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Friday, 1 September 2017

US Open Day 5 Tennis Picks 2017 (September 1st)

I have to say that Thursday proved to be one of the more irritating days I've had in the Grand Slam tournaments this year as sloppy play at key moments of a number of matches cost me the chance of continuing the winning run.

Both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal missed the cover by a single game which can be put down to the stupid breaks they gave away during their Second Round wins. There are at least three or four key games that could have gone their way which didn't and that was a part of the bigger picture of what feels like a bad luck day.

Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina won matches in much more difficult fashion than I could imagine, while Grigor Dimitrov was dumped out by Andrey Rublev.

Forget the picks, the Dimitrov loss is a devastating one for a player who is desperate to show he belongs with the elite of the men's game. This tournament could not have been shaping up any better for the Bulgarian with so many of the top men's names out of the US Open before it even began.

With Alexander Zverev, the other Masters Champion on the hard courts over the last month, out on Wednesday, Dimitrov must have begun to think he could go all the way and win a maiden Slam.

Then he produced one of the most listless displays you could imagine.

I was pretty critical of that on Twitter and I will make the point again- I simply don't think Dimitrov will ever win a Grand Slam. I just can't see him winning seven best of five matches in a row and this was the best chance he will ever have of winning a Grand Slam title but it was almost given away with the pressure seemingly seeing him shut down in the Second Round.

I actually think Dimitrov has probably realised it isn't going to happen for him now too with a younger generation set to break through and the old guard likely to return reinvigorated in 2018. Maybe there will be one last opportunity in Melbourne in January, but I wouldn't back Dimitrov with my enemy's money to go on and win a Slam.

In recent years the men's draw has been far more exciting than the women's but I think there has been a shift this year. With the top women players separated as well as they have been, the women's event looks like it could have some huge matches in the second week, while the men's draw seems to be about Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer and not a lot else.

The bottom half of the men's draw really looks weak and is giving a number of players who have yet to make a Slam the chance to do that. If you're John Isner or Sam Querrey, what better chance will you ever have of playing in the US Open Final than this year?

Pressure can do a funny thing (just ask Dimitrov), but I do think there is every chance we will see an American male Finalist here for the first time in over  decade since Andy Roddick was still in his heyday.

On Friday and Saturday we are in to the Third Round of the US Open and this is when players begin to really want to start producing their better tennis as they get set to go into the second week. There are some decent matches spread over the next couple of days and this thread will be focused on the Third Round matches to be played on Friday.

Marin Cilic - 5.5 games v Diego Sebastian Schwartzman: After Andy Murray withdrew from the US Open just a couple of days before the tournament was to begin, it was Marin Cilic who benefited the most by being placed at the bottom of the draw. Thanks to Alexander Zverev's surprising Second Round loss, Cilic is also the highest Seed left in the draw and the former US Open Champion and Wimbledon Finalist may feel another Grand Slam Final could be in his future.

This is the first tournament Cilic has played since physically and emotionally breaking down in the Wimbledon Final as he was swatted aside by Roger Federer. Any lingering doubts about his state of mind have been erased though as Cilic has won his first two matches fairly impressively for the loss of just a single set.

The Second Round performance against Florian Mayer was a step up from the First Round performance and Cilic may feel he can make the gradual improvements to peak for the Final a week on Sunday. He does look the best player in the bottom half of the draw, but making sure he looks the best on the court is the challenge.

Diego Sebastian Schwartzman has had a really good 2017 and he looks like he could move inside the top 30 in the World Rankings which will mean being Seeded on his own merit rather than down to players higher up the Rankings pulling out. His two wins have been even more straight-forward than the ones Cilic has produced and Schwartzman will be full of confidence even if the hard courts are not his favoured surface.

He did reach the Quarter Final at the Canadian Masters, but generally his best comes on the clay courts. While Schwartzman is able to hit through the courts with surprising power off the ground, the serve can be a real weakness and that puts him in a vulnerable position and one that I expect Cilic to take advantage of.

Cilic will have to be careful because Schwartzman is a decent returner and can rally with the best out there, but I would thin the former US Open Champion is able to wear him down. He may drop another set, but I can see Cilic being able to dominate one and that can lead to a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 win.

