With 32 men's singles matches taking place on the opening day of the US Open, there's a busy schedule at Flushing Meadows. Dan Weston returns to preview the action...
"Stan Wawrinka looked to be exhibiting some improvement during the North American Masters series but his numbers still weren’t great. In fact, across the last month on hard court, he’s won 67.1% of service points and 32.8% on return (combined 99.9%) and this level is still barely top 50."
Player motivation should be high at the US Open
The coming fortnight sees players have their last chance of Grand Slam success in 2018, and for players of varying abilities, it has great importance. Some will be fighting for points to make the season-ending Tour Finals, while others will want a good showing to retain or gain ranking spots in order to qualify for, or get seeded for tournaments later in the year. Others with a lower ranking may see it as an opportunity for Australian Open direct entry in January next year.
Whatever the case, it is clear that players should be motivated. The rewards, both ranking-wise and financially, are huge, although a number of players do come into the tournament with injuries, which muddies the waters a little.
Nadal a very heavy favourite against countryman Ferrer
Opening the schedule on day one is the top half of the men's draw, which sees the world number one, Rafa Nadal, take to the courts. He's had some great matches against David Ferrer in the past, but with the veteran Ferrer now in decline, Nadal is a very heavy favourite to get past his compatriot - he's [1.02] to do so.
Thiem and Bautista-Agut with fitness concerns
Other big names in action on day one include Dominic Thiem, who hasn't been fit in recent weeks. If he's still not nearly 100%, he could struggle to justify [1.16] against the limited Mirza Basic, while there's an interesting match-up between Roberto Bautista-Agut and Jason Kubler. Bautista-Agut hasn't been fit for a little while now, and Kubler has an excellent record in Challengers in the last year or so. Kubler is currently [4.10] and may be one to keep an eye on, in-play.
Anderson looking a touch short against Harrison
Kevin Anderson faces Ryan Harrison in what looks likely to be a serve-orienated clash, and the South African, Anderson, looks a little short at [1.30] against a competent hard courter in his home country. Anderson, however, does seem to have improved his ability to see of worse opponents, and is likely to get the job done eventually.
Del Potro, Raonic and Murray among big names in action
In addition, Juan Martin Del Potro is a strong favourite at [1.11] to ease past the out of form Donald Young, whose numbers this year have been dreadful, while Milos Raonic does look a little short against the clay-courter, Carlos Berlocq, even though at [1.04] he's likely to get the win. Andy Murray hasn't gone into the tournament in much touch at all, and the best of five set format is unlikely to do him any favours as he attempts to return to full fitness, but he should be too good for James Duckworth tonight.
Onto the value, and there looks a bit of a theme here, with that theme being potentially taking on declining higher profile names.
Dimitrov value as underdog against Wawrinka
The unseeded Stan Wawrinka looked to be exhibiting some improvement during the North American Masters series but his numbers still weren't great. In fact, across the last month on hard court, he's won 67.1% of service points and 32.8% on return (combined 99.9%) and this level is still barely top 50. He won a few tight matches and has got a brutal round one draw, in the shape of Grigor Dimitrov.
I'm very surprised indeed to see Dimitrov as a [2.30] underdog here. Sure, the Bulgarian hasn't had the best year and probably would like conditions to be a touch quicker, but he's shown a consistently higher level than this from Wawrinka, and taking Dimitrov looks to be a solid plan in what is definitely the match of the day.
Sock favourite despite awful recent results
Other decliners who look short, probably based on reputation, include Jack Sock, who is [1.44] against the Argentine, Guido Andreozzi. Sock is an atrocious 3-12 on hard court in the last 12 months, running at 96.2% combined serve/return points won percentage, and this price looks short enough even against a player who isn't anything special on hard court himself.
Muller struggling before his final Grand Slam
The other player I want to discuss is Gilles Muller as the other player to oppose today. The veteran from Luxembourg has been struggling with an elbow injury and will retire at the end of the season.
Furthermore, Muller's record in recent months has been dire - he barely won a match on his favoured grass, and has dropped out of the top 100. His last two hard court events have seen defeats to Quentin Halys and Yannick Maden in straight sets, so quite why the market has seen fit to price him at [1.65] against Lorenzo Sonego, is a strange one, although the Italian hasn't been in the best of touch himself of late.
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Back Grigor Dimitrov at [2.30]