Category Archives: Tennis

Greatest Sporting Moments of 2012: Longlist

Football: 

Chelsea vs. Barcelona in the Nou Camp; Man City winning the league in the last minute of the season; Spain perfecting football in the Euro 2012 final…

Tennis:

Murray vs. Djokovic (Australian Open s/f); Djokovic vs. Nadal (Australian Open final); Nadal vs. Rosol (Wimbledon 2nd Round); Murray vs. Tsonga (Wimbledon s/f); Federer vs. Del Potro (Olympic s/f); Murray vs. Djokovic (US Open final); Federer vs. Djokovic (WTF @ O2 final)…

Golf: 

Bubba Watson’s shot on the 1st playoff hole at the Masters; Tiger Woods’ chip-in on the 16th at the Memorial; Ernie Els coming from nowhere to win the Open; Europe’s remarkable finalday comeback at the Ryder Cup…

Athletics: 

Mo Farah winning the 10,000 metres; Jessica Ennis’ dominating the Olympic heptathlon; the US women and Jamaican men breaking the 4x100m world records; Farah winning the 5,000 metres; David Rudisha obliterating the 800m world record; Usain Bolt answering his doubters in the 100m final…

Cycling: 

Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France; Wiggins winning the Olympic Time Trial; Chris Hoy, Jason Kenny and Philip Hindes smash the world record in the Men’s Team Sprint final…

Swimming:

France hunting down the USA in the men’s 4x100m freestyle; Chad Le Clos beating Michael Phelps in the 200m butterfly; Ye Shiwen destroying the world record in the 400m IM…

Cricket: 

Kevin Pietersen’s breathtaking 149 against South Africa at Headingley…

NFL: 

Tim Tebow beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on an 85 yard pass to Demaryius Thomas in OT; Giants shocking the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI…

Darts: 

Adrian Lewis coming from 5-1 down to beat James Wade 6-5 in the World Championship semi-final…

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Heart says Murray; head says Djokovic

Bearing in mind his spectacular gold medal winning performance at the Olympics and clearly improved mental equilibrium on court, it now seems a formality that Andy Murray will  eventually win that elusive Grand Slam final. After an occasionally turbulent but ultimately masterful progression to the final – combining the great and the gritty – Murray is surely primed to deliver the performance of his life tonight on the the biggest stage in tennis. The only problem – his opponent: the titanic Novak Djokovic.

While Djokovic is not quite the superhuman colossus that annihilated the opposition in 2011, he is still an immense competitor and possesses a couple of significant advantages over Murray. Djokovic can hit the inside-out forehand far more consistently than the Scot and Murray’s backhand will have to be firing in order to combat Djokovic’s attacks into this area of the court. Whether Murray can turn defence into attack as startlingly as Djokovic can, also remains to be seen. In addition, Djokovic is quite simply the greatest athlete to ever set foot on a tennis court; an unprecedented blur of pure speed and incredible agility.

The head-to-head record is actually fairly even with Djokovic leading 8-6. However, more instructively, it is 2-2 in 2012 – with Murray triumphing in Dubai and at the Olympics, and Djokovic dominating the Miami final and winning that epic at the Australian Open.

In order to win, Murray must swarm all over the baseline, attack Djokovic as early as is possible and hit his groundstrokes with power and authority. The drawback to this strategy is that Djokovic often appears at his most dangerous when forced into seemingly impossible positions. That the abiding memory from their previous Grand Slam final encounter in Melbourne is of Murray’s forehand repeatedly capitulating under heavy pressure from the Serbian remains a slight worry too.

Fortunately, Murray is a more resilient character now under the tutelage of Ivan Lendl and certainly has the weapons and defensive game to make Djokovic a touch apprehensive. This is probably a case of heart ruling head; but expect Murray to serve well, trade groundstrokes consistently with Djokovic and show up huge in the decisive moments. It’s going all the way – final set tiebreaker…

Murray in 5

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US Open: Quarter Final Preview

We have been spoiled by the sheer quantity of legitimately epic Grand Slam matches witnessed in recent years and the 2012 US Open appears to be building to yet another glorious crescendo. Each of the four Quarter Finals has the potential to be a captivating match, with the subsequent permutations for the semis and final promising all-time great games and timeless classics.

