a match in either Qualifiers or in the main draw at the US Open so might be feeling the pressure in front of friends and family that will be keeping a keen eye on this tournament.

Even with that in mind Fratangelo did win his first Grand Slam match of his career this season and he got the better of Pella as the underdog when they met on a clay court last season. The Argentinian does not have a strong career record in Grand Slam matches himself and I think Fratangelo can earn his first win at the US Open in either three or four sets against Pella who is not as comfortable on the hard courts as the clay.


Gael Monfils win 3-1 v Gilles Muller: Since coming back from injury, Gael Monfils has looked to have developed a different mindset with more solid tennis on a consistent basis than he has for much of his career. It led to a title in Washington and strong runs at the Olympic Games and in Toronto, but Monfils did have to pull out of Cincinnati with a back injury that had been hampering his movement.

There has been time for him to recover and it would be a big blow if Monfils is not able to compete in New York after those successful results in the summer. It does feel the withdrawal from Cincinnati was more a precaution for the Frenchman, but he would have been hoping for a much better draw than the dangerous Gilles Muller.

The big serving lefty beat Monfils at the Canadian Masters in Montreal just last summer, although it has to be said that Muller's hard court results have not been much to write home about.

Muller has previously reached the Fourth Round at the US Open, but he has won just one match over the last four years since that run. I can see him giving Monfils issues at times and the fact that we are likely to see at least one tie-breaker means Muller will have his chances to win a set, especially if Monfils is not quite up to his full movement. I will back Monfils to win this one in four sets as he slowly gets going in the US Open where he has had his best Grand Slam results outside of his home Slam at Roland Garros.


Pablo Cuevas - 5.5 games v Dudi Sela: No one will confuse Pablo Cuevas with one of the top hard court players in the world, but he does head into the US Open with more wins on the surface than he had in the whole of the last four years on the Tour. 2016 has been a good year for Cuevas who has reached a career high World Ranking which will give him confidence although this is never going to be his favoured time of the season.

Cuevas is yet to get beyond the Second Round at the US Open but this is also the first time he has been Seeded at the event which should give him a chance for his career best result in New York. The opening match with Dudi Sela is a potentially difficult one for Cuevas, but he did beat him in four sets here last year as he took the chances that came his way.

I will be expecting Cuevas to have the majority of chances in this one too as the Sela serve remains one of the big weaknesses the Israeli just cannot overcome consistently. Having to work hard to hold serve can take a mental toll on players and Sela is just 1-3 on the hard courts in the summer where it is difficult to get back into sets when dropping serve on the faster surface.

Sela will have his chances to break serve in this one too, but the majority of the break points should be had by Cuevas and it is about taking those opportunities when it comes to covering this number. The Sela defeats on the hard courts have seen him struggle to get back into matches once things turn against him and I can see Cuevas winning this one 63, 36, 64, 62.


Roberto Bautista Agut - 6.5 games v Guillermo Garcia-Lopez: The week in Winston Salem did not end as Roberto Bautista Agut would have hoped, but he played well enough to take some confidence into the US Open. The Spaniard is in a decent part of the draw which should see him work his way through to the Fourth Round as long as he is able to get back to physical fitness after a long week in Winston Salem.

He faces compatriot Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the First Round and that is not a straight-forward match for Bautista Agut. However Garcia-Lopez is just 6-9 on the Tour since the beginning of the French Open and he has had a losing record on the hard court in main Tour matches since the beginning of the 2011 season.

The serve has always been an issue for Garcia-Lopez, but I don't think he can match the consistency that Bautista Agut will bring to the court. He will create some break point chances of his own against this Bautista Agut serve, but I do think the latter has a little more accuracy on his serve which will allow him to roll through some service games.

Their match in Shanghai last year was very one-sided in favour of Bautista Agut, but that is on a slower court and I think this one will be more competitive. However, I do think that ultimately Bautista Agut will be too good and will come through with a 76, 62, 64 win.


Jack Sock win 3-1 v Taylor Fritz: While the television networks might be happy to see this battle of two young American stars in the First Round at the US Open, you have to think both Jack Sock and Taylor Fritz would rather not be playing one another. There is a different pressure on players when meeting a compatriot and this is the second time in 2016 that Sock and Fritz are meeting in a Grand Slam.

They played one another in the First Round at the Australian Open in what turned out to be a five set win for Sock, but he had been suffering with an injury going into that tournament. This time he looks fitter, although Sock has had issues in the heat of New York in recent years and his last two appearances here have both ended in retirement.

Sock will be tested by Fritz who has a solid serve even at 18 years old which will give him a chance to run through some service games. Fritz may feel his best chance is to keep Sock out on court and expose some physical vulnerabilities, but the edge has to be given to Sock who has had the better results in recent weeks.

First timers on the Tour can hit a wall and I feel Fritz is close to that point, although I do think he can take a set in this one. However I think he will ultimately fall short against Sock for the second time this season as long as the 'veteran' American player can keep himself strong physically on the court.


Dustin Brown-Milos Raonic over 30.5 games: If it wasn't for an injury rolling his ankle, Dustin Brown might have stunned home favourite Thomaz Bellucci at the Olympic Games, but he looks to have recovered in time to take his place in the main draw at the US Open. This is a player that can be incredibly dangerous when he is feeling his game and he might just give Milos Raonic, one of the favourites to win the title in New York, a run for his money.

