Friday, 30 January 2015

Victoria Cup preview

What a glorious night of harness racing at Melton on Saturday, one of the highlights of the Summer of Glory carnival. Headlining the night is the Group 1 TAB Victoria Cup. Harness racing, or 'the trots' was my first introduction to betting, have followed it for several decades and this is the best Victoria Cup field I can remember since the 80s. Class from top to bottom. Brilliant stuff, shame I can't see it live on this side of the world.

Taking the reins with the preview and making his first appearance on the blog is Luke Humphreys, @WorldRacingLuke. I've only posted the feature race preview here but he has a comprehensive preview of the card, including heats of the Victoria Derby and the Australasian Trotting Championship, and exotic bet tips for the meeting. You'll find that preview here.

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TAB Victoria Cup
Group 1, Open Class, part of the Grand Circuit.
Melton, 2240m, $400k, Mobile Start.

R7, 2132 Melbourne time, 1032 GMT.

Form guide link with replays

Latest markets

1 LENNYTHESHARK: Ran well first-up when 3rd in the G2 Shepparton Gold Cup after galloping. He’s run of getting very good barrier draws have continued. He should hold his own from the draw but is only second-up which is a concern. The positive with him though is that he didn’t drift off the track last start so his manners have improved. Each-Way.

2 FRANCO LEDGER: Stormed home after having a very soft run to grab last week’s G2 Shepparton Gold Cup. Can’t see him coming off the arm, after pulling so hard when doing so in the G1 SA Cup, so he might try and drop on to the back of Lennytheshark (1). If not he might get shoved back and is probably a place chance at best.

3 BEAUTIDE: 2013/14 Miracle Mile and Inter Dominion winner and was 2nd in this season’s renewal of the Miracle Mile after doing work. The negative he is going first-up into this race after missing the Ballarat and Bendigo Cup’s due to problems. He trialled well at Ballarat one week ago but will he be fit enough. Big question marks over his name. At his best he’ll be very hard to beat but is he.

4 PHILADELPHIA MAN: It’s fair to say we were probably expecting a bit more when only 2nd after kicking away in the G2 Shepparton Gold Cup. Before that he was unbelievable when smashing them in the G2 Horsham Cup. Not sure how he’ll go on the one week back-up and Gavin Lang has deserted him, for Guaranteed. Not sure if he’ll come out of the gate, maybe last week was a one-off. He’s got an Each-Way chance at best.

5 IM CORZIN TERROR: Wasn’t too bad in the Bendigo Cup when 4th. Winner of the G1 Ballarat Cup in December which was a very lucky victory, for many reasons. Poor draw tonight, doubt it.

6 CHRISTEN ME: Way too good in the G2 Bendigo Cup last start when playing with them in great style. Last season’s Hunter Cup winner, This season’s Miracle Mile and NZ FFA winner. He’ll probably be eased off the gate and then slowly work forward and if he’s one off the pegs before the mile, most likely he will be, he’s one of the horses to beat.

7 TERROR TO LOVE: NZ’s greatest horse this century but once again has drawn poorly in Australia. Three times a winner of the NZ Cup and confirmed his status as an Australasian champion when he outstayed Christen Me (6) in the Cranbourne Cup. He’ll probably work back from the draw and come into it with a trail, this race is sort of a trial for next week’s Hunter Cup, but if the luck goes his way he can win and even if it doesn’t he’s good enough to make his own luck.

8 CHILLI PALMER: Emergency but is very quick. Run of the race last start in the G2 Bendigo Cup and if he gains a start he could be a smokey as he’ll be sitting on the pegs. Each-Way

9 DAVID HERCULES: So gallant when just caught late in the G1 WA Cup last start after doing a power of work. He’s up to this level but after having such a hard run, only 15 days ago, and travelling all the way over from WA to Victoria and racing against the best horses going around tonight, it’s going to be tough. Great horse, tough horse, but up against it.

10 GUARANTEED: He’s gone from being a horribly gaited horse to the perfect racehorse. Comfortably won the G1 SA Cup last start and before that his was unlucky when 3rd in the G1 Miracle Mile and 2nd in the G1 Coca Cola Amatil Sprint. He’s been given the perfect preparation and the back row draw may suit as the speed will be on and Gavin Lang can make his move whenever he wants. Trialled strongly behind Beautide one week ago. The one to beat.

