We are now just one round from a super-sized Roger Federer v Novak Djokovic US Open final. Will the stars align one last time for us tennis fans to enjoy it? Read on.
First to yesterday.
Tomas Berdych says he wants to win, says he’s trying, says tournaments don’t really start until the quarterfinals, but that’s around the stage when he keeps losing, and losing meekly. For the third straight Slam the Czech lost as a favorite in straight sets – Gulbis and twice to Cilic. And he was probably favored when he lost to Stan Wawrinka in Australia, too. Fact is, he has a lot of game but mentally I don’t think it’s ever going to pan out for him unless he gets an Ivan Lendl or someone who’ll get him right between the ears. That’s the harsh reality. (It feels like I say this every time he loses?)
That said, full credit to Marin Cilic. A year ago he was out of the game, now he’s at the top and playing well again. At 6-foot-6 he’s a dangerous force. Goran has improved his serve to complement a nice, all-around game. And he’s got that desire.
In the night match, as I said yesterday I felt Gael Monfils had a very serious chance of upsetting Roger Federer. The cards were lined up, Monfils was playing well and playing within himself. And he had those two matchpoints in the fourth but Federer fought them off and once Monfils lost that chance the match was over.
For Gael’s sake, I hope the loss doesn’t set him back – I don’t think it will. Because if he plays like he’s capable of he’s awfully tough to beat as we saw this week.
As for Federer, it was another magical 0-2 escape. At 33 he showed his age last night but also, as opposed to say Berdych, showed his head and heart.
Down two sets and two MPs, in that situation Berdych would have folded up and been content to collect up his quarterfinal prize money check and kiss his supermodel girlfriend. Federer wanted to do no such thing. He’s a winner and that’s what they do, they find a way to win. It’s cliche but it’s true.
So Federer returns for a 9th US Open semifinal, now six sets from his first title in New York City in six years. But it’s a long weekend.
Onto the semifinals…
Novak Djokovic v Kei Nishikori
Andy Murray was giving Novak Djokovic fits the other night with his attacking play. Kei Nishikori is going to do exactly the same thing, except he’s going to do it the whole match!
Nishikori is like a hybrid of Ferrer and Davydenko. So he’s going to try to suffocate Djokovic from the baseline. The question I have is, in best of 5, in the heat, is Nishikori also willing to play defense? Because Djokovic from the baseline can dish out the same punishment Kei can, and often with more force and measure.
What’s impressed me most about Kei has been his body this week. It’s actually held up despite a late finish and despite two marathon matches. Raonic, though, is completely different obstacle than Djokovic and I’m guessing Stan was fighting a lot of nerves. So the Serb is going to be that much tougher, stronger and better.
But I like Kei’s chances. He very nearly beat Nadal in Spain this year! He’s beaten Djokovic before – bageling him in Basel when the World No. 1 struggled with a shoulder issue. It’s no fluke he’s still standing, and he’s playing the best tennis of his life right now. The same cannot be said of Djokovic.
After a patchy summer Novak’s improved, but is he at his very best like we saw three years ago in 2011? Nope. But he could get there, certainly. However he probably won’t need to tomorrow.
Even about 95% of his peak level, Djokovic is still better than Nishikori in just about every department and I expect the Serb’s onslaught will eventually wear down the 24-year-old especially if it is that hot.
That said, Djokovic has struggled in the heat in the past, though he’s a fitter player now and it just hasn’t been easy to beat him in Grand Slam play in the last year – his losses to Nadal twice and Wawrinka. I think Kei puts up a strong fight but Novak’s too good in the end.
The pick: Djokovic in 4
Roger Federer v Marin Cilic
These two just played a tight 3-setter last month in Toronto and I expect another nail-bitter here. This is also their second meeting at the US Open after Federer won in four sets in 2011. Overall, Roger leads the Croat 5-0 with four of those wins relatively easy before this summer.
I spoke about Djokovic being off his max level and Federer isn’t near his either. At his age Federer will never return to those glory days but he’s still playing more than well enough to dominate and win. And last night he showed his toughness overcoming Monfils.
On the court, Roger’s still moving well, taking away the net and still has some pop off the serve and groundstrokes. But he’s been prone to lapses all summer – that strange head-scratching break just when things are going well has been following him around like a plague. And tomorrow I think we’ll see more of those “senior moments”.
Fortunately he’s playing a guy in Cilic that isn’t accustomed to this stage, partly because he gets a little nervous at times. Yesterday after racing to a 2-0 set lead, he got down a break in the third and appeared to lose all momentum until Berdych allowed him back in after that double bounce incident. And at Wimbledon he was leading Djokovic 2-1 and even at the US Open he was up big on Andy Murray before falling apart a few years ago.
I also wonder about the heat. Cilic survived Gilles Simon on a blazing hot day Tuesday. Federer has been finishing his matches exclusively under the lights, but he’s never had issues with the heat. Might he now? Might Cilic? It’s hard to say if it’s a factor (or the wind again).
What will be is Marin’s aggressiveness vs Federer’s aggressiveness. The player who executes best should win this. So I think Cilic plays Federer tough – just like Toronto – but come up just short in the end.
The pick: Federer in 5
CBS has live coverage of both men’s semifinals starting at noon.
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