I certainly think Brown is capable of contributing enough to see the two players cover this number of games. While the injury to the ankle in Brazil is a concern considering the way Brown plays, I do think he will make difficult for a limited returner like Raonic if he is healthy and serving big.

Double faults are a feature of Brown's game, but that is because he wants to be aggressive and come in and attack with volleys as soon as possible. His style is very unique these days and automatically makes opponents think about how they will change their return tactics, but Brown serving big will make it difficult for Raonic to break him.

On the other hand I am struggling to see how Brown will be able to break Raonic on more than a couple of occasions. However getting into a tie-breaker will give the German a chance of stealing a set as he is capable of hitting a couple of flashy winners and outrageous volleys to take a set away from Raonic.

Even if he doesn't, Brown getting to one tie-breaker will give these players a really good chance to cover this number of games and I think that is a real possibility. If Brown is unhealthy he could easily lose this one 63, 63, 63, but if he is good to go this week at the US Open, I can see him potentially stealing a set in this match or maybe simply losing this match 76, 64, 63 which would be enough for the two players to combine to cover this total number of games.


Monica Puig - 4.5 games v Saisai Zheng: The Olympic Games were such a success for Monica Puig that she not only took home the Gold Medal in stunning fashion, but has been announced as the flag bearer for Puerto Rico at the Tokyo Games in 2020. It was clear that playing for her country was a huge honour for Puig who beat four top 20 Ranked players on her run to winning the Gold Medal.

Now there will be some pressure on her as she enters what looks an open US Open Women's draw and the expectation is that she can come through this First Round match relatively comfortably. I like Puig's chances of doing that too with the confidence likely to be at the highest level of her career and especially in this First Round match.

As well as Puig has played, she is also up against an opponent who has a 3-4 record on the hard courts this summer. Saisai Zheng is just 9-11 on the main Tour in hard court matches and her last eight matches have seen her fail to get within this number as the serve has let her down and opponents have proved they can pull away.

If Puig is serving anything like as well as she did in the Olympic Games at times and backs that up with the returning she produced, I expect she will prove far too good for Zheng. After a battle in the first set, I expect Puig to pull away and produce a 75, 63 win to move through to the Second Round.

MY PICKS: Bjorn Fratangelo - 1.5 Sets @ 2.25 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Gael Monfils Win 3-1 @ 4.00 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Pablo Cuevas - 5.5 Games @ 1.83 William Hill (2 Units)
Roberto Bautista Agut - 6.5 Games @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Jack Sock Win 3-1 @ 3.80 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Dustin Brown-Milos Raonic Over 30.5 Games @ 1.83 Bet365 (2 Units)
Monica Puig - 4.5 Games @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Tennis Picks 2016 (August 27th)

I thought Friday was going to produce a ridiculous losing pick after Roberto Bautista Agut managed to go from 7-5, 5-0 all the way to 7-5, 6-7... Fortunately he regathered his thoughts in time for the third set which he dominated to eventually come through against Victor Troicki, but it is a shame he wasted unnecessary energy when having the match firmly in control in the middle of the second set.

That means there is a chance to finish off this week in a positive manner ahead of the US Open beginning on Monday as both Finals in New Haven and Winston Salem are played on Saturday.


Roberto Bautista Agut - 3.5 games v Pablo Carreno Busta: This has been a strong week for both of these Spanish players, although perhaps it is more surprising coming from Pablo Carreno Busta. Prior to the tournament in Winston Salem, Carreno Busta has not shown a lot of consistency on the hard courts although his wins have not exactly been against the elite of the Tour.

Aside from the victory over Pablo Cuevas, Carreno Busta would likely have felt comfortable in the other matches he has had. I am surprised he went in as the underdog against John Millman, but I think that also says a lot about where the layers are expecting his hard court abilities to be.

This is the most difficult match he would have faced this week as Roberto Bautista Agut comes in with plenty of wins and confidence behind him through 2016. He has needed three sets in three of his four matches to reach this Final, but Bautista Agut looked confident and holds the mental edge with three wins from four previous matches against Carreno Busta.

They did play an incredibly tight match at the US Open last year, but I think Bautista Agut can battle to another title in 2016 behind a relatively straight forward 64, 64 win this time around.

MY PICKS: Roberto Bautista Agut - 3.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)

Weekly Update: 6-6, - 1.64 Units (24 Units Staked, - 6.83% Yield)

Friday, 26 August 2016

Weekend Football Picks 2016 (August 26-28)

The Champions League and Europa League Group Stage draws have taken place ahead of the weekend football and that means the next few months of the football season are now in place.

All of the English clubs in the Champions League should be very happy with the draw made on Thursday and I think all four should be thinking of making it through to the Second Round.

The toughest draw looks to be handed out to Manchester City yet again despite improving their co-efficient to be involved in Pot 2, but facing Barcelona, Borussia Monchengladbach and Celtic in the Group should still be manageable. Of course Barcelona are a difficult test, but the other two teams should not be able to match the quality Manchester City have.

