The last four men in contention for the 2016 US Open men’s singles title are in action at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre in New York on Friday, with places in the final up for grabs.
We didn’t fare too well in the women’s semi finals on Thursday, with Serena Williams’ bid to overhaul Steffi Graf’s total of majors ending with an injury-affected defeat to Karolina Pliskova.
Williams produced a sluggish performance and said: “ I have been having some serious left knee problems… I wasn't able to move the way I wanted to move. When you're injured you're thinking of other things when you should be just playing and thinking of your shots. My mind was just a little bit everywhere.”
Great. And tonight’s semi finals could also be decided or affected by injury too, as Kei Nishikori is involved after a five setter the previous round.
The Japanese faces Stan Wawrinka at probably around 22:00 UK time (or perhaps later if Gael Monfils is able to extend Novak Djokovic) and in all honesty I’ve seen many better matches this fortnight to have a wager on.
Stanislas Wawrinka vs Kei Nishikori
Similarly to Wawrinka’s last match against Juan Martin Del Potro this one is a bit of a pick’em, with Nishikori likely to be rather low on reserves after a busy summer and five sets in the quarters too.
That rollercoaster of a match against Andy Murray must have taken a fair bit out of the brittle Japanese star and it could well prove to be the case that Wawrinka has got his scheduling about right here.
Wawrinka has played 32 sets since Wimbledon, while Nishikori has chalked up 49 in the same time frame, and the last couple of times that Kei has won five setters in majors he’s gone out the next round.
The most recent was at the French Open this season when he was beaten by Richard Gasquet after overcoming Fernando Verdasco in five and the time before at Wimbledon 2015 he beat Simone Bolelli in five and then withdrew.
That said he did beat Wawrinka in five here in 2014 and then took out Novak Djokovic a couple of days later and it may be that the gap between the quarters and semis will be enough time for the Japanese to recover.
The reward on offer of a second major final is likely to prove enough and assuming that both players are fit, which is never a given at this time of year, there isn’t much between this pair.
Nishikori has won two of their last three meetings, including five weeks ago in Toronto when Stan had one of his frequent mental checkouts that occur in non-Grand Slam play.
Wawrinka led the opener of that one 5-2 and once he’d thrown it away he gave up and offered only token resistance in a 7-6, 6-1 defeat, but it’s not often we see that kind of capitulation in majors (unless he’s playing Roger Federer).
On the numbers it’s unsurprisingly very close between the pair on outdoor hard in 2016, with 87.4 percent holds for Wawrinka combined with 23.7 percent breaks, and Nishikori totals almost the same at 83.5 percent holds and 27.1 percent breaks.
So, it’s a really tough one to call and I prefer the side markets here, with under 9.5 games in set one at 2.43 one tempting option, with their last three openers (and it should have been four) ending 6-3 and the other being 6-4.
Of the 14 five set matches Kei has won in his career 11 of the opening sets have ended in nine games or fewer, with eight ending 6-3, and six of his last nine matches this season have finished in fewer than 10 games in set one.
Only two of Nishikori’s 18 opening sets in majors in 2016 have gone past 10 games, with nine ending in nine games or fewer, so 2.43 on unders seems to be decent value.
In 2015 the last two quarter finals and both semis at the US Open saw all 12 sets end in 10 games or fewer, with nine of them finishing in nine or fewer, so all told the set one unders looks better value than backing either player outright.
Wawrinka hasn’t hit a single double fault in his last two matches and considering one of those was on a very windy day on Armstrong over four sets that’s impressive and I’d expect the weaker serve of Nishikori to be the one to crack more under pressure.
Kei has hit 22 doubles already this tournament to Stan’s 16 and Nishikori to hit most double faults (-0.5) at 1.90 seems the best of the stat bets, with fatigue likely to have an effect on that as well.
Nishikori was my outright bet in the bottom half at the start, but after that Murray battle and a really tough summer I’m more hopeful than confident that he’ll come out on top and he doesn’t strike me as great betting value as favourite.
So, I’ll stick with what I perceive as better value bets in this pick ‘em clash.
Value bet: Back under 9.5 games in set one at 2.43
Value bet: Back Nishikori -0.5 in ‘most double faults’ at 1.90