It really looks like we are headed to another Rafael Nadal v Novak Djokovic Monday in the US Open final. Doesn’t it? That is if one-handed wizards Stan Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet don’t get in the way.
Yesterday, my pre-tournament pick Andy Murray flamed out tepidly to a red-hot Wawrinka who all but destroyed the Scot 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. The 15-minute or so 10th game of the first set which Murray lost giving the set to the Swiss spelled doom for Murray who played so well in the major tournaments the last 14 months.
With a set lead, Wawrinka unloaded from all departments – serve, forehand, net and of course that vicious, versatile backhand of his.
Murray hadn’t looked up to par since his Wimbledon win, but I thought Ivan Lendl and his team would get him right in this his first Grand Slam title defense. That just didn’t happen.
Murray slogged through the early rounds and on Thursday simply met the better player. And when Wawrinka redlines, he’s that tough to beat.
In the late match, things went as forecasted. Mikhail Youzhny plays Djokovic tough and he did get a set last night in a 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-0 win for the No. 1.
Youzhny, like Djokovic’s two prior foes, had just won a tough 5-set marathon over Lleyton Hewitt on Tuesday and maybe he ran out of gas late in the match.
Cush draw or not, Djokovic has to be feeling a lot of confidence right now. But will it be enough? Is he lacking a real test?
On to my semifinal picks.
Rafael Nadal v Richard Gasquet
I still cannot believe I picked Richard Gasquet to make the semifinals. And I really cannot he actually did it! But what a performance by the Frenchman who managed to show some heart, some guts in winning back-to-back 5-setters over Milos Raonic and David Ferrer.
With two full days off I think Gasquet should be in tip-top shape for his next test, and he’ll need to be because on deck is Nadal. Rafa, as we know, has been his ruthless, dominant self this week. He blew out Federer-beater Tommy Robredo Wednesday night in a total mismatch, and he also scored a good win over Phil Kohlschreiber on Monday. And what of Rafa’s weak serve? Well it hasn’t been broken since the Cincinnati semifinals!
In this series it’s been all Nadal winning 10-0. And it’s understandable. Rafa is physically and mentally far superior to Gasquet and Rafa’s high, heavy topspin forehand to Gasquet backhand will be the difference. Gasquet has one of the great backhands in the game, but that stroke of his just doesn’t hold up well against Rafa’s weight of forehand. And Nadal will break it down.
Just six sets from the finish, Rafa’s not going to let Richard stand in his way.
The pick: Nadal in three
Novak Djokovic v Stanislas Wawrinka
A peak at their head-to-head tells me that it’s 12-2 in favor of Novak with the Serb winning 11 straight including that 5-set epic in Australia earlier this year. So everything points Novak’s way here. Well, almost everything.
Stan’s playing some of the best tennis of his career. The stocky Swiss quietly beat Tomas Berdych then buzz-sawed Andy Murray. And really he’s been in form for most the year.
“In the past we all knew that he has the quality to play that well, but not in a consistent basis,” Djokovic said of Stan. “And now he worked on his I think movement a lot, and, you know, some variety of his shots in the game. He’s a very complete player. He can play equally well on any surface. He had one of the best seasons I think in his life. Today he won straight sets against defending champion on Arthur Ashe. That was quite impressive. I’m sure he’s very confident and he has nothing to lose now. He’s going to go for the win.”
The question mark for Stan is, will the moment, the setting of playing a first Grand Slam semifinal against the World No. 1 be too big? I think in the end it might be.
As I’ve been saying all summer, Djokovic isn’t quite the player he once was. He’s had the fortune of an absolute dream draw which continues Saturday against Stan who replaces Murray in that spot. But as we saw last night with Youzhny somehow stealing a set, Novak’s still vulnerable and if Stan, who’ll be fresh for this one, gets those powerful groundies going, which I think he will for a bit, things could get tricky.
That said, I think Stan will get a set. Maybe two. I just don’t believe he’ll have enough between the ears to close the deal should that opportunity present itself. Stan might be the better tennis play than Roger Federer right now, but mentally he still has a very long way to go. And this is largely uncharted territory.
So I’ll lean to Djokovic to rely on his experience and guile to get through this. In an almost replay of Australia, it’s likely going to be long, going to be physical but once again Novak pulls through.
The Pick: Djokovic in five
CBS will have live coverage of the men’s semifinals starting at noon.
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