Saturday, September 7, 2013

US Open Men's Semifinals Preview

We are down to the men's final four at the US Open, and for the first time in years not a single grand slam featured all of the traditional big four in the semis. Nonetheless, we have two fascinating semifinals to look forward to and preview.

When the draw came out, this semi was expected to be a repeat of last year's memorable final. In stead, after Stanislas Wawrinka's memorable performance against Andy Murray in the quarterfinals, it is the Swiss who takes on Novak Djokovic in the first semifinal. Rarely has Wawrinka played as well and with such consistency, as witnessed in his consecutive victories over Marcos Baghdatis, Tomas Berdych and Murray. Wawrinka hit 45 brilliant winners in the quarterfinal, and backed up a phenomenal 88% success on first serve points with a further 74% of points won at net. Remarkably, he didn't face a single break point despite only getting 55% of his first serves in. It's that stat plus the 37 unforced errors that could be an achilles heel against the world number one, who is unlikely to give away as many free points and commit as many unforced errors as Murray did. Djokovic however did get ruffled by Mikhail Youzhny as he lost his first set of the tournament, and if Wawrinka has the tenacity to continue going for his shots despite Djokovic's amazing ability to retrieve balls, then there is every opportunity that the crowd on Arthur Ashe Stadium will rally behind him. A head-to-head of 12-2 in favour of Djokovic would suggest a dominant victory, but I genuinely believe there is a chance of a repeat of their titanic tussle at the Australian Open this year, when Djokovic narrowly won 12-10 in the fifth set. In that match Wawrinka hit 69 winners to Djokovic's 51, and both players broke each other seven times. If Wawrinka can match or possibly better his 14 backhand winners from that day, there is every chance he can cause an upset, however Djokovic's greater resilience and desire to win might just carry him through if the match indeed does go the distance.

After being denied the chance to play against Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, Richard Gasquet deprvied Rafael Nadal a chance to play good friend David Ferrer in the semifinals of the US Open with a fantastic performance in the quarterfinals. Often dismissed for not having the stomach for a fight, the mercurial Frenchman might finally have come of age, with two back-to-back five set victories against tough opponents. His come from behind victory against Milos Raonic in the fourth round was impressive enough, but the way he beat Ferrer in five sets after the Spaniard had all the momentum going into the decider, was arguably the most significant performance of his grand slam career. Gasquet's game was flowing with winners, especially with his beautiful single-handed backhand. When Gasquet is in the zone, few players can match him for artistry. The problem is that for all his artistry, his opponent is in the best hard court form of his life. Nadal's serve has yet to be broken in the tournament, and the performance he put in against Tommy Robredo in the quarterfinals was nothing short of staggering dominance. There isn't a single chink in his armour at this point in time, and Gasquet can't even hope for free points, as Nadal just doesn't throw away easy games. Tactically speaking, Nadal can at times face difficulties against opponents who are comfortable with their backhands as witnessed during his toughest match of the tournament when he lost a set against Philipp Kohlschreiber, however for Gasquet to maintain such an excellent standard for a full match against an opponent who he has never defeated before is surely asking too much. Expect the match to be punctuated with some breathtaking winners by both players, but eventually Nadal should come through in four sets to set up a chance to win his first grand slam outside clay in three years.
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