Arsenal also have been handed a draw with one of the big teams in the Champions League as they face Paris Saint-Germain in the Group. However it has to be said that Paris Saint-Germain are perhaps not as strong as last season, while both Basel and Ludogorets should not be able to stun one of the top two Seeds.

For a team in the third pot, Tottenham Hotspur could not have asked for a much better drawn than CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco and I think they have every chance of winning the Group. Experience is the biggest concern for Tottenham Hotspur, but they should have enough to win all three games at Wembley Stadium and a couple of away draws would likely be enough for first place.

Finally the Champions Leicester City have also escaped a really tough Group and they should be good enough to join Porto in reaching the Second Round. I can see Leicester City winning the Group because I think their style of play will lead to chances to win away games against Porto, Copenhagen and Club Brugge and Claudio Ranieri's men might surprise at the higher level.

There still seems to be some unbalance to the draw in the Champions League though as we have sections with the likes of Man City/Barcelona, Arsenal/PSG, Real Madrid/Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid/Bayern Munich and Juventus/Sevilla, but others that don't even have one team you would consider a potential winner of the competition.

On Friday the Champions League is going to be revamped in time for the 2017/18 season and so perhaps we will see some changes that makes sure the Group Stage is either highly competitive throughout, or distributing the big teams a little thinner. That would be good news for the super powers of European football although a real chance to go back to the days when the Group Stage was nothing more than a simple task from which the top teams could qualify for the next Round.


The Europa League draw was also made and you have to say for a competition that is much maligned in England that Manchester United could have received a much more favourable draw than they did as the top Seed. The likes of Fenerbahce and Feyenoord have been described as 'Champions League' level by Jose Mourinho, although the reality is those clubs have fallen far short of the required level to make that competition.

Match Day 3 is going to be an issue for Manchester United as it comes just three days after a trip to Anfield and three days before a trip to Stamford Bridge so I am not anticipating a strong line up in that one. However I would still expect Manchester United to top the section even if the draw could have been kinder.

Southampton were a Third Seed and so drawing Inter Milan and Sparta Prague is difficult for them. Neither should be considered part of the elite, but Southampton don't have a lot of experience of playing in Europe and so might have a tough time negotiating that Group while Hapoel Be'er Sheva make up the section having given Celtic a scare in the Champions League Qualifiers and beaten a team as strong as Olympicos.

This is a better competition than English clubs have considered it, but it is a long road to Sweden and negotiating the Thursday-Sunday conundrum has yet to be proved by any club through the course of a tough season.


The picks have had a terrible week and I have been disappointed with many of them. I have not had a lot of luck with some of them, but this is an important weekend for me as I look to bounce back and make sure August doesn't end up being a terrible month yet again.

The picks come from England, Spain and Italy this weekend beginning on Friday and going through until Sunday evening.


Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool PickThis looks to be a fascinating way to begin the latest round of Premier League fixtures as Tottenham Hotspur host Liverpool in the Saturday lunchtime kick off. Both teams have made mixed starts to the season, but they are probably at par for where they would have expected to be in terms of points.

Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp have both had successes at Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, but this is a big season for them to show the improvements on the field. Neither has too many injury issues going into the fixture and I am anticipating a really good game of football.

Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool have both played well against the top clubs in English football in the last couple of years. Spurs have won 4 of 8 against the top five clubs at White Hart Lane in that time, while Liverpool only lost 1 of their 4 away games at the top four last season and hammered Manchester City at The Etihad Stadium.

Their win at Arsenal this season backs up a feeling that Klopp's teams perform better in the big games and a visit to White Hart Lane certainly counts. The returns of Sadio Mane and Daniel Sturridge improves the attacking options that Liverpool have and they certainly look a team who will be dangerous going forward, but defensive concerns remain.

The chances created last week suggests Tottenham Hotspur can expose those concerns in this one and I think it might be far different to the two tight games between these clubs last season. The sole game between Klopp's Liverpool and Pochettino's Tottenham Hotspur ended 1-1 at Anfield and featured plenty of attacking football while this is a fixture that has historically produced goals.

Before last season, 6 straight between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool ended with three goals shared out, while 8 straight at White Hart Lane had hit that number too. I was leaning towards a Tottenham Hotspur win, but their poor recent home record against Liverpool coupled with the return of key players for the away side who have won in North London once this season put me off.

Instead I will look for the high pressing games of both teams to lead to chances at both ends of the field and the total goals to reach three or more in the early Saturday kick off.


Chelsea v Burnley Pick: Antonio Conte has already shown he can be a big character in the English Premier League and he has given Chelsea a new found belief after a disappointing season last time out. The Blues have battled to all three wins they have achieved this season and that means they are one of four Premier League teams going into the weekend with a 100% record in the League.

They are considered healthy favourites to beat Burnley in this match even though the latter are coming off an impressive 2-0 win over Liverpool. However they didn't have much of the ball in that defeat and that is going to be tough for the squad to deal with through the season if they are having to work hard without the ball every week.

Burnley were also beaten in extra time by Accrington Stanley in the English Football League Cup during the week and they did have a fairly strong team out in that game.

It does have to be said that Burnley struggled away from home two seasons ago when in the Premier League but they did earn draws at Stamford Bridge and The Etihad Stadium in that campaign which ended with relegation. I think Sean Dyche would have learned plenty from his time managing in the Premier League two seasons ago, but Burnley still look a little short of quality.

