WE asked Mark Stinchcombe (@markstinchcombe) for his best bets in Round 1 of the US Open. One stood out.
Borna Coric v Rafael Nadal | Tuesday 01:30 | Sky Sports 1
14-time Grand Slam champion (including twice here at the US Open) Rafael Nadal has had a poor year by his incredibly high standards. Despite winning two clay court titles, he failed to defend his French Open title for only the second time in 11 years and suffered another disappointing defeat in the second round of Wimbledon.
He's already lost 15 of his 59 (25%) matches this year in-comparison to just the eight out of 84 in the whole of 2013 (10%). He's lost seven of his 19 hard court matches (37%) with this figure being as low as 10% again in 2013 (three of 30). These losses haven't been expected either – not by the betting industry anyway. He's lost no fewer than nine times when priced 1/3 or lower at an average of just 1/6.
So why are these defeats happening? A combination of both physical and mental ability. His ever reliable forehand isn't firing when called upon, regularly dropping short allowing his opponent to step in and push Rafa back behind the baseline or fire a winner.
His confidence isn't what it was either, too frequently he is losing the big points as well as squandering leads – he has lost matches when being set and breaks up as well as being broken more than once when serving sets out.
His opponents are beginning to sense this too and you get the feeling players are no longer walking onto the court believing they've already lost. The first sign of this was at the beginning of the year at the Australian Open against Tomas Berdych. Rafa had won their last 17 meetings but went down tamely in straight sets, including a bagel, 6-2 6-0 7-6.
Indeed Fabio Fognini (4-0) twice, Fernando Verdasco (15-1), Stan Wawrinka (13-1) and Kei Nishikori (7-0) amongst others have all defied their awful head-to-head records to achieve victories against Nadal.
So what of his opponent tonight? 18 year-old Borna Coric is one of the rising stars of the ATP tour. Already with victories over Nadal and Andy Murray under his belt, at the end of 2014 he was ranked outside the world 300 – he now sits at number 35.
Likened in playing style to Novak Djokovic by his former mentor in Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, he was the junior champion here in 2013 and enjoyed success in the first round last year defying the odds to win at 11/5 against Lukas Rosol.
That victory over Rafa in their only previous meeting came on the indoor courts of Basel towards the end of 2014 winning 6-2 7-6 at odds of 5/1. That was Nadal's last match of 2014 and might be where we ultimately pinpoint the beginning of his decline if he loses again tonight.
Borna Coric v Rafael Nadal – Coric to win (4/1 Bet365)