Monday, 31 August 2015

Matches to look out for in the US Open 1st round

The 4th and final major of the year is upon us. Serena Williams is seven matches away from completing the Calendar Year Grand Slam and equalling Steffi Graf's record of 22 major titles. Novak Djokovic comes to Flushing Meadows hoping to win his 10th major to complete a highly successful year winning 3 of the 4 major titles.

Here is my selection of matches to watch out for in the US Open 1st round.

1. All eyes will be on #1 Serena Williams in her first round match against Vitalia Diatchenko. If she starts well, talk will only grow over her chances of clinching the Calendar Year Grand Slam.

2. An all-American tie including Coco Vandeweghe and Sloane Stephens features in the top half of the ladies draw. Vandeweghe put on an impressive showing at this year's Wimbledon while Sloane Stephens tries to elevate herself into major contention.

3. The demise of Eugenie Bouchard has been rapid and has seen her slip to seed 25 for this year's US Open. She has caused a stir over her unsportsmanlike behaviour in the Davis Cup and is in real need of a re-imaging on the court. That always starts with winning matches, and in the 1st round she will be up against Alison Riske of the United States. Expect the crowd to be behind the home player. Bouchard needs to turn the corner soon.

4. Perhaps the tie of the women's 1st round is 7th seed Ana Ivanovic versus feisty unseeded Slovak, Dominica Cibulkova. This is an intriguing match-up. Ivanovic has fought her way back to form while Cibulkova has struggled to live up to her own high standards following her thrilling run to the final in Melbourne last year.

5. On the mens draw, two really good players who have never made the breakthrough on the major scene. Fernando Verdasco, the 'other' left-handed Spaniard versus Tommy Haas, the German who continues to defy his age. Both players struggle with consistency, but on their day can play some top tennis. I favour Verdasco in this one, but it could be a good match.

6. Another golden oldie, Lleyton Hewitt, is in his farewell year on the ATP World Tour as his retirement from the sport draws ever closer. He will definitely be looking to go out with a bang during the penultimate major of his career. He is well-loved and respected throughout tennis for his battling skills and he will be ready for a typical battle in the 1st round against Aleksandr Nedovyesov.

7. Wherever there is Roger Federer, there will be an admiring audience. The Swiss legend is in town again, in some of the best form of his career, eyeing an 18th major title after his back-to-back wins over Murray and Djokovic in Cincinnati. He is up against Leonardo Mayer, the 33rd ranked player who held 5 match points against Federer earlier in the year, but couldn't convert. May be a little closer than most expect but I still back Federer in straight sets.

8. The first of the two tastiest mens 1st round match-ups involves teenager Borna Coric versus 14-time major champion Rafael Nadal. Coric is a rising star on tour who comfortably beat Nadal in Basel last year before the Spaniard went on a lengthy injury/illness layoff. Nadal has never recovered his full form since then and has endured a torrid year, falling to defeats to players ranked outside the top 100 amongst others. I class this as a potential upset but still expect Nadal to call on his experience to pull him through this one.

9. For me, the most intriguing match of the 1st round is Andy Murray versus Nick Kyrgios. You could say Murray drew the short straw with this 1st round tie. (We are glad it wasn't Wawrinka who ended up with this one!) Kyrgios is under intense scrutiny after he brought the game into disrepute with his disparaging remarks on court aimed at Wawrinka recently. He is fast becoming the bad boy of tennis, though his opponent, Murray, is not exactly a saint either. Kyrgios has the ability and weapons to win this match, so this is another potential upset, but it really depends on the state of his mind and his ability to block out what could be a very hostile crowd.

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