My one concern with this Asian Handicap is the goals Chelsea have conceded this season even when they have looked in control. The rumours suggest Conte is still looking to strengthen his back line with some big bids made back in his home country, but for now Chelsea will go in with what they have.

As concerned as I am with them defensively, I think Chelsea are showing enough going forward to prove too strong on the day. It might be down to their first clean sheet of the season, but I am backing Chelsea to win this by a couple of goals.


Leicester City v Swansea City PickLast season was a real shock for everyone who is associated with Premier League football as well as for all the fans that make it the product it is. No one really expected Leicester City to win the Premier League and I think most have expected a significant drop for them this time around.

Claudio Ranieri has done well to keep the squad together for the most part and I think Leicester City have been far from out. They have created chances in both of their opening Premier League games, but Jamie Vardy has perhaps regressed to the standard he had previously set compared to last season.

For all the hullabaloo around Vardy after an exceptional last season, I think people couldn't understand why I was not ready to appoint him as the saviour of England and also a 'top player'. Yes he got 24 goals last season, but he had combined for just 26 in the previous three seasons which included two seasons at the lower level of the Championship.

He had scored just 26 times in 97 previous games before last season and must have rediscovered those shooting boots in the last couple of games where he has been guilty of missing two or three big chances for Leicester City. Simply put you can't rely on Vardy having all of his scuffed shots go in this time around and Leicester City also need more from Riyad Mahrez, Leonardo Ulloa and Ahmed Musa.

Take away my criticism of Vardy as a footballer and you have to be encouraged by the chances Leicester City have created and think they will eventually start going in rather than high and wide. Even Vardy should get his goals in a side that are still going to be attacked by opponents and Swansea City might be the perfect visitors for The Foxes this week.

Leicester City have beaten them the last 3 times they have played and Swansea City won't sit in as Hull City did at times and so I can see the home team having their chances. Maybe Vardy will show up and score a hat-trick this week (even if that won't change my mind about his abilities), but even without his contributions I do think Leicester City will have a bit too much this week.

I am not sure Swansea City are consistent enough and they have lost plenty of games against the top seven clubs in the last two seasons. They were poor in the defeat to Hull City, something both teams have in common, but I do think Leicester City are creating more opportunities at the moment and it has to be a matter of time before they are going in.

They look underrated in this one as not many teams who finished in the top four last season would be priced at this to beat Swansea City at home. It is not like The Swans have been in exceptional form to open the season either and I think Leicester City can be backed to win their first game of the season and prevent there being a lot of questions about them going into the two week international break.


Watford v Arsenal PickCan you imagine the atmosphere at The Emirates Stadium on September 10th if Arsenal were to be beaten at Watford this weekend? The fans who have been behind Arsene Wenger in recent years might be ready to turn with those who have already lost faith with their long-serving manager and the Stadium could be shaking with open revolt if Arsenal have just 1 point from a possible 9 going into that fixture in two weeks time.

Even a draw might not be good enough for Arsenal this weekend as Watford have been struggling for consistency in their own opening games. The English Football League Cup has not been a priority for Premier League clubs in recent years, but there was a clear shift in strength of teams used this past week and that meant Watford had all the headlines when upset by Gillingham from League One.

The owners have been fortunate their managerial changes have worked out in recent seasons, but Walter Mazzarri will be desperate for a first win as Watford have thrown away leads in all three games they have played. They have had the lead though and that makes them a danger to Arsenal even if The Gunners won both League games last season.

It was Watford who beat them in the FA Cup though and both Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo will fancy their chances against Rob Holding at the heart of the Arsenal defence.

On the other hand I think Arsene Wenger will give all his attacking players a chance to be restored to the starting line up with both Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud back to join Alexis Sanchez as the three best attacking choices Arsenal have. The two previous games means Wenger can't afford to leave any out with a two week international break to come and Arsenal will have noted the defensive problems Watford have had so far this season.

Combined it does look a game that will produce at least three goals as all three games between Arsenal and Watford did last season. That has made it 7 straight fixtures between the teams ending with at least three goals shared out including the last 4 at Vicarage Road and neither team is playing with enough confidence to think they can keep out their opponent this weekend.

I wouldn't be surprised if Watford scored as they have in three straight games this season, but the question is can they kick on if they take the lead this time? For Arsenal it is almost a 'must win' game and I can see both teams having their chances and eventually combining for at least three goals shared out.


Hull City v Manchester United PickWho would have thought that Hull City versus Manchester United in the third round of games of the Premier League would have been a match between two of the four teams with 100% records in the League?

Not the layers by any imagination as Hull City have won both League games as a pretty big underdog after what had been a turbulent summer at the club. There are still some issues surrounding the number of fit bodies they have and Mike Phelan calling for reinforcements, but the manager has to be given plenty of respect for masterminding two wins out of two in the League.

Keeping the players focused on the football rather than the issues off the field has been huge for Phelan, but this might be another level in terms of a managerial test for what is essentially a rookie Number 1. Manchester United are very close to Phelan's heart having played at Old Trafford and also been a Number 2 to Sir Alex Ferguson in the last few years, but he would love to make it four wins out of four in the 2016/17 season this weekend.

