Posts Tagged ‘semifinals’
I got 1 out of 2 correct with the women. Here’s hoping for a 2 out of 2 result with the men.
Novak Djokovic (SRB)  v Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) 
H2H: Novak Djokovic leads 3-1
Novak has played surprisingly spotty tennis over the past week. While it’s true that his opponents played well to test his resolve, Novak hasn’t played the clean, focused tennis that one would expect. His level has been up and down, from brilliant to passable. The same could be said of his movement: from brilliant, to barely passable with a large smattering of grass stains and pain.
That said, I think Novak’s still got too much game to lose in this semifinal to Grigor. I applaud the immense work that the Bulgarian has put in to up his fitness levels in order to compete well at the Slams, as well as the mental work he’s done to organize his game into a unified weapon (as opposed to a collection of great tools). Unfortunately, that won’t be enough to get by Novak.
The problem with this match-up is that there’s no one part of Grigor’s game, outside of his serve, that can hurt Novak. His backhand is a thing of beauty, but he lacks the ability to strong arm it down the line like Wawrinka. And he can’t knife his slice enough, like Roger, to bother Novak “enough”.
Andy Murray, his quarterfinal victim, is every bit as good of a returner as Novak. So if he can serve as brilliantly as he did against Murray, it might be enough to get a toehold into Novak’s head and cause a Novak walkabout. However, that will only delay the inevitable Djokovic victory. Great tournament, Grigor, but it ends here.
Novak Djokovic in four sets
Roger Federer (SUI)  v Milos Raonic (CAN) 
H2H: Roger Federer leads 4-0
This is a tricky match to call. With his trusty new RF Pro Staff 16×19 by his side, Roger has played terrific tennis over the past two weeks. He’s serving well, hitting his forehand with authority, and working his usual repertoire of slices on the backhand side. He withstood a first set barrage from Stan to win in four sets, and is as close as he’s been to a Slam title since his last one in 2012. I’m just not sure that he’ll be able to do much against the Milos serve.
Milos Raonic is a more well-rounded version of players like John Isner, meaning that he can serve bombs to all corners of the box but also back it up with decent movement to his second shot…if one is needed. His return game is still not quite as strong as it could be, but that’s okay. His faith in his serve is unshakeable, and that’s all that matters.
Now that Milos is moving better on grass, he will be less susceptible to having his footwork exploited as Roger has done in the past. And if he can handle Roger’s “work” on the ball, he could very well put himself in a position to take the match outcome out of Roger’s hands.
Even so, I just don’t know if it’s smart to bet against a guy with 7 previous titles, and the immense heart one would expect from the GOAT. My gut says Roger, but my head says Milos. Which wins out?
In a nod to powerful steely youth over experience, Canadian momentum (congratulations Genie), and a backdrop of upsets, I’ll go with Milos for the win. For now I’ll say four sets but it could easily go five.
Milos Raonic in four sets
Never one to shy away from the possibility of errant predictions, here are my picks for the Wimbledon Ladies Semifinals…
Lucie Safarova (CZE)  v Petra Kvitova (CZE) 
H2H: Petra Kvitova leads 5-0
Don’t let the H2H fool you. In spite of the lopsided victory count, this is not necessarily a one-sided rivalry. These two friends have played 3 times this season, and two of those have gone the distance. Their last match, on grass in Eastbourne, was won 7-4 by Petra in a third-set tiebreaker.
Familiarity with your opponent’s game can either be a great thing or a bad thing. For Lucie, it’s a comfort that allows her to play Petra better than perhaps other less threatening players. Whether this comfort will be enough to help her overcome Petra’s level of play on the big stage of Wimbledon’s Centre Court remains to be seen; but is likely doubtful.
Petra Kvitova in three sets
Eugenie Bouchard (CAN)  v Simona Halep (ROU) 
H2H: Simona Halep leads 1-0
The only meeting between these women was a three-setter earlier this year at Indian Wells. Simona won 6-2 1-6 6-4 in a match decided by who best defended their second serve (Halep).
A quick glance at the match stats for second serve percentages shows that Simona was overwhelmingly better at defending her second serve than either her quarterfinal opponent, Sabine Lisicki, or her R16 opponent, Zarina Diyas. By contrast, Genie had a significantly lower percentage of second serve points won than her previous opponents, Angelique Kerber and Alize Cornet.
Obviously, Genie won those matches because of the other aspects of her game. But all things being equal with Simona, she will go down to defeat again in three sets if she can’t better defend her second serve.
