Thursday Early U.S. Open Round 2 Picks: Back Stevie Johnson to Upset Gael Monfils (September 2)
Credit: Grant Halverson, Getty. Steve Johnson winds up for a serve.
Another day, another full slate of tennis.
For most of the morning on Wednesday, it didn’t feel like many balls were going to be put into play at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center. But the weather was merciful until the evening and nearly every singles match that was scheduled, finished.
Of course, mayhem ensued after 5:30 p.m. when the floodgates opened and the courts in Queens were absolutely pounded with rain. In fact, the rain was so bad that it peaked into a roofed court, Louis Armstrong Stadium, and play was halted for the night.
It’s the type of wackiness you’re only likely to find at the U.S. Open, and it’s what makes the event so fun to bet. The tournament produces matches and drama that are of the highest order in all of sports.
With all of that being said, let’s run through what our staff is looking to play on Thursday.
Match times are subject to change.
Gael Monfils (-250) vs. Steve Johnson (+202)
2:30 p.m. ET
Avery Zimmerman: Both Monfils and Johnson have found their form in the summer hard court swing, with the former reaching the quarters of the Masters 1000 in Toronto, and the latter earning a QF spot in the 500 event in Washington.
Johnson has been playing particularly good tennis of late, and has excelled in singles as well as doubles. The American’s two doubles finals this Summer, in Los Cabos and in Cincinnati, do not happen by accident. Johnson’s improved two-handed backhanded is utilized much more heavily in doubles, as he can’t rely on the slice he so often uses in singles. This has allowed him to develop that part of his game to an extent, and give him added confidence on the singles court.
That slice backhand, however, will still be effective against a player like Monfils, who looks to go big and shorten points as much as possible. He’s comfortable engaging in longer rallies, but with lower fitness levels than his younger self, he’s forced into going for more. This will play well into Johnson’s hands.
None of this is written to discredit the threats that the Frenchman will pose to Johnson. He’ll have the opportunity to take the initiative in many scenarios where the two enter neutral positions, and when his serve is on, it’s potent.
But as I explained above, Johnson has the capability to limit these weapons, and he has a lot of confidence in his game right now. If the former college legend can find his first serve at the same level he found it in round 1 (62% in play and 83% conversion), I believe he has an excellent chance at taking out Monfils.
Pick: Steve Johnson +202 (FanDuel)
Denis Kudla (-200) vs. Oscar Otte (+160)
2:30 p.m. ET
Kenny Ducey: I’ve arrived at the conclusion that Oscar Otte is a good tennis player. The 28-year-old has picked up his second and third wins at Grand Slam events this year, with an impressive five-set marathon win over Arthur Rinderknech at Wimbledon and a gutsy win over the talented Lorenzo Sonego here at the US Open.
Otte has clearly proven he can win on any surface, though clay is where he does his best work. He is 24-12 on the surface this year after a 31-8 campaign last year. He’s a grinder who will continue to fight in points and can be a real pest in his return games. This isn’t a good look for Denis Kudla, who tends to get flustered by players of this type.
The surfaces here should also favor Otte. Though the hardcourts at the US Open are normally quick, they were drenched in rain on Wednesday and should play slower at least until we get into the mid-afternoon. It should feel like a clay match for Otte, and that’s one where I’d take the German every time.
Kudla thrives off the quick surface with his unorthodox groundstrokes, which are insanely flat. On grass or a fast indoor hardcourt, I may favor the American, but I’m going to take the guy who’s playing the better tennis at the moment in more favorable conditions.
Pick: Oscar Otte +160 (Caesars)