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Matt Cronin's Day 6 picks

Serena Williams returns a shot in her second-round match on Day 4 of the tournament.
By Matt Cronin
Saturday, August 30, 2014

Serena Williams vs. Varvara Lepchenko

Williams was on fire in her first two matches here at the US Open, and it seems to be that all of her strokes are working. The world No. 1 has owned her first and second serves forever – few players can, or have, come close to her power during her run atop the sport.

Yes, Williams had a so-so season in 2014, but after her Wimbledon exit, the 17-time Grand Slam champion has begun to clean up her game, as evidenced in a pair of tournament victories at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford and the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, followed by two match wins in New York against fellow Americans Taylor Townsend and Vania King. A third American, Lepchenko, is next.

However, Lepchenko is very strong, can dictate with her big left-handed serve and can play for hours. Lepchenko has put together some especially good wins, including victories over Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci on clay in Italy – no easy feat.

Over the past three years or so, Lepchenko has truly improved. Her backhand has always been good, but her forehand became stronger. She is muscular and can twist her serves on the line. She likes long rallies, and can push her opponents deep into long sets until they’re exhausted.

In reality, that is the only way that Lepchenko can win: attack, attack, attack. She has to show Serena that she’s here to stay, which could make her opponent nervous. If Lepchenko can stay in the long rallies, will she be able to crush aces if and when the third set comes along. The prediction here is that Lepchenko will push this one deep into the third set. But, in the end, Williams will escape with the win.

John Isner vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber

“Big John” really wants a victory over this difficult opponent. The German Kohlschreiber has beaten him in their last two US Open matches, both in this third round, no less. Kohlschreiber has a terrific one-handed backhand, and loves to contest longer rallies. Isner can bomb first serves and forehands, but he knows that his opponent will yank him around, which means that he must forget about tiring options and move ahead.

Interesting, Isner owns a 4-2 record against Kohlschreiber, meaning that the only time he’s lost was here. In 2012, Isner fell in five sets. Last year, Kohlschreiber won in four sets, with a tiebreak to seal the match. Their matches tend to be extremely close.

Isner has to try very hard to keep his returns deep and come toward the net as soon as possible. Isner cannot allow Kohlschreiber to dictate his play. This is a pick ‘em match. While Kohlschreiber will enter in this match at the US Open believing he can do it again, Isner will finally grab his victory, but like in 2012, it will take five.

Other Picks 

  • American Sam Querrey looked very good in his first two match wins, but now he’s stepping up to top-seeded Novak Djokovic. The Serb, who won the 2011 US Open and has reached either the semifinals of finals in seven of his last tournaments, is looking very strong after slumping during the summer hard-court season. Querrey can smoke his first serve and forehand, but Djokovic is so good at picking up first serves that even the biggest offerings do not phase him. Querrey may play fantastic, so let us say he can push a set or two into tiebreakers. But Djokovic will win it in four sets.
  • Watch 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios, an up-and-comer out of Australia. The kid can really play, but he is still too immature to prevail over Tommy Robredo, who loves five-setters and will take another on Day 6.
  • No. 11 Flavia Pennetta really wants to reach another US Open semifinal, and while that is very difficult, she is an extremely intelligent player. Her opponent, Nicole Gibbs, is still young and will eventually get there, but it’ll be too hard for her to read Pennetta’s serve. It’ll be the Italian in straight sets.
  • No. 16 Victoria Azarenka is enigmatic. She’s battling, but she is looks slower than last year. I can see her edge past Elena Vesnina, but it can go either way, and even if she wins this match, I can’t see Azarenka besting No. 3 Petra Kvitova in the round of 16 should they play. “Vika” has to turn it around very quickly.