Getty Images

After odd win, Djokovic to face Wawrinka in US Open final

Leave a comment

NEW YORK — For quite a while, Novak Djokovic’s opponent in the U.S. Open semifinals, Gael Monfils, looked as if he didn’t want to win – or even be there at all.

That premeditated “great strategy” of hoping to lull the No. 1 seed and defending champion into complacency and mistakes, as Monfils described it later, worked briefly, yet did not prevent a two-set deficit. So he transformed back into his entertaining, athletic self. A sweat-soaked Djokovic sought help from a trainer for aches in both shoulders, and what was no contest suddenly became one.

Monfils forced a fourth set, and Djokovic ripped off his white shirt angrily a la “The Incredible Hulk.”

The ultimate outcome was only briefly in the balance, though. Djokovic regained the upper hand, as he so often does, reaching his 21st Grand Slam final and seventh at the U.S. Open with an eventful and, at times, bizarre 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 victory over Monfils on Friday.

“Well, it was a strange match,” said Djokovic, who will face No. 3 Stan Wawrinka in Sunday’s final, “as it always is, I guess, when you play Gael, who is a very unpredictable player.”

Never more so than on this muggy afternoon, with the temperature at 90 degrees and the humidity above 50 percent. Monfils, now 0-13 against Djokovic, spent most of his news conference defending his unusual approach and said he knew beforehand he might try it.

On ESPN’s telecast, John McEnroe blasted the 10th-seeded Frenchman for lack of effort. The Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd jeered him.

“First question is, like, `You’re not competing?’ … Yes, I’m competing,” Monfils said, cursing for emphasis. “I made a sign to my coach (to) say, `OK, I’m going to Plan B.”‘

Djokovic had three set points while serving at 5-1, 40-love, and Monfils transitioned into something that at first blush appeared to be “tanking” – losing on purpose, for who knows what reason – but which he explained afterward was the tennis equivalent of Muhammad Ali’s boxing “rope-a-dope,” absorbing someone else’s best shots and pretending to not be interested in attacking.

Instead of his usual crouch preparing to return serves, Monfils casually stood upright at the baseline, without a worry in the world, looking like someone waiting to place his takeout espresso order. During points, Monfils would hit slices or make halfhearted, half-swinging strokes, then occasionally wallop a 100 mph passing shot.

“For sure, people are not really ready to see that,” Monfils said. “Definitely, I try to get in his head, try to create something new for him to see.”

Somehow, the tactic was effective, for a short while, anyway.

“I was completely caught off-guard,” Djokovic acknowledged.

Miscue after miscue arrived from Djokovic, and Monfils won three games in a row, before eventually dropping a set for the first time all tournament.

“I thought, at times, that he was maybe behaving a little bit – for some terms and judgments – unacceptable,” Djokovic said. “But I guess that was part of his tactics. If he said that you have to believe him, I guess.”

Djokovic will try for his third U.S. Open championship and 13th major trophy overall against Wawrinka, whose first final at Flushing Meadows came via a 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 victory over No. 6 Kei Nishikori that lasted more than 3 hours and finished with the roof shut. Djokovic has won 19 of 23 previous meetings, but Wawrinka did win their 2015 French Open final for his second Grand Slam title.

Wawrinka was down a set and a break against Nishikori, who eventually faded in the heat and mugginess. Wawrinka got so sweaty his racket flew out of his hand on one point, but he seemed to grow sturdier as the match wore on.

At the start, Wawrinka said, Nishikori “was always dictating. I was feeling uncomfortable on the court. He was coming at the net. … I just tried to, little by little, play a little bit better, a little bit faster, a little bit heavier. I tried to make him run.”

Wawrinka has spent nearly twice as long on court as Djokovic has so far: a little under 18 hours vs. a little under 9 hours.

That’s because Djokovic enjoyed the easiest path to a major semifinal in the nearly half-century of the Open era: Three of his first five foes pulled out of because of injuries. Then came this 2 1/2-hour miniseries, topping them all for oddness.

In the second set, Monfils lost five consecutive games, and limped afterward. Soon, Djokovic led 2-0 in the third, breaking on a double-fault that drew boos and whistles. All over but the shouting, right? Nope. In a blink, Monfils awoke.

Hours before the match, Djokovic clutched at his back during a practice session in Ashe. Behind 5-2 in the third, Djokovic got his left shoulder massaged. Later, it was time for help with the right shoulder. Asked what health worries he might have, Djokovic replied, “Thankfully, it’s behind me. So I don’t have any concerns.”

In the late going, Monfils was leaning on his racket between points. More examples of playing possum? Perhaps. But Djokovic showed his own signs of distress in the tough conditions.

After all of that, Djokovic plays Sunday for his third Grand Slam championship of 2016. He won the Australian Open in January, and the French Open in June – when the theatrics were at a relative minimum by Friday’s standards.

