(Just a quick side note: This quickly written piece about the men’s semis will be my last entry for a few days - I’m off on a weekend away to celebrate my best friend’s birthday. Check back on Sunday evening for a Wimbledon Top 10 entry or a review of the tournament. In the meanwhile – enjoy the awesome weekend of tennis!)
The second Friday of the Wimbledon fortnight is the day on which the men’s semi-finals are contested. After 128 men started the tournament 12 days ago, only four remain. The semi-finals to be contested are Novak Djokovic vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Rafael Nadal vs. Andy Murray.
Semi-final 1: Novak Djokovic vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
The biggest upset of the tournament came in the men’s quarter-finals on Wednesday with the loss of title favourite Roger Federer. The six-time former champion looked set to win when he went two-sets to love up. His opponent Jo-Wilfried Tsonga did not however accept defeat and went on to win the match in five sets. He became the first man to come back from a two set deficit against Federer in a grand slam match.
Novak Djokovic of Serbia will be Tsonga’s semi-final opponent. Djokovic had a far tougher quarter-final match against Bernard Tomic than most expected. Tomic, an 18-year old Australian, won the second set to make it a best of three set match. He then went up a break in the third set and it seemed like more than one upset could be on the cards. Tomic was however reeled in by Djokovic who took the third and fourth sets to win the match despite his inability to consistently play at a high level.
Tsonga – who was on fire against Federer particularly in the final two sets – will be hoping his serve remains in good shape. If he does serve at a level consistent with his performance in the previous match it is it is likely that he will give the world number 2 a serious challenge. Djokovic will be fancying his chances against the Frenchman to whom he has lost more often than not in the past. Tsonga might lead their head-to-head record 5-2, but Djokovic is the grand slam winner of the two and possesses a 41-1 record for the year to date. While Djokovic has undoubtedly been the best player in the world for much of the year, his form during Wimbledon has been sub par, and certainly not at a standard with which he will be satisfied. If his form fails to improve it is likely the match result will be on Tsonga’s racket. It is however doubtful that the flamboyant Frenchman will be able to maintain the level of play required to beat Djokovic for more than a couple of sets. As such, Djokovic ought to win. If his form improves to anything like it was prior to and during the French Open, he ought to win with relative ease.
My pick: Djokovic in five.
Semi-final 2: Rafael Nadal vs. Andy Murray
Much of the focus on Rafael Nadal has revolved around his injury problems – or if you prefer, the lack thereof. Regardless of the validity of his injury claims, he doesn’t seem to be suffering much and moved about as well as ever in his previous match against Mardy Fish. His injury problems are thus unlikely to have an effect on his performance during the final weekend of Wimbledon. Despite Fish managing to take a set off the defending champion, Nadal was very much the dominant player throughout the match. In addition to his brilliant form at the Championships, he is still enjoying the momentum provided by his win at the French Open.
His semi-final opponent is British hope Andy Murray. This is Murray’s third consecutive appearance in the final four at Wimbledon. He is due an appearance in the finals. The Brit’s form has been at a high level for the duration of the grass court season with a title win at the Queen’s Club tournament to his credit.
While Murray’s record against Nadal leaves much to be desired with Nadal leading 11 to 4, the British man has been playing some inspired tennis in the last few rounds of the tournament and is certainly capable of beating the Spaniard for a fifth time. This will still however be a tough assignment for Murray. Left-handed Nadal has developed a taste for grass since his first appearance at Wimbledon and will be the favourite to win the match. Nadal will be playing great tennis; whether or not he wins will be determined by the attitude and play Murray brings to the court. His best could send the defending champion packing.
My pick: Incredibly difficult to call, I’m hoping for a dramatic five-setter with the home favourite leaving the victor. As such I’m going with Murray in five, but I also know that Nadal could win in straights should Murray fail to show up with his absolute best.
The men’s draw has progressed mostly as expected with the biggest upsets being attained over three-time former finalist, Andy Roddick, and another former finalist, Robin Soderling. Roddick went out to a spirited performance by the Spaniard who favours grass, Feliciano Lopez, while Soderling was dispatched by the young Aussie gun, Bernard Tomic.
Other than these two matches, affairs have been fairly simple and straightforward with few truly exciting matches or upsets yet to occur. The only other upset victory perhaps worthy of a mention is the Mardy Fish win over defending finalist, Tomas Berdych. As reported in Part 1 of The Top 10: Wimbledon, only four of the 56 matches played in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th round of the men’s draw went to five sets. This has resulted in the tennis being quite bland other than a few brilliant sets here and there in matches involving the top players in the world. Hopefully the players contesting the quarter-finals against the big four of tennis will play at a high enough level to make the matches absorbing affairs. It would be a great coup for tennis fans if the quarter-final matches were of a competitive nature throughout.
