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Matt Cronin's Day 7 picks

By Matt Cronin
Sunday, September 06, 2015

1-SERENA WILLIAMS VS. 19-MADISON KEYS

For the second straight round, Serena will face another American at the US Open. This time, she has to go up against 20-year-old Madison Keys.

These days, 33-year-old Serena knows just about everything between the lines and is fully aware how opponents play and how she can trip them up.

Like Serena, Keys plays a lot like her coach Lindsay Davenport, who beat Serena here in 2000. That night in the quarters of the US Open, Davenport schooled her on the way to a 6-4, 6-2 win. Davenport would go deep down the middle a few times, and then, all of a sudden with Serena planted, strike to the corners when she was flat-footed. The next year they played in the quarters once again, but this time Serena knew how Davenport was coming. She moved around the box and won a terrific contest, getting through 6-3, 6-7, 7-5.

Maybe this time Keys will have some tricks in her bag, courtesy of Davenport. Perhaps, but Serena is so intelligent now and even if Keys fools her early, Serena will know exactly how her opponent's jerking her round. And then she will strike.

Serena and Keys have played once this year in the semis of the Australian Open, with Williams winning 7-6, 6-2. The younger player hits a gigantic first serve, 120 mph on occasion, and she can blast her backhand and forehand – just like Serena does. But Williams is more consistent, she is substantially better at the net and she returns more accurately. Keys is still learning, and while she gets better and better, she has to show that she won’t panic against the legendary competitors at the majors. When the now 21-time Grand Slam women’s singles winner was a teenager, she rarely got nervous. Keys has yet to show that she doesn’t.

Keys will be thrilled to be on the big stage in Ashe and she will be super aggressive, but Serena knows that she cannot start slow or Keys could shock her. Serena will win in two fun sets.

13-EKATERINA MAKAROVA VS. KRISTINA MLADENOVIC

Last year at the US Open, Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova came alive when she rode into the semifinals, upsetting Genie Bouchard and Victoria Azarenka before losing to Serena. She did the same thing to start 2015, reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open, beating Simona Halep before losing to Maria Sharapova. She is super strong, likes to go for the line early and doesn't back off.

However, Makarova has been spotty this season. After Australia, she was only able to win three matches in a row twice, which means that she has been a little wild. The good thing is the No. 13 has played excellent ball this week, not dropping a set and out-hitting the rising Elena Svitolina. She seems to be more at home when she competes at the Slams.

Kristina Mladenovic has been impressive at the mixed doubles and the women’s doubles over the past three years, but in the singles, she has been less consistent. She is tall, she can rip the ball and she is pretty adept at the net. However, she isn’t that fast and she can be erratic. But she has played well this week and eventually, the 22 year old should gain the top 20. After that, who knows?

The two have played twice, both going to three sets, with Makarova upending the Frenchwoman in Rome this year in their most recent meeting.

Mladenovic will be super aggressive during the contest, and she will push Makarova hard, but the Russian has more experience and will win in two tough sets.

9-MARIN CILIC VS. 27-JEREMY CHARDY

Defending champion Cilic has not played much this year at all, but in the past week, he has looked pretty sharp and lethal. Yes, the big man isn’t smoking his backhand like he did last year and he has been marginal at the net, but as usual, he is dictating his forehand and when his foes are spinning in his second serves, he’s muscling forward.

Frenchman Jeremy Chardy has been pretty impressive recently, which means not just playing great for an hour and then folding, but being more concentrated and thoughtful. He owns a fine first serve and he can mix up his attack and charge the net. These two have played twice against each other, with Chardy grabbing a clay contest and Cilic winning on grass at Wimbledon in 2014.

They have yet to face off on hard courts, which they will now do. Chardy won’t back off and will stay pretty close, but Cilic is now riding high and will win in three tight sets.

18-FELICIANO LOPEZ VS. 32-FABIO FOGNINI

Who would have thought that Lopez would manage to fight off Mardy Fish on Wednesday after the American was up 5-3 but became nervous trying to serve it out. Eventually, the Spaniard hung in there and won the fifth set. Then on Friday, Lopez was the underdog against No. 9 Milos Raonic, but the Canadian labored through a back injury before calling a trainer and eventually losing in straight sets.

How about Fabio Fognini? He was down two sets against the 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal under the lights of Ashe, and somehow he played perfectly in the last three sets. Very late at night, that was an incredible scene.

The 33-year-old Lopez has improved over the past couple of years, especially with his backhand. He can now crack his flat strokes on occasion, even though he slices frequently and sometimes floats it. The lefty has a terrific first serve that he twists on the line and he is very adept at the net.

Lopez is more cagey, but the 28-year-old Fognini is quicker, can smoke both his forehand and backhand and, when he is feeling good, can be very creative and effective. He was out of this world against Nadal, and if he wants to go further and play against No. 1 Novak Djokovic under those bright lights again (assuming Djokovic beats Roberto Bautista Agut), he has to be very consistent. Lopez will bother him, but Italian Fognini will come through in four sets. 

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