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Sunday, 30 August 2015

US Open Day 1 Picks 2015 (August 31st)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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