Simona Halep in three sets
Ernests Gulbis (LAT)  vs Novak Djokovic (SRB) 
H2H: Djokovic leads 4-1
Original Picks: Novak Djokovic*, Roger Federer
Gulbis did a couple of things really well the other day in his quarterfinal against Tomas Berdych. The first, and most important, was the excellent way that he managed himself. That’s no small task given his volatile on-court persona. The second was how well he managed his game against Berdych. Though Berdych was clearly “off” his game, Gulbis was very effective in keeping him off-balance with the same type of shot variety that kept Federer similarly off-balance in their R16.
The problem for Gulbis in this particular match is that Djokovic is a cut above Berdych. He possesses better movement, better defense, more varied offense, and is the “best on tour” in his ability to turn defense into offense at a moment’s notice. Gulbis’ dropshots won’t bother him, his pace won’t bother him, and Djokovic’s return game is the best around.
Simply put, there’s nothing Gulbis can do that will cause sufficient stress to Djokovic’s game. Conversely, there’s a ton that Djokovic can and will do to stress Gulbis’ game. For example, he’s probably going to stretch him wide to the forehand like Berdych tried, but will better be able to handle any ensuing squash shots or short balls.
I could go on but you get the gist of it. This match is Novak’s to win. BUT I do expect at least one broken Gulbis racquet.
Revised Pick: Novak Djokovic in four sets.
Rafael Nadal (ESP)  vs Andy Murray (GBR) 
H2H: Nadal leads 14-5
Original Picks: Rafael Nadal*, Stan Wawrinka
Andy has NEVER beaten Rafa on clay. Unfortunately, that trend will continue in their French Open semifinal match when Rafa beats Andy to reach his ninth final in ten attempts.
Andy might take a set off of Rafa because of his incredible defense, and I do mean incredible, but it won’t be more than that. And admittedly, I’m only giving him that set because Rafa isn’t at his imperious best these days. The outcome of this match, however, will never be in doubt.
The situation might be slightly different if Ivan Lendl were still in the picture. One of the things he pushed Andy to do was be more aggressive with his forehand when he plays Rafa, and to also not be afraid to rip that backhand down the line. Both of those strategies have been shown to be highly effective against Nadal, and would certainly enhance his chances in this match.
Sadly, in the absence of Lendl’s aggressive coaching, Murray has digressed to his earlier defense-oriented game. Defense isn’t enough to beat Nadal. The only way you can beat Nadal with defense is if you can turn defense into offense as effectively as Djokovic. Murray doesn’t have that ability, and will have a hard time attempting to do so.
Apart from the match-up difficulties, Murray also comes into this match with suspect discipline. He cruised early against Monfils but then struggled badly as the Frenchman found his game (to put it mildly). He completely reverted to “Pre-Slam Andy” in sets 3 and 4, and only got the win after Monfils imploded. Champions raise their game at crunch time. They don’t grab at body parts while complaining to anyone courtside who will listen.
That’s not to say that Nadal is at the top of his game, because he’s not. But as one would expect from the 8-time champion, he’s raised his level as the tournament has progressed. If you expect to beat him in these latter rounds, you’re going to have to play at a high level for a very long time.
Ferrer found this out the hard way. He came out swinging, and took the first set. Once Nadal got his teeth into the match after taking the second set, Ferrer’s game quickly unraveled. He couldn’t sustain his initial level of play over the long haul, and received a bagel and breadstick for his efforts in sets 3 and 4.
Nadal’s cleaned up the more troubling parts of his game from earlier in the clay season i.e. the mistimed forehands from the baseline, no penetration on his backhand, weak serving, and badly-missed short balls. His back still bothers him, and he’s not able to serve with quite as much pace as would be preferable, but he’s playing ‘well enough’.
That should be more than good enough for a 4-set win over the regressing Murray.
Revised Pick: Rafael Nadal in four sets.
* – original pick for semifinal winner
Maria Sharapova (RUS)  vs Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) 
H2H: Sharapova leads 2-0
Head-to-head records are often a great tool to help see past patterns in a matchup and, perhaps, help predict future match outcomes. But there’s not much in Maria and Genie’s prior 2013 matches that can predict the outcome of this semifinal.
The Genie from those matches doesn’t exist anymore. In her place is a thoughtful, confident player who’s no longer cowed by the moment. Her appearance, and loss, in the Australian Open semifinals opposite Li Na was the perfect preparation for this match against Maria. She belongs on this big stage, and she knows it. Now it’s just a matter of execution.