Denis Shapovalov-Kyle Edmund over 38.5 games: This has been a tremendous last six weeks for Denis Shapovalov who has won a Challenger event on the hard courts before reaching the Semi Final of another and then the Semi Final at the Canadian Masters in front of his home fans. Winning three Qualifiers to get into the main draw of the US Open has kept the momentum going and Shapovalov has then backed that up with two wins over solid opponents Daniil Medvedev and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

With the bottom half of the draw opening up, Shapovalov may already have some backers who believe the youngster is ready to make the biggest breakthrough by reaching his first professional Grand Slam Final. Shapovalov won Junior Wimbledon to highlight the talent he has, but the last six weeks must feel like a dream for the young Canadian.

No one in the bottom half will make Shapovalov fearful, especially not when you think he has beaten the likes of Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin Del Potro and Tsonga over the last few weeks. That form has to be the reason he is a fairly handy favourite to beat Kyle Edmund in the Third Round on Friday, while the star has risen for Shapovalov to have this match scheduled on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

It is a long way from when these two players first met in 2017 which is best known for a Shapovalov disqualification when he accidentally struck the chair umpire with a stray ball. That will feel a long time ago and Shapovalov did beat Edmund on the grass courts at Queens in June since then.

That was a tight match and I am expecting another here as Edmund also comes into the match with some form behind him. He reached the Semi Final in Winston Salem last week and Edmund's wins over Robin Haase and Steve Johnson are solid enough form.

The key for both players is who can return the most effectively and only narrow margins separated these two at Queens on the grass. You would feel the hard courts are the more natural surface for Shapovalov, but Edmund has shown he can compete on the surface too and I would be surprised if either player is able to win this one in straight sets.

Shapovalov is the right favourite I think, but he looks short enough and I am going to back these two players to need four tight sets to separate them and so asking them to cover this number of total games is the stand out way to go.

Kevin Anderson -1.5 sets v Borna Coric: At one point a couple of years ago, Borna Coric and Alexander Zverev were at a similar trajectory in their young careers with perhaps Coric having the edge. Things have changed enough over the last few months to make Coric's win over Zverev in the Second Round here a huge upset though as he was able to beat one of the favourites to win the title at the US Open.

Backing that up is the challenge for Coric who has had an underwhelming 2017 with a couple of bright moments being overshadowed by plenty of inconsistency. Even his performances over the last few weeks have seen Coric lose matches to the likes of Nicoloz Basilashvili and Jan-Lennard Struff on the hard courts which did not indicate a big chance that he would beat someone like Zverev.

Picking himself up from an emotional win is another challenge for Coric as he faces the steady Kevin Anderson whose best Grand Slam result has come at the US Open. The big serving South African will very much focus on his own game and will feel if that is working to the standard he expects that it will be enough to see off the youngster.

Anderson's booming serve heaps plenty of pressure on opponents and he has been in solid form over the last couple of months after injury delayed his beginning to the 2017 season. A Fourth Round in Wimbledon was followed by reaching the Final in Washington and Quarter Final in Montreal with only Alexander Zverev proving too good for him on both occasions.

The two wins here this week have come relatively comfortably and Coric's return numbers on the hard courts does make me worry for him. He won the key points on Wednesday to beat Zverev, but the pressure of finding those successes again could be much tougher against Anderson with more expectation on Coric's shoulders.

It does have to be said that Anderson's own return is not his strength, but he can build pressure with his serve and his two previous wins over Coric will only make his belief stronger too. Tie-breakers are likely to be a key factor, but I will look for Coric to just slip from the level he produced against Zverev and that being enough to see Anderson through in three or four sets.

Lucas Pouille win 3-1 v Mikhail Kukushkin: After winning the first two sets of his Second Round match, Lucas Pouille looked set to move into the Third Round relatively comfortably However it all changed in the match against Jared Donaldson and the Frenchman had to show considerable heart to remain alive in the US Open.

