US OPEN DAY 3: Can Novak Djokovic Steady the Wobbling Ship?

The first two days of play saw very few upsets, as the top men and women made their way through their respective matches in impressive ways. Rafael Nadal pushed aside any doubts about his wrist, with a commanding straight sets win and Angelique Kerber made her world number one intentions known, as she barely broke a sweat in her first round match.



While this tournament is still in its early rounds, here are 5 matches to look out for.  

Ryan Harrison (USA) v/s Milos Raonic (CAN) [5]

In a match that features two men, at very different points in their career, former American hope, Ryan Harrison comes up against Canada’s favorite son, Milos Raonic. Once upon a time, Ryan Harrison was touted as the next big thing in tennis, as he made it very clear that one day, he would reach the top of the rankings. Then reality struck and yet to win a tour level event, Harrison has spent most of his career on the Challenger circuit, and using wildcards handed to him by the USTA. Milos Raonic is quickly becoming the name that everyone goes to, when mentioning players who are most likely to become the next world number 1. Raonic is coming off his best grand slam result with a finals appearance at Wimbledon and with that, his confidence should be high.

This match up will be decided by one thing; the Milos Raonic return of serve. With Raonic, it is pretty much a guarantee that he will hold serve, at least, 90% of the time. With such a weapon, Raonic can afford to relax when returning serve. If Raonic can get a hold of the Harrison serve, there is not much that the American can do to counter the big man. Ryan Harrison also possess a big serve. However, his serve is nowhere near as powerful or well-placed as that of Raonic. Harrison likes to move forward and into the net and is also an incredible mover but something that he has neglected to improve is his backhand. His backhand is pretty much an open invitation for pain. Raonic also possess a weak backhand, but his forehand is so powerful, that he can afford to cheat towards the backhand corner.

This match might be tougher than it seems because while Harrison has a horrible attitude on the court, he still fights for every ball. Raonic, however, is beginning to enter the best phase of his career and with an improved net game, I do not see how it would possible for the Canadian to lose this match.

Pick: Raonic in 4

Andrea Petkovic (GER) v/s Belinda Bencic (SUI) [24]

This next match, should come with a warning, as both of these women have faced infinite amounts of injuries during their careers. Andrea Petkovic is one of the most unlucky players on tour, as she seems to get injured every time that she moves. Belinda Bencic was the new it-girl of tennis, last season, but the buzz surrounding this youngster has subsided as her 2016 has become plagued by back injuries. Both of these women are great ball strikers but with so many concerns about their fitness, getting through this match in one piece may in fact be the prize.

This match will be decided by two things, the Petkovic forehand and the Bencic backhand. Neither of these women are great servers and with most of their matches being decided by their ability to dominate off of the ground, they will need their strengths to be in working order. While no Steffi Graf, Petkovic possess a great forehand, which can be hit inside out and down the line with great accuracy. This is her best shot, and she will need it to be firing in order to get the Swiss youngster out of position. Much like her idol, Martina Hingis, Bencic’s best shot is her backhand. She takes the backhand extremely early and redirects the ball as well as anyone on tour. What Bencic lacks in power, she makes up for in overall wit and court craft. The youngster will need to be aggressive because even at her best, movement was never a strong suit for her.

I expect this match to be a seesaw affair because both of these women are in serious need of match play and wins. Petkovic is going to be the more aggressive of the two players; which means that she will hit more winners but also commit more unforced errors. This match is hard to predict because a lot of it will be dependent upon Bencic and how she feels. If she is completely healthy, then this match should not be too much of an ask. With not much known about her current fitness level, I believe that this match will go the distance. 

Pick: Bencic in 3  

Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) v/s Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) [9]

On paper, this next match up should be one that could be the match of the day, as you have a former world number 1 against a two time major champion. Caroline Wozniacki reached the top of the world rankings when women’s tennis was in a state of flux, as Serena Williams was out of the game and many other top players were injured. Svetlana Kuznetsova managed to win two majors in an era where many players became one slam wonders. Caroline Wozniacki is all about defense, while Kuznetsova is all about offense and aggression.

