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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)

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