Maria might have something to say about that though. The 2012 champion knows that she’s the favorite in Serena’s absence, and wants to take full advantage. In order to do so, however, she’s got to play a lot cleaner than her past couple of matches.
Maria’s served decently at 60%, but has been plagued by double-faults (4.4 on average per match). She’s also averaging about 25 unforced errors. These are typically not the best numbers to win a Slam title. Fortunately for Maria, Genie’s numbers aren’t much better with a serve percentage of 58.6 with 3.2 double-faults on average per match. Additionally she’s averaging 23.8 unforced errors per match. So there’s little to separate the two with these numbers.
The problem for Maria shows up with the defense of the second serve. Genie’s generally done a better job of that over five rounds (51.8% vs 48.6%), but clearly trumps Maria with her performance in the last two rounds (44% vs 51.5%). If Maria has one of her “off” service days and can’t defend her weaker serve, there’s no way she can take control of the points the way she needs in order to assert her ground game.
I love Maria’s steely nature, and realize that she can hold her own with almost anyone not named Serena on tour, but this match is going to be a dogfight! Genie is on the verge of a breakthrough, and is conceding absolutely nothing to her veteran opponent. She would love to have her first Slam title, French Open or otherwise, just as much as Maria would love a second French Open title.
Though Genie may not end up with the title on Saturday, my gut tells me to take a chance on the young gun for an upset in this match. I expect it to go the distance, and ultimately end in elation for Genie, and disappointment for Maria.
Original Picks: Serena Williams*, Aga Radwanska
Revised Pick: Genie Bouchard in three sets.
Simona Halep (ROU)  vs Andrea Petkovic (GER) 
H2H: Halep leads 2-1
Unlike the breakdown for the Bouchard-Sharapova semifinal, this one is a much more straightforward affair.
Their previous match statistics tell a story that is neither favorable nor unfavorable to either player. Andrea excels in her first serve percentage vs Simona (75.2 to 58.4) with less double faults (2.2 on average as compared to 3.2). Conversely, Simona makes fewer unforced errors per match (16 vs 22.6). She also defends her second serve significantly better than the German (50% vs 41.5%).
These stats mean less to me than the fact that Simona, a player who’s risen dramatically over the past couple of years, plays a clean and fairly nerve-free game that can quickly knock out her opponents before they know what hit them. Svetlana Kuznetsova was having a great tournament until her 2 and 2 loss to Simona in the quarters.
In fact, Simona hasn’t lost a set this entire tournament. No fanfare needed, just fairly ruthless play resulting in efficient wins.
Andrea, on the other hand, almost quit tennis altogether after losing in the qualifying rounds of last year’s French Open. Years of injuries had battered her psyche to the point that a career in tennis barely seemed plausible. However, she persevered and now finds herself in her first-ever Slam semifinal.
In many ways, this whole experience is all gravy for the German. But even she acknowledges that the ever-present threat of injury is never far from her thoughts. This is an unnecessary distraction when facing someone who has been as efficient as Simona in dispatching her opponents.
Also, there’s a big difference when faced with your first Slam chance at a Slam semifinal versus your second. Simona had a rough trial by Melbourne fire in Australia, and is probably eager to show that she can better handle this moment. Andrea will be reeling in her first, and won’t possibly be able to show her best tennis.
Look for Simona to continue her efficient run to the final with a straight set win over Andrea. And even though Petko’s run ends here, it’s good to see this delightful German back in the hunt.
Original Picks: Li Na*, Simona Halep
Revised Pick: Simona Halep in two sets.
It’s a warm, humid day at the Sony Open, and I’m thinking it might have a bearing on at least one of the men’s semifinals slated for today. Kei Nishikori takes on Novak Djokovic in the day session, and Rafa Nadal takes on Tomas Berdych later tonight for a place in Sunday’s final. Rafa should be okay tonight, but I’m looking for Kei to go down swinging in today’s conditions after a long week on court.
Take a look and tell me your thoughts on today’s action when you get a chance.
There are some great women’s semifinal matches in store today at the Sony Open. First up is Serena Williams vs Maria Sharapova in a rematch of last year’s final. The late semifinal features an Australian Open rematch between Li Na and Dominika Cibulkova. From where I stand (or sit), we’re likely looking at a Williams-Cibulkova final. Watch the vid to find out why. 🙂