Jose Mourinho is far from a rookie manager, but he has insisted he needs time to remove the 'philosophy' from the players who have been at Old Trafford the last couple of years. It was a negative philosophy and Mourinho wants more attacking from his Manchester United and so far there have been plenty of positive signs with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic fitting in perfectly.

Paul Pogba should be better with another week of training under his belt and he was very good against Southampton, while Eric Bailly looks comfortable at centre half. All of those players have to keep the standards at the level they are and there are only signs of improvement as Manchester United have made slow starts in the first couple of Premier League games.

A mistake opened the door against Bournemouth, while Southampton were the better side before Ibrahimovic opened the scoring last weekend. Once in the lead United have looked comfortable, but they will have to prevent Hull City picking up momentum in this one before they take control.

Newly promoted sides are still feeling very positive in August so they can be tough to beat, but Hull City have surprised in the first couple of games and Mourinho has had eight days to prepare his team for them. You can't discount the chances that Leicester City created at 0-0 when they played at the KCOM Stadium on the opening day and Manchester United have players in form like Ibrahimovic who won't miss those like Jamie Vardy did.

Playing here won't be easy for any team unless Hull City have to use the same eleven players every week. While I do think Hull City can cause Manchester United some problems, I think Mourinho's team are going to be fitter and have more energy with the long break between games. If Manchester United take the chances that Leicester City created and missed, I can see them winning their third game in a row in the Premier League by at least two goals.

Only 2 of Louis Van Gaal's Manchester United away wins came by more than a single goal margin, but Mourinho has got to half that total in one game and I will back Manchester United to cover the Asian Handicap in this one.


Manchester City v West Ham United PickThere have always been upsets involving English teams in European football, but the West Ham United loss to this Astra team has to be right amongst the very biggest of them in recent years. Slaven Bilic has to be disgusted that West Ham United are not playing in the Europa League Group Stage, especially as it might dent the chances of bringing in the players they have been linked with.

Injuries haven't helped, but the likes of Mark Noble, Manuel Lanzini and Dimitri Payet should return which makes West Ham United a much different team. However they can't be as poor in front of goal again as a team like Manchester City will punish them in the harshest way.

Manchester City are well rested and I can imagine all the boys on Sky Television hoping the two Manchester clubs come through with wins this weekend to set up the first Manchester derby of the season deliciously. The side have made a positive start under Pep Guardiola which suggests they will be too strong for West Ham United and I can see them winning comfortably at The Etihad Stadium.

I do respect how well West Ham United played away from home last season, but they didn't play as well down the stretch as they began the campaign. The Hammers have looked a little flat in the opening games of the season and they could have been beaten very easily against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in their opening game of the Premier League season.

Manchester City haven't been as free scoring at home as they have on their travels, but I think they will be too strong this weekend and I am backing them to beat West Ham United by a couple of goals is the call. In the form Sergio Aguero has been in, I wouldn't be surprised if he is back on the scoresheet, while West Ham United have been lacking options in the final third and Pep Guardiola can end his first competitive month in charge with a fifth straight win in all competitions.


Burton Albion v Derby County PickThe Friday night live Championship game will have plenty of connections between the Clough name and Derby County Football Club. Both Brian Clough and Nigel Clough have managed Derby County, but Nigel will be in the Burton Albion dugout this weekend as he looks to help his side bounce back from a 0-5 hammering at the hands of Liverpool.

Goals have been flowing in the Burton Albion games all season as they try to bridge the gap that saw them playing in League Two just two seasons ago before back to back promotions brought them into the Championship. 5 of the 6 games Burton Albion have played this season have featured at least three goals and Tuesday was the first time they have failed to score.

The 3-1 home win over Sheffield Wednesday shows what Burton Albion are capable of, while they will be confident having seen fellow promoted club Barnsley beat Derby County 2-0 at Oakwell already this season.

Games involving Derby County have been much tighter so far this season, but I am interested to see what kind of toll the long English Football League Cup Second Round tie against Carlisle United has had on the players. Derby County have yet to score more than a single goal in a game this season but they won't have a better chance against this defence, although they are going to be tested by the goals Burton Albion have in the team too.

I did consider picking Burton Albion to avoid defeat as they look good for at least a goal and Derby County have not scored too many so far. However the Asian Handicap is not offering the best odds and instead I am going to look for this Burton Albion to go the same way many others have and have at least three goals shared out.

They might be trying to find their place at this level of football, but Burton Albion have scored and conceded in every League game. They have scored at least twice in 3 of 4 Championship games and also conceded at least twice in 3 of 4 so the odds against quotes on there being at least three goals is perhaps a little high even if Derby County have not found their shooting boots just yet.


Barnsley v Rotherham United PickFor both Barnsley and Rotherham United the immediate goal is to make sure they are not relegated from the Championship and so games like this can be vitally important even when meeting in August.

Neil Warnock has been replaced by Alan Stubbs in the Rotherham United dugout and it has been a tough start for the latter. To be honest, Rotherham United dropped their form a little after securing their future in the Championship under Warnock and this was always going to be another difficult season for them.