 

EPL Week Betting Preview: Man City Slim Favorite Facing Tottenham

Leave a comment

The recency factor might point to Tottenham Hotspur and Harry Kane instead of Manchester City, which is lagging after having run out front all season.

Manchester City is a super-slim +150 favorite with Tottenham Hotspur coming back at +160 and the draw offers +255 on the three-way moneyline for this English Premier League betting matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

However, Tottenham has yet to lose an EPL match since January 1, while Manchester City has lost three games in a row and has seen its ambition of an EPL/Champions League double go up in smoke.

Four of the last five matchups between the Citizens and Spurs have had at least three goals with both teams scoring. The over on the 3.0 total still offers +105. There should be scoring. Tottenham is also even-money on the draw no bet prop, offering a fallback to Spurs backers in the event of a tie.

The twist for the matchup between relegation-threatened Southampton (+345) and Chelsea (-120, +255 draw) is that the sides will soon meet again in an upcoming F.A. Cup semifinal. Southampton will have to play desperate attacking football, which makes both the over (2.5 total) and Chelsea on the goals line (-1.5) worth considering.

Burnley (+155) will not have captain Ben Mee in the center of its back four for a big match against Leicester City (+195, +210 draw). Each team is healthy up front, though, which means the over on the 2.0 total should hit. Both teams have scored in five of Burnley’s last seven home games and in 10 of Leicester’s last 12 away games.

Huddersfield Town (+160) and Watford (+180, +215 draw) are on five- and four-match winless streaks and have both been porous defensively. Neither team is more than a hunch play but taking the -140 over on the 2.0 total seems self-explanatory since eight of their last nine matchups have had three or more goals.

Swansea City (+150) catches Everton (+195, +210 draw), who is struggling to create scoring chances and has won just two of 16 away games in the league. Swansea City needs the full three points and also has Jordan Ayew back as a potential finisher.

Newcastle (+220) has won only one of its last 22 matchups against Arsenal (+115, +255 draw), whom it hosts in a Sunday betting matchup. Newcastle has an excellent chance to end the drought, since Arsenal seems to be saving itself for Europa League. Newcastle’s draw no bet price is a still-generous +135.

And West Ham United (-105) faces last-place Stoke City (+295, +240 draw) in a Monday betting matchup with a chance to solidify its place in the 2018-19 EPL. West Ham forward Marko Arnatovic is facing his former team, making him worth looking at in goal scorer props.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Manchester City Betting Favorite vs. Manchester United in Highlight EPL Clash

AP
Leave a comment

The outlook, in the greater scheme, has changed for Manchester City and they just may try to take out some frustrations on their cross-town archrival.

With a chance to clinch the English Premier League crown this weekend, Manchester City is a -115 betting favorite while visiting Manchester United comes back at +310 with the draw priced at +260 and a 2.5-goal total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

 It is just a matter of when Manchester City will wrap up the title, so bettors will have to stay alert about whether manager Pep Guardiola goes with a first-choice lineup or rests players such as Sergio Aguero. Man City, which is expected to have midfielders Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva ready to go, might be eager for a big show to wash away the stain of a 3-0 defeat against Liverpool in their Champions League quarterfinal first leg.

Manchester United has a good record in this matchup, with a 3-1-2 (wins-draws-losses) mark in the last six matchups. But they don’t play the pressing style that can give Manchester City trouble.

A late-season derby often means more to the lower-placed team, which means Everton (+310) offers value against Liverpool (-120, draw +260) on the Premier League betting lines in this edition of the Merseyside derby. Liverpool might scratch Mohamed Salah (groin) and could make further lineup decisions to preserve other core players for Tuesday’s quarterfinal second leg at Manchester City. With that in mind, Everton is worth taking for the upset.

Neither Brighton & Hove Albion (-120) nor Huddersfield Town (+365, draw +240) is in good form, as Brighton has failed to score in three games, whilst Huddersfield has been shut out in its last four. The home team has not lost in the last 10 editions of this matchup, and given the teams’ perilous position in the standings (13th and 16th) it’s worth taking the under at +105 on the 2.0 total.

Last-place West Bromwich Albion (+140) has brought in Darren Moore as interim manager after sacking Alan Pardew and the shake-up might lead to some fact-facing ahead of its match with Swansea City (+215, draw +210). Swansea City, which will essentially be clear of the relegation zone with three more points, is poised to pounce for an away win with midfielder Sam Clucas back in the lineup.

Arsenal (-195) takes on Southampton (+500, draw +325) in a Sunday betting matchup, but forward Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not play. However, Arsenal has won its last two league games and also has an attainable minus-1.0 goals line (priced at -110). With Southampton averaging fewer than one goal per goal, Arsenal has a strong chance at a shutout as well.

And Chelsea (-385) takes on West Ham United (+1000, draw +475) in a Sunday betting matchup. Chelsea has the motivation of playing a London derby, but with Champions League qualification out of reach, this could be a trap game. West Ham, with Joao Mario providing a boost up front, could be worth taking on the win/draw double chance.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.