After a steamy, sticky 11 days or so of weather, temperatures are expected to cool down for today’s men’s semifinals at the US Open.
The four still alive in the draw are all very familiar to this round.
Rafael Nadal has shown once again why he is one of the great warriors tennis has ever seen, toughing out a trio of big bruisers in exhausting, grueling matches.
Juan Martin del Potro has proven he’s back to the top of his form. The 2009 champion has only lost one set en route to is second straight US Open semifinal, now can he finally get over again on his recent nemesis Nadal?
Novak Djokovic has been the hottest guy in tennis this summer, winning Wimbledon, winning Cincinnati and winning five matches this week to reach his 11th straight US Open semifinal.
And Kei Nishikori returns for a third time to the semifinals in NY. This time, he’s not the story of the tournament for Japan. That belongs to new star Naomi Osaka who’ll battle Serena Williams in a captivating women’s final Saturday.
So the semifinals are set, and other than Nishikori who didn’t show a lot over the summer, we shouldn’t be surprised.
On to my picks.
Rafael Nadal v Juan Martin Del Potro
For the third straight Slam and fourth in the five, poor Del Potro has to get through Rafael Nadal. Nadal’s won all four but coming into today, this is Delpo’s best shot.
Last year at the US Open, Delpo was still trying to find his game. On the clay in Paris is a mismatch and Wimbledon plays more into Rafa’s hands. But hardcourts is where Delpo plays his best tennis and it’s also the surface he registered his only win over Nadal in a Slam back in New York in 2009.
Plus, Rafa’s got to be feeling a little something in those legs after nearly 16 hours on court so far.
Here’s the problem. Nadal’s playing great and they’ve slowed the courts down. Both those factors work squarely against Delpo so even those Delpo’s fresh, playing extremely well himself, I don’t like him beating Nadal on a slow hard court. If this was a Cincinnati or a 2009 US Open-speed court, then yes.
Then you add in their recent head-to-head and their overall series, which Nadal leads 11-5 winning seven of the last nine, and it all spells trouble.
Delpo hits it as hard as anyone off the forehand so Rafa’s going to target that backhand all day. So Delpo will have to be rock solid off the backhand wing, mixing the slice with the topspin and go after the forehand when he gets a chance. And I think he will. Delpo’s a smart player, he knows what he has to do.
So if Nadal is sluggish and Delpo is on song with his serve and forehand, he should get through this because I don’t think he’ll let slip an opportunity like the one Dominic Thiem had.
Again, both guys should be relatively fit thanks to the two days off, so I expect another classic. But Nadal is too tough at this stage.
The Pick: Nadal in 5
Novak Djokovic v Kei Nishikori
The way Novak Djokovic’s been playing and with the weather cooling down, it’s going to take a great effort from someone to keep him from a third US Open title this weekend. That guy to stop him isn’t Kei Nishikori.
Nishikori is back for a third time in the US Open semifinals which is pretty good considering we just haven’t heard much from the Japanese No. 1. He made the Monte Carlo finals, quarterfinals at Wimbledon losing to Novak, but didn’t do much this summer.
And then we get to the head-to-head. Djokovic leads 14-2 and he’s won the last 13. Nishikori did win back in 2014 in the US Open semifinals, but that was a hot day. Today, it’s not. And really since that loss, Djokovic has dominated Nishikori only dropping five sets during that run. So I just don’t see Kei winning three today.
Djokovic is just better in every department except for dealing with the heat. So unless Novak has a bad day, which was happening a lot earlier this year, I don’t see much drama in this match.
The Pick: Djokovic in 3
If the results hold, then we’ll get a fourth Djokovic-Nadal US Open final. Or, maybe things turn upside down like they did in 2014, and we end up with Nishikori-Del Potro. It’s been a strange event and a strange summer, but all signs point to another Big 4 title. I guess we’ll know in 6-7 hours if that’s a sure thing tomorrow.
ESPN has live coverage in just a few hours at 4pm.
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