Friday, July 02, 2010

WIMBLEDON 2010: Men's Semifinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the men's semifinals at the Wimbledon Championships for 2010.
I previously made predictions for the men's quarterfinals (1 of 4 correct) and the women's quarterfinals (2 of 4 correct).

(I have now arrived in London and I have tickets for the men's final on Sunday.)

Roger Federer SUI (1) Tomas Berdych CZE (12) vs. Novak Djokovic SRB (3). For the first time since 2002(!), Roger Federer will not be playing in the Wimbledon Men's Final. (Of course, this is the year I travelled to Wimbledon after getting lucky to get tickets to the men's final. Did I bring him my favorite player bad luck?) Anyway, After winning 23 consecutive major quarterfinals, the 16-time major champion has now lost the last two he has played in a row, to two somewhat similar opponents, the hard-hitting giants Robin Soderling (in Paris) and Tomas Berdych (in London). Unlike at Roland Garros, where Federer clearly did not play his best and was blasted off the court, at Wimbledon Federer was defeated while still playing about as well as he's played most of the year. (Which is to say, not his best ever, but possibly the best he can do right now.) His failure to defend his two major titles from last year (and the fact he has won only won tournament all year, the 2010 Australian Open) means that the former World #1 will fall to World #3 in the rankings on Monday. This means that Federer will remain stuck one heartbreaking week behind matching Pete Sampras' record of 286 weeks at #1 for the foreseeable future. Will he ever get there? I believe so. And it may just be what keeps the Swiss master in the game until the 2010 London Olympics as he has promised before. Berdych has started a streak of his own; for the second consecutive major the Czech player has made the semifinals. Berdych played an astonishing match against Federer, hitting 51 winners to Federer's 44 and only making 23 unforced errors to Federer's 18 (and 6 of those were double faults by Berdych going for second serves). Although I predicted a different match-up, I am not unduly upset by what transpired today, I do believe the better player on the day won the match. As expected, with the shock defeat of Andy Roddick by Yen-Hsun Lu in the previous round, World #3 Novak Djokovic had an easy time of it to reach his second Wimbledon semifinal. Berdych and Djokovic have only played twice (a curiously low number for active players) with Djokovic having never lost. Can Berdych come back from the greatest victory of his career to date to reach his first major final? The Czech has suffered from mental frailty in the past, but is clearly playing some of his best tennis ever. Djokovic, too, is playing some excellent tennis and definitely has the game to make the most of this rare opportunity to reach his third major final (2007 US Open, 2008 Australian Open) without having to face a higher ranked player. However, he, too, has had some notably poor performances in massively important matches (the 2010 Roland Garros quarterfinal loss to Jurgen Melzer from two sets up comes to mind, as well as injury retirements at Wimbledon.) The real question is whether Berdych is on an unstoppable Juan Martin del Potro run to his first major, or will he come back to earth after beating the Greatest of all time on his best surface? PREDICTION: Djokovic (in 4 sets).

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga FRA (10) Andy Murray GBR (4) vs. Robin Soderling SWE(6) Rafael Nadal ESP (2). The bottom half of the draw is where I bravely (foolishly?) predicted that upsets would happen.Andy Murray The mouth-watering Friday tea-time match-up between World #1 Rafael Nadal and World #1 Andy Murray was predicted at the beginning of the tournament by many. But they both had to go through some excellent players to get there. Murray lost his first set of the tournament in a tiebreak to the excessively talented Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and was two points away at 5-all from losing the second set tie-break when The Frenchman inexplicably let a floating Murray service return sail past him at the net only to watch with horror and disbelief as the ball kissed the back of the line to give Murray set point instead. The rest of the match was not pretty, with Murray dominating to a 6-7(5) 7-6)5) 6-2 6-2 win. I didn't see much of the Soderling-Nadal match (since in London all eyes were geared towards their countryman's match) but from all reports Nadal started very slowly (down 0-5) in the first set but managed to break back early in the second set. Despite serving for the second set (after Soderling was treated for a blister on his left foot) at 5-4 Nadal only barely managed to eke out the third set tiebreak and then rolled past a demoralized Soderling to win 3-6 6-3 7-6(4) 6-1. With Federer out, Nadal has an excellent chance to win the tournament, as he has winning records against all the remaining players in the draw (7-3 versus both Murray and Berdych, 14-7 versus Djokovic--which happens to be the identical record he has against Federer). However, Murray is probably the toughest opponent for Nadal at this stage of the tournament. There's no question that Murray was on his way to demolishing Nadal earlier this year in the 2010 Australian Open quarterfinals when the Spaniard retired down 2 sets and 0-3. The two haven't played since, with Nadal having his best clay court season to date, and Murray his worst. Happily Wimbledon is played on grass. Additionally, the fact that Murray beat Nadal the last time they played and that this is a semifinal, not a final should help the Brit play his best tennis this year, something Murray did not do against an inspired Andy Roddick last year. Nadal has already lost the most amount of sets that he ever has on his way to winning (or defending) a major title. The 2008 Wimbledon champion has been uncharacteristically irritable and complained of pain his knees. On the other hand, Murray has lost the fewest amount of sets of any of the Top 4 players at Wimbledon this year and has been advancing later and later into the draw at Wimbledon every time he has played it. I expect that trend to continue all the way to the final, and possibly the title this year. PREDICTION: Murray in 3 or 4 sets (or Nadal in 5 sets).

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