He does seem to save his best tennis for the Grand Slams at the moment although 2017 has been a disappointment in those tournaments after back to back Quarter Finals in the last two Slams of 2016. It does mean Pouille still has considerable points to defend here in New York City, but I think he can take heart from the way he beat Donaldson especially with the way the draw has opened up.

This won't be an easy match though as he faces the talented, but extremely inconsistent, Mikhail Kukushkin in the Third Round. The Kazakhstan player has come through three Qualifiers and also upset David Ferrer in the main draw all the while dropping just a single set in the first five matches he has played here.

There wasn't many signs that Kukushkin was ready for this kind of tournament after back to back early losses in his last two hard court tournaments. However there has been an improvement in the return game in 2017 on this surface and at the main ATP level which does make Kukushkin a threat if Pouille is not feeling 100% after a difficult Second Round match.

Kukushkin has been returning just a little bit better which is making a big difference for him, although you can't ignore the fact he is 4-12 on the hard courts against top 50 World Ranked players over the last eighteen months. That includes a four set loss to Pouille here at the US Open last year and I think we may see something similar here, especially with the better performances Kukushkin has shown in 2017 and here this week.

I would still think Pouille will be too good over the course of the match, but having a small interest in this one ending in four sets in favour of the Frenchman is the call.

Sam Querrey - 6.5 games v Radu Albot: The first reaction you would have to this spread is that it is far too many games being asked of a limited returner like Sam Querrey. However Querrey has been seeing the ball pretty big over the last couple of months which has seen him produce some strong wins and I do think he is facing an overmatched opponent in this one.

All credit has to be given to Radu Albot for coming through the Qualifiers and then winning two main draw matches, but Yen-Hsun Lu will be going home kicking himself that he didn't win their Second Round contest. Albot has thus taken advantage of a bit of luck and a relatively kind draw to move through to the Third Round of a Grand Slam for the first time in his career.

It is a surprise that it has come on the hard courts in New York where Albot had three successive First Round losses previously. His overall numbers on the hard courts have been far from impressive and the majority of those have been played at the Challenger level which just highlights how unexpected his run has been.

He is winning under 60% of service points on the hard courts and that is not going to cut it at this level. Now he has to face the home crowd and an opponent who is perhaps at his most confident after reaching the Semi Final at Wimbledon and winning a hard court title in Los Cabos over the last six weeks.

Sam Querrey has also won at least 42% of return points in his two wins in the US Open against Gilles Simon and Dudi Sela, two players whose serve can be compared to Albot's. That is better than his season returning stats on the hard courts, but Querrey's 39% return points won on the surface is decent enough when dropping to the level of an opponent who is more accustomed to the Challenger level.

I wouldn't be that surprised if Albot is able to make four awkward returns to break the Querrey serve, but overall I would anticipate the American has the majority of the chances. As long as he continues returning to the level he has shown throughout 2017 (winning 6% more points on return) then I would imagine he is going to record another routine win.

Querrey has covered this number of games in both wins at the US Open so far and I will look for him to record a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win in the Third Round.

Mischa Zverev-John Isner over 39.5 games: Most people would have expected to see 'Zverev' in the Third Round draw, but if you were told only one of the two brothers were to make this stage then not many would have picked Mischa. It is big brother who keeps the family name alive in the draw after Alexander was beaten surprisingly in the Second Round, but Mischa Zverev is not nearly as favoured as his younger sibling was.

This is a very difficult match for Zverev in the Third Round as he opens the evening session on Arthur Ashe and faces a home favourite in John Isner. The latter will be thinking this is a real opportunity this year to make the Final of his home Grand Slam, perhaps the only one he will have in the remainder of his career, and so there is some pressure on Isner to deal with.

Isner has had two impressive wins in the US Open already, but those were played without the expectation he will have now. Since then Alexander Zverev has opened up the bottom half of the draw and Isner's Semi Final run in Cincinnati shows that he is capable of going deep in the tournament here.

He does have to beat someone who has recorded two wins over Isner this season including a long five set win at the Australian Open. John Isner won the first two sets against Mischa Zverev in the Second Round back in January but was then beaten 9-7 in a final set decider, while he has also lost to this opponent on the clay courts in Geneva.

