IT was one odds-against winner, one void, and another painful (literally) exit for an outright on semi-finals day on Friday at the US Open.
The set one unders was successful in Novak Djokovic’s win over Kei Nishikori and anyone that took the no tie breaks as well would have enjoyed that match, but the second semi didn’t go so well.
Our outright Rafael Nadal succumbed to that troublesome right knee issue that’s been around since the start of the tournament (and probably in the weeks before), which voided the overs bet and downed our outright tournament wager.
The final is set to start at (not before) 16:00 local time (21:00 UK), at which point the forecast says it’ll be cloudy, rather cool at 19C, but humid at 68% humidity, so a good 10-15C cooler than it was for much of the tournament.
It looks like it might be windy as well, with 19kph wind speeds expected, and there’s some rain in the forecast, too, so the roof may be called into action.
Novak Djokovic vs Juan Martin Del Potro
So, it’s the 19th career clash between Delpo and Djokovic to decide the title this year and looking back at this match-up over the years I’m finding it tough to see Delpo winning over the best-of-five sets.
Over the best-of-three perhaps (which may be coming in future majors if certain individuals had their way), but I’m not convinced that this 2018 Del Potro quite has enough to wrestle a major final away from Djokovic.
Assuming both men are fit, which is never a given in men’s tennis these days and even less so this fortnight, it should be Djokovic that’ll come out on top in terms of stamina and endurance and Delpo will need to play supreme tennis to win this one.
Even assuming that his suspect wrist holds out for five sets it’ll get a pounding from the Djokovic backhand, which, being one of the best in the game, is tough to break down.
Delpo will need to hit over the backhand and not rely on that predictable cross-court slice that the nimble Novak has the option of running around and taking control of the rallies.
Often in this match-up of late Delpo’s found himself stuck in that corner and he has to make a high risk play down the line on the forehand to get out of it, which will sometimes work, but often will simply open up the court for Novak.
Delpo doesn’t really have the athleticism to trade for too long with the Serb and on a slowed-down hard court in cool, damp conditions I feel he’ll have a problem trying to hit his forehand through Djokovic often enough over five sets.
Neither man has really been tested so far (other than by the heat) this fortnight and for Delpo (who’s 4-16 against the ‘big four’ at majors) I’m not sure his current game is good enough to beat a Djokovic in a major final.
Looking at the stats of their career clashes we find that even the early ones with Delpo unhindered by wrist issues tended to go the way of the Serb and in their series as a whole on all surfaces Delpo has held serve only 76.3% of the time against Djokovic.
On outdoor hard alone that number comes down to 73.3% and he’s won only 59.5% of the points on his own serve (just 65.3% on his first delivery), so that big serve has been nullified rather by Djokovic over the years.
While Delpo’s serve is pretty big and powerful, it’s not one that produces ace after ace, like an Isner or a Raonic, and I’m actually tempted by the +6.5 on the handicap on Djokovic to hit the most aces.
Djokovic has hit the most aces in seven of their last 10 meetings (two of the other three were ties) and I remember him hitting way more aces than Delpo in their epic Wimbledon clash of 2013 that went the distance.
It was 22-4 that day to Novak and while, yes, his service motion has changed since his injury last year he still hits more or less the same amount of aces per game now as he has done in his career as a whole (0.41 compared to 0.43).
Djokovic tends to save his best serving for the big matches and he showed that in hitting 23 aces past Nadal in their Wimbledon semi a couple of months ago, while his previous career best in 50 matches against Nadal was 11 aces.
The last time that this pair met on outdoor hard at Indian Wells in slow conditions Delpo won just 34% of the points on his second serve and in their 18-match career series he’s won fewer than 50% of the points (48.7% on outdoor hard).
In their last three career clashes he’s won 34%, 36% and 40% of the points on second serve and when he was able to raise his game and beat Novak recently-ish (over the best of three sets) he won 68% on his second ball (Rio 2016).
On this stage at this tournament I’d expect to see the best or somewhere near it from Delpo (indeed, from both men) and that should be good enough to make this a good contest.
From a betting point of view though, the aces handicap and either Djokovic -1.5 sets at 1.81 or Djokovic to win it 3-1 at 3.25 look the wagers of interest.