Scott Ferguson has a couple of fancies for day eight of the US Open.
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Alexander Zverev v Diego Schwartzman
The first men's match on centre court tonight is a bit of a David and Goliath battle - 6'6" Alexander Zverev versus 5'7" Diego Schwartzman.
Sixth-seeded Zverev has struggled with form this year, with a world of off-court issues from suing his manager, a viral illness, splitting with his girlfriend to arguing with and eventually splitting from coach Ivan Lendl, all of which have the capacity to distract a young mind. Talent has never been the issue with the 22-year-old German, it has been the application.
In three rounds so far, Zverev has been on court for close to ten hours. Lengthy battles against Radu Albot, Frances Tiafoe and Aljaz Bedene, players all ranked outside the top 40, signify a player struggling with his form, but the counter argument to that is he's 'winning ugly' - finding a way to win despite not being at his best, which we generally regard as an asset in every other sport.
Schwartzman has spent just five-and-a-half hours on court but against opponents all ranked outside the top 70. He is yet to drop a set and has dominated opponents with his return game, ranked third on the tour behind only Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. The faster court should work against him, but he adjusts well and his hard, flat returns give adversaries less time to play.
Their records at Grand Slam events are quite similar, both have reached two quarter-finals, but it is only the Argentine with a last eight appearance here.
The head-to-head stands at one win apiece but the win for Schwartzman was over five years ago, when Zverev should have still been in high school. He's a much different player now, and won their most recent meeting, last November in Paris in straight sets, but before all his off-field issues began.
Betting is all about the prices on offer. It's hard enough to beat the house margin as it is but one must be disciplined with the odds you take.
Take unders too often and you cannot win long-term, no matter how good your strike rate is. I initially marked this match at Zverev 8/11, Schwartzman 11/8, hoping to see 6/4 on the latter, but the money has all been for the diminutive man from Buenos Aires.
At 4/5 and potentially a smidgeon better if the flood of money continues, I'm prepared to take the punt on Zverev.
He is finding a way to win at the moment and we've seen there's considerable upside left in his game - if he can pull it together.
Naomi Osaka v Belinda Bencic
Naomi Osaka rose to the occasion against Coco Gauff on Saturday night in her best performance for several months.
After an early exchange of breaks, the world number one found her rhythm and won the last eight games of the match, bringing the Coco-show to a grinding halt. Part of that ending can no doubt be attributed to the inexperience of the wunderkind, but she denied her the room to shine, and as such, will regain the love of the New York crowds.
Belinda Bencic scored an easy ride through the third round, as my tip Anett Kontaveit succumbed to a virus and gave her a walkover (all bets refunded thankfully). Part of my logic for tipping against her was a lingering foot injury which has now had a valuable extra 48hrs of treatment. If it's a potential stress fracture, that won't make much difference but that's pure speculation on my part and not worth factoring into the argument.
Their head-to-head record is worth further examination. Bencic leads 3-1 but there are reasons to query the value of each match. Their first clash was in an ITF event in 2013, when they were 15 and 16 respectively and just breaking onto the circuit. Osaka won that contest on clay.
In December 2017, Bencic won in straight sets at the Hopman Cup, a now-defunct barely half-serious mixed teams event over New Year in Australia when players have arrived straight from the depths of the northern winter. Two victories this year for Bencic have been during Osaka's relative slump, at Indian Wells in March, and at altitude on clay in Madrid during May.
In summary, Osaka is finding her best form, Bencic has found the key to beating her but perhaps not in the strongest of clashes. I suspect Osaka will prevail but it will be a battle, and cheering for a third set looks the best option for me.