Sep 07, 2022

2022 US Open Quarterfinals Wednesday Matches

Pliskova vs Sabalenka :

There were a lot of extremely close matches in the round of 16. There are a lot of competitors who likely will feel like they should have won. This is likely the case for Collins and Azarenka after falling to the two who will square off here. Collins was finally outhit on a tennis court, and it seemed extremely improbable that it would happen even while it was happening. I didn’t particularly understand the h2h record (3-0 for Sabalenka) but I assumed that it was Sabalenka’s power undoing Collins. That was the case in their match but not in any convincing manner. Collins was able to push Sabalenka around and the rallies were extremely close. She won the first after being down an immediate break, and I remember wondering again how Aryna could ever beat Collins. In the second set her serving didn’t really pick up a great deal, and every other service game was extremely tense. Sabalenka had a 17 minute servie game at 3-3, and a most improbable hold somehow led to her getting the set. It seemed like Sabalenka’s power would throw her forehand timing off the tiniest bit, but mostly it seemed like Collins just got extremely unlucky not to win this match. I’m impressed by Sabalenka’s willpower this tournament, and she seems as focused as she has in a long time because the double faults haven’t overwhelmed her.

Azarenka will likely feel disappointed that she lost the first, lucky that she won the second, and ambivalent about the third. Pliskova’s serving has let her apply great pressure in her opponents service games though, and she’s hitting her backhand hard enough that it isn’t the simple target everyone would like it to be. Karolina seems to have a renewed willingness to stay in long rallies, and the surprise mettle is forcing her opponents to make errors. It’s hard to say that someone who just beat an in-form Danielle Collins is going to lose to a player who isn’t the most durable defensively, but that’s what I see happening here. Sabalenka’s serving wasn’t the best, and Pliskova has been holding at an extremely solid clip (especially with the lead). Sabalenka has a clear edge from the baseline, but her own movement is not the greatest so I almost expect these two to have a similar chance of scoring on each other when they get to take a full rip. Since Azarenka won a set, it’s within reason that Sabalenka will, but she’ll be the more unlikely winner results-wise. Basically, Sabalenka winning here would be a realization of the hype that surrounded her game early on in the tour. In this event we are definitely seeing the ascension of belief within some of the players who lost to the monsters of the 2010-2020 era, but Pliskova was in that era also and she has improved her game since then. At this point in the event, there are no locks and no one is a sure thing, but Pliskova has been playing slightly better thus far. Pliskova in 3.

Swiatek vs Pegula :

I’m ready to get hurt again. I thought that Niemeier would be more competitive than her odds, and she was. It was hard and enjoyable to watch Swiatek turn things up in the third and run away with it though. Swiatek had this ability on clay to really extend her edges as matches went late, and it would be a bad thing for the rest of the tour if she found a way to do that here. As it stands for this match, it should be a moot point. Jessica Pegula is peaking at a major on her home soil. Her game is based on solid hitting and minimal errors. She’s now playing a #1 seed who feels a bunch of pressure and expectations, and has shown vulnerability at this event in her execution from the baseline and on serve. This is the spot for Pegula if she wants to win a major. Having played Swiatek in Miami (2-6, 5-7), she’ll at a minimum be familiar with the patterns and pace. It does help to get repetitions in against a player who has a lot of spin on their shots and against someone who plays a unique offense. So can she do it?

Reversing a H2H is always difficult, but Pegula was pretty automatic against Kvitova. As well as she was serving, I would almost give Kvitova a chance against Swiatek. Niemeier has a much heavier offense than Pegula (huge forehand and excellent dropshots), so Pegula’s main issue will be time. Swiatek can lose the first set 6-1 trying to figure things out, and she’ll still be able to win this match if she finds her timing. The difference-maker will be if either are able to serve well. Pegula tends to give back breaks because she isn’t really acing her opponents, so she’s tasked with out-dueling Swiatek from the baseline for an entire match. It sounds, honestly, really difficult. The -225 pricepoint for Swiatek is fairly low though, and it is certainly a huge step down from the -600 offered against Niemeier. Books will make large jumps from round to round, but you generally won’t see them crossing 0 or doing anything too obvious. A good example is Berrettini and Ruud. Both were -300 in their previous match, so it’s okay to open them at a pickem (both were garnishing approximately the same handle). If Ruud were -300 and Berrettini a pickem and then they open the match as a pickem, it is a finger pointing at Berrettini. Whether he’s just the larger $ draw, or he actually has a good shot, or they just expect that pricepoint to balance investment, is on you to figure out, but it’s good to notice these things if you are trading in these markets.

