Monday, January 23, 2012

AUS OPEN 2012: Men's Quarterfinals Preview

Novak Djokovic SRB (1) vs David Ferrer ESP (5). The World #1 demonstrated that he is not perfect after all by dropping a set for the first time in the tournament against former World #1 and 2-time major champion Lleyton Hewitt in the previous round. That does not bode well for his quarterfinal match up with David "The Beast" Ferrer who basically is Hewitt 2.0 with more stamina and greater power on both wings. However the Spaniard will not have the huge audience support from the Melbourne crowd that nearly carried their countryman to victory. Ferrer actually has a decent career head-to-head record against Djokovic, winning 5 of 11 matches, which includes a win the last time they played at the Barclays ATP World Tour Championships at the end of Djokovic's "golden year" of 70 wins, 6 losses. On hard courts, Djokovic leads their head-to-head 5-2 and even though Ferrer was able to reach the semifinals against a hobbled Rafael Nadal last year, it is extremely unlikely that he will get as much assistance from his opponent this year. Mad Professah's Pick: Djokovic in 4 sets.

Andy Murray GBR (4) vs Jo-Wilfried Tsonga FRA (6) Kei Nishikori JPN (24). The second most surprising upset of the tournament was Nishikori's win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round. Tsonga had seemed to be on the verge of breaking into the stranglehold the Top 4 players in the world have had on the zenith of men's tennis by reaching the last match of the 2011 season (the championship match of the Barclay's ATP World Tour Finals) and winning one of the first ATP Tour titles of the 2012 season. Nishikori continues to make history, becoming the first Japanese male player to reach the quarterfinal of a grand slam final with his gutsy win over a surprisingly listless Tsonga. Nishikori has significant weapons (court coverage and speed, a sneakily powerful first serve and excellent backhand), which he used to great effect to hand Djokovic one of his rare losses in a full match in Basel last year. Unfortunately for Nishikori he is playing a well-rested Andy Murray who has reached the finals of this tournament for two consecutive years (l. Federer 2010, l. Djokovic 2011) and looks in even better form this year than he has previously. Nishikori has the skills to go even deeper into a slam, but this tournament will not be where that happens. Mad Professah's pick: Murray in 3 sets.

Juan Martin del Potro ARG (11) vs Roger Federer SUI (3). The Swiss Maestro continues to make history, reaching his incredible 31st consecutive major quarterfinal of his career. del Potro is one of the only players besides Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Federer who has been able to win a major championship in the last 6 years (2009 US Open). The tall Argentine is one of the hardest hitting players of all time but has spent the last two years recovering from a wrist injury and slowly returning to world-beating form. The bad news for Federer is that del Potro is very close to that form so that this match should be very tough for the 30-year-old father of twin girls. However, Federer has won this tournament four times previously and likes to start the year with good results and so I am confident that he is ready for the challenge. Additionally, Federer has a substantial 7-2 career advantage over del Potro, but if it gets to a 5th set Federer doesn't really have an excellent record and I think Juan Martin would have the edge, but I think it is more likely than not the match will not be that close. Mad Professah's pick: Federer in 3 or 4 sets or del Potro in 5 sets.

Tomas Berdych CZE (7) vs Rafael Nadal ESP (2). This match is a rematch of the 2010 Wimbledon Men's final (which I attended in person) that was easily won by Nadal.  In fact, in 13 career meetings, Berdych has only beaten Nadal 3 times (all on hard courts) and lost ten times to the 10-time major champion from Spain. In fact, Berdych hasn't had a win over Nadal since 2006, losing 9 matches in a row. This is somewhat surprising because Berdych is an excellent hard-court player and Nadal's vicious topspin shouldn't trouble the 6'5" Czech player on the backhand side as much as it vexes most right-handed players (like Federer, for example). This is only Berdych's fifth major quarterfinal of his career while this is Nadal's tenth consecutive quarterfinal. The Spaniard will want to surpass his below-seeding performance from 2011 (losing in this round to Ferrer) and set up a mouth-watering semifinal between either Federer or del Potro. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal in 4 sets.

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