Their away losses at Aston Villa and Brighton are expected results and Rotherham United have received a boost in confidence after beating Brentford at home last weekend. However their away form in the Championship has not been that impressive as Rotherham United have won just 5 away games at clubs that finished in the bottom 11 places over the last two seasons.

Over that time Rotherham United had finished with the 22nd and then 21st best away record in the Championship and Barnsley have beaten the likes of Queens Park Rangers and Derby County here already. It wasn't the home form that helped Barnsley earn promotion, but they are looking to their form at Oakwell to keep them in the Championship and their strong start suggests they are worth backing to make it three wins in a row at home.


Cardiff City v Reading PickWith a little more luck, Cardiff City would have been heading into this fixture with back to back League wins behind them, but they have had a week to prepare for this game with Reading. It has surprised me that Cardiff City are such a big price to beat Reading considering the poor away form the latter have shown and the fact this is a team that were dragged all the way to penalties earlier in the week.

Reading have lost 5 of their last 6 away games in the Championship including both played this season at Wolves and Newcastle United, while they lost 7 of 12 away games at the top half clubs in the Championship last season.

The home game against Reading has been a strong fixture in recent League games with 3 straight wins against them. Cardiff City have managed to work their way to at least two goals in each of the last couple of League games and they did have the 6th best home record in the Championship last season.

I think the lack of goals might be why Cardiff City are such a big price to win this game, but I think they can to that this weekend. They are facing a team who are still getting to grips with what Jaap Stam wants from his new club and Reading have conceded plenty of goals in their recent games.

It looks a big price for Cardiff City to take the three points from this one especially as they have won almost 50% of their home games in the Championship since the 2014/15 season. With Reading struggling against the top half clubs last season and already having lost at Wolves and Newcastle United, this price feels wrong and I will back The Bluebirds to win this one.


Huddersfield Town v Wolves PickWhen the fixtures were released in June, not many would have circled this one as potentially being between two unbeaten teams in the top three of the Championship table. Huddersfield Town have negotiated tough games at Newcastle United (won 1-2) and Aston Villa (drew 1-1) to make this really positive start to the new season under David Wagner, while Wolves' takeover was only confirmed in the third week of July.

Since then the expectations have been raised at Wolves and the arrival of Walter Zenga has not seen the slow start that most would have looked for from a manager in England for the first time. Wolves have made some smart moves and the 1-3 win at Birmingham City shows this is a team that could be a dark horse for promotion at the end of this campaign.

Realistically it is difficult to imagine both sustaining the starts they have made with the competitive nature of this Division. Wolves might be in a strong position if they can bring in more bodies before the transfer window closes next week, but Huddersfield Town are certainly exceeding any expectations they must have had in early August.

It was the home record that let Huddersfield Town down last season so the 2 wins to open this season will have boosted confidence, but both have been tight wins. They have scored and conceded in both home games as Wolves have done in both away League games they have played and this might be an entertaining offering on Saturday afternoon.

David Wagner comes from the Borussia Dortmund Youth set up so will clearly favour a high press which can lead to problems defensively and Huddersfield Town have yet to keep a clean sheet. I can see Wolves scoring here, but Huddersfield Town should also work their way onto the scoreboard and it looks like a game where backing at least three goals to be scored at odds against should be backed.


Nottingham Forest v Leeds United PickSo what are the chances we are going to see a third straight Nottingham Forest home game end with a 4-3 victory for The Tricky Trees? Goals have been flowing in all of the Nottingham Forest games played so far this season and 5 of their 6 in the 2016/17 season has seen at least three goals shared out in their fixtures.

Going forward hasn't seemed to be a problem for Nottingham Forest, but they have looked terrible at the back and it has to be a concern for the manager that they have conceded at least three goals in 3 of their 4 League games.

It does have to be noted that Nottingham Forest and Leeds United had two of the poorer attacks in the Championship last season but that seems to have been rectified by the home team in this one. However, you have to credit Garry Monk for masterminding back to back away wins for Leeds United over the last seven days which makes them a threat in this one.

Neither team were scoring too many last season, but the majority of Nottingham Forest goals were scored at home and the majority of Leeds United goals were scored on their travels. There are signs of that again this season and I think the teams might be underrated to combine for three goals in this fixture even if the last 5 between them have produced just 7 goals in total.

The early weeks of this season have shown there are goals to be had against Nottingham Forest, but they have looked strong going forward at The City Ground. While I don't anticipate another 4-3 result, I think this has the makings of a 2-1 scoreline either way and I am willing to back that at odds against.


Newcastle United v Brighton Pick: These were two of the teams that were expected to challenge for promotion to the Premier League at the end of the 2016/17 season and both have made positive starts to believe they will be there or thereabouts. Newcastle United have bounced back from their opening two League defeats by winning three in a row in all competitions, while Brighton are 2nd in the early League table having been unbeaten so far this season.

This is going to be a competitive game and I think there isn't much to separate the teams, although the layers are feeling the same. Dwight Gayle and Aleksander Mitrovic look to be missing for the home team which does lead to the question as to where the goals will come against a tough Brighton team.

Newcastle United might have had two clean sheets in a row, but one of those came against League Two Cheltenham Town and I do expect Brighton to trouble them having scored at least twice in every game since a goalless draw at Derby County on the opening day.