Quarter-Final 1: Rafael Nadal vs. Mardy Fish
It seems unlikely that Fish will be able to provide the world number one with a challenge too great to overcome. These two men last played each other three years ago with Fish losing all five matches contested between them. While he is now ranked 20 or so spots higher than he was back then, he is an inferior player to Nadal, and will have to play the match of his life to have an effect on the outcome of this match. Nadal’s form has been steadily improving with him playing some eye-catching tennis in his fourth round match against Juan Martin Del Potro despite injury fears which have since been allayed. It seems the result is to a large extent on Fish’s racket. A great performance from him and Nadal could lose not only the match, but also his number one ranking. This is however the first time in nine attempts that Fish has progressed beyond the 3rd round at Wimbledon. With his grass court pedigree in question, the defending champion has to be heavily favoured to win.
The winner: Rafael Nadal in four.
Quarter-Final 2: Andy Murray vs. Feliciano Lopez
The UK tabloids will undoubtedly lead with speculation about who Judy Murray will support in this match, what with her appreciation of Lopez’s appearance. It is unlikely that the players will be concentrating on anything other than their opponent’s on-court play. Andy Murray will be heavily favoured to win against the 29-year old who is making his third appearance in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon this year; Lopez could at the very least make it difficult for Murray.
Lopez’s excellent serving is likely to continue, this in addition to his serve-and-volley play and the fact that he is a lefty could cause Murray some problems should the Spaniard execute his game plan well. Murray has however made the semi-finals at Wimbledon for two years running, and has been playing some of his best grass court tennis. As such he is likely to win and the match could very likely turn into a rout should he take the first set.
The winner: Andy Murray in three.
Quarter-Final 3: Roger Federer vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
History and rankings heavily favour Federer to win their quarter-final encounter. Federer leads their head-to-head record by 4-to-1, and is ranked 16 spots higher than his opponent. The Frenchman who is famous for wearing his heart on his sleeve is however a great competitor who will certainly walk out on to Centre Court at Wimbledon thinking that he can leave as the winner. His form of late has been of a high level with a final run at Queen’s Club on his record this year. If the Frenchman serves at his best he could no doubt make the match a closely contested one. Despite the Frenchman’s best efforts he could still lose to Federer quite easily if the Swiss man’s form improves slightly on his not bad displays in the earlier rounds.
The winner: Roger Federer in four.
Quarter-Final 4: Novak Djokovic vs. Bernard Tomic
Despite being the player to drop the least amount of games in the Championships thus far (41) Djokovic has been the member of the big four who has looked most frail in his early matches. He struggled to hit the ball cleanly against Marcos Baghdatis and was clearly frustrated at his play, going so far as to slam his racket to the ground in a display of anger reminiscent of his earlier years on the tour. Despite this low level of form, Djokovic has been fairly lucky with regards to the draw, playing Michael Llodra in the fourth round – no disrespect meant to the Frenchman whose serve-volley style I love to watch; he has simply never displayed the class or results of a Gasquet, Del Potro or even Youzhny. Djokovic now faces the world number 158 in Bernard Tomic. While these matches aren’t too much of a challenge for the Serb, they do provide him with an opportunity to find some form; the Serb’s expectations should be as high as those of the other top 4 players come the weekend. Tomic has had a phenomenal run at Wimbledon in which he took out Igor Andreev in five sets and former finalist Robin Soderling. The Australian’s success has been the fairy tale story of the tournament. He has however yet to come up against a player of Djokovic’s class in what is only his second entry into the main draw at Wimbledon. He is a man for the future, while Djokovic’s time is very much now.
The winner: Novak Djokovic in straight sets.
Should these predictions be realized it will be the first time in the open era of tennis that the top four seeds have all reached the semi-finals at two consecutive majors. While this might make the men’s quarter-final day slightly boring, it will certainly provide some excellent drama in the semi-finals and finals respectively. Something I think we have to look forward to.
Vote for your FOUR semi-finalists below. And feel free to share your picks in the comments below.
Considering the all-court brilliance of the four top ranked tennis players, it seems unlikely that it won’t be these four men to contest the semi-finals of Wimbledon. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and to a lesser degree Andy Murray have an absolute chokehold on the sport at the moment, not that anyone is complaining about what has lately frequently been referred to as the “golden era” of men’s tennis. As a result of their dominance, any draw discussion inevitably focuses almost exclusively on each of these men’s’ possible routes through the draw. Wimbledon 2011 is no exception.
