The remaining spots in the semi finals of the men’s singles at the 2021 US Open are up for grabs on Wednesday when world number one Novak Djokovic will continue his quest to make history this fortnight.
Djokovic is closing in on the ‘calendar slam’ and in his immediate way stands Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini, while Olympic champ Alexander Zverev takes on Lloyd Harris in the other quarter final.
And hopefully I’ll have better luck with Wednesday’s quarter finals than we had on Tuesday when Daniil Medvedev failed to serve it out in set one for a 6-2 scoreline and a 4.60 winner against Botic van der Zandschulp.
Medvedev was a 1.12 chance to win that service game and having lost it, he then went and won the next eight games in a row, so I think we can safely count ourselves as unlucky with that one.
The weather on Wednesday for the first quarter final at around 2pm local time is expected to be cloudy, quite humid (58% humidity) and around 28C in the shade. There’s a bit of wind swirling around at 15kph speed, so reasonable enough conditions compared to some of the brutal days we often get here, but still testing.
So, it’s Zverev against Harris first up and I won’t dwell here on the fact that when I backed Harris in Atlanta at 25-1 he lost in round one to Jordan Thompson and now here he is six weeks later in the US Open quarter final.
What is worth dwelling on, potentially, are the stats of the recent Cincy clash between Zverev and Harris in which their opening set was about as serve-dominated as it gets.
There were zero break points and Harris won 92% on his first serve, while Zverev won 90% on his first ball (and 83% on his second) so in a tournament that’s seen more tie breaks than usual a set one breaker looks a reasonable wager here.
This US Open is currently running at 53% tie break matches, while the average over the last nine years is 46% and the quarter finals has the highest frequency of tie break matches in the that time frame at 57%.
The worry with backing the opening set tie break is possible nerves on the part of Harris, who’d never been beyond the last-32 at a major until this week, but on a warm sunny day the courts should play quick and if Harris serves well at least one tie break seems likely.
From a Zverev point of view, he’s managed to avoid (so far) the thing that’s very often let him down at majors in the past and that’s getting involved in a slew of four and five set matches in the first week or so.
He’s only dropped one set so far this US Open, so he should have plenty left in the tank and his stats are impressive: 97% holds/32% breaks and 60% points won on second serve (83% on first serve).
If he carries on at that level he should prove much too good for Harris, but with Zverev you’re never quite sure.
He admits that the serve is key to all he does and if that starts to go awry, anything could happen, so I’m not keen on trusting him on handicaps etc.
I’ll have a small interest in Harris (who’s held serve 89% of the time so far) being able to take the opener to a tie break here at 4.0 (generally).
As far as the second quarter final is concerned, I talked the other day about how there hasn’t been a US Open since 2011 when one of the quarter finals underdogs hasn’t won, but I’m struggling to see where the dog winner comes from this year.
Medvedev and Felix Auger-Aliassime have already won as favourites and I’m not wild about the chances of Matteo Berrettini against Novak Djokovic either.
This one is scheduled for around 9pm local time and it may be played under the roof as scattered thunderstorms are forecast for tonight in Flushing, but Berrettini would certainly have preferred a day match in the sun you’d have thought.
It’ll be the third major in a row that this pair have met and Djokovic has been largely comfortable in the two clashes they’ve had this season – at Wimbledon and at Roland Garros.
In truth, it’s a poor match-up for Berrettini against arguably the best returner of serve in the game and he’s going backhand-to-backhand with an opponent who’s far superior in that regard.
The Berrettini backhand simply isn’t good enough against the elite players and the Italian would need to be on the top of his game to make this close and he hasn’t looked near the top of his game so far this hard court summer.
This US Open probably came a bit too soon for him after getting injured during that Wimbledon defeat to Djokovic and he hasn’t shown what he’s capable of in the six matches he’s played on hard in Cincy and here in New York.
The stats of the match-up make for poor reading for Berrettini fans, with the Italian only managing to break the Djokovic serve 5% of the time in those two major matches this season and winning only 40% of his second serve points.
And it’s no coincidence that both of the sets that Berrettini did take from Djokovic (who should have won them both, but blinked a bit each time) were on tie breaks because Berrettini doesn’t break serve often enough.
In this tournament so far he’s only broken serve 20% of the time (Djokovic 41%) and it certainly could be argued that he was a little fortunate that Oscar Otte got injured against him in the last round.
Djokovic hasn’t had things his own way by any means so far this tournament, but that’s to be expected after he took a break after the Olympics, and he’s adept at peaking at the right time in majors.
Indeed, he’s never lost a quarter final at the US Open (9-0) and never even been taken to five sets in one so far and he’s won 30 of his last 33 major quarter finals, with the last loss on hard courts coming to Stan Wawrinka 9-7 in the fifth at the 2014 Australian Open.
I’d like to be more bullish about the chances of the underdogs, but it’s hard to see Berrettini overcoming this match-up – and he knows it, too.
“I think first of all the way he neutralises my weapons, my serve and my forehand, the way he covers the court is unbelievable,” he said after the Wimbledon match. “It is something I have never experienced and he is the only player that makes me feel like this.”
I’d expect Djokovic to come through this one and quite likely in straight sets, but it’s a no-bet for me.
0.5 points win tie break in set one of Zverev/Harris at 4.0 (generally)