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Thursday’s action at the 2021 Miami Open featured another day of exceptional men’s and women’s professional tennis.
The day saw four of the Women’s Top 8 Seeds manage to escape from the brink of defeat, with both top-seeded Ashleigh Barty and seventh-seeded Aryna Sabalenka having to fight off match points to advance to the tournament’s third round. Top-five seeds Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina were also pushed to three-sets, and six of the day’s fifteen total women’s matches went the distance.
On the men’s side, Americans put together an impressive 4-1 record on the backs of victories from the often-overlooked generation of Denis Kudla, Bjorn Fratangelo, and Tennys Sandgren. Rising young stars Lorenzo Musetti and Sebastian Korda also advanced with impressive straight-set victories, and the lone former Grand Slam champion in the draw, Marin Cilic, earned a win on Thursday as well.
Friday’s action sees half of the men’s seeds begin their event, with both Top Seed Daniil Medevedev and third-seeded Alex Zverev set to begin their Miami campaigns. 2021 Australian Open Women’s Singles Champion Naomi Osaka is also scheduled to kickoff her tournament Friday, as are 2021 WTA wins leader Garbine Muguruza, 2019 Miami Finalist Karolina Pliskova and recent grand slam champions Sofia Kenin and Bianca Andreescu.
With that in mind, here are my favorite plays for the Friday’s matches at the 2021 Miami Open, as well as a small justification for each pick. To learn more about the action in Miami, catch up on all that has happened in the tennis world, or to start following along with the day-in, day-out happenings on tour, be sure to check out all of the work being done at crackedracquets.com. Also, be sure to tune back next week for another round of Miami picks.
Americans Do Battle: Mackenzie McDonald (-128) over John Isner – 1 unit to win .78 units
Wait what?! You think two-time defending finalist and 2018 Miami Open Champion John Isner is going to lose his second round match to a younger American ranked outside of the ATP Top 100?! And you want us to take you seriously?!
Yep, that’s exactly what I’m saying, folks. According to every metric available (overall record, 1st serve %, return points won, etc), 25-year-old American Mackenzie McDonald is playing the best tennis of his career right now.
The 2016 NCAA singles and Doubles Champion carries a 25-13 overall record in his last 52 weeks of competition, reaching the Australian Open round of 16 back in January and earning Top 50 wins over Lloyd Harris and Borna Coric along the way. He also won an ATP Challenger title in late February and has not dropped a set in any of his three victories this week in Miami
Meanwhile, the 35-year-old Isner is just 12-12 overall in ATP matches since the start of the 2020 season. The seven-footer elected to skip this year’s Australian Open to remain with his young family, and has struggled to find his rhythm since the ATP Tour’s restart in August. While Isner’s serve remains his calling card (he continues to hold about 91% of the time), his skills as a returner have severely diminished. He is breaking opponents’ serve at a career-low percentage of 8.4% since the start of 2020 (For perspective: the average Top 50 player breaks serve about 22% of the time). That’s…not great.
Despite lacking the pedigree of Isner, McDonald has actually had a moderate amount of success against big servers thus far throughout his career. He’s earned victories over Milos Raonic, Ivo Karlovic, and Juan Martin Del Potro, all players with serving percentages roughly equivalent to Isner’s. McDonald’s game is also quite well suited to a matchup against Isner, as McDonald seems to play his best when he is absorbing and redirecting the pace of his opponents.
Isner’s serve can neutralize even the most in-form of players, and there’s a reason his game has always done well at the high-bouncing courts in Miami. However, both the numbers, the eye-test, and the oddsmakers say McDonald has been the better player since 2020 started. A -128 moneyline is just tempting enough to throw a unit on the match to see if each of those entities are correct
Ride ‘em while they’re hot: Jannik Sinner (-650 over Hugo Gaston) + Alexander Bublik (-178 over Laslo Djere) – -125, 1.50 units to win 1.20
Because three bets are always better than two…
To hear more about the logic behind these picks, tune into the daily Cracked Racquets Great Shot Podcast: Ace of the Day segment, a series singularly focused on negotiating the many wagering opportunities happening every day in the sport. Also, if you’re interested in hearing recaps of each day’s results or feel inspired to start following tennis more closely, tune into our Cracked Racquets “The Mini-Break Podcast” wherever you listen to your podcasts, or follow @crackedracquets on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
Alex Gruskin is the Editor-In-Chief of Cracked Racquets, host of the Cracked Interviews Podcast/Mini-Break Podcast, and host of the “Ace of the Day” segment on the Great Shot Podcast – a Tennis Channel Podcast – which breaks down daily tennis prop bets, picks and parlays.