11 FOR A REASON: Certainly not a $41 chance. Wasn’t too bad in the G2 Shepparton Gold Cup last week. Pulled too hard in G2 Horsham Cup before that. Won this race last season when getting a great cart up into it and he might get a good cart into it again. Stupid odds and one of the winning chances.

12 ADORE ME: Unbelievable victory in G2 Flying Mile at Cambridge last start when eased down in 1:51.6 after sitting outside of Gold Ace. She’s won 24 races from 31 starts and this season’s NZ Cup winner. Her draw might be good with all the speed off the front row. Hard to beat.

13 RESTREPO: Another horse at massive overs. Tore them to pieces in the Hamilton Cup and was a promising 2nd in the Horsham Cup before that. The back row draw may suit. Could come into it with a good run. Not the worst.

TOP PICK: GUARANTEED (10) is the perfect racehorse and has the perfect preparation and driver for the big one. This season he’s been fantastic winning the G2 City of Melton Plate, G3 Swan Hill Cup, G2 Kilmore Cup and G1 SA Cup with he’s only two defeats being unlucky placings in the G1 Miracle Mile and the G1 Coca Cola Sprint. Fantastic victory at Globe Derby last start and in what looks one of the great Victoria Cups on paper, he’s the one they all have to beat.

DANGER: ADORE ME (12) is arguably is one of NZ’s best mares ever and if she won tonight she would probably confirm herself as the best harness mare to ever live worldwide. Her win in the G2 Flying Mile at Cambridge last start was first class, she’s won all the big mares races in NZ, she’s won the biggest race in NZ. She’s tough, quick, she’s got it all, plus Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, and is going to be super hard to beat.

OTHERS: CHRISTEN ME (6) is another superstar in this line up and is last season won the G1 Hunter Cup while his big victories this season include the G1 NZ FFA, Miracle Mile and G2 Bendigo Cup. He’s drawn a bit in no man’s land but was so unlucky in this race last season and there’s every chance he can go two better. TERROR TO LOVE (7) is the greatest champion in the race and even though he’s drawn quite ordinary and this is his little trial for next week’s Hunter Cup he’s too good to dismiss and he can make his own luck. FOR A REASON (11) hasn’t been going as bad as it looks and is certainly a chance to make it back to back wins in the race. RESTREPO (13) was awesome in the Hamilton Cup and is hitting form at the perfect time, which is a very good sign for him. CHILLI PALMER (8) could be suited by the fast speed if he gets a start. BEAUTIDE (3) is one of Australia’s best pacers but it’s a massive ask going into a race of this nature first-up and if he’s a little vulnerable, it could be a disaster. PHILADELPHIA MAN (4) didn’t finish it off last week and I’m not too sure how he’ll go on the one week back up. FRANCO LEDGER (2) was lucky to win last week. IM CORZIN TERROR (5) isn’t going good enough against these class. DAVID HERCULES (9) is one of the best horses in the race but has had to travel a long way and after having a gut busting run in the G1 WA Cup, it might be tough.

SELECTIONS: GUARANTEED (10), Adore Me (12), Christen Me (6), Terror To Love (7).

RATINGS: 10/ 12/ 6/ 7/ 11/ 13/ 8/ 3/ 4/ 2/ 5/ 9

SUGGESTED BET: ADORE ME (12) Each-Way

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Australian Open previews

This year I'm writing match and outright previews for Matchbook and The Shark, so if you'd like to read quality tennis analysis, click on either of those links!

Friday, 16 January 2015

WA Pacing Cup preview

More hot harness action from the west, Trent Orwin with the shrewd analysis....

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$400,000 TabTouch WA Pacing Cup
Gloucester Park
Group 1, 2936m, mobile start
2045 WA time, 2345 Melb/Syd, 1245 GMT


Author: Trent Orwin
Twitter: @themightytrent3
Website
Formguide

History:
Western Australia’s premier harness race takes place at Gloucester Park on Friday night with the running of the 102nd edition of the Group 1 WA Pacing Cup (2936m).

It is a race that is steeped in history. An honour roll that reveals some of harness racing’s greatest ever champions.

Standing at the top of the mountain are two of Western Australia’s greatest of all-time in Pure Steel (1977-80) and Village Kid (1985-86, 1988-89). The pair captured the coveted Cup on four occasions each.

Following them with three victories apiece are fellow champions The Falcon Strike (2002, 2004-05) and Im Themightyquinn (2011-13). Beau Don (1952-53), Radiant Oro (1968, 1971), Westburn Grant (1991-92) and Our Sir Vancelot (1997-98) are the only other horses to have captured the WA Pacing Cup on more than one occasion.

