A Breath of Fresh Air, Or The Same Old Song?
As we approach the business end of the US Open, some of the same top names appear in the semifinal matches. Race to London leader and world No. 2 Rafael Nadal continues to be on a tear, and the current No. 1 player in the world, Novak Djokovic, marches on. But their opponents are in rather new territory. Current world No. 8, Richard Gasquet, has never made it past the Round of 16 at the US Open, and has only made it to the semifinals of a major once in his career at Wimbledon 2007. He has the tough task of taking on Rafael Nadal. Stanislas Wawrinka has never made it past the quarterfinals of any major and faces Novak Djokovic, but I believe Stan’s recent play this year warrants him having a fair chance of upsetting the world No. 1 of the last two years.
Let me put it this way: I wouldn’t put my own money on this match if I were a betting man. But if I had some money given to me, I would put it on Stan Wawrinka and hope he plays as well as he did against Andy Murray.
Novak Djokovic has certainly dominated their head-to-head in the past, but every match is different.
Based on their prior record, few if any would have picked Stan to come as close as he did in Australia to removing the three-time Plexicushion prize-winner from the premises.
I think these days the US Open Arthur Ashe Stadium surface unfortunately plays only slightly faster than the Australian Open’s Rod Laver Arena. It seems to have a little less grit and not quite as high a bounce. I don’t see Djokovic sliding as much in New York as in Melbourne. I think this will reduce Novak’s ability to defend as well as he does down under.
Novak has been prone to concentration lapses this year. Hard courts are no longer a bastion of certainty as they had been for the most part since 2011. How has he done on hard courts this year?
He started out extremely well by winning the Australian Open and Dubai. But then something happened. He allowed Juan Martin Del Potro to come from behind and beat him in the semifinals at Indian Wells, and followed that up with a Round of 16 straight-set loss to Tommy Haas. His next hard court tourney was in Montreal, where he lost to Nadal in three sets in the semifinals, and followed that up with a three-set loss in Cincinnati to John Isner.
Again, every match is different. But Djokovic’s recent trend does not bode as well for him.
Thus far at the US Open, he has not played any difficult opponents, easily beating unseeded opponents Berankis, Becker, Sousa, Granollers, and No. 21 seed Mikhail Youzhny in four sets. I think the rather weak draw thus far might not be to his benefit.
Wawrinka had not played that much on hard courts this year, choosing to focus on clay. Aside from his Round of 16 loss to Djokovic at the Australian Open, he lost a tough one to Federer in the Round of 16 in three sets at Indian Wells, and lost to Paire and Robredo in the Round of 32 at both Montreal and Cincinnati. So his preparation for the US Open definitely has been light.
However, thus far in the US Open, his path has been rather difficult, and I believe it has only benefited him and he has improved his play as the tournament has progressed. He beat Stepanek while dropping a set, defeated a tough Karlovic in a not so easy three sets, held off a tenacious Baghdatis in four sets, stepped it up another level to down Berdych who had been playing very well, and, as many saw, played a very intelligent and strong match to down Andy Murray in three sets. Thus, I feel Stan Wawrinka is much better prepared in terms of his play for this match with Djokovic.
I think the match up is quite similar as to the one with Andy. Stan must play with variety to Djokovic as he did with Murray, and not let Djokovic get into any good rhythm. I think Stan would do better to go to body serves against Djokovic, since he stretches so well to get to balls. Nole must try to get Stan into a power struggle from the baseline for him to have a good chance.
Andy beat Novak last year in five sets at the US Open. Stan beat Andy this year in three sets.
I believe Stan could force Nole out in three or four sets if he plays like he has been considering the level of opponents they have both played and their level during this tournament, and if he can use similar tactics and execution as he did against Murray.
The only problem with Stan is lack of a strong mental stability. He has been known to suddenly go walkabout or get down on himself and go away in a match. Additionally, one cannot be certain that he will not have a bit of letdown after beating Andy. These are the chief reasons why I would not bet money on the match, if I were a betting man. Also, Nole has been known to raise his game occasionally and refuse to lose. So though I stick by my call, I would never be surprised to see Novak Djokovic win.
As always I hope for a good, entertaining match and wish good luck to both players and their fans!