Nadal faces few players capable of upsetting him in the early rounds. According to the seeding’s he will play the hard-hitting up-and-comer of tennis, Milos Raonic in the third round. This is likely to be Nadal’s first relatively competitive match. Raonic, who has been having a break out year, recently reached the quarter finals at the grass event in Halle. In order to face Nadal he will likely have to get through a tricky encounter against Tommy Haas in the second round. In the fourth round, Nadal’s opponent looks to be Juan Martin del Potro, 2009 winner of the US Open. Despite being the only man to ever beat both Federer and Nadal at a grand slam event, Del Potro’s lack of success at Wimbledon in the past contrasted by Nadal’s high level of proficiency on the surface seems to indicate Nadal being a fairly easy winner.
Defending champion, Rafael Nadal seen here lining up a serve at the recent French Open, will likely have to take on Juan Martin del Potro and Tomas Berdych in order to make the semi-final at Wimbledon. Credit: Dana Anders (DANA)
Top ranked American, Mardy Fish, ought to play defending finalist, Tomas Berdych for a spot in the quarter-final opposite Nadal. Considering his grass court pedigree, Berdych is the favourite to progress. However his recent lack of form indicates that this encounter will likely be closer than it ought to be and could even end in a favourable result for the American. The winner should by all accounts go on to face Nadal in the quarter-final of this section. If Fish is the winner, odds are Nadal will wipe the floor with him as he has in all previous encounters. If Berdych manages to play himself into form during the course of Wimbledon, a replay of last year’s final could be on the cards. In all likelihood Nadal will defeat Berdych, who has rarely lived up to the talent he displayed as prodigious tennis player. Hopefully he will be able to make the match a livelier affair, in contrast with their somewhat disappointing Wimbledon final in 2010.
As is befitting of the top British tennis player, Andy Murray will have the attention and expectation of a nation to contend with during the run of the tournament. He doesn’t seem bothered in the slightest bit, continuing to play and win in his “sulking and unsmiling” manner which has generated plenty of negative press for the fourth ranked player in the world in his native country. His draw seems fairly straightforward with a few relatively unknowns his opponents in the first two rounds of the Championship. In the round of 32 he could face Croat, Marin Cilic. While Cilic, with his career high-ranking of nine, is always a threat, I’d distinctly favour the UK man to progress. He is also likely to win against either Stanislas Wawrinka or Richard Gasquet who could potentially provide Murray with a contest for spot in the quarter-finals. Both these men play with a single-handed backhand, and their 3rd round encounter should be a high quality tennis match. Should Gasquet be the one to go on and face Murray, he is capable of providing the British a few nervous moments. The last two matches contested between Murray and Gasquet have gone to five sets and the Frenchman is sure to revel in a similar encounter, while the Scot will be hoping to win as easily as his superior ranking indicates he ought to.
In the other section of the Murray quarter of the draw, Andy Roddick looms large. He is one of the better players on grass never to have won Wimbledon. Feliciano Lopez, an unseeded Spanish player with admirable grass court prowess floats in this part of the draw and could potentially face Roddick in the third round. According to the seeding’s Roddick will face Gael Monfils, the outgoing Frenchman in the fourth round. Despite these fairly tough encounters which are due to unfold, Roddick is an immense player to face, particularly on grass. He really ought to have won the title in 2009. It is my hope and belief that he will live up to his seeding and at the very least reach the quarter-finals here at Wimbledon
The quarter-final matchup between the home favourite, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick will hopefully be more closely contested than their recent Queen’s Club semi-final which Murray won in resounding fashion. I suspect Roddick’s confidence at Wimbledon combined with a sure improvement in his match fitness, will make this a good encounter. The result is likely to be on the big serving man’s racquet and will depend on his form coming into the match.
In light of the slightly one-sided final between Tomas Berdych and Rafael Nadal, John Isner vs. Nicolas Mahut was probably the memorable match of Wimbledon 2010. It was an excellent showcase of tennis which made casual tennis watchers aware of the fact that majors stretch a fortnight, and that 128 players compete - Federer vs. Nadal is not the only match of a championship. In an absolutely brilliant display of the physical strength and endurance combined with mental steel which tennis asks of its players, these men played a first round match at Wimbledon worthy of Federer-Nadal and Borg-McEnroe, lasting in excess of 11 hours. And the stand out match of the Wimbledon 2011 first round draws? Isner-Mahut. The two men, who have become friends since last year’s match, will be playing each other on the hallowed grass once again, hopefully on Centre Court as they deserve. While this match is likely to have a big following, it is unlikely to seriously affect the outcome of this section of the draw in which Federer is the top seed.
If the French Open is any indication, Federer seems to be playing some fine tennis. The Swiss man has a few interesting match ups pending, including playing David Nalbandian, a former Wimbledon finalist in the 3rd round. Nalbandian has been somewhat of a bogey man to Federer in the past, and while he is unlikely to greatly challenge Federer for a win, I do think Federer’s performance against the Argentine will be telling. If Federer struggles it could mean that his run at the Championships will be abbreviated one, contrarily a good performance from the Swiss against Nalbandian should be seen as a clear mark that his form is that of a finalist or even the eventual winner. The probable Federer-Tsonga quarter-final, ought to be a good display of tennis, with both players capable of producing a high number of winners. While Tsonga’s recent final run at the Queen’s Club tournament indicates that he’ll be able to keep proceedings competitive, Federer should be the victor.