Bearing in mind that I’m currently on a roll (7/8 correct in the 4th round) here is an in-depth preview – with predictions – of the Flushing Meadows Quarter Finals.

Quarter Final Matches

 Roger Federer (1) v Tomas Berdych (6)

This may prove a tricky encounter for Federer as it should be the first genuine test that he has faced in the tournament. After sweeping imperiously past Donald Young, Bjorn Phau and Fernando Verdasco, the Swiss then enjoyed a walkover to the Quarter Finals after Mardy Fish’s withdrawal. Federer has looked totally untroubled so far, but Berdych – while in possession of a somewhat suspect psychology – has the huge weapons that are essential to trouble Federer on a hard court. When Berdych gets it right, he is practically unstoppable. However, it is severely doubtful that he will get it right for three sets tonight.

Pre-tournament, I predicted that this matchup would occur and that Federer would take it in straight sets; however, Berdych is playing with more confidence than expected and crushing his flat groundstrokes on both sides. The first two sets will be split before Federer begins to take control in a tight third and then a comfortable clincher.

Federer in 4

 

Andy Murray (3) v Marin Cilic (12)

Murray started the tournament inconsistently, with scratchy performances against Alex Bogomolov and Feliciano Lopez bookending an authoritative showing against Ivan Dodig. Fortunately, the Scot appears to be moving through the gears – destroying the much hyped Milos Raonic in the 4th round with a splendid display of powerful ballstriking and fleetness of foot and mind. Cilic has progressed quietly to this stage, and while he has beaten Murray at Flushing Meadows before, his confidence for this matchup will be built on a sandy foundation due to Murray’s utter dominance on every other occasion they’ve played.

Expect Murray to continue serving well and dictating the points with his steadily improving forehand. Cilic has the power to stay with Murray from the baseline – enough power to make it difficult for him at times – but ultimately Murray’s superior movement around the court and greater consistency off both wings should be enough to take control of the match early on and keep it for the duration.

Murray in 3

 

David Ferrer (5) v Janko Tipsarevic (8)

David Ferrer is an utterly fascinating player, one of the most underrated in the history of the game (an aside that I’m currently analysing and writing up currently) – and surely a multiple major winner in any other era. Possessing slightly better skills in every department than he is ever given credit for, Ferrer – often unfairly portrayed as a mere roadrunner – should progress to his second US Open semi-final with effort to spare against the occasionally flaky Serbian.

Tipsarevic undoubtedly has the requisite power game that can trouble Ferrer on the hard court, but is slightly too inconsistent (the reason his career has reached a – admittedly impressive – plateau of 8 in the world) to break the relentless Spaniard down over 5 sets. While he will never penetrate Tipsarevic’s defences with impunity, Ferrer will eventually wear the Serb down with his heavy forehand and supremely consistent ballstriking – increasing the possibility that he could grind his way to what would be a genuinely deserved Grand Slam title.

Ferrer in 4

 

Novak Djokovic (2) v Juan Martin Del Potro (7)

This is potentially the match of the tournament. Defending champion Novak Djokovic taking on the only man outside of the ruling triumvirate in men’s tennis to have won a Grand slam since 2005. After struggling with a variety of injuries following his US Open success in 2009, Del Potro has finally appeared close to his peak again, and has moving menacingly through the draw so far. Djokovic will serve more consistently and move better than Del Potro (better than anyone in the history of the game, perhaps?) but his defence will be tested to the limit under the forehand onslaught that the Argentine always bring to the court.

While Djokovic has looked close to his invincible best thus far at Flushing Meadows, I’ll stick with my pre-tournament prediction – Del Potro taking him down in a blaze of monstrous forehands, stinging backhands and huge serving. This is dependent upon his recovery from victory over Andy Roddick – and whether he can sustain that physical and mental effort over a major tournament is yet to be seen – but Del Potro can destroy anyone in the world on his day. This is his day.

