picks for the semis: rafa in straights, roger in 4..
the following is courtesy of bleacherreport.com:
US Open 2010: Men's Semifinal Preview
By Nima Naderi (Senior Analyst) on September 10, 2010
US Open—New York
One of the most difficult tasks a male tennis player can be asked to accomplish is winning back-to-back semifinal and final matches at the US Open.
Remaining the lone Grand Slam that operates under this format, semifinal Saturday is unique in the sense that players are required to battle for three out of five sets before being forced to come back less than 24 hours later and compete for a crowning jewel in the sport.
This year's final four will feature three familiar candidates that have won every single Grand Slam event, apart from two, since the 2004 Australian Open. Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic have occupied a hotel room for the latter stages of a many Slam event for years, and their familiarity with the second Saturday in New York has become almost like a second home.
The final piece of the semifinal quartet will showcase the unassuming but serious Mikhail Youzhny. The Russian has quietly and efficiently displayed his sound baseline arsenal, while highlighting his fitness throughout the hot, cold, and windy conditions. Youzhny has also "been here before," but he has never set foot in the chambers of a Slam final.
Could this year be different Youzhny? Will we see our first Nadal vs. Federer final, or, will Djokovic salvage a relatively poor season by reaching the finals?
With only two matches separating a potential historic showdown from taking place on Sunday, let's now breakdown what lies ahead for the four men vying to claim the coveted crown in New York.
Rafael Nadal vs. Mikhail Youzhny
Nadal leads the pair's head-to-head series 7-4.
There was a time and a place where a sleeveless hitting Nadal had his fair share of difficulties during the last Slam of the season. He'd remain competitive and reliant on his defensive foundation, but he'd come up short in the latter stages of the event to a better hard-court player. But this year's march throughout the Big Apple has been substantially different for Nadal. He's serving bigger than he ever has, while his fitness and ball-striking have never been better.
The Spaniard has also displayed his "high risk and high reward" mindset by slightly changing his serve grip two days before the event. The change toward a more continental grip has allowed him to elevate his status as one of the best servers in the tournament.
Losing his delivery once heading into the semifinals, Nadal will face the man who defeated him during the quarterfinals in 2006. Youzhny has more than enough to be proud of regarding his latest trip to New York. He's battled through his share of competent hard-court players, and now find himself with a decent shot at upsetting the top seed. Although Youzhny does trial Nadal in head-to-head meetings, he does hold four hard-court wins over the Spaniard. His flat-hit backhand, and well placed forehand seldom hover short in the court, and his step forward serve motion provides great disguise.
What I've liked about Youzhny during this event has been his ability to hold his emotions in check, while continuing to play with length and margin. Known as a passionate and introverted character, Youzhny has lost five set en-route to the final four, but his ability to break serve on 27 occasions will bode well for him against Nadal's delivery.
Youzhny does play his best tennis on faster hard-courts, and his attempt at winning this match will rely on his ability to take many chances earlier in the rallies, and not allow Nadal to tire him out. Nadal is perhaps the best player in the world at thinking ahead while staying in the moment. He's well aware of the scoreline at all times, but he's also cognizant of what lies ahead. Losing a set or his serve (not like that's happened lately) really doesn't faze the Spaniard to a great degree. He's confident in the knowledge that he's fit and mentally ready to go the long haul, and that his opponent will have to play lights out in order to prevail.
Nadal has never entered the semifinals of the US Open in better form, and considering that Youzhny doesn't hold the same power as Juan Martin del Potro—the man who defeated Nadal last year—it will become increasingly difficult for the Russian to make inroads as the match wears on.
Youzhny is a no-nonsense player, but one has to think that his four hour match against Stanislas Wawrinka will creep into his legs and the results on Saturday.
Nadal has never had a better shot at reaching his first US Open final, and if we know anything about the Spaniard, it's that he thrives on taking advantage of opportunities that are put before him.
Pick: Nadal in straight sets.
Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic
Federer leads the pair's head-to-head series 10-5.
Reaching his fourth straight semifinal at the Open, Djokovic may find himself against the best Federer that he's ever faced. Watching Federer dismantle Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals, I was amazed at how effortlessly the Swiss made the tough conditions look. With the wind blowing inconsistency through the court and through his ears, Federer managed to blast 18 aces by the Swede, and use his flawless footwork to accurately strike his killer forehand.
Federer has only lost one match since Wimbledon, and his ominous form appears ready to capture his 17th Major title. The Swiss has continued to make great choices throughout the tournament; slicing his backhand when he's needed it, while entering the net when his opponents have been off balance.
Attempting to prevent Federer from reaching his seventh straight final, Djokovic will have to bring forth a different look from the first point. Djokovic remains one of the best competitors and fighters in the game. Although he has shown vulnerability under the heat and humidity, he continues to find himself in the premier moments of the Major events, and with a decent shot at surviving.
I truly believe that Djokovic will have to step out of his comfort zone and go for a lot more to the begin the contest. If he intends on working himself into the flow of the match, he'll quickly find out the Federer's weight of shot and footwork have taken over. I'm not suggesting that Djokovic should gun his serve on a consistent basis. He's often relied on hitting 110 MPH second serves to rescue his cause, and those untimely mental decision have shown his lack of confidence to rally, while further exemplifying that he may be tired.
Instead of serving bigger, Djokovic would benefit from sliding and kicking his serve into the corners and looking to open up the court as much as possible. Testing Federer's passing shots on a consistent basis will be a great strategy for Djokovic to employ. Regardless of how precise Federer has been throughout the fortnight, he would much rather see Djokovic on the baseline during a big point than at the net.
However, as much as we've written off Federer from time-to-time this year, he still remains the best hard-court player in the world. Although Andy Murray has shown his proficiency during the best out of three set tournaments, Federer still owns the torch when matches are played over five sets.
I fully expect Djokovic to stay competitive and thrill his loyal clan of supporters, but when it's all said and done, Federer should barrel toward his seventh straight final.
Pick: Federer in four sets.
rafa nadal's motto: stay humble, stay hungry