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U.S. Open: No. 1s Cling to Thrones

Posted by Webster Washington on 8/25/2016 7:00:34 AM

Are our No. 1 ranked men's and women's players about to lose their perches atop the tennis world? It's been a while since we've asked the question ... a long while. But Angelique Kerber last week came one match from overtaking Serena Williams in the standings, and the way Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have been playing lately, it wouldn't be a stretch to put Murray above Djoker based on recent performance if not official points rankings. It all puts a little more weight on the upcoming U.S. Open, and a little more flavor in U.S. Open betting.

The Injury Thing

Williams and Djokovic have muddied the waters lately with injury problems. Serena had recurring shoulder pain that hampered her play in the Rio Olympics recently, and Djokovic complained of problems with his left wrist in his first-round loss. There's no indication from either camp as to how serious these problems are, so we're left to assume that their absences in events since Rio are simply rest periods. Here are some U.S. Open favorites and how they may gain in prominence with the king and queen in jeopardy:

Women

SERENA WILLIAMS just hasn't been that healthy, or maybe that energized, since her triumph at Wimbledon. She went for a medal in the Rio Olympics but didn't get past the third round and Elina Svitolina. She's pulled out of other tournaments. No doubt, she'll be up for New York and the Open. She's won the tournament six times and seeks to break Steffi Graf's record for Grand Slam wins. Serena was surprised last year in the Open semifinals by Roberta Vinci. Serena is now crowding age 35, and you have to wonder.

ANGELIQUE KERBER is only 190 points behind Serena in the rankings points, because she's played consistent tennis lately. She seemed to take time recovering from her Australian Open win this year but has reached the final four at the tour's biggest events, including six finals appearances. She seemed to be suffering from back problems in Rio, but still came away with silver. Then in the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, she overcame Simona Halep but lost to Monica Puig in the finals.

GARBINE MUGURUZA could also make a run at No. 1 if she were to make the finals in Flushing Meadows. She too has won a major this year, but was tripped up by Puig in the third round in Rio, and fell to Karolina Pliskova in the Cincinnati semis. The New York experience wasn't too good for her last year; she was ousted in the second round.

SIMONA HALEP is a realistic contender. She beat Kerber on her way to the Rogers Cup title in Canada, but lost to her more recently in Cincy. She has three singles titles this year and made the Open semis last year.

Men

NOKVAK DJOKOVIC was stunned at Wimbledon and shocked in Rio, so he's proven beatable. But he has won seven singles titles this year, including two Slams, which makes him the favorite. His left hand problems would only affect his backhand, so he should be in pretty good shape. He's also the defending champion in New York.

ANDY MURRAY has been creeping up on Djokovic on the weight of gold in Rio and a championship at Wimbledon. He slipped up against Marin Cilic in the Cincy finals, but is playing well of late. Djokovic has won 24 of 34 career meetings with Murray, but the question is will it come to that in N.Y.? It didn't last year; Murray lost a five-set thriller to Kevin Anderson in the fourth round.

RAFAEL NADAL has a chance with injured Roger Federer out of the way. But he's only been competitive on clay this year. He made it to the medal round in Rio, but got bumped out in the second round in Cincy. He's won the Open twice, but it's hard to see him going far this time.

MARIN CILIC is one to consider for an outside shot. He did a great job handling Murray in straight sets for the Western & Southern title. Though he stumbled against Gael Monfils in the third round in Rio, he did well last year in Flushing Meadows, reaching the semis before losing to Djokovic.

U.S. Open Betting

On the women's side, I'm wondering if Williams and Kerber will last. Williams, a +125 fav in U.S. Open betting futures, doesn't carry a good enough number for me to bite, but she might be a decent hedge in lieu of better bargains. I like Halep at +800 based on her recent solid play and her performance last year. On the men's side, if Djokovic (+105) makes the finals, he'll win. But if he slips up, it's Murray's (+200) to lose. My value search comes up with Cilic at +2200. He's much better. Scan the figures and bet now.

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