Del Potro in 5

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US Open 4th Round Preview & Predictions

US Open: Last 16 preview.

With the first week of the US Open completed and (almost) all of the big names still in the tournament it is time to preview the business end of the tournament. Of the top three, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have looked immensely comfortable in coasting through the early stages while Andy Murray has appeared a little shaky, not least in his third round, four set slugfest against Feliciano Lopez. David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro are also still in contention with 5 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and 9 seed John Isner the highest ranked players to fall.

Fourth Round Matches

Roger Federer (1) v Mardy Fish (23)

Federer appears to be playing at the top of his game again, breezing through the opening week with a minimum of fuss. Expect Fish to play him tough with the fervent backing of the New York faithful, as he did in Cincinnati two weeks ago, but Federer’s serve and forehand will eventually take control of the match and carry him to another straight sets victory.

Federer in 3

 

Nicolas Almagro (11) v Tomas Berdych (6)

Grudge match. Berdych refused to shake Almagro’s hand after their Australian Open 4th round match earlier this year; the Czech unhappy after Almagro had blasted a ball at him from close range. This should be a brutal match, with continuous, unrelenting trading from the baseline. Berdych got the better of Almagro in Melbourne, owns the head-to-head record 6-3, and is regaining his form after a terrible summer but the Spaniard will take this in a deciding set; his glorious single handed backhand and greater reserve of mental fortitude the keys to success.

Almagro in 5

 

Andy Murray (3) v Milos Raonic (15)

After watching Murray labour to victory over Lopez on Saturday night, Raonic will certainly fancy his chances of causing the upset in the night match on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday. Murray looked lethargic and powerless at times during his nervy victory over the Spaniard and Raonic will hope to exploit Murray’s fatigue tonight. However, the Scot has proved before that he raises his performance under the lights at Flushing Meadows and has an outstanding record against huge servers like Raonic. The Canadian has won their only meeting; but that was on clay and probably has no bearing on this evening’s contest. Murray should be able to neutralise Raonic’s monster serve effectively and will prevail in a tense struggle due to his superior consistency from the ground.

Murray in 4

 

Marin Cilic (12) v Martin Klizan

Cilic’s career has stagnated rather similarly to Tomas Berdych’s but he couldn’t have picked a more accommodating 4th round opponent. Klizan may have shocked Tsonga in the second round, but the giant Croat will have way too much for him here. Expect Cilic to win in straight sets with Klizan eventually capitulating under a barrage of suffocating groundstrokes.

Cilic in 3

 

Janko Tipsarevic (8) v Philip Kohlschreiber (19)

Kohlschreiber produced the biggest shock of the third round, taking down the highly fancied John Isner. The German has the tools to trouble the higher ranked Tipsarevic, particularly a surprisingly thunderous serve and a beautiful single handed backhand (as an aside, it is intriguing that the only 4 players in the top 32 with single handers have all made the last 16). However, Kohlschreiber could suffer an emotional letdown from his titanic 5 set victory over Isner and Tipsarevic should prove slightly more reliable in the ground game, despite his own flaky start to the tournament.

Tipsarevic in 4

 

David Ferrer (5) v Richard Gasquet (13)

Grind. Grind. Grind. Ferrer holds a 7-1 head-to-head record against Gasquet and he’ll bury the Frenchman into the ground with his unique brand of relentless tennis tomorrow evening. Gasquet’s suspect temperament will be exposed by Ferrer, a man who gives absolutely nothing away. This should be close for the first two sets but Ferrer will prove slightly tougher in the clutch, choking the life from Gasquet early on with his remarkably deep and utterly consistent groundstrokes, before pulling away in the third set.

Ferrer in 3

 

Juan Martin Del Potro (7) v Andy Roddick (20)

This will probably be the night match on Arthur Ashe tomorrow night. And this will probably be the last game of professional tennis that Andy Roddick ever plays. Despite an inevitably raucous New York crowd, Roddick just doesn’t have quite enough game at this stage of his career to compete with the nuclear power of Del Potro. Inspired by the occasion, Roddick will pull out a set before being overwhelmed by the potency and penetration of the Argentine’s groundstrokes.

