The first men’s semifinal is on tap tonight at the Australian Open. So much for hoped-for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal showdown, but both lost to guys they owned. Instead, it’s a rematch of the 2012 US Open semifinal between former finalist Andy Murray and Nadal-conqueror Tomas Berdych.
But first a word on Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
Defending champion Stan Wawrinka sure showed up Kei Nishikori bullying his way past the US Open finalist 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(6). But for a lapse at the end (Stan led 6-1 in the 3rd set breaker), he looked really good doing it.
“I think I’m playing better [than last year],” said Wawrinka. “But I think we all improve every year. I’m more aggressive. I’m more confident with my game when I come to the net.
“Today was a great level, it was a great match. Now I’m going to enjoy a little bit, watch who’s going to win tonight and get ready for the semifinal.”
Watching the match, Wawrinka simply appeared stronger and more in tune than the younger Kei. And he is. I just wasn’t sure Stan could hold it together, but he played some sizzling tennis to reach his second straight Australian Open semifinal.
“I know that now I have a Grand Slam at home,” said Wawrinka. “I have the Grand Slam trophy. I won the Davis Cup also. I have the confidence from that. I know I can make it. I trust my game. I trust myself on the court even when we start to play semifinal or final in Grand Slam. Apart that, it’s a new year. It’s going to be a new semifinal. We’ll see who I’m going to play.”
Up next for Stan is a rematch with Novak Djokovic. The Serb kept it rolling easing past Milos Raonic in the night match in three sets, completing a straight-set quarter! Milos said he’s a better, but clearly he still has a lot more work to do if he wants to beat the best. You can’t win if you can’t break serve in this business.
Novak remains the man in charge, but because Stan beat him a year ago I absolutely give him a chance to pull off the upset.
“Tonight there was not much I could complain about,” Djokovic said. “From the first game till the last I played the way I wanted. I created a lot of breakpoint opportunities. The key of tonight’s match, one of the keys, was to get as many balls back in play, returns back in play. I thought from the back of the court I had more chance than him to win the points. I executed very, very well. It’s easier said than done, but I feel very good about my game in this moment.”
Now to Thursday’s semifinal match…
Andy Murray v Tomas Berdych
They have played 10 times before with Berdych leading 6-4. But Murray beat him in their most recent Grand Slam meeting at the 2012 US Open semifinals. So it’s pretty even, as it should be.
Murray plays more defensive so if Berdych is on, he can break through the Scot. Big offense will eventually wear down good defense.
“He’s a big guy,” Murray said. “He strikes the ball very well. Yeah, he serves well. Yeah, he’s fairly calm on the court. I think he manages emotions fairly well. And, yeah, he’s obviously played extremely well this tournament so far. Just by looking at the results, he’s had some good wins and played well in Doha. He’ll be coming into the match with confidence.”
And Murray is right. Berdych hasn’t lost a set and he just rolled Rafael Nadal like few ever has. But I still like Murray’s variety and guile. And unlike Berdych, Murray’s proven he’s the better big match player through the years. This week Murray has played as well as Berdych, beating Grigor Dimitrov and the other night Nick Kyrgios.
That said, Berdych recently hired Murray’s old assistant coach, Dani Valverdu, so maybe that complicates matter? Or maybe it doesn’t. I think it doesn’t.
The key will be Murray’s strategy. If he tries to play defensive – like Nadal did – he will have to hope Berdych gets tight or is off his game. But if Murray comes out aggressive, on the attack, he can dictate and stay on top of Berdych. And that’s what I think is going to happen.
The pick: Murray in four
ESPN2 has the late night coverage starting at 3:30am.
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