WE'RE back at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre for the US Open and this year sees the unveiling of the new Louis Armstrong Court, which has a roof and so the tournament has two stadia with roofs in 2018.

First impressions of the new Armstrong Court came from Grigor Dimitrov’s coach, Dani Vallverdú, who said: “The court is slower than I expected. Medium speed but plays like an indoor court. Very protected from the wind.”

The CPI (court pace index) of the Arthur Ashe Stadium Court was 35.7 last year, which puts it slightly quicker than Cincy in terms of the pure speed off the court, but other factors (weather in the main) affect the pace too.

The advance weather forecast suggests we’re in for a hot, humid, steamy week one in Flushing, with thunderstorms likely at the start of week two, so stamina will be a useful asset in the early rounds.

In terms of champions it’s been one of the ‘big four’ in 11 of the last 14 years, with only one year (2014) not featuring one of them in the final and only Marin Cilic’s success that season coming as a bit of a surprise.

Juan Martin Del Potro in 2009 at around 20-1 and Stan Wawrinka at 25-1 in 2015 couldn’t be classed as a real surprise, so champions almost always come from the top five or six in the betting market.

The market leaders

At the head of the betting for this year’s US Open is Novak Djokovic, whose return to form in the final of the Cincy Masters has given him the edge as far as the layers are concerned as a 3.45 chance.

And for me it was between the Serb and Rafael Nadal, with the pair the outstanding candidates for me, a little way ahead of Roger Federer, and the rest look more hopeful picks than genuine title contenders.

Djokovic’s performance in the Cincy final when he comfortably despatched a seriously poor Federer was a huge step up for me on anything we’d seen from Djokovic previously this hard court summer – and probably anywhere on a hard court since the start of 2017.

He was very early into his comeback from injury when he was poor in Melbourne, Indian Wells and Miami this season and not a great deal better in Toronto or the early rounds of Cincy – until the final.

Perhaps a lack of motivation against ‘lesser’ players was to blame and it took a match against Federer to win a title he’d never won to focus his mind and bring out the best in him, but whatever the reason it showed he’s a very serious contender for this title.

Federer on the other hand looked his age against Djokovic that day in Mason, Ohio, with the movement a step slow, the timing miles off, and the return of serve a liability.

Anyone can have an off day of course, but with Fed failing to win the title here in New York since 2008 (and only one final appearance) I couldn’t back the Swiss this week at a price like 4-1.

Nadal, though, looks arguably in the best form of this superstar trio heading into New York, with a title in Toronto and some stats on outdoor hard that can’t be bettered by anyone in this field.

The Spaniard is 25-2 on outdoor hard in the last 12 months and he’s compiled a service hold/break total of 121.5 in that time, which is a good 6.8% ahead of Federer.

The pair have less than 1% between them (Nadal 105.8/Federer 105) when it comes to their last 10 matches each played on outdoor hard against the players I have in my database as ‘top-10 quality’ so those numbers suggest Nadal is priced up correctly as more likely to win than the now-37 year old Swiss.

We can’t glean much from looking at Djokovic’s stats, other than to see that they’re on the rise, but we don’t need them to rank the Serb as one of the top-three in the betting.

The only ones that look like they could possibly break the stranglehold of the ‘big four’ for me are Alexander ZverevJuan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic, but none of them look to be outstanding candidates for the title, as Delpo was back in 2009.

Zverev looked like he could be after winning Washington impressively and cruising through to the last eight in Toronto, but a horrific choke against Stefanos Tsitsipas and a similarly poor defeat days later in Cincy to Robin Haase must have dented his confidence.

And his record in majors is very poor as yet for a player of his talents, with one quarter final (no further) from his 13 Grand Slams so far, but he does have the wise words of new coach Ivan Lendl to help him this time.

That looks a shrewd appointment by Zverev and one that could pay dividends, but it’ll take a little time for him to but into Lendl’s methods and the German still has it all to prove over the longer format right now.

Del Potro once again doesn’t seem in the right physical shape to contend at a major after yet more wrist problems in recent weeks, which is a shame, as his record on hard courts this season has been excellent.

Zverev, Delpo and Cilic all have more or less identical service hold/break stats in the past 12 months on outdoor hard and it’s Cilic that’s won this tournament this decade, yet he’s a bigger price than both Delpo and Zverev at 16-1.

We backed him in Cincy and he had his chances against Djokovic, but he rarely seemed as if he held any real belief that he was going to win that match, despite punching numerous holes in Djokovic’s defences.