Del Potro in 4

 

Stanislas Wawrinka (18) v Novak Djokovic (2)

MATCH OF THE ROUND. Wawrinka is a solid player, with a gorgeous single handed backhand, and certainly more capable of going deep into Grand Slams than he has shown during his career. In the surprise of the round, I expect Wawrinka to play the match of his life and push the hitherto untested Djokovic to the very limit. Ultimately Djokovic will have a little too much heart, but the Wawrinka’s ground game could just test Djokovic in a way that he might not expect. The Swiss hit the ball beautifully in his victory over Dolgopolov in the last round and his shots noticeably penetrate the court more at the US Open than other majors. Djokovic to steal it in a classic.

Djokovic in 5

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The Trouble with Tomas Berdych

Firstly, an admission – I had planned to write this fairly negative article about Tomas Berdych, regardless of the outcome of his first round match at the US Open today. That he beat David Goffin fairly straightforwardly (7-5 6-3 6-3), is beside the more important point: that is, given Berdych’s prototypical physical stature and the attacking weaponry at his disposal, The Berd should be The Word.

Instead, Berdych is the most anonymous member of the world’s top 10. Consider it: the Big Three speak for themselves; as does Andy Murray, if to a slightly lesser extent. Based on pure ability, Juan Martin Del Potro is perhaps the nearest to crashing the Federer/Nadal/Djokovic closed shop. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga brings verve and boundless exuberance to the party. David Ferrer; a remarkable ability to run forever, in addition to some underratedly weighty groundstrokes. John Isner has a massive serve, huge heart and a penchant for epic matches.

Tomas Berdych? Well, nothing really – other than an overwhelming sense that the Czech just doesn’t really want it enough. His genuinely powerful groundstrokes, huge wingspan and colossal serve should, at very least, have made him a poor man’s Ivan Lendl (a compliment). Unfortunately, Berdych is apparently contented with his position near, but not at, the pinaccle of the game.  Lacking in heart, somewhat strategically naïve and mentally frail – these are deficiencies that even an abundance of talent cannot overcome.

For, despite these criticisms, Berdych undoubtedly has great ability – you don’t reach a Grand Slam final as he did at Wimbledon in 2010 without at least a modicum of said asset. However, the giant Czech seems curiously loath to display this virtue on the biggest stages. Take this year’s top level defeats: an encouraging start before tame submission to Rafa Nadal at the Australian Open. A similar, resigned loss to Del Potro at the French Open. And more recently, an incomprehensible annihilation by Ernests Gulbis at Wimbledon.

However, the nadir was probably a woeful straight sets loss at the Olympics to Steve Darcis. Yes, Steve Darcis. (World Number 74, since you didn’t ask). And while Berdych could possibly be excused that debacle on the grounds that ‘it was only the Olympics’; remember that the Olympic tennis tournament and a victory over Roger Federer created Berdych’s reputation in 2004, a reputation that he arguably existed upon for the next six years.

Many of Berdych’s best results have taken place on clay, a strange scenario given the apparent suitability of his game to faster, harder courts. While this may be due to the dubious ‘Martin Verkerk principle’: the clay giving Berdych more time to line up his shots than on other, quicker surfaces – it is an invalid excuse for a player possessing such serious firepower on both forehand and backhand, and with legitimate aspirations of winning Grand Slam titles. In fact, Berdych’s game – so similar in many aspects to Del Potro’s – should be ideally suited to the US Open; instead, he has never progressed beyond the 4th round. A dismal record for a player with his unquestionable ability.

While a permanent fixture in the top 10, Berdych is not seriously a threat to win any Grand Slam tournament in this era; indeed, he currently seems unable to muster the heart to sustain even a credible pretence at challenging in the Majors. While this may yet be the fortnight that his stagnating career is resurrected; Tomas Berdych appears disappointingly – given his aforementioned natural ability – satisfied with his lot.