Race Overview:
The Aldo Cortopassi-trained Hokonui Ben will try to become the ninth pacer to win the iconic event more than once and his task has been made difficult as he has drawn the outside of the second row.

David Hercules captured the Group 1 Fremantle Cup (2536m) and will be taking aim at capturing the Cups double on Friday night. His task will also be a difficult one as he draws inside Hokonui Ben in barrier 11.

Leading trainer Gary Hall Snr has five runners in the event and is chasing his ninth win in the event after preparing The Falcon Strike, Tealsby Karita (2007), Im Themightyquinn and Hokonui Ben (2014) before the latter switched to the Cortopassi stable.

Speed Map:
When the green light goes on expect Northview Punter to get away well before handing up to stablemate Toretto over the 2936m marathon journey. There is the possibility that Northview Punter could attempt to lead but it makes sense to take a sit for the stable’s sake and he showed that he can finish off well after obtaining cover.

Our Jimmy Johnstone will enjoy a nice run three-back on the pegs with Pacific Warrior and Finbar Abbey likely to head there also.

Soho Jackman, Soho Highroller and My Hard Copy will restrain from their draws whilst Bettors Fire should fire out in search for the breeze early on. He does possess the most natural gate speed and if he flies the start, he could attempt to catch them napping in a bid to land the pegs first (highly unlikely but not beyond the realm of possibility).

David Hercules could make a mid-race move in search for the breeze and it may be on offer this year after Bettors Fire refused to relinquish it last year before battling away to finish fifth. The other alternative is that the Fremantle Cup winner comes with one run which is what Hokonui Ben most likely will do with My Hard Copy, Soho Jackman and/or Soho Highroller on his back.

Race assessment:
Northview Punter rates as my top pick in the race given he will either lead throughout or trail Toretto. From either position he should be running on strongly. He also boasts a comfortable victory over David Hercules when he led throughout in the Group 3 August Cup (2536m) with David Hercules 18.9m away. He also put in a strong performance in the Fremantle Cup (2536m) and looked the winner rounding the turn before peaking on his run with David Hercules scoring by 4.7m.

Toretto looks the second best chance in the race and he should be leading with Gary Hall Jnr in the sulky. Finished runner-up in this event last year after trailing Hokonui Ben and just failed to run him down late. Two starts back he led in a slick 1:56.9 mile rate and a repeat performance of that would see him go close to winning on Friday night.

David Hercules is the best horse in the race but has drawn poorly. He may still be able to overcome this and win. His run in last year’s Cup was exceptional when peeling five deep in the home straight and flashing late to grab fourth. An early move to the breeze looks his best chance of winning the race and he should finish in the top four, even with bad luck.

Bettors Fire looks to be the wildcard in the race and should make his way to the breeze early on. He had a purple patch where he won five of six starts before tasting defeat at his past two starts. His run in the Fremantle Cup had plenty of merit and the biggest concern is trainer-driver Kyle Harper informed stewards that his horse may be underdone following a small setback.

Our Jimmy Johnstone will relish every metre of the 2936m journey and draws to get a soft run on the pegs. He looks a knockout chance and has been impressive winning three of his four starts in WA. Boasts three wins from five attempts between 2700m to 3099m in New Zealand.

Hokonui Ben can never be completely written off given his class and toughness. He is better suited to leading or facing the breeze but if there is speed in the race he can finish over the top but looks more a place chance than winning chance. Has been beaten at his past six starts and his run in the Fremantle Cup was okay without being great.

Pacific Warrior and My Hard Copy are the blowout chances in the race if everything falls their way. The latter has a devastating turn of foot but may be too far back in the run to be effective because if they drop a 56-57 middle half whilst he is working three-wide with cover, he could be likely to peak on his run in the home straight.

Copagrin, Soho Jackman, Soho Highroller and Finbar Abbey are the four runners that would surprise me if they won. Conditions do not suit and they have not proven they can win in this company in their careers to date.

My Ratings:
Northview Punter - $3.50
Toretto - $4
David Hercules - $4.60
Bettors Fire - $10
Our Jimmy Johnstone - $15
Hokonui Ben - $21
My Hard Copy - $61
Pacific Warrior - $61
Copagrin - $601
Soho Jackman - $601
Soho Highroller - $601
Finbar Abbey - $601

Recommendations:
It’s all about value - back any that are overs, particularly at the sharper end of the market.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Magic Millions preview

Early January means Magic Millions time on the Gold Coast - a party around the first yearling sale of the year, and the associated big money sales races. Saddling up is Gibbo, @brissyraces, the Queensland racing specialist, with the preview. Read his analysis of the entire programme here.

