The chalk held, that’s all that we can say when we look at the final four that survived the first five round of the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows. There were no real surprises in the end, nothing out of the ordinary that would really leave anybody with a legitimate suspicion that things are in disarray in the men’s game.
There’s the world’s top player, Novak Djokovic, is there after Janko Tipsarevic withdrew from their quarterfinal match after dropping nine straight games to fall into a 6-7 7-6 0-6 0-3 deficit. The two Serbs, who have played doubles together in the past, were locked in a classic battle through the first two sets before Djokovic found another gear and blew his compatriot out completely. With one bagel, en route to another, Tipsarevic conceded defeat with good nature. The two countrymen shook hands at the net, and that was that. There would be no miraculous comeback against the best tennis player currently plying his trade in the pro game at the moment.
There’s the man who previously held the title as the world’s best, Rafael Nadal, who made all the talk about Andy Roddick’s resurgence sound downright silly after he pummeled the last American left standing in the men’s draw. Roddick played his heart out to the fullest, but it was to no avail against the Spaniard. The battle of former Grand Slam champions was hardly a battle at all. Nadal looked every bit the defending champion as he punched his ticket to the semifinals with ease. Moving around the court as well as we’ve ever seen, the man from Mallorca asserted his will on Roddick, pushing him around in the straight-sets 6-2 6-1 6-3.
The man who held the #1 rank for more consecutive weeks than any other player in ATP history, Roger Federer, is there in the semifinals as well. Relegated to third billing, the Swiss champion was pitted against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a quarterfinal battle that looked to turn out much more tensely than ultimately happened. Having defeated Federer at the same point of the draw in Wimbledon back in July, and then in the octofinals of the Montreal Masters tune-up tournament ahead of the U.S. Open, it looked as though the Frenchman had all the momentum. Federer laughed that off, looking as strong as ever in the 6-4 6-3 6-3 victory.
And then there was #4 Andy Murray, the Scottish star who has long been hailed as the best player yet to win a Grand Slam tournament. After dispatching of the other American to reach the quarters, John Isner, now is as good a time as ever for Murray to make a serious push. Isner kept things interesting, stealing away the third set to extend the match into a fourth set, but the former Bulldog had no long-term answer for the most recent great British hope. Murray prevailed in his second long match of the tournament, reaching the semifinals in his fourth straight Grand Slam.
So who will reach the finals?
Murray takes on Nadal in the bottom half of the bracket. The Scot can’t take much comfort in this matchup… the two men have dueled at the previous two Grand Slams, at this same point in the draw, and both times the Spaniard has prevailed. Nadal hasn’t dropped a single set this tournament, and it’s hard to see him faltering at this point against a man whose number he clearly holds in his hands.
PREDICTION: Nadal in straight sets
And then there’s Novak Djokovic versus Roger Federer. The two men have met in Grand Slams twice this season. Djokovic prevailed in the Australian Open en route to the title 7-6 7-5 6-4. Federer returned the favor in the semifinals at Roland Garros, ending the Serb’s 43-match winning streak before succumbing to his old nemesis Nadal in the French Open final. With Federer’s upset loss to Tsonga at Wimbledon in the quarters, the two were denied their rubber match. They get it instead in New York City instead of London. Federer was able to get the victory on clay, but Djokovic has won all three matches in 2011 that these two have played on hard courts. Look for that streak to extend to four…
PREDICTION: Djokovic in four sets
So look for a rematch of last year’s final. Except this year, when Nadal and Djokovic play one another, expect the Serb to steal away his fourth career Grand Slam title. Djokovic has clearly gotten into the head of his Spanish foe, and after losing five straight finals in 2011 to the Serb it’s hard to expect anything but an even half-dozen after the U.S. Open is through.
Of course, Bigalkedamus has been wrong before… I’m certainly no clairvoyant. But in a draw that has proven so chalk-heavy, is it shocking to expect things to play out to form in the last Slam of the season?