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US Open 2012: Preview and Predictions

Last year’s US Open produced a truly unique tennis moment. A single shot that defined a match, a tournament and possibly even an entire season. In a sport rarely judged by singular moments of brilliance, Novak Djokovic’s mind-blowing forehand return winner at match-point down to Roger Federer might be a completely unparalleled event.

The shot, the charismatic celebration and the subsequently inevitable victory was the eye of Djokovic’s 2011 perfect storm. His remorseless completion of the greatest season in tennis history (don’t bother arguing, McEnroe and Federer) against Rafa Nadal in the final may not linger in the memory; but Djokovic’s forehand will live in tennis immortality.

After the match Federer was pilloried for his rather ungracious remarks: “For me, this is very hard to understand. How can you play a shot like that on match point?” yet he might well have had a point. The last-roll-of-the-dice nature of Djokovic’s forehand symbolised a different, imperceptibly more fleeting, type of success to that achieved by Federer and Nadal. A great player? Certainly. One of the greats? Possibly not yet. (And I argue that with sadness, as Djokovic always appears the most likeable, humble and fullest of heart among the Big Three.)

So, twelve months later, to this year’s instalment of the biggest, brashest show in tennis. The dynamics of the top 3 have changed dramatically throughout the course of 2012: Djokovic’s level – understandably so – has begun to drop noticeably over the summer; while Federer has ascended back to the summit of the game; and Nadal misses the tournament with a knee injury.

The dream final for the neutral observer is probably a sixth consecutive meeting between Federer and Djokovic at Flushing Meadows (4 previous Semi-Finals and 1 final). However, this may just be the tournament where the balance of power in the men’s game ultimately begins to shift from the Federer/Nadal/Djokovic hegemony that has existed in some form or another since 2005.

Olympic champion Andy Murray, crowd-favourite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Spanish roadrunner David Ferrer will all come into New York in possession of varying levels of confidence that this is their time. And, perhaps most dangerously of all, lurks the only other man who has won a Grand Slam in the trinity’s era.

After a decade of observing tennis, I remain convinced that no-one has ever struck the ball with more ferocity than Juan Martin Del Potro did during the final two sets of his 2009 US Open final victory over Federer. Despite a nervous start that night, his consistently flat, howitzer-like forehand completely eviscerated Federer towards the end of the match. A genuine contender was born. Or was; until a wrist injury befell the monstrous Argentine.

Finally, three years on, Del Potro has regained close to his best form this summer; hammering those lethal groundstrokes with the force of old and serving imperiously. If he can overcome yet more niggling ailments (wrist and knee, currently) then Del Potro is a serious contender to take down Djokovic in the Quarter-Finals, and potentially make a run at the title.

Similarly, Murray – the greatest player ever, never to have won a major – will surely believe that this is his best chance to win a Grand Slam. Following a remarkable destruction of Federer in the Olympic final, and finally in possession of a consistent forehand, and additional – if not yet abundant –composure; this will be as good a chance as Murray ever has to win a Grand Slam.

Predictions

Q/Fs

Federer bt. Berdych (Federer in 3); Murray bt. Tsonga (Murray in 4); Ferrer bt. Isner (Ferrer in 5); Del Potro bt. Djokovic (Del Potro in 5).

S/Fs

Murray bt. Federer (Murray in 4); Del Potro bt. Ferrer (Del Potro in 3).

Final

Murray bt. Del Potro (Murray in 4).

Analysis

I’d expect the top half of the draw to proceed according to seeding. If Murray can negotiate the Lopez/Raonic/Tsonga minefield – as I believe he will – then a Semi-Final against Federer will surely be the outcome. The combination of Murray’s clinically accurate backhand and increasingly formidable serve, allied to playing on his favourite surface, should be enough to throttle Federer over 5 sets.

The other half of the draw is wide open. As detailed above, I think Del Potro – injury permitting – is ready to advance to a Grand Slam final again. A potential Quarter-Final with Djokovic is a salivating prospect. David Ferrer should come through the weakest quarter of the draw, although John Isner, Richard Gasquet and Tommy Haas could also have legitimate chances to make the Semi-finals. Once there, any of the four will lose to Del Potro. Or Djokovic. Take your pick.

