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Matt Cronin’s Day 4 picks

No. 16 seed Victoria Azarenka in action on Day 2 of the US Open
By Matt Cronin
Thursday, August 28, 2014

16-Victoria Azarenka vs. Christina McHale
Over the past two years, Azarenka was the most effective player on hard courts and was close to taking out Serena Williams in the 2013 US Open final. But Serena was more mature than she was and took that title, and now Azarenka must try to figure out her game again. The Belarussian has missed months with a foot injury in 2014, and even though she can still crack her shots, it is impossible to return to the top immediately after coming off an injury.
Azarenka has been so-so after returning in July, but you can tell that she is pushing hard, so perhaps she will find her form in New York. If she does, she will be a hot ticket in the second week.

But first she will have to be steady and effective against McHale, an American who cracked the Top 25 two years ago but has been struggling of late. McHale is very fast, her forehand has grown stronger, and she can get a lot of balls back. However, McHale has admitted that she has to go for her shots in the majors. If she wants to push Azarenka behind the baseline, then she has to go for it. If she does, this match could be very close. If McHale cannot, then Azarenka will control the match and win it easily.

Let’s assume that McHale will go for it, which will make the match extremely close. But in the end, Azarenka will nail some big serves and win it in three long sets.
13-John Isner vs. Jan-Lennard Struff
Big John wants to make an impression on the hard courts of the US Open in a big way. Isner is the highest-ranked U.S. male, has experience and can dominate games. When his first serve is on, he is untouchable.
Entering the US Open, Isner had 772 aces on the season and also had won 93 percent of his service games. As a result, Isner knows he can play with the better guys. But Isner has not broken enough in return games – currently just 9 percent. As a result, he is playing a lot of tiebreakers. Entering the tournament, he has already played 43, and that can be dicey.
What Isner needs to do is to have a clean second round when he faces Jan-Lennard Struff. Struff is 6-foot-5, so he can power off both wings, but he is not experienced enough to pull off the upset here.

Isner has to be thinking about what could occur – his third-round match could be against Philipp Kohlschreiber, whom he faced at this event in both 2012 and 2013. Kohlschreiber won both times, and both matches were very close.

Isner will need four sets to win, and if Kohlschreiber beats Michael Llodra, then those two familiar foes will face off for a third consecutive year.
Other picks:
Serena Williams looked in very fine form in the first round but realizes that Vania King can keep her on court for a long time. However, Williams is too strong with her serve and is also able to hit winners with her forehand. Williams will win in two sets.  
After winning New Haven, Petra Kvitova looks like she is in good form on the hard courts, which means that she could go very deep here. But the Wimbledon champion rarely plays excellent every day, which could mean she might have to play for two hours against Petra Cetkovska, a fellow Czech. Cetkovska can smoke from inside the baseline, but Kvitova’s vicious left-handed serve will be the difference and will allow her to win in two long sets.
Andy Murray was hurting big time in his fourth-set win in the first round. Nonetheless, the 2012 US Open champ wants to go deep here and should be able to dispatch the unknown Matthias Bachinger of Germany in straight sets.

Novak Djokovic faces a veteran, Paul Henri-Mathieu of France. Mathieu has a lot of variety and is fun to watch, but he has been hurt the past three years, which means that Djokovic will quickly win in three sets.