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Jeep $2m Magic Millions 2yo Classic
Gold Coast, 1200m
Track: Soft 6 at time of posting
Preview by @brissyraces
Website
Form guide link

**This is one of the most open Magic Millions races I have seen in a long time, you will get value any selection you like. Luck will play a major part as it does every year.

MAP- There is a heap of speed in this race and I feel gates are as crucial ever. They will get off the fence on straightening but you don’t want to be working wide the entire before you get there! The key this year is so much pace has drawn well. WICKED INTENT, FREQUENDLY, ZOUTENANT, LE CHEF and CLAUDIA JEAN have all drawn inside of gate 7, that is going to make it near impossible in my mind for horses outside that who decide to push forward, it looks like suicide, but throw $2,000,000 in the pot and people will try anything.

PREVIEW-Although there is a little question as to where she will land SAGA OF THE STORM seems good value at $17. She should be able to camp midfield with cover which would be ideal. Her run on debut was good when worked wide on the corner and nearly rolled the ‘Mishani’ horses. She improved off that and won well next time out over 1110m. Back to the 1200m is ideal and blinkers 1st time may be the real key to her. Definitely going into this underrated and will be one of the strongest late.

Four contenders come out of the Wyong race. ZOUTENANT won it, blinkers come off and looks a nice horse. SURF SEEKER was on debut there and ran extremely well, should take natural improvement but has to overcome the bad gate so will need some luck. SINGLE GAZE won on debut, was wide at Wyong but was right in the finish, gets a great run from the gate. The good news for all of them is PERIGNON who ran 4th on that occasion beaten 2.5L then come out and won well at Canterbury where she was strong late and should be strong here too. All chances in this.

Locals FREQUENDLY and WICKED INTENT won’t die wondering, they have a query each at the fast run 1200m but they will be in front and making every post a winner. The other local LE CHEF may choose to take the drop on them and have last crack, that would be my option here, I don’t think he can lead them and win.

The big question is CLAUDIA JEAN, just how good is she? Gets a cheap run and every chance.

*As you can see a lot of bad gates that I have left out and simply for that reason, they will need a lot of luck.

On Top: 13- SAGA OF THE STORM $17

Hardest To Beat: 11- PERIGNON, 8- SINGLE GAZE, 3- LE CHEF


Thursday, 8 January 2015

Fremantle Cup preview

More superb summer harness racing action from WA, this time the Fremantle Cup, the first of the open-class Group 1s this month. If you're doubting the quality of this race, the recent honour roll includes a three-peat from superstar Imthemightyquinn - click here to see his wins on YouTube.

WA harness expert, Trent Orwin @themightytrent3, steps up again to preview this enticing race.

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Fremantle Cup
Group 1, 2536m, $250,000
Gloucester Park, mobile start
R7, 2105 local time, 0005 Melbourne/Sydney

A total of nine runners will contest the Group 1 Fremantle Cup at Gloucester Park on Friday night. You did read correctly when I said nine runners would contest the event and not the 12 which are engaged because I am happy to put a pen through three of them from the outset. Soho Jackman, Sensational Gabby and Dundee Three cannot win and will not win the $250,000 feature race. Circumstances have ensured that.

David Hercules is the dominant race favourite after drawing barrier three. He will either press forward until he finds the lead from Copagrin or Tuxedo Tour, or he will be sitting in the breeze outside of the latter.

Trainer Kevin Keys has indicated that Tuxedo Tour will be holding the lead if he finds it from barrier two and with Copagrin assured of taking a sit in this company that is a strong possibility of eventuating.

Another strong indicator is that leading driver Gary Hall Jnr has elected to drive the up-and-coming talent over one of three horses prepared by his father Gary Hall Snr.

Based upon the above, there appears to be two possible speed maps.

Speed Map 1: Tuxedo Tour leads with Copagrin on his back. Hokonui Ben will be three back on the pegs with either Billies A Star or Sensational Gabby landing four back on the pegs. Dundee Three should be five or six back on the rail. David Hercules will land the breeze and that spot will not be up for grabs. In the moving line expect to see Billies A Star (if he decides not to go to the pegs), Heez On Fire, Northview Punter, Toretto, Bettors Fire and possibly Soho Jackman (he could head for the pegs after restraining.

