We are days away from the the final of a Grand Slam, so where’s Novak Djokovic name in draw? Well, he’s not around. And it’s the first Slam without the Serb in the hunt the final weekend in what seems like forever. Or at least since the 2014 Australian Open.
Roger Federer and Andy Murray are still alive, and so too is the familiar faces of Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic. That leaves three of the guys most of us expected to be in the semifinals, and Raonic? Well, Milos took advantage of the Djokovic upset and confidently made his return to the final four where once against he’ll go up against Mr. Wimbledon himself, Federer, in a rematch of their 2014 meeting.
And it’s Berdych against Murray in the other Top 10er battle. Raonic and Berdych are not the most entertaining of acts, so I don’t think we’ll get the drama of Wednesday, but might we get a surprise, or maybe two? On to my picks.
Roger Federer v Milos Raonic
In the marquee match for most of us, my main is the health of Roger Federer. He’s 34. He just played a tough 5-setter yesterday. He’s not what he used to be, nor is his body. But if he can get to the “big moment”, he can come through. And that’s what happened against Marin Cilic. Down two sets against the Croat, he really did have no business winning. But on those big points in the third and fourth, it was Federer who didn’t flinch. That was ultimately the difference. And here again, a similar match.
Raonic is going to “boom” that serve, “boom” that forehand and hope to get a chance or two on the Federer serve. That’s the gameplan. It’s simple and effect and when he’s got it going awfully tough to break. And I agree that he’s slowly getting better.
“I think from every aspect, I’ve improved,” Raonic said. “I know what I need to do on court better. I know how to sort of turn things around to get them on my terms. I know what I’m looking for. I know how to go about it, to try to get to that position as much as I can. And then when things aren’t going well, I know what things to look for to change.
“From all those kind of things, I’m definitely a lot more aware.”
While Raonic has improved, at his core like I said he’s still a 2-shot player: serve, forehand. And that’s actually good for Federer. Roger shouldn’t have (and probably doesn’t want) to deal with extended points like he occassionaly had to against Cilic. So that should ease the burden on his weary body.
Then again, maybe Raonic backs off and tries to get into lengthy rallies, but I can’t see him doing that. He’s going to put his best against whatever Federer can throw back. And like those matches Roger had with Roddick, he will have to get that return back and convert when it counts.
If healthy, I don’t see this as an issue for Federer – just wait out a breaker or two – but with all his back and knee problems of late, and that five setter Wednesday, Federer is really vulnerable here. But much like Cilic, I think Raonic will let him off the hook, make an untimely error and get tight, and allow Federer to squeek another one out.
This time though, Federer can’t get down early. Cilic may be better all around, but your don’t want to be chasing the Raonic serve.
The Pick: Federer in 4
Andy Murray v Tomas Berdych
I don’t believe Murray is as good as we’ve ever seen him. He’s playing well but he’s allowing his opposition to get their teeth in the match. JW Tsonga did just that yesterday and it nearly cost him. I think Berdych will have his moments but like the Frenchman also come up just short.
Murray’s won 8 of 14 from the Czech including the last four, all pretty easily. And even though Berdych has made the final at Wimbledon before (this is his first SF since then), I don’t think grass is the best surface for him. But nonetheless, any man with his kind of flat, easy power is a threat.
“I know it will be a tough match,” Murray said. “I played well against him the last couple of years. It’s nice that the players I’m playing against say I’m playing more aggressive because everyone’s only said I’ve played aggressive when Ivan has been coaching me. The last few years I have been playing more aggressive tennis, playing with a little bit more variety, for sure.
“That’s worked well against him. When in the past, I hadn’t such good results against him. The last couple years it’s been good.”
For me, the x-factor is Lendl. Lendl turned down the offer to coach Berdych and went back to Murray, and Ivan’s not going to want to look like an idiot here letting his guy lose to someone he said no to. Then again, if Berdych has any actual fire or true want in his belly, then he’s got a shot right here to put one back on Lendl.
The question then is, can the simplistic Berdych figure out a plan to crack Murray and silence his supporters in the crowd?
“I think at the beginning, he was a bit more defensive,” said Berdych of Murray. “Playing a little bit more just waiting what’s the opponent going to do. I think it was working pretty well for myself. I was able to really dictate the game and play aggressive. Now he becomes to be more aggressive, way more creative on the court.
“I’m just going to try to get my plan again and try to work it out.”
And Berdych will try to push Murray around but I don’t think it will be enough. Murray’s a much more agreesive player now, more emotional and he’ll ride the crowd once again. This time, he won’t need as much help from them as before.
The Pick: Murray in 3
While I think it’s long odds for a Berdych upset – the guy just doesn’t win these kind of matches, and on grass he lacks the variety – I definitely could see Federer struggle or even get blown off the court if he’s still not fully recovered.
But let’s hope not. Does anyone really want to watch a Raonic-Berdych final?
ESPN has the coverage starting at 8am.
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