Other than his loss to Federer at the French Open a few weeks ago, Djokovic has been the form man in tennis this year. His 43-match winning streak, which encompassed almost six months of tennis, has to be one the great feats achieved in the sport, and certainly makes him a title contender for Wimbledon. Few troublesome players are in his section for the early rounds. Marcos Baghdatis and Viktor Troicki are likely 3rd and 4th round opponents. If Djokovic’s form is anywhere near where it has been for the rest of the year, he should easily progress against both the former Wimbledon semi-finalist and his country man. According to the seeding’s Robin Soderling should be the other quarter finalist in this section. His draw is fairly tough, however and he’ll be facing German Philipp Petzschner, a finalist at Halle, in the first round, followed by a likely encounter against former Wimbledon champion, Lleyton Hewitt in the second. Should he progress to the fourth round, rankings dictate he defeat Jurgen Melzer, a combative Austrian for an opportunity to challenge Djokovic in the quarter-final.
Lleyton Hewitt, seen here playing at the Halle Open, is a former winner at Wimbledon who’ll be looking to recapture the form that led him to his glory days when he takes on Novak Djokovic in the second round. Credit: Dana Anders (DANA)
If this is a competitive match, it’ll indicate that Soderling has rediscovered his form of a few years ago, and probably that Djokovic has lost his. In this case, Soderling is the likely winner; I don’t however think that Djokovic’s form will have dropped significantly. As such, he should progress to the semis with greater ease than his top three opponents for the title.
Semi-final 1: Nadal vs. (Roddick vs. Murray)
While Nadal was unconvincing in the first few rounds at the French Open, he played himself into form which he is likely to retain at Wimbledon. Save for Berdych being in the form of his life, which is a tad unlikely, Nadal should be man to progress from his quarter of the draw. On the opposite side of the net in the semi, he will almost certainly face one of the Andy’s. While the safe bet is Murray, I risk the wrath of a very passionate nation by favouring Roddick to progress at about 50.5 to 49.5. Make no mistake, Murray has every opportunity to win at Wimbledon, he has the tennis game, he has the (sometimes ill) temperament, and he certainly has the ability to come out on the big stage and beat players of the world number one’s calibre. Roddick’s confidence and pure will when playing at Wimbledon could however trump Murray’s superior form; although I don’t think that’ll be enough against Nadal. Should Murray come through against Roddick, I think he will provide Nadal with a far sterner test, and could even be the victor in that match up.
Semi-final 2: Federer vs. Djokovic
Federer was nothing short of brilliant during the French Open. One could argue that he was more deserved of the title than the man who defeated him in the final by virtue of what is at the least, a very unlucky and unfortunate match up of a lefty forehand and a one-handed backhand on clay for the Swiss. The point being, the 16-grand slam winner has some form to speak of at the moment and should progress to the semi’s relatively unhindered, as should his likely opponent in the semi-final, Djokovic. This should – like their French semi, which was undoubtedly the match of the tournament and possibly the year – be a great display of tennis, and a competitive encounter. While Djokovic will have an opportunity to win, I think he has not yet reached the level of maturity required to beat an inform Federer at Wimbledon. Historically that has been a distinction has only ever achieved by Nadal.
Final: Nadal vs. Federer
I pick these two men with great hesitance and doubt. While I slightly favour Federer over Djokovic if his clay court form carries over, I must admit to taking a gamble when picking Nadal. Roddick is unlikely to make the final; his ability to beat both Murray and Nadal is questionable. Should he beat Murray, which he could, he will likely lose to Nadal making Nadal the finalist. Should Murray progress against Roddick, his momentum, and great form illustrated by his win at Queen’s Club could potentially carry him to a win over Nadal and his first Wimbledon final. The permutations involved make it fairly close to impossible to pick a finalist from this side of the draw. As a result, going with the house seems closest to a wise decision, and as such I pick Nadal to be a finalist and set up a fourth Wimbledon final against Federer.
Pictured here at the French Open, Roger Federer will be looking to add to his six Wimbledon titles, to equal Pete Sampras' record seven. Credit: Dana Anders (DANA)
Nadal’s form was somewhat off at the French Open. This in addition to the fact that Federer would have in all likelihood beaten Djokovic to make the finals, meaning his form confidence is high, leads to Federer being the title favourite for the grass court tennis major ahead of world number one, Nadal. All-in-all several great tennis matches await us over the next few weeks.
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