Nerves, fatigue, injury, fight, dominance, serve, and on top of all, emotion: such was the menu of today’s men’s quarter-finals, where the places for the coveted medal matches were played. No surprises in any match, as the highest seed ended up the victor in each of them, all without dropping a set, two in quite tight matches.
The line-up for tomorrow’s semi-finals is really mouth-watering, I must say.
Top half: Roger Federer (Switzerland)  vs Juan Martín del Potro (Argentina) 
The two semi-finalists of the top half were assuredly the ones who had to work the hardest to reach this stage of the Olympic tournament during their respective quarter-final match.
If Roger Federer had his hands full with the big serve of John Isner, Juan Martín del Potro, for his part, had to battle the always feisty Kei Nishikori, as well as his own nerves.
Juan Martín del Potro d. Kei Nishikori, 6-4 7-6(4)
For the first set was a quite nervous affair between the Argentine and the Japanese, both on a surface that is not their best, in a match the importance of which both were acutely aware, which led them to make quite a few more errors than they normally would. If del Potro drew first blood, it was only to get broken right back. When he broke to have the chance to serve out the set, again, he tensed, and got broken right back, but he broke Nishikori as he was trying to stay in the opening set, clinching it 6-4.
It seemed like a huge monkey had gotten off his shoulders, as he started the second set all guns blazing, serving great, his crunching forehand back to its best for the most part. The monkey came back when the time came to serve out the match. Visibly very nervous, the Argentine thew in two double faults, including one that gave Nishikori the break back.
Both men then held their serve, with Nishikori forcing the tiebreak, where Delpo took a mini-break from the start, but lost it midway through the breaker, to take it back at the first opportunity, giving himself two match points. He needed only one as Nishikori made an unforced error, thus sealing del Potro’s passage to the Olympics semi-finals.
Juan Martín del Potro becomes, with this win, the first Argentine man to reach the singles semi-finals at the Olympic Games, and he does so on his worst surface. Quite an accomplishment for the man from Tandil, who is also still in the run in the mixed doubles, with Gisela Dulko (they will face Wimbledon champions Lisa Raymond and Mike Bryan in quarter-finals, tomorrow).
Roger Federer d. John Isner, 6-4 7-6(5)
The two quarter-finals have only the scoreline in terms of similarities, as Roger Federer and John Isner fought another kind of battle.
We all know how Isner’s serve can often get him out of tricky situations, and it was no different today, as many times he used his powerful serve to recover from 0-30 deficits to hold his ground. For his part, Roger Federer held his ground quite comfortably, and converted his third break point of the set, when Isner completely misfired a forehand, which went wide.
The second set was just tighter, as only the American conceded a break point, quickly erased, and Federer, none, and the set, predictably, ended up in a tiebreak, where both players traded mini breaks to start, and both held on to their service points until Federer had a first match point, on Isner’s serve.
This match point is really one of the most bizarre (and lucky) I’ve seen in a bit, as Federer hit Isner’s serve and the ball just clipped the net to land on the other side, out of reach of the American, a little like it happened six years ago, when he did something similar to his good friend Ivan Ljubicic in similar circumstances in Miami’s final.
With this win, Roger Federer reaches the semi-finals of the Olympic Games for the first time since Sydney, in 2000, where he lost to Tommy Haas before losing the bronze medal match to Frenchman Arnaud Di Pasquale in three tight sets.
Already the sixth match this year
Tomorrow’s Olympic semi-final will already be the sixth meeting between del Potro and Federer this season. Federer won all five matches, the last one a tough defeat for the Argentine in the French Open quarter-finals, where he lost the match after having had a two-set lead.
In fact, del Potro hasn’t beaten Federer since their round robin match in London, back in 2009.
Of course, everything favours the Swiss for this match: from the surface to the venue, passing by the obvious mental edge he holds over his opponent.
The keys, for Delpo, would really be to come into the match focused and aggressive, with all his weapons ready and in order, particularly the serve and the forehand. More than anything, he has to come onto the court believing he can win, as he’s been having a blockage not only with Federer, but with all the top 4. And we know that if he wants to win a medal, he has to beat at least one of them. In this instance, the belief he can do it and the confidence in his own abilities are definitely the keys to his success.
Coming up… the bottom half