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Matt Cronin's Day 1 picks

Andy Murray practicing in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
By Matt Cronin
Sunday, August 24, 2014

1-Novak Djokovic vs. Diego Schwartzman
 
Novak Djokovic loves the US Open, perhaps because when he was still a baby of 20, he showed such great stuff in reaching the final here.
 
After that, Djokovic immediately became an excellent hard-court player and wanted to win the US Open very badly, but he had the misfortune of running into Roger Federer along the way to his dream. Djokovic went down to the great Swiss in the 2007 final, then again in the semis in 2008 and 2009. The Serb finally took out Federer, winning a five-set classic in a semi in 2010, but then Rafael Nadal ran down every shot and bested Djokovic in the final.
 
But Djokovic kept trying to improve his game, and in 2011, he was nearly unbeatable. He was so strong and so fast that he finally won the US Open by exhausting Nadal in the final.
 
Djokovic may not win every tournament out there, but he pushes deep into the Slams. Even though the Serb did not play well in Toronto and Cincinnati, he has to be given a pass because he’d just won Wimbledon, playing such courageous tennis in overcoming Federer in five memorable sets.
 
Now, Djokovic’s quest begins again, when he plays on Monday night against Diego Schwartzman, who has appeared in only one Grand Slam draw prior. The Argentine is only 22 years old—and has potential—but he isn’t very tall or powerful, so he can’t hit with a talent like Djokovic, who should dance quickly through in three sets.
 
5-Maria Sharapova vs. Maria Kirilenko
 
These two Marias have known each other since they were little kids and were very good friends when they first began playing pro tournaments. While they maintain tremendous respect for each other, it is difficult to continue to hang out with other competitors when major titles are on the line. Eventually, Sharapova and Kirilenko moved towards the top of the sport, and it became impossible to spend much time together.
 
The two Russians respect each other, which is a good thing, but between the lines, they’ll both play hard to knock the other out. That is what they’ll do again, this time at the US Open. Sharapova is 5-2 against Kirilenko, with six of those matches on hard courts, but they have only played once at a Grand Slam, when Kirilenko shocked Sharapova in the 2010 first round in Australia. Sharapova was not fully back from her right shoulder injury, but nonetheless, Kirilenko fought extremely hard to pull off the win, 6-4, in third.
 
Sharapova has not won a bunch of tournaments this year, but she won a darn good one when she won her second Roland Garros. Kirilenko—who reached the Top 10 in 2012—has barely played this season, bothered by persistent leg trouble.
 
Kirilenko could push Sharapova deep into a third set, but in order to do so, she has to crack the balls deep and take over the net, which she loves to do. But since Kirilenko has been unable to play much this year, Sharapova will play smart and should not be worried that she will be pushed all over the place. The No. 5 seed hasn’t won here since 2006, and she wants to lift her game to grab another title. She needs to play better than she did after falling in Montreal and Cincinnati, but this is the big tournament she wants the most and will take this match in two sets.

19-Venus Williams vs. Kimiko Date-Krumm
 
This is a legitimate old-school meeting between two competitive women who just want to continue tennis until they decide it’s time to ride off into their sunset. Who knows when either will finally stop, but what we do know is that they try very hard, which is why Venus Williams is threatening to win a Grand Slam at the age of 34, and Kimiko Date-Krumm is still one of the fastest runners at the age of 43. Dig that.
 
Date-Krumm played her first US Open in 1989 and eventually reached the quarterfinals here in 1993 and 1994, way back when she was pushing the likes of Steffi Graf and Monica Seles. She could hit out all day, but she was not good enough to show impressive serves or forehands. Japan’s best player did reach the semis at three of four Grand Slams but has never been among the final four at the US Open.
 
Can Date-Krumm finally reach a semifinal in New York? I doubt that, even if she has improvement in her strokes, but at the very least, she has played some terrific contests. She stopped playing tennis in 1997, continued that hiatus through 2008 and began playing again in 2009, which is admirable, considering that she is twice as old as some of the players on the women’s tour.
 
Venus began to play at the Grand Slams in 1997 and pulled off an amazing US Open run, reaching the final here before losing to Martina Hingis. But Venus would get there eventually, winning back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2001. At that point, she was the hardest server out there.
 
Venus has been unable to win more US Opens, though she has played in some dramatic confrontations. But make no mistake, the two-time US Open champ wants another Slam. Williams has been playing pretty well during the past month (she upset sister Serena in the semis in Montreal) and believes she can go the distance once again. Venus appreciates Date-Krumm, but she is not going to have long match early on. Venus will win easily in straight sets.

8-Andy Murray vs. Robin Haase
 
Murray should be given a little slack, given that he had to have surgery after the 2013 US Open, so there was no way that he would be quickly back into contention for major titles until he got up to snuff. Clearly, the 2012 US Open champion has not been playing great tennis this year, but he is trying hard, and eventually he will find his level again.

Murray may not be at his best yet, but he can run so quickly, smoking his backhands, and put away his volleys so brilliantly. The real question is whether he will believe again and not go away when he is about to win against the better competitors. For example, against a guy who’s perhaps the best player ever, namely Roger Federer, Andy didn't look like his mind was there when they met in Cincinnati. At this level of the game, focus is crucial—without it, you can’t win.
 
Murray says that he is feeling good and wants another US Open title. He has a difficult draw, so he will have to concentrate from the word “go.” He will go up against Robin Haase today in a match in which he must play very clean. Haase can be very erratic, but he can hit very hard from both wings, so Murray has to also be very patient. While Haase could pull off an upset, it is three-out-of-five sets, and the intelligent Andy will figure it out eventually. Take Murray in four sets.

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