For what seems to be the umpteenth time, the Fab Four – Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray – are back into a major tennis tournament semifinal.
Actually, it’s the sixth time this quartet has filled a Final Four (most recently at the French Open) and surprisingly the only one of the four yet to win the title when that happens is Djokovic. But I think that changes soon enough.
Today in the final two US Open men’s quarterfinals, things went according to form. Murray got on top of John Isner early then held off the valiant American 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 76(2). I have to give a lot of credit to Isner who played such a long match yesterday in his win over Gilles Simon. Big John could have easily withered away in that third set but he kept at it nearly forcing a fifth set.
“I thought it was a really high standard today,” Murray said. “I thought I played really well. I hit the ball very clean from the back of the court. You know, when he’s serving you have no option other than to just try and get yourself in the rallies. You’re under a lot of pressure on your own service games, so you don’t want to just be rash and start trying to make huge winners or do anything stupid. You know, I didn’t give him too many opportunities to break me and did a good job on my own serve.”
While Isner showed he still had a little bit of fuel left, Andy Roddick had none in his quarterfinal against Nadal. And if you play Nadal without fresh legs you are in big trouble as evidenced by Rafa’s 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 win.
“I think I started the match really well with some very good points, few very good passing shots,” said Nadal who is the only player yet to lose a set. “I think he was tired because the match of yesterday. You know how tough it is to play best of five two days in a row, and he played against very difficult opponent like David yesterday.”
Roddick had won a tight four-setter yesterday over Ferrer which drained his tank.
“I had zero reserves,” Roddick admitted. “I didn’t have any time to train this summer, so playing a tough match like yesterday I felt I played a four setter yesterday; I felt like I played six sets. Came out today and I just couldn’t you know, I was trying to push up on serves, and I felt like I was falling over as opposed to pushing up. Just didn’t have much.”
So the Saturday dream semifinals are set: Djokovic v. Federer followed by Murray v. Nadal. What an awesome way to close the summer.
Novak Djokovic v. Roger Federer
The only disappointment to me about this matchup is that it’s on first at noon because this is the clash everyone wants to see. And for Federer, after two late night finishes it’s his first match under sunlight in a week!
Djokovic’s had his great season spoiled really only by Federer’s four set win over him on the clay in Paris. So the Serb will have revenge on his mind – and we’ve seen how many players have successfully avenged earlier losses the last few days (theme?!?!).
Federer is out to prove that he can still win Slams. The Swiss reached the finals in Paris but otherwise has been a virtual no-show in Slam championship bouts since his 2010 Australian Open triumph. And Federer will also have a little bit of revenge on his platter for the loss he took to Djokovic in the US Open semifinals last year.
Overall, Federer leads their series 14-9 but Djokovic has won three of four this year including an Australian Open semifinal victory.
What’s great is both players come in playing good tennis. Djokovic’s probably played better earlier this season, but he’s only lost one set – that in a tiebreaker – and comes in fresh and healthy, though a little concerned about his game play.
“I think I need to step on the court in next match (against Federer) and just be close to the line, be more aggressive,” Novak said. “I think the last two matches I have been starting very slow. I’m very passive.”
Federer is arguably playing his best tennis of his year after sweeping past Juan Monaco and JW Tsonga this week. So he should be feeling extremely confident and up for the challenge of taking on Novak.
“These last two weeks he’s had a pretty easy trip to the semis,” Federer said. “Me too. I have been very dominant in my matches. I hope I can take all the confidence I have been able to build here during this tournament and use it against Novak. I’m looking forward to it. Like I said, it’s always a great matchup between the two of us. We’ve played over 20 times, I think. So there is no real secrets out there. We have had particularly good matches here at the US Open, and I have the feeling it’s going to be something similar again.”
With Federer playing so well and Djokovic’s season, it’s tough to feel good about a pick. But I’m sticking with Djokovic here. Federer has clearly lifted his game again at the US Open this week, but I think the slower court on Ashe will help Novak get to more of Fed’s shots. Nobody right now is turning defense into offense better than Djokovic and I think that’s what he’ll do tomorrow. Get Roger’s balls back and attack on anything short, working Federer’s backhand and then finishing with that deadly backhand down the line.
That said, I still give Federer a chance if he serves well and finds his baseline rhythm, especially his backhand. Federer will also have the crowd and the experience on his side – he’s beaten Novak three of four times in NY. But in the end I just think Djokovic has too much game right now and the cards, the numbers, the momentum and really everything is pointing in his favor.
The pick: Djokovic in four.
Andy Murray v. Rafael Nadal
For me, this match is the tougher pick of the two. Nadal is the defending champion and after a shaky start to the tournament he really got him game humming the last two days. But in Murray tomorrow he plays a totally different animal than Gilles Muller or Andy Roddick.
That said, Murray’s biggest problem is himself. He just can’t seem to close the deal. At Wimbledon he was up big on Nadal but couldn’t get it done. And we’ve seen it before from him at the Grand Slams. So can you trust him?
Like Nadal, Murray has also turned up his game. The Scot who should have been back home a week ago at the hands of Robin Haase, has only lost three sets – two of them to the Dutchman – and he’s won 10 straight matches when you include Cincinnati. So outside of the Haase hump, he’s been on song.
In their series it’s been all Nadal leading 12-4. Murray got wins in the 2008 US Open semifinals, again in 2009 and twice in 2010. But Rafa’s won all three this year, though they’ve been much closer than expected.
“I need to serve well, and then try and be patient from the back of the court but dictate the points when I can,” Murray said of his gam eplan against Nadal. “The serve is very important against him. If you can get free points on your serve and you can like hold comfortable service games, you can put pressure on him that way. But if you’re not, then you have to play a lot of rallies. He obviously doesn’t make many mistakes and his ball is very heavy, so that makes it tough.”
While a lot of the data points to another Nadal win, I’m sticking with my pre-tournament final pick Murray here.
Rafa’s had so many issues this summer from losing No. 1, injuring his foot, burning his fingers, cramping during press conferences, bad scheduling, etc., that I think eventually it all catches up to him. For me, that happens Saturday.
Nadal’s also not playing as well as he was a year ago. He’s not serving as well and maybe even not moving like he did. So I’m just a little skeptical.
The pick: Murray in four.
As for the women’s semifinals, I think Serena beats Wozniacki in a match that’s much closer than people think. I’ll also pick Sam Stosur over the Cinderella Angelique Kerber. Serena’s too close now to let this one slip.
CBS will again have live coverage starting at noon.
US OPEN SATURDAY SCHEDULE
Arthur Ashe Stadium 12:00 PM Start Time
Novak Djokovic (SRB) v. Roger Federer (SUI)
Not Before:2:45 PM
Andy Murray (GBR) v. Rafael Nadal (ESP)
Arthur Ashe Stadium 7:00 PM Start Time
1. Women’s Singles – Semifinals
Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) v. Serena Williams (USA)
Grandstand 6:00 PM Start Time
Angelique Kerber (GER) v. Samantha Stosur (AUS)
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