We nearly had our “dream” Final 8 on the men’s side at the Australian Open tennis. The only spoiler – if you can even label him such – was Marin Cilic who in a mild upset knocked out Juan Martin Del Potro a couple nights ago.
Cilic later tonight (or today) plays Andy Roddick in what is still a great matchup in the first quarterfinal. Then this morning, set your alarms and/or adjust your sleep schedule accordingly for super showdown Rafael Nadal v. Andy Murray chapter 10.
Tomorrow we’ll have two more terrific tests with Roger Federer v. Nikolay Davydenko and Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga ready to rumble.
First to today’s contests.
Andy Roddick v. Marin Cilic
Had Roddick not gone five sets with Fernando Gonzalez and had he not appeared to have aggravate his knee, I would be quick to take Roddick in this one, especially with Cilic having to expend a lot of energy to reach this point – he’s won two five set matches and four-setter.
Head-to-head, Roddick and Cilic split their prior meetings but they haven’t played in over 18 months, so there’s not much to draw from the past.
Matchup-wise, Roddick gets the clear edge in experience, fitness and of course serve, though Cilic can bang ‘em in. Beyond that it’s pretty even. Roddick’s long had one of the biggest forehands in the game, but under Larry Stafanki he seems content to just sit in rallies rather than go for broke as he did when he won his only Slam at the 2003 US Open. Therefore I give the edge to Cilic in terms of firepower off the ground.
But Cilic has never been to a Slam semifinal and at this stage, if Roddick’s knee is ok I think he’ll get enough balls back to allow Cilic to self destruct. And Cilic also has to be feeling something from those long matches he’s played in the last three rounds. My pick here is a shaky one, Roddick in four.
Andy Murray v. Rafael Nadal
Never in recent years has a pre-semifinal Grand Slam match carried so much weight as this clash of the two of the best does. In my mind, this match could really set the tone for the rest of the season for both players and for the tour as a whole. It could be a match that we look back upon as a turning point or watershed moment for Nadal and Murray.
A lot has been written of how hard Murray has worked to get to this point. He trained furiously over the off season, came to Australia extra early and so far his results have showed a heightened game – he’s the only player yet to drop a set. The Scot excelled in ATP events a year ago but his Slam results came up far short.
Meanwhile, doubts remain for Nadal. How are his knees? Are things all right back home? Has the field figured out how to beat the Spanish Bull? Nadal hasn’t won a title since Rome and he has just a single Top 10 victory since beating Novak Djokovic in that memorable Madrid match. But Nadal comes in as the defending champion here with a ton to prove, that he is simply not going away and his best days are not behind him.
Head-to-head, it’s a big edge to Rafa. And it’s no real wonder as Murray’s passive, soft ball game plays right into Rafa’s hands. Nadal’s beaten Murray in seven of nine career meetings including two straight. Murray’s two wins came on hardcourts, but Nadal was bothered by a knee at Rotterdam last year and in the US Open semifinals in 2008, there were issues with the weather.
Their first-ever meeting turned out to be a five-setter won by Nadal as a green Murray ran out of gas 6-1 in the fifth. I expect another long match with nearly the outcome is nearly the same. The court and the moment better suit Rafa, and no one is a better fighter. The pick is Nadal in four.
As for the women, Justine Henin… She’s baaaack…Amazingly scary.
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