If they were to go from -600 to -400 with Swiatek, this would be normal (Pegula would be undervalued at this price but still they tend to stay within a reasonable progression when moving prices down). If they went to -300, it would be a nod to Swiatek having a dominant hold on the match (Pegula is still a gift at +250 yet they’re willing to attempt to price most bettors out of the Swiatek market). Another way to look at this is with underdog runs. The underdog may win at +250 in the first round, but still be +175 in the next. This doesn’t mean they can’t win again, it just means they expect a) more money to come in and b) they can’t drop the price to the actual modelled outcome generally even if they are probably going to roll, because it is too clear of an indication that they’re taking a position. Anyway, -225 is about as low as they can drop it without pointing directly at Pegula, and I agree. Swiatek has the range and ability to win this match, but it will take an extremely solid effort and she has been a bit average at times in this event. I’m expecting the stage and the crowd to play a big role here, and Jessica in form is something that means she has arrived at this round with a full tank. The balls are flying and this is a night match, which means fatigue likely won’t become an issue for the player likely to be defending more often (Pegula). Pegula in 3.

Rublev vs Tiafoe :

I thought Norrie’s year would actually make him a favorite here. A few people broke down for me how Rublev’s power on these courts would make it good conditions for him to beat Norrie, and I even watched Rune’s power force Norrie to shorten his swings and leave balls short, but Rublev’s slump is something I was not yet ready to let go of. I’ll relinquish it now, as a 3-0 beatdown of Norrie will leave him fresh for this match. “Beating a talented lefty who wins lots of titles eh? What a nice idea” said Tiafoe as he thoughtfully stroked his wizard beard. This win will go under the radar because of how ridiculously exciting this tournament is, but Tiafoe beating Nadal here is career-changing. He also followed it up with one of the best interviews he’s ever given, and I think the pressure being off him a bit will let him open up. So many of the NextGen guys have kinda been denied the big spotlight, but as the old guard starts to lose more and more matches you get to see who will step up and take over the tour. The first line to fall against junior phenoms is often the aging veteran, whose smart play is good enough to win still but whose sprint times have simply fallen off. There’s only so many times that you can will your body to make the extra lunge, to swing the swing that will likely hurt, and to scramble for serves that you might not get back in play. I’m not in any way directing this at Nadal, just saying that youth that has been previously squashed tends to stay squashed until they finally realize it’s their time. Tiafoe certainly did, and the result was some stellar serving. When you look at the dude, he’s visibly in incredible shape. His serve is a cannon, and his forehand is lightning. He had issues on his backhand, but he’s shown that in the big matches it becomes more consistent. These are good signs, and I think that and the home crowd will give him a chance to win this next match.

For Rublev, this is the spot to steal. Tiafoe has done the hard work for him in clearing out this section of the draw, and Rublev is that tour veteran whose game is less about redlining and more about overall pressure. Andrey needs to go to the Ruud playbook here. Pepper the Tiafoe backhand incessantly until he makes a visible change. It’s fine if he keeps hitting the ball back, but you need to establish patterns against a fast player so that there is some deception at play and some automatic shading towards one corner. Then you can choose how many forehands go inside out and how many inside in. Then you can take your backhand up the line with full commitment to the swing rather than guide it and auto-scramble to your forehand corner.

I think Tiafoe is head and shoulders above Rublev in the serving department. Last year when he beat him at the US Open he was +275ish (Rublev was -345) and this year it is a pickem. I think that’s accurate. Rublev is going to be a problem in baseline rallies, and he’s nearing his best form. This is a spot both players will be hungry for, and since they’re offensive terrors I think it will bring out the best tennis from both of them. In these hot conditions, I think Tiafoe’s fitness will pay some dividends, but this is assuming that he plays the error free and focused tennis that he did against Nadal. This one will likely look like Tomljanovic Jabeur where both are crushing the ball and the edges are very very thin. Just being on home soil, I lean Tiafoe in 5, but there is always the danger of the big letdown after a huge upset, and there is no larger upset than Nadal in this tournament.

