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TALKING BALLS 049 – MONDAY 5TH SEPTEMBER 2011
US Open into second week
Some have billed it as the ‘Sicknote Open’.
And when you look at the amount of withdrawals and retirements, you understand why. During the first week of this year’s US Open, there have been a total of ten retirements during matches in the Men’s Singles alone.
The reasons have and will continue to be debated in depth. But whatever it comes down to, there is no doubt that despite all the injury issues, the ‘Sicknote Open’ is in a good position with plenty of sub-plots as it enters its second week.
Of course, the main focus for us here in the UK is Andy Murray’s progress through the tournament. After tame exits in the past two years following his appearance in the final in 2008, can the Scot make an impact again at the US Open which is regarded by many as his best chance of winning a grand slam?
The early signs were good. Murray’s first-round straight sets win over India’s Somdev Devvarman was a typical early-round grand slam match which eased him into the tournament nicely.
However, the signs in the first two sets of his second-round match against Robin Haase, of the Netherlands, were the opposite. Murray was flat, could hardly find a decent groundstroke and at two sets to love down, looked as if he was on the way to another of these tame New York exits.
Those who have followed his career closely though know never to write the Scot off. It was here in 2008 that Murray was within two points of a third-round exit at the hands of Jurgen Melzer before coming back to win in five sets. That was the year of course that he went on to reach the final.
Let’s hope that proves to be a good omen. He deserves a lot of credit for turning the match around and managing to hold off Haase who fought to the end, coming back from 0-4 down in the final set to 4-4 before Murray eventually got the job done.
His third-round victory over Felicano Lopez lacked none of the drama of his previous match, but the manner of his straight sets victory will have been a massive confidence booster. He appeared to be hitting through his groundstrokes much better which is a good sign.
There is no doubt that Murray’s quarter of the draw has opened up. It will be America’s Donald Young whom Murray faces in his fourth-round match tomorrow rather than Stanislas Wawrinka after the American knocked the Swiss fourteenth seed out in five sets.
Young may have beaten Murray in Indian Wells in March, but that was when the Scot was in the middle of his post-Australian Open slump. He is a different prospect now and although Young will have the backing of the home crowd, it’s hard to see the American winning two sets, never mind three.
John Isner or Gilles Simon would then await in the quarter-finals. Murray will have no fears about facing the latter, holding a 7-1 record over the Frenchman. Isner could be a tricky test though as he is in good form having only dropped one set in his opening three matches off the back of winning the Winston Salem event.
Rafael Nadal is Murray’s potential semi-final opponent and the Spaniard has looked more impressive with every match, although footage of him collapsing to the floor in his post-match press conference yesterday was initially extremely worrying.
Thankfully though, it was only cramp and nothing more serious. The second seed will play Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller tomorrow before a potential quarter-final with David Ferrer or Andy Roddick.
Ferrer, the world No.5, is quietly making his way through the draw and will fancy his chances against Roddick. Remember that Ferrer was, remarkably, a 150/1 shot before the tournament. Hope you took my advice and stuck a spare quid each-way on the 2007 semi-finalist.
In the other half, it looks as if it is destined for a semi-final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer for the fourth year in a row. Apart from an epic tiebreak tonight against Alexandr Dolgopolov, Djokovic has hardly been tested and will be odds-on to beat his fellow Serbian, Janko Tipsarevic, in the quarters.
Federer has progressed through to the fourth-round with the minimum of fuss. He has hardly gained a mention in discussions on potential winners this year, but the five-time champion at Flushing Meadows may thrive on that.
It was a similar situation prior to the French Open and he turned in a stunning performance to inflict a first defeat of the year for Djokovic in the semi-finals. Before a potential rematch with the Serb though, the Swiss faces a testing quarter-final against Mardy Fish or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the Frenchman who beat him in the quarters at Wimbledon.
Players may have been dropping like flies in New York, but the big guns still remain in the Big Apple. It’s all set for a mouth-watering second week.
Davis Cup doubles picks
Great Britain Davis Cup captain Leon Smith will name his side tomorrow for the upcoming promotion play-off against Hungary at Braehead after facing a tough decision on who to include as his doubles picks.
There will have been absolutely no thought required by Smith at all in picking his singles players. Andy Murray is rightfully the first name on the team sheet and after his good run of form over the summer, James Ward has firmly established himself as the British No.2.
Two places remain and these will be likely by filled by Colin Fleming, who can also provide singles cover, and either Ross Hutchins or Jamie Murray. It was Fleming and Jamie who got the nod for the last tie against Luxembourg in July, but recent results mean that the selection isn’t so simple.
Essentially, Smith has to decide which doubles combination would be best. If Andy indicates that he is willing to play all three days, then it’s likely that he will pick Jamie to play alongside his brother in front of the patriotic Scottish crowd.
But Fleming and Hutchins have put forward a strong case to play together for their country with another run to a grand slam quarter-final in New York which follows their quarter-final appearance at Wimbledon.
It’s an intriguing choice for Smith. Personally I think he will stick with Jamie over Hutchins, but imagine if the latter was to then go on even further in New York with Fleming, possibly to victory. It would be quite a message.
Smith doesn’t have the benefit of a crystal ball though. He has to make that tough call tomorrow, although he could give himself some more time by picking a squad of five, before making a final decision on his final four one hour before the draw next Thursday.
This whole situation is no bad thing though. Competition for places is what you want. If only we could have a similar scenario in terms of our singles picks.