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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)

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