Monday, September 08, 2014

2014 US OPEN: Men's Final Preview

Here are my predictions for the men's final at the 2014 US OpenThis year I have correctly predicted 2 of 2 women's semifinals2 of 4 women's quarterfinals0 of 2 men's semifinals and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals at the U.S. Open. Last year I incorrectly predicted Novak Djokovic would defeat Rafael Nadal in the 2013 U.S. Open men's final. This year I correctly predicted that Serena Williams would defeat Caroline Wozniacki in the women's final.

WHAT HAPPENED: Men's Semifinal Review
 Kei Nishikori (JPN) [10] d. Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] 6-4 1-6 7-6(4) 6-3. Somehow Nishikori  was able to out-play the World #1 player, Novak Djokovic, who had previously been thought of as (one of) the most physically fit player(s) on tour. But, despite playing two consecutive four-hour, five-set matches the slight (5-foot-10, 150-pounds) Japanese player appeared to be the player with more gas in the tank for the majority of the clash with the 7-time major champion. The key moment of the match was the third set tiebreak after splitting the first two sets. Surprisingly it was Djokovic who blinked in the tiebreak, hitting four unforced errors, including a double fault to lose the momentum in the match. He then went down an early break in the 4th set and Nishikori nursed his lead and then broke Djokovic in the very last game to earn the biggest win of his career to date.

Marin Cilic (CRO) [14] vs Roger Federer (SUI) [2] 6-3 6-4 6-4.  Despite having never beaten the 17-time major champion in five meetings, Marin Cilic came into this match brimming with confidence and proceeded to demonstrate why from the very first point. Blasting untouchable and unreturnable serves into all four corners of the court and moving his 6-foot-6 frame agilely on the punishing surface to hit overpowering groundstrokes, the #14 seed was simply too much for the All-Time Great to handle. Federer served about as well as Cilic (13 aces for Cilic to 12 aces for Federer, 56% versus 61% service percentage, respectively) and also won 50% of his breakpoints but the problem was that Cilic had four times as many break chances (and thus four times as many breaks). Before the semifinal I had suspected that Cilic could be problematic for Federer, speculating that he could cause the same kind of problems for his one-handed backhand that the powerful Juan Martin del Potro had posed for Federer in 2009 and that's basically what happened. Still it was pretty shocking to see both the #1 and #2 seeds lose within hours of each other, confirming that a new era in men's tennis has begun.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN: Men's Final Preview
 Kei Nishikori (JPN) [10] vs Marin Cilic (CRO) [14].

For the first time since the 2005 Australian Open (Marat Safin d. Lleyton Hewitt) no one from the Trivalry at the top of men's tennis (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic) will be contesting a major final. CBS advertised Monday's final as the first U.S. Open final between "double-digit seeds" which is true, but also besides the point. There are several talented players who now realize they have what it takes to reach a major final, and win it: Stanislas Wawrinka (who actually did it in January this year at the Australian Open) and any of the numerous first time major semifinalists of 2014: Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, Ernests Gulbis and Kei Nishikori. Just behind them there are players who have squandered past opportunities to break open the monopoly at the top of men's tennis, players like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych and even plucky David Ferrer and mercurial Gael Monfils. It will be fascinating to see which of this crop of players (or perhaps someone else?) becomes a first-time major champion in 2015.

However, first we know that we will have a first-time major champion at the 2014 U.S. Open in Cilic or Nishikori. Head-to-head Nishikori leads Cilic 5-2 including 4-2 on hard-courts but only 1-all in 5-set matches played in New York. This is an ominous sign for the Japanese player because although he is widely regarded as the more talented of the two players, that doesn't mean he will win this match. I fully expect Nishikori to reach more major finals in the future, but I can't say the same for Cilic. I do, however, expect Cilic to win this match, especially if he plays anywhere near the level he played at against Federer. I am convinced that the time he spent away from the court due to the doping suspension last year has mentally toughened Cilic for this experience and I have to believe that the sheer volume of tennis that Nishikori has played will catch up to him at some point before the tournament is over.

It is true that his backhand cross court to Nishikori's backhand will not be as overpowering (in fact, Nishikori has to be given the edge in that department) but if Cilic serves with the same devastating effect that he has all tournament long it will be tough for Nishikori to stay with him. Then again, Cilic is not a better server than Milos Raonic and Nishikori outlasted him in the 4th round, but Cilic is a much much better mover, which is the key advantage has over most of his opponents. By limiting Nishikori's advantage in this area and stretching his advantage in the service area, the Croatian should win his first(and only) major title.

MadProfessah's pick: Cilic.

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