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Setting up the '08 Semi-final showdown in '2011

Men's quarters results (top half); setting up bottom half today


September 09, 2011 | 10:05 AM

After John Isner sent Gilles Simon packing and earned his first quarterfinal in a Major, Roger Federer combined for a one-two punch, flooring The Champ Jo Tsonga in 3 straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. It took Rog less than 2 hours to knock out the man who'd stolen their last quarterfinal (Wimbledon) from 2 sets down. Rog wasn't letting that happen again, although in true heavyweight tradition, the Champ kept getting up off the floor after being broken. The extra rounds didn't earn him many extra break points, for which he was 2 for 3 - he scored one in the first game they played after a 90 minute rain delay to even the 1st set at 3-3, and another in the 2nd set to hang in from 1-4 after being down 2 breaks. By the 3rd, Rog was remembering what happened when he didn't get the early break in Wimbledon and never saw another break opportunity. He continued to serve at a ridiculous level for him (72% 1st serves) and to jump on Tsonga's bombs (one Jo-ace was 139 mph) in front of the baseline, taking early control of points or preventing Jo from making the quick winners the Frenchman needs to make. Jo did a surprisingly good job of defending from behind the baseline with 1 handed backhands as well two, but it was not where he likes to play throughout a match. With Rog's level of aggression on returns and solid serving, he could afford to make as many errors as winners, forcing Jo to go for too much from poor positions. This certainly looks like a game plan that can cause problems to his next opponent(s).

Fed joins Joker for a Paris re-match, and you can bet the Serb will be remembering how Rog ran away with that one. They haven't played since, and though coming off another unbeaten streak since Paris (not counting his retiring as a loss in the Cincy final to Murray), neither player will be taking anything for granted. Joker's almost a 2:1 favorite (low odds for him). Here's one way to see this one:

Joker Advantages:

- movement, as long as the bloody toe which brought the trainer out yesterday doesn't hobble him, Joker can be expected to anticipate and rove the court, making shots from anywhere

- defensive skills and fitness - at level we've never seen exceeded on a hard court, even by Rafa

- return of serve - he can read Roger's serve as well as anyone, robbing Rog of a vital advantage

- mental toughness, unquestionably the biggest asset for him - he knows he's in his prime

Roger Advantages:

- fast starting - he comes out of the gate way faster than any of the top 4

- forward movement - while his lateral movement and ball chasing has slowed, no one transitions to offense faster or more routinely than Roger, who never misses a chance to try to take control

- health - as far as we know, Roger is the most injury free of the top 4

- crowd control - having won this event 5 times, he is beloved

I think the odds are about right on this one. The wild card is the serving shoulder that saw Joker pack it in 3 weeks ago and may return to trouble him. Perhaps the shoulder is responsible for his slow starts in many matches this summer. I'd assume Roger will get the first break and try to run with the first set and the match as he did in Paris. If he presses to hard and makes nervous mistakes, Rog will be in trouble and could be dismissed quickly. His ability to come from behind has got to be seen as a real limit, and Joker's hunger for a first US Open title and his Triple Crown of majors this year will keep him in the match until the end.

Joker had a long difficult match yesterday with countryman Tipsarevic, winning 7-6 9 (2), 6-7 (3), 6-0, 3-0 (before retirement). By the fourth set, after 3 plus hours, a 6-0 3rd set and a trainer break for Joker to have his bleeding foot treated, fans were wondering which player would be the last man standing. Tipso had proven he can be a dangerous top 20 player, and along with Joker or #15 Troicki (a first round loser in NY) should see action in next week's Davis Cup tie in Serbia against Argentina and Del Potro. Knowing how important defending the Cup is to them and Serbia, it would not shock me if Tipso's decision to retire was not influenced by his desire to keep from worsening an injury, or that he wouldn't have wished to spare Joker from further injury. Regardless, the fans were treated to spectacular tennis for the 2.5 hours of the first two sets.

The other men's semis will be set today, and if Saturday sees the #2 and 4 seeds join #1 and 3, it will re-set the table for an exact repeat of the 2008 Final Four in NY when Rog beat Joker in 4 sets and Murray beat Rafa in 4. This blue print won't be lost on any of the participants or the fans. Rog won his last Open that year and his first as #2. The big thing that's changed since then is that Joker has emerged. In '08 Rog was already being called past his prime, Rafa's fitness in a summer of hard courts was being challenged, and the world was waiting for Andy Murray to win a major.

Not to further discount the 1 in 5 odds of Isner or Roddick staging more upsets today, here are some thoughts prior to their taking the court this afternoon:

Isner v Murray (first up) at 12:30 on CBS

History: 0-1, won in straight sets by Andy in 2010 in the round of 16 last year in Australia.

Isner advantages:

- serve - this man is used to winning his serve and, after his Mahut marathon, he knows how to do it under pressure, and Andy has only one experience returning him

- tie-breakers - John is the king of breakers, and Andy's ability to serve his way out of trouble is less

- crowd - will certainly be with him to break through

- confidence - he's had a good summer, winning 20 of 24 matches and 2 titles (Newport, Winston-Salem), with wins over Roddick, Muller, Troicki, Baghdatis and Blake. Yesterday he hit 26 aces and made only 5 unforced errors in beating an opponent he made only 1 unforced error (this stat is silly, but Simon doesn't give you much)

Murray advantages:

- return of serve - Andy's one of the few men who shouldn't have much trouble returning backhands from the 2nd floor

- speed afoot - the Scot will get to balls in rallies and test Isner's ability to hit multiple winners per point

- experience - Murray's been able to grind out a lot of tough matches like this late into major draws

- confidence/momentum - he's won more matches than anyone in the last 3 weeks

Roddick v Rafa (following Murray v Isner)

History: 3-3 on hard courts, splitting their two most recent matches in 2010, both close three setters.

Roddick advantages:

- serve - Andy hit 19 aces yesterday and served at 72% (like Roger), the 1st serve is not as big a weapon as it used to be relative to others, and his 2nd serve has been susceptible to mistakes under pressure this week, but it's still a weapon Nadal can't dismiss or match this year

- grit at the Open - Andy does not quit at the Open and will have 23,000 screaming fans supporting him in Ashe

- looseness - Andy could play loose yesterday, and today; odds are he'll be looser than Rafa after the week Rafa's had

Rafa advantages:

- all court play and coverage - superior, even on a bad day

- net play - let's not forget how devastating he was last year in finishing points at the net; Toni won't let him forget that

- enduring - he may be beat up after the season, but the one word Toni has beaten into him is "ENDURE", and Rafa will not lose this match or give back this title mentally

I think the odds on both these matches will tighten quickly after they start.

Rick

US Open Day 11 men's Results, Day 12


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