All that’s missing from a fabulous Friday of tennis on two continents is Rafael Nadal. But who needs the Spaniard when we have another US Open champion, Juan Martin Del Potro, as a replacement in the desert. The Argentine meets Roger Federer in one semifinal in Dubai, the other? As good if not better as Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray clash in a rematch of their Australian Open slugfest.
Djokovic won that near-five hour match in Melbourne in five tough sets. Thankfully for both guys tomorrow’s test is just best-of-3. And even though Djokovic hasn’t looked great this week – he was patchy in two straight set wins over Sergei Stakhovsky and today in a 6-1, 7-6 victory over Janko Tipsarevic, he’s still the favorite in this one and he’s still riding that confidence high.
“Every time you play, especially top four, it’s a big challenge for both of us,” said Djokovic. “Especially after that Australian Open thrilling match that lasted for five hours. It’s going to be a good match. We both look forward to that. We always try to win against each other and it’s a great rivalry.”
The numbers are again in Djokovic’s favor against Murray. Djokovic has won 18 straight matches in Dubai taking home the last three titles on the way. He’s undefeated on the season at 10-0 and he’s 7-4 against Murray, winning three of their last four losing only by retirement at Cincinnati last summer.
Murray, though, has played exceptionally well this season. His only loss came to Djokovic in Australia and in that match he did take some risks, and that’s what he’ll have to do Friday to beat Novak.
“Before the Indian Wells/Miami stretch it would be good to see exactly what I need to work on, where my game is,” said Murray who breezed past Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals Thursday. “I had a great match with him in Australia, and hopefully can reverse the result tomorrow.”
So I give Murray a real good chance here, but until someone can beat the Serb on an outdoor hardcourt I’m picking Djokovic. And the quick court speed also favors the aggressor and we all know who that is. Hint: It’s not Murray.
In the second SF, it’s the third meeting in as many tournaments for Federer and Del Potro. The previous two – Australian Open and Rotterdam – were both won by Roger and overall the Swiss has surprisingly dominated this series 9-2.
Del Potro did beat Federer at the US Open in 2009 and later that season in the London finals, but looking at the scorelines those pre-wrist injury wins are looking more and more fluky.
“All the matches are different, all tournaments are different. I’m trying to find a way to beat again him,” Del Potro said. “His game is really difficult for me. He plays slices, dropshots, and he’s one of the best in history. So I just want to be ready for fight and to see how I’m going to play against him.”
There again Del Potro admits Federer gives him a lot of different problems. It’s almost as if he acknowledges Roger owns him!
With his size, power and length, Del Potro, who just whipped JW Tsonga today, should give Federer problems, especially by directing that ferocious forehand to Roger’s backhand. He’s done it before why can’t he do it again? But mentally Federer seems to have Delpo wrapped around his finger. And until Del Potro can get a convincing win against Swiss I’m going against him.
Plus, I think the faster court exposes Del Potro’s poor movement. Federer, who’s also been serving great all week, should be able take advantage and sneak through.
What I like about the Dubai final semifinals is that all four guys are playing really, really well. Murray and Del Potro are coming off quality wins over Berdych and Tsonga, respectively. Federer, while he hasn’t played anybody that formidable, has taken care of business and Djokovic just keeps winning even though he’s not at the jaw-dropping level we’ve seen from him before.
So anyone one of them could walk away with this key early season title, although Del Potro may be faced with having to beat Federer and then Djokovic on back-to-back days to win! What an effort that would be, and he’s done it before.
I just wonder if Rafa will be watching and if so who he’s rooting for? Federer?
Top flight tennis isn’t limited to just Dubai. Here in the U.S. there are a couple of good quarterfinal matches on tap in Delray Beach.
Top seed John Isner takes on 19-year-old Bernard Tomic in an intriguing matchup. Tomic certainly has the game and guile to beat the big man off the ground, but can he return Isner’s serve? And might the Florida heat and wind get to Isner giving Tomic a crack?
And Andy Roddick, who’s trying to shake off an early 2012 slump, goes against a fellow big server in Kevin Anderson. With his ranking down to No. 30 this week, Roddick, a revenge winner tonight over Denis Istomin, desperately needs to pick up points and confidence this week before he really faces the fire at Indian Wells and Miami later this month.
I have to lead to both Americans winning, but really the two matches are near toss ups.
Down in Acapulco, we have a Fernando Verdasco sighting. Spain’s semi-version of Ernests Gulbis reeled in his biggest win in months defeating countryman Nicolas Almagro today in Acapulco. Fernando now meets Stan Wawrinka tomorrow. David Ferrer was also a winner.
In totality, look at all the players in action Friday: Djokovic, Federer, Murray, Del Potro, Isner, Tomic, Gulbis, Verdasco, Roddick and Ferrer. That’s a lot of tennis personalities for one Friday!
Tennis channel will have live coverage of Dubai starting at 8am ET. They’ll have Acapulco coverage at 6pm ET.
FRIDAY DUBAI SCHEDULE
CENTRE COURT start 2:00 pm
J Knowle (AUT) / A Peya (AUT) vs  M Bhupathi (IND) / R Bopanna (IND) – ATP
Not Before 5:00 PM
 N Djokovic (SRB) vs  A Murray (GBR) – ATP
Not Before 7:00 PM
 J Del Potro (ARG) vs  R Federer (SUI) – ATP
FRIDAY DELRAY BEACH SCHEDULE
STADIUM start 11:00 am
 P Kohlschreiber (GER) vs D Sela (ISR)
Not Before 1:00 PM
[Q] M Matosevic (AUS) vs E Gulbis (LAT)
Not Before 3:00 PM
 J Isner (USA) vs  B Tomic (AUS)
Not Before 7:15 PM
 A Roddick (USA) vs  K Anderson (RSA)
Not Before 9:00 PM
R Farah (COL) / T Huey (PHI) vs M Elgin (RUS) / D Istomin (UZB)
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