So far in Shanghai, no real surprises. In fact, the final four look remarkably like the semifinals I predicted earlier in the week: Rafael Nadal v Juan Martin Del Potro, Novak Djokovic v JW Tsonga.
The favorite of the foursome is Djokovic who just won Beijing beating Nadal and took this very same Shanghai Masters title last year. But today the Serb slipped a little dropping the opening set against Federer-killer Gael Monfils before emerging with a 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 victory.
“I started serving quite badly, but [I did] not [commit] many unforced errors,” said Djokovic, who has now won 18 matches in a row on Chinese soil. “I was serving better as the match went on. Today was a very physical match and very intense. We played many rallies. I’m glad that I made it through.”
Djokovic will have to serve better if he wants to remain in this title defense. And next will be the very streak Tsonga. On the quick courts, the Frenchman continued his comeback from a knee by dusting Florian Mayer 6-2, 6-3 in a drama-less win.
In the other quarters, Stan Wawrinka kept it as close as possible against Rafael Nadal but couldn’t pull out a first set breaker only to fall 7-6(10), 6-1. I gave Stan a real shot to break his duck against Nadal (he’s now 0-11 against the Spaniard) and he had plenty of chances in the first set. Mentally, though, I think he just couldn’t get over that hump. And once Stan squandered those break chances in the very first game of the second set it was curtains. And it was.
Next for Nadal is Del Potro. The Tokyo champion seems to be over a bout of flu after routing Rafa’s countryman Nicolas Almagro 6-2, 6-3.
“I played very well today, very solid,” said Del Potro. “I played aggressive. I hit my forehand very well. I like the way I played today. I just want to keep improving [and] keep going far in this tournament.”
So the semis are set, now to my picks.
Novak Djokovic v JW Tsonga
Ok, so he did lose a set today to Monfils but overall Djokovic seems to be finding some good form during this Asian swing. Is he back to his old self from 2011? No. But clearly he likes the court surface, the conditions and he’s playing well, playing comfortably.
For Tsonga, after missing the summer circuit he may now be physically fresh but he’s a little untested in these big matches against the best. Playing Mayer isn’t the same as playing Novak. It’s a big difference and I don’t think Tsonga is up for the challenge. Not yet, anyway.
As much as I’d like Tsonga to come through, and if Novak has a really poor day he could, Djokovic is the clear favorite here. He leads 10-5 and has won the last six.
The pick: Djokovic in two
Rafael Nadal v Juan Martin Del Potro
At the start of the week I raised some eyebrows picking Del Potro to beat Nadal in this very round. Well, I’m going to stand by it.
Nadal leads 8-3 in this one including a tough win in the Indian Wells final which Del Potro let slip away.
“I cannot expect a similar match to Indian Wells,” said Nadal. “Even the match was very hard there. The only way to play against him and be successful is [to] play my best tennis [and] play aggressively on this surface.”
The difference here is the court is quicker – as Nadal acknowledges – and Del Potro is playing better than he was in March while Nadal historically struggles this time of year. And we are starting to see hints of just that.
Stan really pushed Rafa in that first set today, maybe should have won it after blowing a bunch of set points. That after Carlos Berlocq surprisingly did the same in the second set of his third round match with Nadal. If the circumstances are similar again, I think unlike Stan/Carlos, Delpo can and will close the door. And I’m picking him to do just that.
The pick: Del Potro in three
If you are up late or awake early Tennis Channel has the matches live at 4:30am ET.
SATURDAY SHANGHAI SCHEDULE
STADIUM start 2:00 pm
 B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA) vs  I Dodig (CRO) / M Melo (BRA)
 N Djokovic (SRB) vs  J Tsonga (FRA)
 J Del Potro (ARG) vs  R Nadal (ESP)
UNION PAY COURT 3 start 6:00 pm
J Murray (GBR) / J Peers (AUS) vs  D Marrero (ESP) / F Verdasco (ESP)
Also Check Out:
Tsonga, Del Potro Make Shanghai Masters Cup Debut Sunday
Del Potro Withdraws from Shanghai
ATP Fall Guide: Where The Big Boyz – Nadal, Djokovic, Federer – Will Be Playing
Federer Resumes Rivalry With Murray; Djokovic v. Berdych; Shanghai SF Picks And Pans
Federer Returns In Shanghai Where The No. 1 Race Heats Up With Djokovic, Murray