My predicted final – Murray v Del Potro – would be a rematch of the 2008 Quarter Final, one of the most brutal tennis matches I can remember witnessing (Murray eventually triumphing 7-6 7-6 4-6 7-5 after almost 4 hours of suffocating tennis). The power and accuracy on display from both participants was quite remarkable that day and would be just as fitting a climax to this tournament as Federer Djokovic VI.

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US Open Final Preview

Novak Djokovic faces Rafael Nadal in the US Open final at Flushing Meadows tonight. Can Djokovic complete the greatest season in tennis history with a maiden US title? Or will Nadal finally reassert his long-held supremacy over the Serb?

Djokovic has dominated the Spaniard this season, defeating him in five finals. Impressively at Indian Wells; courageously in Miami; surprisingly at Madrid; convincingly in Rome and authoritatively at Wimbledon, Djokovic has completely owned Nadal on the big occasions.

Is there any reason to believe this will change tonight? Probably not. Djokovic currently has an unshakeable confidence that when it comes down to the big points, he will win them. This mentality was in evidence in the semi-final; two sets down to Federer, and then two match points down in the fifth, there was still an utter certainty that Djokovic would win.

On the first match point he was transformed from Novak into The Djoker; blasting a forehand return of awesome power past the instantly demoralised Swiss and then celebrating with a swagger and smirk that portrayed his infallibility. This unquenchable self-belief and assurance of triumph even in the greatest adversity, is a much greater weapon than any pounding serve or two-fisted backhand.

Ironically, Nadal was once famed for this resilience. And against any other player in the world he would be a massive favourite tonight. However, this season he has been cowed by Djokovic – who does all that Rafa does, and just that little bit better. Djokovic’s serve has improved beyond all recognition from the quivering shambles witnessed in early 2010. His forehand is immensely powerful and supremely consistent, while his two-handed backhand is simply the best shot in men’s tennis. Rafa is a superhuman athlete; but Djokovic might just be the quickest and most agile player who ever stepped onto a tennis court.

Tactically, the main problem that Nadal has is that his greatest strength, that huge, topspin, crosscourt forehand which has bludgeoned hundreds of opponents into submission, is nullified because he’s hitting it into Djokovic’s best shot: the two-handed backhand. Djokovic takes the ball early before the heavy topspin can leave him off balance, and he’s the only player in the world consistently able to attack against Nadal’s forehand. Federer is paralysed by the spin; Murray is too erratic when trying to hit through it. However, watch Djokovic rip winners up the line and crosscourt off his backhand wing.

Nadal can win. He will believe he can win. The pundit’s will doubtless think he can win. But he won’t. Djokovic is inevitability personified – just ask Roger Federer, and this sustained period of invincibility should be cherished as one of sport’s all-time high watermarks.

Prediction: Djokovic in 4

US Open: Last 16 preview

With the first week of the US Open completed and (almost) all of the big names still in the tournament it is time to preview the business end of the tournament. Of the top four, Novak Djokovic has looked utterly imperious in coasting through to the last 16, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal similarly comfortable and Andy Murray a little shaky, not least in his second round 5-setter against Robin Haase. David Ferrer, Jo Wilfried-Tsonga and Mardy Fish are also still in contention with 7 seed Gael Monfils and 9 seed Tomas Berdych the highest ranked players to fall. Hopefully, the forecasted poor weather will bypass New York and the tournament will progress as scheduled.

