In arguably the biggest single match since the Wimbledon final, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic renew their rivalry tonight in the Shanghai Masters semifinals. Federer advanced earlier today in runaway fashion beating Julien Benneteau 7-6, 6-0.
“I thought I played very well against Bautista Agut, but maybe tonight was a bit better,” said Federer. “Especially once I got in the lead, it’s nice to have those great 10, 15 minutes where you can stretch it, really. That’s what I was able to do. So this probably was my best match so far.”
Djokovic looked strong as well, upping his win streak in China to 29 after a 6-4, 6-2 win over David Ferrer.
In the early semifinal tomorrow, it’s Gilles Simon against Feliciano Lopez. Simon got through in three sets over Tomas Berdych 7-6, 4-6, 6-0. With all the upsets in his half of the draw, the big Czech really could have lifted his London chances this weekend, but instead, as usual, just when you think Berdych is the man he lets you down.
Lopez then knocked out Mikhail Youzhny 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 to reach his third Shanghai semifinal. That’s right, three for the lefty Spaniard!
“It’s a great feeling to be in the semis of a Masters 1000,” said Lopez who upset Rafael Nadal on Wednesday. “This one is always great. I always played some of my best tennis, especially here. It’s the third time that I’m going to be in the semis.
“I think it’s going to be a very tough match for me. I have to be very smart tomorrow [and] aggressive. He’s very confident, as well. He beat Tomas today. He’s showed some great form during this week.”
Head-to-head, Lopez leads Simon 2-1 with both wins on grass last year. I think Simon is simply the better, more complete player so I’ll go with the Frenchman in that one.
Roger Federer v Novak Djokovic
In the big semi, Federer leads 18-17 but the two are 2-2 this year with Djokovic winning their most recent meeting in that Wimbledon 5-set thriller.
That match was of course played on Federer’s favorite grass surface. This will be on Djokovic’s and it will be played at one of his favorite events. So I’m going to lean his way against his legendary rival.
“Roger is one of the best players ever in the game,” said Djokovic. “There is no clear favourite. I think every time we play against each other, it’s a thriller. It’s really a big challenge for both of us. We need to bring our ‘A’ game in order to win.”
And there’s more than just a spot in the final at stake. If Djokovic beats Federer and goes on to win the title it all but wraps up the No. 1 ranking. And with a baby coming soon, that would be a big relief for the Serb having that race out of the way.
For Federer, if he beats Djokovic and he wins Sunday, then he’s right back in the No. 1 conversation. And again, maybe the Djokovic baby (the X-Factor this fall) comes early and Novak can’t play Paris. Or maybe it comes late and he can’t play London. Only the baby knows, I guess.
So this match carries with it some added importance. We know Djokovic is the better, younger player here, however if Federer can somehow sneak through he could really turn this fall upside down.
“I think we always play tough against each other,” said Federer of the rivalry. “I think we’re both in good shape right now. We both enjoy playing here in Shanghai.
“He’s playing a great season again. I’ll give it the best shot I have. I think I have a good game at the moment. It is my first tournament back after vacation, so I really hope I can come up with some good shotmaking and solid play because that’s what it’s going to require against him. There are not that many secrets out there. We’ve played each other too many times at this point.”
True, there really aren’t many secrets between the two – 36th meeting, 5th time this year. Federer will have to serve well, minimize the shanks/errors; Djokovic will have to hit that 2-hander down the line, dictate from the baseline, be strong at the net. However, neither guy has been at 100% strength this week. Djokovic has looked shaky at times and so too has Federer who should be in Basel anyway by now if not for Leo Mayer.
That said, Djokovic is the in-form player, he’s won Shanghai the last two years, he just won Beijing and he’s got the No. 1 ranking to lock up this weekend. Advantage Djokovic.
Still, Federer’s won a set in their last six meetings, so…
The pick: Djokovic in three
As for the London Race, the losses by Ferrer and Berdych really help Murray. And Murray has decided to play in Vienna next week then Valencia which also has Ferrer and Berdych so he’s really making a push. So the Scot got some much-needed help today.
And Rafael Nadal status could make things interesting. Right now Nadal has opted for a few more days of drugs before making another decision on surgery for his inflamed appendix. The longer Nadal delays the inevitable surgery the less likely he’ll play London. So it sounds like he’s hoping for a miracle cure, but resigned to the fact that London is fading. We’ll see, though I hope I’m wrong on that.
Tennis Channel will again have live coverage of both semifinals starting at 4:30am ET.
SATURDAY SHANGHAI SEMIFINAL SCHEDULE
STADIUM start 1:00 pm
 B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA) vs R Bopanna (IND) / F Mergea (ROU)
G Simon (FRA) vs F Lopez (ESP)
 N Djokovic (SRB) vs  R Federer (SUI)
UNION PAY start 3:30 pm
 J Benneteau (FRA) / E Roger-Vasselin (FRA) vs  M Granollers (ESP) / M Lopez (ESP)
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