The hit and miss Croat managed to sustain his best tennis to win it in 2014 and it’s possible he could do it again, but it doesn’t seem overly likely given his 3-7 record in his last 10 matches versus top-10 opponents on outdoor hard.

The draw – top half

So, we’ve got Nadal and a potentially injured (or at least less than prime condition) Del Potro in the top half of the draw and Federer, Djokovic, Cilic and Zverev in the bottom half.

You can’t ask for much better than that if you’re a Rafa fan or backer and that draw has certainly tipped the scales in favour of the Spaniard for me from an outright betting perspective.

He was unlucky in Melbourne when he got injured against Cilic in the quarter finals and at Wimbledon when their peculiar weather ruling meant that he had to play the whole of his five set semi final against Djokovic with the roof closed over two days.

Now he’s had some luck it appears and while there are the likes of Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, John Isner, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Stefanos Tsitsipas in Rafa’s half of the draw they, along with Delpo, are in the adjacent quarter, so he’d only have to face one of them.

Rafa’s immediate section doesn’t look that tricky, with the powerful Karen Khachanov, last year’s beaten finalist Kevin Anderson and perhaps Denis Shapovalov, who I expect will enjoy the New York conditions and atmosphere, the picks if you’re taking Nadal on.

The adjacent section looks tough to call, with neither Milos Raonic or John Isner ever really showing their best form here (Raonic never past R16 and Isner one quarter final in his career at a hard court major).

Raonic looked to be getting back to a bit of form in Cincy when he had his chances to beat Djokovic, but his injury record lately is a real worry if you’re backing him, as it also is with several others in this part of the draw.

Murray looks well short of the match fitness and sharpness required to justify a price as low as 10-1, as does Wawrinka, although Stan showed a big improvement in Cincy and he’s more than capable of winning this quarter if his knee holds up.

He faces the same round one opponent as at Wimbledon – Grigor Dimitrov – and on the respective form of the pair in Toronto and Cincy I’d fancy another Wawrinka victory in that one.

The draw – bottom half

In the bottom half Djokovic and Federer are drawn to meet in the quarter finals and Fed looks to have potentially the harder route to get there, with Nick Kyrgios and Hyeon Chung likely to be in his way early on.

I say ‘likely’, but with Kyrgios you never know and he’s yet to better round three at the US Open and comes here with knee and hip problems, so maybe Fed won’t have to face him. Either way, Kyrgios looks miles too short at 25-1 to win the tournament.

The likes of Richard GasquetLucas Pouille and Pablo Carreno Busta are unlikely to worry Djokovic too much and perhaps a greater danger for the Serb in his quarter of the draw is that lack of motivation in the early rounds.

A Djokovic/Federer quarter final looks highly likely and the Serb the probable winner, with the longer format in what are likely to be slower conditions (surely it’ll be a night match) favouring him.

Given Zverev’s record it’s not a certainty by any means that he and Cilic will clash in the last eight and other contenders in Q3 include Kei NishikoriDavid GoffinDiego Schwartzman and maybe Gael Monfils.

I think we can probably count Monfils out due to a thigh injury that he’s had for a while now and Nishikori doesn’t look the same player after wrist surgery that he was a few years ago when he made the final here in New York.

The Japanese can rarely be trusted to go deep in majors, largely due to his injury record, with Nishikori having made only two semi finals from 33 majors in his career, which makes 7-1 about him winning Q3 not exactly great value.

Both of those semis did come here in New York though, so I’m not writing him off, it just doesn’t seem much of a value play to back him to win the quarter with his history.

I was toying with the idea of backing Goffin at a bigger price of 12-1 to win the quarter, but if the weather forecast is right and it’s very hot and humid this coming week in Flushing his chances decrease for me quite significantly.

The Belgian retired in Cincy and withdrew from Winston-Salem with a shoulder injury too, so despite Goffin’s return to form I’ll give that one a miss.

I’ve seen 33-1 about Schwartzman winning Q3 and that looks good value, given that the Argentine plays arguably his best tennis on outdoor hard, making the quarter finals here a year ago (beating a rusty Cilic along the way).

Injury cost him a real shot at beating Pablo Carreno Busta in that quarter final match a year ago and with Zverev usually failing to even make the last eight at majors and in shaky form coming into New York that price on Schwartzman is tempting.

Conclusion

The bets of interest to me in this year’s US Open then are to side with Nadal to land the title, probably against Djokovic in the final, and backing the pair of them to contest the final seems the sensible choice.

If you can get a price like 33-1 on Schwartzman to win Q3, that looks the best of the bigger-prices wagers.

Best Bet

  • 5 points win Nadal to win the US Open (13-4, Unibet)

 

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