Fourth Round Matches

Novak Djokovic (1) v Alexander Dolgopolov (22)

Djokovic has been almost invincible all year and after a slight dip in form during Montreal and Cincinnati he has regained his edge at Flushing Meadows; crushing his groundstrokes with impunity and covering the court like a speed demon. Dolgopolov also has a huge game from the ground which may pose problems for Djokovic if he can hit the forehand consistently – although attempting to outduel Djokovic on the cement has proved absolutely impossible this year. The other problem Dolgopolov will face is Djokovic’s ability to track down almost any shot. If Dolgopolov is on then he may keep it close or even steal a set but Djokovic will win comfortably in the end

Djokovic in 3

 

Janko Tipsarevic (20) v Juan Carlos Ferrero

This one should be close. Both players benefitted from withdrawals in the previous round – Ferrero particularly happy with his walkover after outlasting Monfils in a brutal 5-setter and match of the tournament thus far, in round 2. Tipsarevic has more weapons at his disposal off the ground but Ferrero is quick and will frequently make Tipsarevic play an extra shot – potentially taking its toll over five sets. If the notoriously flaky Tipsarevic doesn’t collapse under the pressure of attempting to reach his first Grand Slam quarter final then he should win; but Ferrero is a wily old fox who might just be able to rile the Serb enough to induce a meltdown.

Ferrero in 4

 

Roger Federer (3) v Juan Monaco

This is probably the easiest match of the round to call; and has been surprisingly selected as the floodlit match on Arthur Ashe Stadium Court on Monday night. Federer was courageous in dismissing the dangerous Croat Marin Cilic in the previous round and this should prove a simpler assignment. While Federer is susceptible to players who can blast him off the court (see Tsonga at Wimbledon & Djokovic at Melbourne) Monaco doesn’t have the firepower to truly test the Swiss. It may be close for a set or even two, but Federer will have far too much game for the Argentine.

Federer in 3

 

Mardy Fish (8) v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (11)

This is definitely the toughest match of the round to call. After Djokovic, Fish has the been the most in-form player on tour this summer but Tsonga has added consistency to his Grand Slam performances and has the artillery to blow any opponent off the court on a given day. The match will be played in the early evening and the New York crowd will be raucously backing Fish – this may just be enough to supplement his serve and athleticism, and carry him to victory in what is potentially the match of the tournament.

Fish in 5

 

Gilles Simon (12) v John Isner (28)

Isner will be confident of victory if his serve fires; Simon knows that he will win if he can get into enough rallies. With the match resting on the 6”10 American’s serve the pressure will be on the Simon return. The Frenchman will be confident of holding serve but will not want to go into tiebreakers with Isner. The towering serve has been dominant during the first week, with Isner’s 80% of first serve points won in the tournament second among the remaining players. Simon’s return game may not quite be of the required standard to make Isner look as pedestrian as the top 4 do but it may just be enough to see him through this match.

Simon in 4

 

Andy Murray (4) v Donald Young

Young actually beat Murray in Indian Wells earlier this season when the Scot was suffering a crisis of confidence but the 4th round at Flushing Meadows, in possibly the night match on Ashe, is a different story. While the inexperienced American has swagger enough not to be overawed by the occasion, Murray’s overall ability should be sufficient to ensure a comfortable victory. Murray looked impressive in humiliating Feliciano Lopez in the previous round and will feel that he has a genuine chance of breaking his Grand Slam duck here at Flushing Meadows. 7-time major winner and respected tennis pundit Mats Wilander believes that he will do exactly that.

Murray in 3

 

David Ferrer (5) v Andy Roddick (21)

Roddick has appeared somewhat rejuvenated at the Open following a dismal summer. While his opportunity to win another major has almost certainly disappeared he is still a threat to win any given match. Unfortunately for Roddick, Ferrer is a bit of a nightmare opponent for the American with his fantastic court coverage and solid groundstrokes off both wings. The number 5 seed also destroyed Roddick in straight sets in the Davis Cup earlier this summer. Another contender for the night match on Ashe, Roddick may need the extra boost of a pumped up New York crowd to compete in this one.

Ferrer in 4

 

Rafael Nadal (2) v Gilles Muller

Defending champion Nadal has had trouble with the big-serving Luxembourger in the past, with a notable defeat at Wimbledon in 2005 on his resume. Even this year, Muller took Nadal to a couple of tie-breakers on the grass. Muller has played well in New York before, reaching the quarters in 2008 and also serving a colossal 65 aces in the first three rounds this year and he may well challenge Nadal in this match. However, once Nadal starts getting into Muller’s service games, as he undoubtedly will, then the Spaniard will typically dominate from the ground. Muller’s huge serve may win him a set, but no more.