The hard courts in New York should suit Isner more than Zverev, but the latter has the kind of game that can trouble a poor returner like the one he faces and that makes him dangerous. More of an issue for Zverev has to be the fact he has already played back to back five set matches so the biggest concern for the German has to be fatigue going into this Third Round encounter.

Tie-breakers look to be the order of the day when these two meet especially when two servers as effective as Isner and Zverev are meeting. It helps that neither is exactly a supreme returner and the only concern for this total number of games is that one of the players falls by the wayside in straight sets.

They did create 33 break points between them when they met at the Australian Open so there is a chance that this match is a lot more simple than I am anticipating if more than 4 breaks of serve are converted. However it does feel serving is going to be the best weapon for both players and I hope the first two sets are split to almost ensure we get a chance to cover this number of games.

Carla Suarez Navarro + 2.5 games v Ekaterina Makarova: It has been a strange 2017 season for Ekaterina Makarova who was perhaps dealing with a deeper injury issue than she ever let on in the first half of the season. She has moved into the Third Round at the US Open with an impressive win over Caroline Wozniacki, who has had some strong success at the US Open in the past, and her form has been really good over the last few weeks.

That is highlighted by the fact that Makarova has won almost half of her 23 match wins in 2017 since moving back onto the hard courts after Wimbledon. That includes winning a title in Washington and only the in-form Lucie Safarova and Sloane Stephens have been able to stop the Russian.

In that time Makarova has beaten Wozniacki and added her to the likes of Simona Halep, Johanna Konta and Angelique Kerber, although it may be telling that all of those players have exited the US Open before the Third Round. This match will also be a different kind of challenge for Makarova as she wasn't favoured to win many of the matches she has won and the expectation has changed against Carla Suarez Navarro.

On the hard courts you would think Suarez Navarro is vulnerable with a serve that can be attacked, but the mental advantage belongs to the Spaniard who has beaten Makarova four times in a row. That includes on the hard courts, clay courts and in June on the grass courts which suggests this could be a match up problem for the favoured player.

Suarez Navarro has won her two matches here effectively and she has to feel she can beat an opponent she has six out of eight previous times. The form prior to the US Open was not that inspiring though which does raise some red flags, but this still looks like a lot of games being given to the Spaniard and taking a set may be enough to ensure a cover at the worst.

I think Suarez Navarro could come close to the win too, although she is guilty of some really poor performances when things spiral out of her control. Hopefully that won't be the case here in what feels a good match up for her with the backhand capable of hanging with the Makarova forehand, and I will take the games being offered.

Sloane Stephens - 1.5 games v Ashleigh Barty: This is an amazing opportunity for two of the feel-good comeback stories on the WTA Tour in 2017. Ashleigh Barty returned to the Tour after deciding she had had enough of tennis and moved into the cricket world, while Sloane Stephens is off a long-term injury and making the best use of her Protected Ranking.

Both players have to look at this match as a great opportunity to reach the second week of the US Open and I think this could end up being the best match of the day for the neutral fan. It should be highly competitive and the layers feel the same with very little between them in the markets.

Barty has been in good form with a stand out win over Venus Williams the highlight of her six weeks on the hard courts, while a three set loss to Garbine Muguruza is hardly a crime considering the form the Spaniard has been in. Ten wins and two losses will give anyone confidence so Barty has to be feeling good about her game with an under-rated serve and real power off the ground which makes her a dangerous player to face.

Being in good form is something Sloane Stephens knows all about and she came into the US Open draw as another dangerous floater in the draw. She reached back to back Semi Finals at the Premier Events in Toronto and Cincinnati and her losses have come against the likes of Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep, two players who have decent movement and what I would consider better than Barty's.

Those movers weren't a problem when Stephens dismissed Dominika Cibulkova in the Second Round here and I do think the American is going to be tough to stop here. Her own serve is a solid weapon, but Stephens has been seeing the ball like beachball and her returns have been mighty effective the last few weeks.