Sinner vs Alcaraz :

I’m not sure how many players in the draw could have made Ilya Ivashka look like he was about to get straight setted, but that’s how the Sinner Ivashka match looked. Sinner won the first 6-1 and seemed to almost be hitting half-speed. In the second, he was up a break a few times and just couldn’t hang on. It was scary to watch as a Sinner fan, and it’s hard not to stare intently at his gait during the rough patches because of the fatigue and endurance issues he’s had in the past. Looking exhausted and not quitting seems to be a fine strategy for him though, and he did end up getting through in 5. Ivashka was the bigger hitter for enormous stretches of this match, but he was so much more error prone during his own service games, and Sinner’s returning made Ivashka’s delivery look at times like it wasn’t that dangerous. Great result for Ivashka, and with his clay prowess in his pocket these extra hardcourt points will see him turn in a great 2023. Sinner has a way of leaving the forehand wing open, and just ripping a crosscourt winner when a ball finally ends up there. It makes him extremely dangerous, as his backhand pace reminds me of a young Zverev (before he got acute douchitus). Sinner’s serve did disappear for periods of this match, but he seems to be able to turn up the rest of his game in the pressure moments.

Alcaraz enjoyed his own dominant yet close 5 setter with Marin Cilic. The first two sets were pretty great. Carlos has decided to adopt Caroline Garcia’s strategy of hammering the ball with pace and just rushing the net behind it. This didn’t really affect Cilic at all, but it was fun to see Alcaraz actually get a racquet on some passes and dive for others. Alcaraz traded pretty even from the baseline with Cilic, and I have to give his team or him some credit for switching tactics mid-match. He went from a close return position and hyper-aggressive play to standing against the backstop. Several times I saw him look back to make sure he wasn’t bumping into the ballperson. His returning from there was hampered, and his court position was awful, but he managed to make Cilic supply all the offense during his service games, and it wore him down. Cilic has maybe 100 perfect points of tennis in him, and after that there are shanks and there are footwork errors. I don’t think anyone on tour except Alcaraz really has the speed and defense to win with this style, but he does. Cilic somehow won the 4th, but Alcaraz was a bit fresher in the fifth and he just wasn’t making errors other than when he actually had the point won and was trying to end it in 1 rather than 3 shots.

I think actually Alcaraz and Sinner could have lost either match if they played the reverse opponents, but it sets up a rivalry that a lot of people are excited about. Sinner and Alcaraz traded a pair of epic clay-court matches earlier this year, and I think they’ll continue to do so at the 2/3 format. As far as physical strength here, I think Alcaraz is getting the nod. What even is that knot of muscle in his thigh? It looks like a drawing of some kinda fancy cephalopod. This will only be a tiny factor, but I think Sinner will be the one having a slightly tougher time recovering from his five-setter. Alcaraz chose more running as his route to victory with the return postiion, and Sinner basically had to grind it out. In the serving department, these two are pretty much equal. Both have a lot of power, but the placement and strategy can kinda disappear during the match. This means a lot of returns in play, and a ton of ridiculously good tennis. I think Alcaraz is slightly better here, but I don’t see him dominating the matchup. He doesn’t really make errors and he is very powerful on the forehand wing, but Sinner’s pace matches his and Sinner’s backhand may be a bit more consistent overall since Alcaraz is a bit more willing to go for a winner from a rough position. If I had to guess, and it seems that I do, I’d say that Alcaraz wins this, but he’ll have to utilize his particular skillset to make it his style of game. This means using a little more height at times to frustrate Sinner, and slowing the pace a little bit so that he can work in dropshots. I think he definitely has an edge in the frontcourt, and wearing down Sinner’s legs should be a primary focus for Alcaraz’s team since Sinner’s first serve tends to disappear when his legs are a bit run down. Alcaraz in 5.