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Wednesday, 24 October, 2018

Dimitrov primed to challenge for a spot in the semi-finals

Bulgarian is in fine fettle

Cincinnati champion Grigor Dimitrov
1 of 1

Champion's top tip
Alexander Zverev 11-2
Injuries have dominated the build-up to the US Open but Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have made it to New York and bookmakers see the two tennis greats as the most likely winners of the year's final Grand Slam.

The pair have returned to prominence in 2017 and the layers rightly believe that Federer, champion in both Australia and at his beloved Wimbledon, should be favourite as he seeks to win a 20th Slam.

His path has been made easier by the withdrawal of reigning champion Stan Wawrinka, Novak Djokovic, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic while Andy Murray became the latest to pull out on Saturday after failing to recover from the persistent hip complaint that badly hindered his Wimbledon defence.

Federer does line up but it's possible that he too has not arrived in the Big Apple in peak condition. The 36-year-old's career is in the midst of an Indian summer but his bid to manage his ageing body took a blow when he visibly struggled with a back injury in the Rogers Cup final earlier this month.

It came as a minor surprise that Federer, who skipped the entire clay season in a bid to retain peak fitness, intended to play in both Montreal and Cincinnati and he never looked at his best throughout the week in Canada. He subsequently withdrew from Cincy after a straight sets defeat to Alexander Zverev in that final.

Federer stated this week that his back has improved significantly but playing two weeks of best-of-five-set tennis is a real concern for anyone wanting to take short odds about the Swiss maestro, who has been candid about injuries in the past but rarely on the eve of a major tournament.

While the 36-year-old has hogged most of the headlines this season, Nadal has rocketed back up to number one in the ATP rankings, due mostly to his brilliant performances on his beloved clay.

The Majorcan won titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid before landing his tenth French Open crown in devastating style with a crushing victory over Stan Wawrinka in the final.

But he hasn't won a hard-court title since triumphing in Qatar in January 2014 and that hardly marks him out as a value second-favourite despite his excellent clay form. He was outgunned by Gilles Muller at Wimbledon and returned on that surface with early-round losses in both Canada and Cincinnati.

A potential semi-final clash with Federer would likely deter each-way punters given that the Swiss has won all three meetings this season between the pair, and all of them on hard courts.

The top half of the draw looks far tougher than the bottom, where Zverev and beaten Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic are the star attractions.

Brilliant 20-year-old Zverev is no longer just the rising star of the ATP World Tour, he is swiftly becoming the man they all have to beat and he could come of age in New York over the next fortnight.

He was readily available to back at 7-1 before Murray dropped out but the German looks well placed to come through his half of the draw and quotes of 5-1 should not deter punters. He is progressing rapidly and exudes self-belief, as evidenced by two Masters 1000 victories over Djokovic and Federer this year.

Zverev has underwhelmed in Slams so far in his fledgling career but there was no shame in a five-set defeat to finalist Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open. The youngster took control of the contest before Nadal battled back in typical fashion but he looks capable of turning the tables should the pair meet again.

The triumph in Montreal followed a comfortable victory over Kevin Anderson - who he is projected to meet in round three - in the final of the Citi Open. He then exited in the opening round in Cincy against fellow NextGen star Frances Tiafoe but that tired performance came after two weeks of wall-to-wall tennis.

Zverev should be fresher at Flushing Meadows and looks set to put up a bold bid at winning his maiden Grand Slam.

Next best
Grigor Dimitrov to win first quarter 4-1
Of the difficult top half, the first quarter looks to have less depth to it and Grigor Dimitrov could be the man to cause the most problems for Nadal.

The flashy Bulgarian is fifth in the betting after he charged to the Cincinnati title without dropping a set. That run featured victories over some notable rivals including 2009 Flushing Meadows champion Juan Martin del Potro and big-serving John Isner before he dispatched Nick Kyrgios to win his first Masters 1000 title.

Dimitrov is still only 26, even if it feels like he's been around for a long time, and still has plenty of Grand Slam action ahead of him. It's worth remembering that Murray was 25 when he broke his top-level duck in the Big Apple while Stan Wawrinka was 28 when he won in Melbourne.

Dimitrov has a poor US record but his best Slam finishes, at Wimbledon in 2014 and this year in Australia, came after recent title wins and he tends to perform well when confidence is high.

He lost to Nadal in a dramatic Melbourne semi-final but he's good enough to get revenge should they meet again in the last eight.

Other notables
Kyrgios's fitness has to be taken on trust and even in Cincinnati he didn’t look 100 per cent comfortable as he struggles to compete with a hip injury.

The fiery Aussie is superb when on his game, possessing a huge serve and the variety to take the big guns out of their comfort zone. A potential quarter-final draw with Federer and the aforementioned injury concerns make him an unappealing option at the prices but it would come as no surprise if he were to contend. Similarly, it wouldn't shock if he was to depart early.

Dominic Thiem and Del Potro also lurk in that section.

Cilic is arguably the biggest threat to the younger Zverev but the Croat makes his first appearance since losing the Wimbledon final when hampered by injury, and it's hard to know how ready he will be.

Others looking to make an impact in that half of the draw include home hope Jack Sock, who has had a poor few months, and exciting young Canadian Denis Shapovalov.

Recommendations
A Zverev to win US Open
2pts 11-2 BoyleSports
G Dimitrov to win first quarter
2pts 4-1 bet365, Coral, Ladbrokes

Zverev is progressing rapidly and exudes self belief, as evidenced by two Masters 1000 victories over Djokovic and Federer this year
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