There honestly hasn’t been much Madness so far this March. It began in promising fashion with Davis Cup weekend, but the men’s event at Indian Wells thus far has been a letdown.
Nick Kyrgios-Grigor Dimitrov was exciting. John Isner-Novak Djokovic had some good moments as did several other matches, but there were no real “time capsule” type contests. However, we still have a lot of tennis still to play.
And tomorrow offers wondrous possibilities thanks to our last two men’s quarterfinals with all eyes on a potential Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal Saturday showdown. But do we get it? Let’s go to my picks.
Roger Federer v Tomas Berdych
After Berdych (the “unknown Czech”!) beat him at the Olympics nearly 11 years ago, it was all Federer dominating the series. However, as Federer has aged and Berdych maintained his unfulfilled potential, the scales may be tipping in favor of Berdych of late. Or at least they are leveling.
Tomas is down 12-6 to Federer but since the start of 2012 the two have split four meetings with Roger winning on the clay at 2012 Madrid then Tomas taking two straight at the 2012 US Open and 2013 Dubai before Federer got back on top at Dubai last year.
“Because he’s been around for so long, he knows his potential,” Federer said. “He knows as well it’s important to know your limitations as a player so you don’t pull off shots that are totally stupid. I think he does very well, and probably also with a new team now he feels eager to try out new things and maybe gives him extra energy. So I think it’s going to be an interesting matchup for him having a new team in the back, really.”
I think Federer is now playing better than a year ago but so too is Berdych who blew out Rafa at the Australian Open. So I have to think Tomas is riding a good wave right now. The problem is those waves with him usually crash sooner rather than later, and I think that’s what happens here.
History says Berdych never does well at Indian Wells. Maybe it’s the climate or its place on the calendar, but more likely it’s the slow court speed and the light air. Berdych doesn’t play with a lot of margin and that style isn’t rewarded on a slow court like Indian Wells.
Meanwhile, Federer has been among the best ever at the event. He just won his 50th career match and he’s now three wins from a fifth title there. So he’s my guy here.
But he’ll have to serve well and move well, and start quickly. Berdych brings a lot to the table, but often he lets you down just when you think he’s someone to be feared. Well, I do fear him, I just don’t trust him to keep beating the Big Four.
The pick: Federer in 3
Milos Raonic v Rafael Nadal
Like Federer, Rafael Nadal also loves playing at Indian Wells. Rafa has won the title three times and other than last year when he was stunned by Alex Dolgopolov, he always seems to be playing on the final weekend. And I expect no different this year.
After a tough January, Nadal is getting back into groove. Rafa had a fruitful trip to South America winning Buenos Aires without losing a set. And guess what? Rafa hasn’t lost a set this week either.
Raonic has been slowly improving, crafting his game. Working out the numbers, the angles. Compiling the data. He’s a very heady player. Maybe too heady.
After bursting on the scene 3-4 years ago, Raonic’s finally making some strides, albeit small ones. He’s played well in the Masters events beating Federer en route to the Paris finals last October. And he has such an imposing offensive game.
“I’m here because I want to break through and win at these big events,” Raonic said. “Everybody is aware that those are the kind of guys you have to get through. I have consistently been able to put myself in this position where I’m facing top guys in big events. I want to make a difference more than I have before. So it’s really like a big challenge for me, a big test. I’m ready to step up.”
My problem is and always has been, how is Milos going to break serve, especially against a guy like Nadal. So it’s no surprise Rafa has won all five previous meetings relatively comfortably over the Canadian. Milos’s best hope is to serve well and hope he can force tiebreakers, and get lucky. Otherwise, on a slow outdoor hardcourt it’s just going to be an uphill battle for him to break serve unless his opponent gaffs, and Rafa really doesn’t do that.
“It’s like playing on a clay court that’s a little bit easier to move on in that sense there is no sliding around,” Roanic said. “The ground’s more stable underneath you. It does bounce. When you get ahead, I don’t think you finish off the points as quickly, but it lets you sort of construct the points. Lets you find your game. Lets you have the time to organize what you’re trying to do and then try to make the most of it.”
A “clay court”? That’s all I need to hear, Milos.
The pick: Nadal in two
So there we have it. With Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray already punched, the Big Four are back in a tournament semifinal for the first time since the 2012 Australian Open. At least in my bracket.
Or did I just jinx it?
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