It is the return that has helped Stephens win her two matches here so far and I think that will be the key element in getting past Barty on Friday. I would be really surprised if this isn't another match that needs to go the distance for Stephens with her Australian opponent in good nick too, but I will look for the American to have the better movement which enables her to just steal a point or two for a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win.

Magdalena Rybarikova-Garbine Muguruza under 18.5 games: A rematch of the Wimbledon Semi Final from July is taking place in the Third Round at the US Open and I do wonder if the mental scars have healed for Magdalena Rybarikova. On that day everything that could go wrong did go wrong, but now she is facing a Garbine Muguruza who arguably looks like the strongest player in the draw.

That is different to Wimbledon when the confidence was perhaps not where it is now, and I think Muguruza is looking very dangerous in the draw. After a couple of Quarter Final runs, Muguruza won the title in Cincinnati and she has dropped just 13 games in her last four matches which includes playing Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep.

The serve has been a monster weapon for Muguruza in those four wins as none of her opponents were able to win more than 32% of the returns and it does set up the rest of her game. When Muguruza is feeling good, she can then begin to exert immense pressure with the power of her returns and I do think Rybarikova could be on the back foot much like she was when they played at Wimbledon.

Rybarikova didn't Qualify for the main draw at her last two tournaments before winning back to back matches in the US Open. There hasn't been a lot of hard court success to fall back upon like there was the grass court success prior to Wimbledon and I do think Rybarikova could really struggle here.

Her opponent is being asked to cover a lot of games, but Muguruza is more than capable of doing that. With her form as it is, I think the Spaniard can really put the hammer down on Rybarikova again and I am going to look for a 6-4, 6-1 kind of win for Muguruza, but will look for the total games to remain unsurpassed at a big price.

Maria Sharapova - 6.5 games v Sofia Kenin: It is perhaps not the most surprising thing to see Maria Sharapova have her ups and downs in her first two matches back in a Grand Slam after a long lay off serving a suspension. Having missed out at the French Open due to her World Ranking and Wimbledon due to injury, Sharapova has made the best use of the Wild Card that was granted to her in the US Open.

Beating Simona Halep has opened up her Quarter of the draw, while the exits of Johanna Konta have helped too. A tougher than expected win over Timea Babos wasn't a big surprised as Sharapova struggled with the new expectations around her, but she is not facing a huge hitter like Babos in the Third Round.

It can be argued that Sofia Kenin is the weakest of the players Sharapova has faced so far and being under the lights on Arthur Ashe is clearly a place that Sharapova has enjoyed with an unbeaten record in the evening session. For Kenin it will be a completely different experience and a difficult one for a young player who spends the majority of her time at the levels below the main WTA Tour.

Kenin has played well at the lower levels on the hard courts with ITF title successes under her belt but this is a huge step up both mentally and competitively. The two wins so far this week have come against players far below the standard that Sharapova can produce and the Russian's numbers on her return have been strong enough to think she can cover this spread, even though it is a big number.

The serve has been much better than I expected from Sharapova but even more impressive is how well she has been returning. Before this week she was winning 47% of the return points which is going to create immense pressure, and she has surpassed that number in her two wins at the US Open.

That kind of pressure is not something Kenin will have been accustomed to nor playing under the lights with the whole tournament focused on you. It could inspire Kenin as it has for others so far this week, but I think this may be the match where Sharapova is perhaps at her most comfortable as she moves into the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time since the Australian Open in January 2016.

MY PICKS: Marin Cilic - 5.5 Games @ 1.91 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Denis Shapovalov-Kyle Edmund Over 38.5 Games @ 1.91 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Kevin Anderson - 1.5 Sets @ 1.80 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Lucas Pouille Win 3-1 @ 4.00 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Sam Querrey - 6.5 Games @ 1.83 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Mischa Zverev-John Isner Over 39.5 Games @ 1.83 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Carla Suarez Navarro + 3.5 Games @ 1.80 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Sloane Stephens - 1.5 Games @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Magdalena Rybarikova-Garbine Muguruza Under 18.5 Games @ 2.10 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Maria Sharapova - 6.5 Games @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)

US Open Update: 17-20, - 8.02 Units (73 Units Staked, - 10.98% Yield)

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