First Semi-final: Djokovic vs. Nadal
Nadal has been the standout player of not only his group, but perhaps the tournament. He dealt with Wawrinka and Murray pretty tamely, dispatching both in straight sets, whilst surviving a tenacious challenge from compatriot Ferrer to come back and win the final two sets on Friday. This is a timely bit of form for Nadal, beating three quality opponents on his least favourite surface in his poorest season in a decade.
Djokovic has equally surprised. He destroyed Nishikori in straight sets, but wasn’t at his sharpest against an inspired Federer on Tuesday, falling in straight sets. This was not a great surprise, Federer perhaps being the greatest indoor player in history, as well as Novak’s only regular challenger this season. Nevertheless, the manner in which he fell away in the second set against the Swiss is cause for minor concern. He restored order to his world mind on Thursday, taking down Berdych, who offered some resistance, in two sets.
I think Ferrer is akin to Djokovic, but without the weapons. He was able to push Rafa with defence and speed. Novak possesses these attributes, but in greater abundance. Furthermore, he has a strong serve, the best backhand in the game, and the ability to dictate and finish points quickly. I think therefore, despite his loss to Federer, form and the recent history of their rivalry shall see the Serb prevail. He has Nadal’s number now, likes the rhythm of their rallies and enjoys the edge in physicality. Nadal has been showing glimpses of brilliance this week, but it would take his sustaining of that level in combination with Djokovic turning up sluggish and error prone to cause the upset.
Second Semi-Final: Federer vs. Wawrinka
It had to happen again, didn’t it? Last year the Swiss pair met in the semi-finals and delivered a pulsating contest that was far and away the match of the tournament. It was also a heated contest. Tensions were high throughout, Wawrinka exchanging words with Mrs. Federer. Roger saved five match points before staggering over the line. The match, which was a highly physical and emotional affair, left Federer in such poor shape he was unable to contest the final.
Federer has enjoyed a great tournament so far. He made short work of Berdych in his first round match, before dispatching Novak in straight sets in his second with an awesome display offence and variety. He had his struggles in his last match against Nishikori, producing multiple errors and breaks, and also looked tired out in stretches of the match before attacking decisively to win whilst Kei served to stay in the match. I suppose having already won the group, the last match was as good a one as any to have a sluggish performance and set off the alarm bells for coach Edberg for what needs to be worked on for the weekend.
Wawrinka has had to work harder than his countryman to reach this stage. Wawrinka was a shadow of himself in his opening match against Nadal, falling meekly in a match I thought would be an epic contest. This was seemingly a blip though, as he turned things around from thereon in to beat Ferrer and Murray in straight sets.
I think Roger has the edge in this encounter. If physicality is not an issue, I believe variety and a generally good run of recent indoor form will see him through Wawrinka. Federer leads their head-to-head 17-3, and has only ever lost to Stan on clay surfaces. Wawrinka likes the high ball, and Federer has of late used his slice and court craft to offer opponents low bouncing, off pace balls. This could be decisive against Stan, a player who benefits much with time to set up his strokes. Further, Stan is a good rather than great mover, and I think Federer will do everything he can to get his man chasing awkward shots. I expect a tight affair and a shot making exhibition. I think if the Federer which beat Djokovic and Berdych turns up, as opposed to the one who edged Nishikori, we will see him contest tomorrow’s final.
Cover Photos (Creative Commons License): By Marianne Bevis.
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