The bottom half semi-finalists are known since early this morning and what’s left for us to know is who will join Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal (I will get back on their quarter-final matches tomorrow). Will we have a perfect four again or will David Ferrer and/or Kei Nishikori hop in the mix?
Andy Murray vs Kei Nishikori
The former had a very tough draw that almost miraculously cleared up. The latter is playing the best tennis of his young career and pulled a tremendous upset when he defeated no 6 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 2-6 6-2 6-1 3-6 6-3. Both have met only once before, in Shanghai last season, a sound Murray beatdown of 6-3 and 6-0.
I must say it would be delusional for me not to put Andy Murray as a strong favourite for this match. After all, his game has been improving by leaps and bounds since his first two wobbly matches of the season, in Brisbane.
In this tournament, he had a bit of trouble in the first round, until he found Ryan Harrison’s weaknesses and exploited them fully, but since then, he has been cruising through his matches, lastly defeating Mikhail Kukushkin 6-1 6-1 1-0 ret. in the round-of-16, as the Kazakh was greatly impaired by the heat of the day and was forced to retire without holding serve once.
I don’t know if it is the Lendl effect, but Murray is playing very aggressive tennis and comes to the net much more often than in the past to finish the points quickly with his deft touch. The only problem I can see right now with Murray’s game is really his serve, as his movement is incomparable and he doesn’t have any issues with the afternoon heat of Melbourne. His forehand is much improved, his backhand as crisp and precise as ever, and as I mentioned, he’s finally using his great volleying skills to shorten up the points.
Kei Nishikori, for his part, has been playing unbelievable tennis since the beginning of the tournament. With tenacity, a well-varied play, and infinite patience, he has bided his time to slowly dismantle his opponents, even though all his matches save one went to four or five sets. Two days ago, he really played the match of his life to cause the upset and take out Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in five, and I expect a ferocious battle from him again today.
As a matter of fact, I think that despite the fatigue (Nishikori also played mixed doubles – with Kimiko Date-Krumm – including yesterday under the fierce sun and scorching heat), the first Japanese man to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in the Open Era will be a strong test for the last two years runner-up. Nevertheless, I think that Murray will emerge semi-finalist in this quarter.
Novak Djokovic vs David Ferrer
World no 1 Novak Djokovic really had a cake draw and what seemed like practice sessions giving points for his first three rounds, building momentum and growing his already enormous level of confidence without really being tested.
However, things were very different in his fourth-round match, as he faced Mr. Big Heart himself, Lleyton Hewitt. It took only the courage of desperation so characteristic of the Aussie veteran to come back from a 0-3 deficit in the third set, win the set and then fight like the very devil, albeit to no avail, in the fourth.
Djokovic won the match 6-1 6-3 4-6 6-3 and showed a few signs of vulnerability in the third and fourth sets that can only be seriously tested, if not outright vanquished, by as feisty and gritty an opponent as David Ferrer, who will take the court against him near dawn (for us) to try and overtake the reigning champion and reach the semi-finals that he had reached last year when he defeated countryman Rafael Nadal.
Spain’s David Ferrer has had his troubles as well in the early stages of the tournament, as it took him all his will and experience to win a five-set thriller against young U.S. player Ryan Sweeting, and then a wobbly start against Juan Ignacio Chela the next match.
Then again, the tireless Ferrer has cruised pretty much through the end of his third-round match after that start and things were no different against Richard Gasquet in the round-of-16, even though he did have some issues with his serve at time, but never enough to be bothered by the crafty Frenchman, whom he defeated 6-4 6-4 6-1.
Last time Djokovic and Ferrer have met, in London at the end of the season, Djokovic was tired, yes, but it doesn’t change the fact that Ferrer played an incredible match and deserves all credit for his 6-3 6-1 win. Can we expect a similar result, from one or from the other? Absolutely not! If anything, I expect a very tight match and a lot of running from both players. Furthermore, if Djokovic plays anything like he did from the middle of the third set to the end of the match against Rusty Hewitt, an upset is nothing impossible.
In this one, the heart is with David Ferrer but the head says that Novak Djokovic will march on and that we will have semi-finals between the top 4 players.