Even without Rafael Nadal, the top 4 seeds still made the semifinals at a major Masters event. That’s just how it is in men’s tennis these days, the top seeds, more often than not, get through. Lucky us. Fourth seeded Tomas Berdych joins the usual weekend cast of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for an intriguing semifinal lineup Saturday in Shanghai.
Favorites Federer and Djokovic both breezed today, overwhelming Marin Cilic and Tommy Haas, respectively, as they continue in their big boy battle for the year-end No. 1 ranking.
“I’ve been winning a lot of matches, so it’s something that is always welcome when you want to have confidence, when you want to feel good about yourself on the court,” Djokovic said. “Winning matches is the ultimate goal for every athlete. My return games were exceptional. So it’s something that gave me a lot of confidence today.”
And Djokovic has been winning, as he says. He just won Beijing and if not for the wind maybe things would have gone differently in New York. Next is the powerful Berdych who just clipped JW Tsonga in an impressive 6-3, 7-6 victory.
Federer has been so-so in his first tournament since the US Open, but we know he can kick it up a notch when needed, and he’ll need to in the next round against Murray.
As for the matchups and my picks:
Novak Djokovic vs. Tomas Berdych
Has Berdych become the definition of a “second tier” type of player? A guy who will never win a Major, maybe beat a couple big names, but otherwise waste away in the No. 5-12 ranking region? It sure seems he was born to live that life because he’s living it.
The Czech does have the “next gear” that gets guys to the top, but he can’t consistently reach it, and that’s what’s hurt him, or what has kept him from his full potential.
Djokovic, as we saw last year, has reached the next level, though he’s come down off of it this season. Still, the Serb is a formidiable player, esecially on his favorite hardcourts. And he owns Berdych 9-1.
“It’s always a big challenge when you’re playing a top 10 player, especially when somebody who is an established one,” said Djokovic. “Tomas has been winning against top players on different surfaces in the last couple of years, so he knows how to play on a big stage and he knows how to play in big moments. It’s going to be tough. But I’ve been playing well, too. So I’ll try to look for my chances tomorrow from the baseline and see how it goes.”
While I think Tomas is a better player now than a year ago, and he could pull the upset here – he beat Federer at the US Open – I have to go with Novak in a close one. Experience and urgency with the No. 1 race wins out for Novak.
The pick: Djokovic in three
Roger Federer vs. Andy Murray
Will there be some revenge on the mind for Federer as he takes on the man who crushed him at the Olympics? I think so.
Murray, however, has won Shanghai the last two years beating Roger in the 2010 finale. Murray’s also been the better player of the two since Wimbledon, so in terms of recent results Murray gets the edge and he should be full of confidence.
But Federer knows this is a big statement match for the rest of the fall season, including and especially London. And after some spotty play thur far in Shanghai, albeit under a death threat alert, I think he’ll pick it up against Murray.
“I’m looking forward to the match,” said Federer. “It’s always great playing the best players. Those are the kind of matches you want to try to win because that can obviously then move the rankings by a little bit, even though it doesn’t matter so much if you stay within the Top 4. It’s going to be a tough match, [a] good one. From my side, I haven’t decided yet how I’m going to play.”
Murray does lead their series 9-8 but Federer has won three of the last four and five of their last seven on hardcourts. There are also reports Murray’s been battling a virus he picked up in Tokyo, so perhaps the Scot’s not at full strength and today he wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen him in a three set win over Radek Stepanek.
Still, I think Murray could and perhaps should win this match. He’s the in-form player at the moment, he’s the two-time defending champion, he won his Slam/Gold so some of the pressure has to be off, and he picked apart Federer for the Olympic gold in their last meeting. But I like Roger here. Quick courts, the roof could be closed (big edge for Roger), there’s the No. 1 race and he’s out for revenge. Murray will have his day again, just not Saturday.
The pick: Federer in three.
For me, with just a month to go this time of year comes down to motivation and desire. After an already long season, who really needs and wants to win these matches? If the season ended today, Murray would be happy as a clam, I’m sure. Berdych too, perhaps. He’s had a good run. But Federer and Djokovic still have unfinished business with the No. 1 ranking still up for grabs. Neither player will want to let these points slip by.
Tennis Channel will have live coverage starting at 4:30am ET for you night owls in the U.S. They’ll probably replay the matches at a more decent hour Saturday afternoon.
SHANGHAI SATURDAY SCHEDULE
STADIUM Start 2:00 pm
Colin Fleming (GBR)/Ross Hutchins (GBR) v  Mahesh Bhupathi (IND)/ Rohan Bopanna (IND)
Not Before 4:30 PM
 Tomas Berdych (CZE) v  Novak Djokovic (SRB)
Not Before 8:00 PM
 Roger Federer (SUI) v  Andy Murray (GBR)
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Djokovic Edges Murray In Thriller At ATP Finals; Federer Meets Ferrer Thursday