Chris Hughton will give his players all the advice in the world in dealing with playing at St James' Park having managed Newcastle United but I am not quite sure Brighton have enough in the locker to win here.

Rafa Benitez has made Newcastle United far more difficult to play against at St James' Park since arriving at the back end of last season, while you can't ignore the fact that Brighton had 12 draws away from home last season and have drawn both played on their travels this time around too. Even a struggling Brighton in the 2014/15 season had 9 draws away from home meaning this is a team that has drawn almost half of their away League games since the beginning of that season (23/48).

Last season Brighton finished 4th and drew with all the other clubs that finished in the top six away from home and I will look for this one to end in a stalemate in front of the television cameras on Saturday afternoon.


Real Betis v Deportivo La Coruna PickThis is the opening game of the second round of Spanish fixtures and will be followed by another break in the League with the World Cup Qualifiers set to take place next weekend. Real Betis are looking to bounce back from their 6-2 loss at Barcelona, but their home form from last season has to be a concern.

They did end the season in strong fashion with 4 wins from their final 6 games here, but now they face a Deportivo La Coruna team who have fared well in recent visits to Real Betis. Deportivo La Coruna are unbeaten in their last 6 here and have won 4 times which includes a 1-2 win last season, while they had the 8th best away record in the Primera Division last season.

It was a big improvement from the 2014/15 season as Deportivo virtually halved their losses and doubled their wins, but the stand out result in their away games has been the draw. In fact 18 of their 38 away games in the Spanish top flight over the last two seasons have ended in draws and they proved very tough to beat on their travels last year.

Deportivo ended last season on a 4 game unbeaten run away from home and it was their form on their travels which kept them in the top flight. With Real Betis being the lowest scorer in the League at home last season, this has the makings of another tight match and I did consider backing the away team with a slight start on the Asian Handicap.

However my feeling is that the most likely result here is a low-scoring draw and I will have a small interest in that being the outcome of this one between two teams that were only separated by three points at the end of the 2015/16 campaign.


Real Madrid v Celta Vigo PickThis hasn't been a season with big name arrivals at Real Madrid (not yet anyway) that we have seen in recent years, but this is a squad more than capable of winning the big trophies as they have shown in the Champions League a few months ago. Real Madrid have some key players who are another year older now, but they still look strong with Gareth Bale now rounding into his peak years.

A 0-3 win at Real Sociedad without Cristiano Ronaldo looks a very good result and their star man will be back this weekend as Real Madrid host Celta Vigo.

As impressive as a season Celta Vigo had last season, they lost 7 out of 10 League games agains the five clubs that finished higher than them in the League. Celta Vigo are also coming in off an unimpressive 0-1 defeat to La Liga debutants Leganes and they have not had a lot of joy when meeting Real Madrid in recent games.

Celta Vigo have conceded at least three times in each of the last 4 fixtures against Real Madrid, while the visits to the Santiago Bernabeu have not been enjoyable for them. Their last 4 losses have come by a combined 17-1 score and Celta Vigo will be coming in with little confidence following that upset home loss on Monday night.

At odds against Real Madrid are being asked to cover at least two goals on the Asian Handicap and I think they can be backed to do that for the fifth time in a row against Celta Vigo. Real Madrid have won 32 of their last 38 League games at home and 21 of those have come by at least three goals.

Add in their recent record against Celta Vigo and I wouldn't be surprised if Cristiano Ronaldo is back with a goal to his name and Real Madrid win this one comfortably.


Leganes v Atletico Madrid PickFor a club like Leganes, playing the likes of Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid was nothing but a dream for much of their history. Before last season they had a highest finish of 8th in the Segunda Division and only three seasons ago were playing in the third tier of Spanish football.

It has been a significant rise since then as they are in their maiden Primera Division campaign and the 0-1 win at Celta Vigo shows this is a team that will enjoy every game they have at this level. Hosting Atletico Madrid in the second game should see all 8,000 odd seats filled up on Saturday evening and the idea will be to create an intimidating atmosphere for opponents who are used to the finer things in life.

That might not be enough for the upset as Diego Simeone is likely to have been tearing strips off his players this past week for dropping two home points against Alaves despite scoring what should have been a winning goal in the 90th minute. Atletico Madrid have shown they can recover from these setbacks under their charismatic Argentinian manager, while their 13 away League wins last season could not be bettered by any other team.

The layers are expecting Atletico Madrid to win here and I can't argue with that. Instead I will look for them to do what they do best and that is defend resolutely and secure a victory behind a strong defensive effort.

It is something of a surprise that Atletico Madrid only won 3 of those 13 away games at clubs that finished in the bottom six places and they actually lost to 2 of the bottom four. However the wins did come with a clean sheet and Atletico Madrid have conceded just 29 goals in their last 38 away games in Spain.

Leganes will give Atletico Madrid a real test in this derby game, but I will back Diego Simeone's men to come through with a win behind a clean sheet at odds against.


Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona PickThe shocking manner in which Barcelona were blown apart by Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup must have kept them focused the rest of the season when facing this club. That resulted in 4 wins in a row against them, although both games played in Bilbao were very competitive and resulted in narrow Barcelona wins.

