It’s about the very best possible line-up you could ask for on this start of two days of men’s quarterfinal play at the Australian Open. As many predicted, the top 4 seeds in the top half survived four rounds to arrive into today’s contests, though they took different routes.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic had to withstand 100 unforced errors and the steady, if annoying, play of Gilles Simon in a 5-set thriller.One hundred errors or even 300 it doesn’t matter, Djokovic won. That’s what winners do. And fitness shouldn’t be a factor.
Tomas Berdych had his own five setter on Sunday against Auckland champ Roberto Bautista Agut.
But hardly a sweat for Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori who both blew out their respective foes, David Goffin and the ailing JW Tsonga. And two have lost just one set each as they enter the quarters. That changes today.
On to my picks.
Roger Federer v Tomas Berdych
Of course I’m not picking Tomas Berdych. Unless he’s playing someone ranked in the 30s or lower, you can rarely count on him to win these big matches. Yes, he beat Rafael Nadal a year ago in Australia and also has some big wins over Federer back at Wimbledon in 2010 and at the US Open. But here I think Federer, who leads 15-6, is playing better and Tomas just isn’t what he once was even though the court, according to Roger, may be in the Czech’s favor.
“I think the court suits him,” Federer said. “I think this sort of flatter bounce and faster court is good for his serves, good for his returns. It’s a fast court. I think for his kind of game it’s good.
“I think I matched up well against him as of late. Then again, we haven’t played that much. He played very well here last year in exactly these conditions. I was very impressed how he played against Nick.”
Since the 2015 Australian Open, Berdych has promptly lost 11 straight matches to Top 5 players winning just ONE set. That includes three blow out losses to Federer last year.
“I mean, it’s Roger, so it’s always going to be a huge challenge to play him. It’s the quarterfinal of a slam,” Berdych said. “I like my chances. I’m just looking forward to that match.”
Well, I don’t like your chances, Tomas. Get a set, yes. Win? Not really.
Despite some shaky patches, Federer continues to take care of business. He’s seen better days, but Federer’s been efficient and effective and I think that’s what he’ll be tonight against Tomas. As long as he has a good day, Federer prevails.
The Pick: Federer in 4
Novak Djokovic v Kei Nishikori
I keep going back to Nishikori’s win over Djokovic at the 2014 US Open semifinals. It’s one of the biggest surprises of the last 4-5 years. And I have think Djokovic hasn’t forgotten about it either.
Nishikori, though, is playing really well right now. I know he got a hobbled Tsonga, but he took care of Phil Kohlschreiber and Guillermo Garcia Lopez, so he’s got to be feeling confident. Plus, he’s got that US Open win in his back pocket.
“I think the biggest thing is he doesn’t miss,” Nishikori said. “He doesn’t give you easy points, any free points. I have to, you know, be the one to dictate. I think he’s serving well, too. It always makes tough player.
“Yeah. I’m ready to beat him again.”
I think this will be a very close match, maybe even five sets. It will be fun to watch the backhand exchanges here and the baseline dynamics. They are two of the best. But Djokovic proved the other day that even when he’s not at his best (blame that on Simon!), he can still win. That’s the difference.
The Pick: Djokovic in 4
Serena Williams v Maria Sharapova
When you’ve won 17 straight over your hated rival, you don’t want it tp stop. And I don’t think that happens here. Maria is getting closer. She played well in the final last year and I think because it’s a quarter that helps her here – Serena’s so much togher in the finals.
So I think Sharapova gets a set, goes 7-5 in the third but Serena just loves beating Maria more than…I dunno winning Slams?
The Pick: Serena in 3
It should be a great day of tennis. If I see an upset it’s Berdych then Sharapova and then Djokovic. As much as I’d like to see Kei win – just to shake things up – I don’t know how he does it unless Novak comes out really flat.
Like I said, if Roger’s having an off day. If he’s sick, he could easily lose. And Maria’s been playing well.
Coverage begins at 7pm ET on the Tennis Channel. ESPN takes over at 9pm.
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