Speed Map 2: David Hercules leads with either Copagrin or Tuxedo Tour on his back. Most of the field will occupy the same positions with the breeze now up for grabs and Bettors Fire, Northview Punter or Toretto looking most likely to press forward to find it. Heez On Fire should be driven cold and making his run with around 1200m left to travel as the three-wide train starts.

David Hercules is currently $2 with Tattsbet and represents no value until he reaches at least $2.50 given he could be forced to breeze over the entire 2536m journey. If he was guaranteed to lead then the $2 would look like Christmas had come early but there are no guarantees in Group 1 racing.

No one could deny that he deserves a maiden Group 1 victory in Western Australia more than any other pacer in the state (he has won three Group 1 races in Victoria) and victory on Friday night would see him surpass the magical $1 million mark in prizemoney, a mark that only very good/superstar horses achieve.

Tuxedo Tour is around the $4.50-$5 mark with most bookmakers and that looks about half of what his price should be. He is rising sharply in grade on the back of dominant form which includes the $35,000 Christmas Gift Final (2130m) when defeating Heez On Fire by 6.6m. They ran a 1:57.0 mile rate in the event and don’t be surprised to see that time or better in the Fremantle Cup over the longer trip. Questions have to be raised over his ability to sustain high-pressure throughout an event with the like of David Hercules eyeballing him at some stage. That’s if he leads. It only gets harder if he doesn’t.

Heez On Fire is around the $9 mark and looks a little short given he is going to have to reel off a 55 or 56 second half three-wide. His last start victory was sensational when ripping home in 57.5 over the trip but he will need to raise the bar again as he too rises sharply in grade. More like a $15 chance for mine.

Hokonui Ben is the reigning WA Pacing Cup winner and would love to add the Fremantle Cup to his list of triumphs. He is the second highest assessed pacer in the field and third highest prizemoney earner (behind David Hercules and Sensational Gabby).

The draw is not ideal but could be a blessing given a predicted early burn and sustained pressure throughout. He can save everything for one final crack at them and if he finds open pacing room he can storm over them. Looks the value in the race on an each-way basis at around $18 with Tattsbet.

Bettors Fire ran second in this race last year after leading and being run down by Im Victorious. The draw means he will either land the breeze or come three-wide with a run in a similar manner to Heez On Fire and he looks to be over the odds at $16 with Ladbrokes. Like Hokonui Ben, he can be backed each-way with a leaning towards backing the place for more than the win.

Billies A Star looks to be huge unders in my estimation given he ran third in the Golden Nugget (2536m) before taking out a standing start event against inferior opposition. Unproven in open-class and not prepared to take $12 about the four-year-old without a track record.

Copagrin looks an absolute blowout chance (more so for the place at $7.50 with Bet365) from the soft draw and he did get within a short half-head of Im Themightyquinn in the Pinjarra Cup from the same draw. If a couple of them go berserk then expect him to keep finding to the line. Include in exotics.

Hard to make a case for Northview Punter and Toretto given they do their best work in front, like Sensational Gabby, but they are a little tougher than her and could be knockout hopes also if everything fell their way.

Soho Jackman hasn’t won in free-for-all company and certainly won’t be saluting in the Fremantle Cup from a poor draw.

Sensational Gabby is a Group 1-winning mare and I mean no disrespect but she cannot beat the boys from back in the field. She needed to be leading or leader’s back. Third or fourth place are about all she could manage given these conditions.

Dundee Three is a questionable inclusion in the race given he hasn’t won since April and is not as good as potential/future Western Australia stars in Machtu, Soho Lennon and Our Jimmy Johnstone.

He will be looking for the shortest way home and I’d fancy that the children running along the grass next to the home straight would be a likely chance of beating him home on Friday night.

Selections:
1. David Hercules
2. Hokonui Ben
3. Bettors Fire
4. Tuxedo Tour
Best Roughie: Copagrin

Suggested Bets: Hokonui Ben & Bettors Fire each-way (more staked towards the place)

Saturday, 3 January 2015

2015 Tennis Season - Week One Tournament Previews

The start of the year means most of the sporting highlights are in the southern hemisphere, particularly if you're into cricket or tennis. The Australian Open is just a few weeks away and the circuit will wind its way down to Melbourne over the next few weeks.

The best number cruncher in tennis is Dan Weston and he has shared his previews of the opening week tournaments with the blog. For length reasons, I'll just post the Brisbane events, click through to his site for the full set.

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2015 Tennis Season - Week One Tournament Previews

It's almost here!