Barcelona might have won 3 of their last 4 visits to Bilbao, but prior to that run they had failed to win any of 4, although I do think this current Athletic Bilbao side have struggled to match the top three clubs. That has led to 5 defeats in 6 home games against Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in the League and I can understand why the layers are taking no chances with the Barcelona price here.

As strong as Barcelona are, they have been very good away from home finishing with the best away record in each of the last two seasons. 17 of 27 wins over that period have come by at least two goals so you can understand again why the layers are asking Barcelona to win this one by a clear margin for a full payout on the handicaps.

However they have not had it easy when playing in Bilbao and that showed in Barcelona's narrow wins here. Only 4 teams won here last season in the League and none of those came by more than a single goal margin, while the last 2 Barcelona wins have been 0-1 and 1-2. I can't imagine this one being much easier and while the attacking potential Barcelona have can see them beat any team by big margins, I think it is a big price that they win by a narrow margin and I will back them to do so by a single goal victory.


Villarreal v Sevilla PickThere are some big questions to be answered by both Villarreal and Sevilla heading into the new season, but I do think Sevilla look the stronger of the two teams and I expect them to finish higher in the League table.

It seems to be a similar feel for Villarreal as the last time they qualified for the Champions League. They played in that competition in the 2011/12 season, but it ended with a relegation to the Segunda Division and this current Villarreal squad looks like it might have suffered plenty of upheaval in the summer.

While a relegation would be a big surprise, I would not be surprised to see Villarreal fail to reach Europe through their League record. They look a vulnerable favourite in the second game of the season, even if Sevilla failed to win a single away game in the League last season.

Sevilla lost here 2-1, but had previously won 3 in a row at Villarreal, while the season before last they had the 4th best away record in La Liga. I think the fact they failed to win any of their away games last season is playing a part in the price as is the fact they conceded 4 goals in a win last week, but I think Sevilla can be backed as the underdog for a small interest to win against a team that looks in disarray in Villarreal.


Lazio v Juventus Pick: Last season Juventus made a really slow start to the Italian Serie A campaign, but that didn't prevent them winning the title yet again. Selling Paul Pogba is an obvious loss for the Old Lady, but the signings made to bolster the entire squad looks to have created a team that could potentially challenge for Champions League success.

A tough win over Fiorentina at home will have given Juventus a little bit of a shot in the arm to take into this second game of the season, while they have been dominant away from home last season with three more wins on their travels than any other team in Serie A.

It was a difficult season for Lazio who had finished 3rd two seasons ago but failed to qualify for the Champions League Group Stage. They have been strong at home, but lost their 6 home games to teams that finished above them last season, while 5 of their 6 losses at the Stadio Olimpico the season before had come against teams from the top seven.

Lazio did win 3-4 at Atalanta last week which will have given them confidence but they have struggled against the top teams have lost 3 in a row at home against Juventus. They ended last season with 3 losses from their last 5 here in all competitions and I think the Champions can lay a marker for the season with a win in the Italian capital on Saturday evening at a decent price.


Fiorentina v Chievo PickThe World Cup Qualifiers begin next week which means there will be a two week break following this game and Fiorentina would love to put their first three points on the board. Losing at the home of the Champions is no disgrace, but Fiorentina will do well not to underestimate Chievo who beat Inter Milan 2-0 last weekend.

As much as Chievo have show improvement in the League in each of the last three seasons, they are still going to be an underdog when visiting the top teams in Serie A. That is shown in their 6 losses to the eight clubs that finished above them in the League table last season and they have particularly struggled in recent visits to Florence.

Fiorentina did win 10 of their 15 games at home against teams that finished below them in the League table and the only concern for me has to be the poor pre-season which is off the back of a long run without too many wins to end the last season. However they were strong at home and I do think Fiorentina will have a little too much for Chievo in this one.

The side have been one of the most consistent ones in Serie A in recent seasons and this might finally be the season when Fiorentina can break into the top three having seen Napoli and Roma weakened in the summer. Inter Milan were also in disarray and Fiorentina can take advantage but that does mean winning games like this one.

Credit Chievo for establishing themselves at this level and steadily improving in each of the last three seasons, but I will back Fiorentina to beat them on Sunday.

MY PICKS: Tottenham Hotspur-Liverpool Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.77 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Chelsea - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Leicester City @ 1.75 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Watford-Arsenal Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Manchester United - 1 Asian Handicap @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Manchester City - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.84 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Burton Albion-Derby County Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Barnsley @ 2.00 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Cardiff City @ 2.40 William Hill (2 Units)
Huddersfield Town-Wolves Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Nottingham Forest-Leeds United Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 Coral (2 Units)
Newcastle United-Brighton Draw @ 3.40 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Real Betis-Deportivo La Coruna Draw @ 3.30 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Real Madrid - 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Atletico Madrid Win to Nil @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Barcelona to Win by One Goal @ 4.00 Stan James (1 Unit)
Sevilla @ 2.88 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Juventus @ 1.91 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Fiorentina @ 1.67 Bet365 (2 Units)


August Update21-30-1, - 13.24 Units (91 Units Staked, - 14.55% Yield)

Season 2015/16133-174-2, + 0.89 Units (669 Units Staked, + 0% 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)
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