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.

 

Matchweek 14 Premier League odds: Arsenal-Tottenham toss-up

Leave a comment

It takes a lot to discount the home advantage Arsenal will take into a north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur, one of the Premier League’s top away teams.

Arsenal is a narrow +160 favorite on this week’s Premier League odds with Tottenham coming back at +170, while the draw is at +265 on the three-way moneyline and there is a 3.0-goals total for Sunday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Arsenal is undefeated in its last six home matches against Tottenham; the Spurs have won five away matches in a row.

Each team has sufficient offensive capability and motivation to attack to prevent a clean sheet on either side, which is a starting point for bettors who would like to focus on totals with the match result so close to call. Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (+333 first scorer, -110 anytime) and Tottenham’s Harry Kane (+375, +105) stand good chances of tallying. In both teams to score props, tie/yes (+300) offers more payout than the draw on the moneyline.

Leicester City (+125) and Watford (+255, draw +235) carry some strong UNDER trends, as Leicester’s last five matches in all competitions have gone UNDER 2.5 goals, while the same is true in eight of Watford’s last nine away games in the league. There is little separating the teams in capabilities or in the standings, so Watford rates a look on the double chance (-145).

Newcastle United (+145) takes on West Ham United (+210, draw +235) having won three games on the bounce. West Ham is having great difficulty winning many games, but it is a pesky road team whose last three away matches have all gone UNDER. West Ham on the double chance (-170) could be the percentage play, and Marko Arnautovic (+450 first scorer, +150 anytime) should get some scoring chances off of counter-attacks.

Relegation-threatened Southampton (+340) hosts Manchester United (-110, draw +265), whose last six away matches in all competition have all gone OVER 2.5 goals. There is value in a powerhouse that’s maddeningly inconsistent, as Yes/Over 2.5 (+125) and Man United win/yes (+275) offer value in the myriad both teams to score props.

Chelsea (-600) and Fulham (+1500, draw +700) have a 3.5-goals total in a Sunday matchup, but their last five games at Stamford Bridge have all gone UNDER 2.5 goals and Fulham has also failed to score in four of its last five away matches. Chelsea is even money for both a clean sheet and a shutout win.

And Liverpool (-260) is undefeated against city rival Everton (+750, draw +400) in their last 21 matchups in all competitions, but the visiting Toffees come into this Sunday matchup on a three-game shutout streak in the league. Liverpool and Sadio Mane (+150 anytime) should be able to break through eventually, but No/Under 2.5 (+200) might have the best value in both-teams-to-score 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 Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Matchweek 12 Premier League odds: Manchester Derby highlights weekend

Leave a comment

The disparate fortunes of the teams involved in this weekend’s Manchester derby might lead bettors to seek out ways to restore betting value to Manchester City.

Playing at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester City are the -250 moneyline favorite on this week’s Premier League odds with Manchester United coming back at +700, while the draw is at +400 with a 3.0-goals total for Sunday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The away team has had a result in the last six games in this matchup (four wins and two 0-0 draws). The law of averages alone indicates it would be tough for that to continue, but there have also been OVER 2.5 goals scored in 21 of Man City’s last 24 home games, as well as OVER 2.5 goals scored in Man United’s last five Premier League games.

Taking Manchester City win/yes (+150) in both teams to score (BTTS) props is a higher-yield play, as they are an aggressive team at home and will work to set up Sergio Aguero (+275 first goal scorer, -145 anytime). Manchester City has also been leading at halftime in six of its last seven games. On the Man United front, Romelu Lukaku’s absence might make for a slow start, but at minus-1.5 (-125) on the goals line, the Red Devils might recoup some value.

Elsewhere, Cardiff City (+155) has not fared well over the years against Brighton & Hove Albion (+210, draw +215), which has drawn or won 11 of the last 12 matchups (all competitions). Since Brighton has won only one of its last 19 away matches in EPL play, its double chance odds (-185) could be a more secure play.

Leicester City (-200) visits Burnley (+650, draw +325) having shown, by winning its previous outing, that it is channeling grief over the tragic helicopter death of chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha two weeks ago. There have been OVER 2.5 goals (-120 on the betting line) in five of Burnley’s last six games, so Leicester might be able to pounce.

Crystal Palace (+355) and Tottenham Hotspur (-120, draw +270) has been a low-scoring fixture. Crystal Palace has failed to score in their last four tries against Tottenham and the teams’ last five matchups have been under 2.5 goals (in all competitions). Taking No/Under 2.5 (+175) in both teams to score props covers the possibility of Tottenham grinding out another win.

Liverpool (-950) takes on Fulham (+2400, draw +1000) in a Sunday matchup that is a mismatch on paper, with a rare 4.0-goals total. Liverpool has kept clean sheets in seven of its last eight games against Fulham in all competitions, and Fulham is on a five-game losing streak. Smarting from a Champions League loss on Wednesday, Liverpool could take out its frustrations and go OVER (+110) on its own 3.5-goals total.

And Chelsea (-240) hosts Everton (+650, draw +400) on Sunday with the expectation of a fully fit squad, save for Cesc Fabregas (illness), after playing a Champions League match on Thursday. Both Chelsea’s last four games and five of Everton’s last six games have gone OVER 2.5 goals, so this matchup’s 3.0-goals total could be bested.

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 Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.