This match will be decided by two things; Wozniacki’s serve and Kuznetsova’s offense. Wozniacki has one of the weakest serves in tennis and against someone like Kuznetsova, she can ill afford to just spin in the serve. Wozniacki needs to pick her spots well and really accelerate through the point of contact because Kuznetsova will eat her serve for breakfast otherwise. Kuznetsova needs to play a controlled game of aggression, as she has a tendency to go for too much too early in rallies. If the Russian can make her targets slightly bigger, then she should have the advantage.

This year has been one to forget for Wozniacki, as she has had a hard time staying injury free. Her ranking in now outside the top 70 and with little to no improvements being made in her game, many wonder if she has reached her potential. Kuznetsova is a veteran but is having a bit of a career resurgence as she reached the finals of Miami and placed well in other tournaments. Expect this match to be tough for one set but then the Russian should move through comfortably. However, there will be several great points, as both women are extremely athletic and great defensive players.

Pick: Kuznetsova in 2

Benoit Paire (FRA) [32] v/s Marcos Baghdatis (CYP)

For anyone who is interested in witnessing brilliance and a potential implosion, this next match is the one for you. It is hard to look through a draw and find a player more fascinating than Benoit Paire. Possessing a great backhand but with the mental strength of a goldfish, Paire is someone that has so much potential, but no idea how to use it. Ten years ago, Marcos Baghdatis stunned the tennis world when he made a magical run all the way through to the Australian Open finals. Since then, the man from Cypress, has struggled to recreate that form in any capacity. This match is interesting, purely due to the fact that both men have the potential to play well or completely tank.

This match will be decided by one thing; the mental strength of both players. If I had to pick, Baghdatis is the player who is more willing to stay on the court and grind through a match. Paire likes to hit his way through his opponents, and when he is playing well, this game plan is effective, but when he is not, that is when things become incredibly unpleasant. Paire’s backhand is second to few and if he is to win this match, then he will need to come prepared and ready to play long rallies. Baghdatis loves to play these long matches and over the years, has improved his fitness. Also possessing a world class backhand, the man from Cypress has a game style reminiscint of David Nalbandian. Baghdatis will need his serve to be firing in order to avoid complicating things.

I do not know what to expect from this match because these two men are unpredictable. This match could last five hours or one of the players could retire half way through the first set. These men are incredibly unpredictable but something that I can assure the viewer, is that there will be great shot making by both men. What they lack in overall mental strength is supplemented with incredible shot making and talent. This match is difficult to call but I am going to side with Baghdatis this time and call for an upset.

Pick: Baghdatis in 4

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] v/s Jiri Vesely (CZH)

In a match up that should be routine, Djokovic’s recent struggles with injuries and confidence may make this second round encounter against Jiri Vesely, a lot more interesting. While I do not believe that Djokovic is going through a crisis of confidence, it is very evident that he is struggling both physically and mentally. In this match, Djokovic comes up against a player that registered a rare win over him, earlier this season. In Monte Carlo, Vesely stunned the world number 1 and sent the Monaco resident packing before he even had a chance to put his bags down. Vesely took the ball early and did not allow the world number 1 to play his normal game style.

This match will be decided by Novak Djokovic. Even at his worst, the Serbian would be a major favorite to not only win this match, but the entire tournament. Blessed with great hand-coordination and flexibility, Djokovic can get to balls that would otherwise seem impossible to retrieve. Vesely, on the other hand will have to play the best match of his life in order to defeat the world number 1. A lefty, Vesely will have to serve at his best in order to keep the Serbian at bay. Vesely has to employ similar tactics to the ones he used in in Monte Carlo, which consisted of using his variations of spin to hit short angles. Djokovic is great on the run but if you can rush him, on the forehand side, he does become vulnerable to pace. Vesely is not a power player but should take more risks and attack the Djokovic forehand.

This is a match that is completely in the hands of the Serbian. If Djokovic plays well, he will win. This match should be watched to see how Djokovic is hitting his backhand and whether he is hampered in anyway. Vesely rarely defeats himself, so the Serbian has to be on his game in order to win this match. That being said, expect the Serb to come through easily.

Pick: Djokovic in 3

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