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Matt Cronin's Day 9 picks

Grigor Dimitrov serves in the Grandstand.
By Matt Cronin
Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Grigor Dimitrov vs. Gael Monfils

Dimitrov walked onto the court for his third-round match after the rain delay and was clearly out of sorts, so much so that he dropped the first set to David Goffin, 6-0. But the Bulgarian is a very dangerous and talented player, and he woke up and raised his game, playing aggressively inside the baseline to rally for the four-set win. The 23-year-old Dimitrov has been working hard over the past two years and has already reached a Slam semifinal (at this year’s Wimbledon). He owns a game that can certainly take him all the way at a major title. He has a big serve and moves it around the court. He has a gorgeous one-handed backhand and a ferocious forehand. He understands how to change up his strokes, and he doesn’t get frustrated when he isn’t playing well.

But playing Monfils will be a very difficult test. The Frenchman played out of this world in crushing Richard Gasquet, who was favored. You never know how well Monfils is playing, but when he is feeling right, he can swing away from way back of the baseline and still rip winners. It is impossible to know how good Monfils will be, but he did reach the quarters of the US Open 2010, losing then to Novak Djokovic. He could reach a quarterfinal again, but if Dimitrov is aggressive, the younger kid will out-stroke him and surprise him. Take Dimitrov in four sets.

Peng Shuai vs. Belinda Bencic

Given how impressive she began when she came onto the tour in 2005, Peng  sure looked like she would eventually be a Top 5 talent. She hasn’t gotten there, perhaps because she didn't change her game or was afraid of the most important moments. Whatever the case, Peng has gradually improved over the past two years, especially at doubles, where she’s won two Slams. But she’s also moving ahead in singles. She can run both forward and back as well as side-to-side, jumping on her two-handed backhands, which she hits with authority.

Peng has been on fire to this point, reaching her first major quarterfinal, knocking out seeds Aga Radwanska, Roberta Vinci and Lucie Safarova along the way. But while she has played stand-out ball, she hasn’t encountered anything like the 17-year-old Bencic, who is the youngest girl in this Slam’s quarterfinal by a long shot. Bencic learned to play as a kid from her coach Melanie Molitor, the mother of Martina Hingis, who helped her daughter become No. 1. Molitor has made Bencic tougher on court, taught her to play with a lot of variety and have the courage on court to go for her shots. Beating seeds Angelique Kerber and Jelena Jankovic here showed the world that she is ready to play ball.

Peng is playing wonderfully and could be very effective, but Bencic isn’t ready to go home yet. She may not yet be ready to reach a final, but Bencic is ready to reach the semis. The Swiss will win in three sets. 

Dominic Thiem vs. Tomas Berdych

These days, the top younger males usually hit the Slam quarters around 23 years old. But there are some exceptions already making noise, including Austrian Dominic Thiem, who is only 20 years old and is already ranked No. 45. Thiem smokes a big forehand and already has showed consistent results on both clay and hard courts. By next year, he could be a in the top 25.

However, Tomas Berdych is playing better, hitting his huge serves and not going on any walkabouts. Berdych has taken a long look at his draw and thinks he has a chance to reach the final here. The Czech has been able to gain the semifinals at all four majors, and he can win matches even if he isn’t playing his best. Berdych will take down the kid in three sets.

Other picks:

It was surprising that Gilles Simon stunned David Ferrer in the third round, but he did, mostly because Ferrer was all over the place and Simon was consistent. The Frenchman can skip around the baseline, and when he is feeling the ball, he can fool his foes, but Marin Cilic is more consistent. Cilic has a large first serve, moves pretty well even though he is very tall and can stick his ground strokes. They will go five sets, but the quiet man Cilic will celebrate the victory.

Roger Federer is just on cruise control and no one has touched him – yet. He’ll play Roberto Bautista Agut, who has been pretty consistent this year, going deep on hard, clay and grass courts. But the Spaniard isn’t strong enough to hit through Federer.The Swiss will win in straight sets.

Caroline Wozniacki played the best she has in a Slam in quite a while when she overcame Maria Sharapova in three sets. The Dane is playing more aggressively and believes in herself, which means that she should reach the final if she continues to play at a high level. The 2009 US Open finalist knows that this quarterfinal match against Sara Errani will be a grind. The Italian loves to run around catching balls inside and out, but she will not be able to hammer backhands into the corner against a great mover like Wozniacki. Errani will push “Caro,” but Wozniacki will win in straight sets.

 

 

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