The 2015 season is just around the corner, with qualifiers for WTA Brisbane already taking place. Main draw matches commence on Sunday 4th January.

As part of my commitment to provide quality Tennis betting and trading content, I'm planning on producing weekly tournament previews to help bettors and traders get valuable insight prior to each week's action.

Whilst the draws have yet to be announced, we are in a position to make a detailed assessment of some of the main contenders for each tournament and look at court speed and its influence, and historical in-play data.

As always, detailed daily data will be available via the daily trading spreadsheets, which can be purchased via the links on the right.

Week One Trading Overview (only matches where point by point data is available):-



The table above illustrates the percentage of situations that 'trained' in these events in 2014.

I've had some questions about trains on Twitter so I'll clarify this a little better - a train would be a situation where there is no upward price swing from a given position. Therefore in these instances, a set one winner train in set two would indicate that they took a set and break lead in set two and retained this lead without being broken back. A non-train would include the player that lost the first set breaking first in set two, or recovering a set and break deficit, or even recovering one break when a set and double break down.

Likewise, a set three train in this instance would be a player that has broken first and retains this lead throughout the deciding set.

As can be seen from the data, both in the ATP and WTA, Brisbane had the highest percentage of set two trains in 2014 from the week one events. This also held true in set three in the ATP. Court speed - as seen below - is very fast in Brisbane and this is a likely reason for the high proportion of trains. With liquidity likely to be worse in Brisbane than some of the other ATP events due to the unsociable hours that the tournament is played in for European traders, traders that like laying at low prices may wish to focus on events in Chennai and Doha.

Player motivation and fitness is likely to be high this week. It's like a new term at school, everyone will be enthusiastic and want to start the new season and new year with a good performance. Having said this, the overall ATP train percentage is very high compared to the mean and whilst researching the data, it was clear that there were a number of dominant final sets in the ATP, in particular. The WTA data shows that most matches in 2014 were very competitive and assuming this holds true, the WTA should provide some excellent trading conditions in week one of the season.

ATP 250 Brisbane:-

2014 service hold 84.5%.

Conditions are likely to be very fast with fewer service breaks than average.

Some Contenders:-



It can be seen that Roger Federer, as the top-ranked player in the field, is by some distance the best player in the event, and will start as a deserved tournament favourite. The Swiss legend, however, was beaten by Lleyton Hewitt in last year's final and the Australian veteran is also playing again this year. However, 2014 saw a further decline for Hewitt, particularly on serve, and as mentioned in the declining players article, Hewitt should be opposed in an almost mandatory fashion when a set up and a set and break up. All ten players above have hard court service hold percentages above the mean, with a real mixture of return percentages. Looking at these players, it's likely that if these players make the latter stages, the event will be more serve-dominated than return.

Having said this, the likes of Jurgen Melzer, Mikhail Kukushkin, Carlos Berlocq and Andrey Golubev also make up the numbers and these players tend to be weak servers on the surface and make for poor front-runners in matches.

WTA Premier Brisbane:-

2014 service hold 68.5%.

Conditions are likely to be very fast with fewer service breaks than average.

Some Contenders:-



Just looking at the names on the list it's clear this is a high quality event. With Sabine Lisicki, Elina Svitolina, Madison Keys and Victoria Azarenka - who is making her way back from an injury ravaged 2014 - also competing, this promises to be a very open and competitive tournament.

Maria Sharapova is the top-ranked player but as can be seen from the hold/break percentages, she isn't dominant over the field on this surface. Of the table, Dominika Cibulkova, Andrea Petkovic and Sam Stosur arguably have the most to prove. Cibulkova will be looking for a strong start to 2015 with runner-up points to defend at the Australian Open, and she was woeful in the tail end of 2014. Petkovic, as mentioned many times in historical match previews, does not play her best on hard courts and the statistics above illustrate that well. Both may see their serve perform inconsistently, and I'd expect them to be broken with relative regularity. Stosur is a stronger server (but a weak returner) and had a poor 2014. She also tends to perform very poorly in her home country, perhaps unable to cope with pressure and expectation.

Of those not in the table, Lisicki and Keys tend to be stronger on serve than return, whilst Svitolina is a decent all-rounder. Former world number one Azarenka is a much better returner than server and depending on the draw, it might pay to oppose the Belarussian on serve initially here as it will be likely that she will be wanting for consistency after missing the tail end of 2014.

Read the full schedule of Week 1 previews on Dan's site