Nadal in 4

US Open 2011 Preview

With the most hyped hurricane in history having passed by Flushing Meadows yesterday, the US Open is expected to begin on schedule later today. The time has come for each of the main contenders to answer specific questions on the hallowed hard-courts of New York. Can Novak Djokovic complete what might be the greatest year in tennis history? Can Rafa Nadal recover from yet another injury to defend his crown? Does Roger Federer have one more major left in his racquet? Is it finally Andy Murray’s time? Could Juan Martin Del Potro rediscover his pre-injury form of 2009? Additionally perennial pretenders like Mardy Fish, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych will feel like they have the firepower to go deep into the tournament.

Djokovic enters the tournament as favourite and an overwhelming one if he’s fully recovered from the shoulder injury which curtailed his participation in the Masters 1000 final against Murray in Cincinnati. A record of 58 wins and a mere 2 losses this season, with two Grand Slam titles justifies his billing. Djokovic has been granted a comfortable draw with probably only Richard Gasquet or Tomas Berdych with any hope of derailing his smooth journey to the semi-finals.

Slated to meet Djokovic in the semi-final is Federer, the fading Swiss great. Federer did beat Djokovic in the Roland Garros semi-final and can still raise his game on any given day to other-worldly realms. However, there are now serious doubts about Federer’s ability to ease through a tournament as he did in his halcyon heyday. Bernard Tomic or Marin Cilic could prove dangerous third round opponents; Fish or Tsonga might potentially take down the Swiss in the quarter-finals. And if Federer negotiates that minefield then the irrepressible Djokovic lies in wait.

Since reaching the final in 2008 Murray has struggled at the US Open, losing to Cilic in round 4 in ’09 and Stanislas Wawrinka in a dismal round 3 defeat twelve months ago. Murray might have to go through Wawrinka again en route to a scheduled quarter final with Sweden’s Robin Soderling. However, the drama in this part of the draw may come from dangerous lower ranked players like John Isner and former champion Del Potro; exceedingly dangerous opponents on the cement. Isner, Del Potro or even 12th seed Gilles Simon would all fancy their chances of taking the quarter final spot from the notoriously flaky Swede. If Murray continues the upward trajectory of performance displayed in Cincinnati then he should be fairly confident of navigating the early part of the draw before dispatching any of the afore-mentioned quartet in the quarter-final.

In the final quarter of the draw Nadal should cruise through to the semi-final if his hand is adequately recovered from a mysterious hot-plate accident in a Cincinnati restaurant during the Masters tournament. With no real resistance scheduled until a potential quarter-final with fellow Spanish road-runner David Ferrer, Nadal should have ample time to find his form. Also in this quarter, the raucous New York crowd will be hoping Andy Roddick can turn the clock back thanks to a fairly kind draw. A Roddick run would be terrific entertainment value and a boost to the tournament but the American’s form has been so poor of late that he is a threat to lose to anybody.

Predictions

Q/Fs

Djokovic bt. Berdych; Fish bt. Federer; Murray bt. Del Potro; Nadal bt. Ferrer.

S/Fs

Djokovic bt. Fish; Murray bt. Nadal.

Final

Djokovic bt. Murray

Analysis

These predictions are fairly conservative but if Djokovic’s shoulder is fully healed it is almost impossible to see him losing. The combination of destructive power and clinical accuracy he has displayed this season is almost unprecedented and his demolitions of Murray and Nadal in the Australian Open and Wimbledon finals respectively were brutal to watch. Djokovic has the added advantage of five straight wins and a subsequent psychological stranglehold over Nadal.

Murray to reach the final may be a slightly sentimental pick but he is in better form than Nadal and has always said that Flushing Meadows is his best chance of winning a Grand Slam. With the questions marks surrounding the fitness and form of the Big Three, the clichéd ‘he’ll never have a better chance’ may actually apply here. However, defeating a fit Djokovic on the biggest stage could just prove a step too far as it did in Melbourne.