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'08 Semis Revisited after Roddick's Reduction, Isner Falls Short

Top Four take semis, command history

September 10, 2011 | 11:11 AM

As suggested by the odds, the two remaining Four Tops took semi-final berths yesterday and the 2008 Final 4 line-up is re-set for action this afternoon beginning at noon in Ashe with Federer v. Djokovic. 2008 may seem like yesterday, but the Four Tops have owned the top 4 spots for over 150 weeks of these years (except for 14 weeks when Murray briefly slipped to #5).

This unprecedented domination by a quartet has provided many chances for Final Fours in Majors, with Roger reach the most semi-finals over the last three years (8) and Nadal, Murray and Djokovic all reaching 7 (Andy and Joker have reached all 4 this year), for a total of 29 out of the 48 possible semi-final berths. As we know now that the 2011 Open will be won by one of the four, outside of the top three, only Del Potro has won a major during these three years: Rafa's won 5, Roger's won 3 and Joker 2. This one is huge for all three of them - and for Murray, who's given lower odds of winning his semi-final match (11/5) than Roger (8/5).

The question is, how much longer can this domination go on?

Except for Roger who is 30 years young, and Rafa who at 25 has been talking about how unhealthy the tour is on all the players, there is little reason to suspect that the core of this group will not last another 1 to 3 years.

Their hold on the Four Top spots breaks down about like this between the US Open '08 and now:

Weeks at: #1 #2 #3 #4

Rafa 85 36 13 3

Roger 43 64 31 0

Joker 9 23 69 20

Murray 0 3 20 111

To come back to the present, how - if at all - did yesterday's two quarter-final matches affect today's semis?

- Murray had the longer match (just short of 3.5 hours), and after 7 sets in two days, he can be expected either to start slowly (a poor way to begin against Rafa) or tire. His best chance today would seem to be to play very aggressively, as he did toward the end of his match yesterday with Isner, when he took the 4th set tie-breaker after holding serve with confidence leading up to the breaker. With Isner playing his best tennis and putting every bit of his considerable mass into the effort to reach a 5th set, it was no time for Murray to have been timid. Fortunately for him (though he would have had more gas left for a final set), Isner pressed too hard and choked in the breaker, double-faulting with a 120 mph 2nd serve effort at 1-2, and missing a tap-in put-away forehand volley at 2-4. The stress of raising his energy level and his game to Top Four level left him on the short end of the breaker he was a favorite to win. Murray's experience came through in the end, and the best take on it is that he was toughened by receiving a real challenge in a match that, but for Isner's lapse in concentration at the end of the first set and the beginning of the second, might have evolved very differently. Murray's return of serve was in top form against an elite server, and it allowed him to take 50% of Isner's 2nd serve points, though he still earned only 5 break points, converting two. On his own serve, Murray faced 6 break points and held all but one.

- Rafa might have gone out for a tough practice match after dismissing Roddick in under 2 hours, 6-2, 6-1, 6-3; had this been Wimbledon, the crowd might have gone out for a nap after strawberries and cream. As it was, they were largely silent, stunned by the viciousness of Nadal's forehand, which out shot the last home gun 20 - 0 in winners. Andy was stunned to hear that stat in the press conference afterwards, and acknowledged that he felt embarrassed for the American spectators gathered to see him back on Ashe (more than once, he may have longed for Thursday's venue, court 13, which he may be seeing again in the future). He might not have been stunned to realize he'd won considerably less than 40% of the points, and only 50% of the points in his service games. The first set was bad, and the 2nd worse and shorter - he was broken 5 of the first 8 games he served. Unlike Joker's overwhelming performance against Carlos Berlocq in the 2nd round (0, 0 and 2 in 90 minutes flat), there would have been no entertainment value for the crowd in this third set had Roddick not pushed past his leg strain and made the set a little competitive by holding three times and earning a couple of break points on Rafa. This match was more reminiscent of Connor's annihilation of Rosewall in the '74 Open final, except the crowd was awed in a positive way by that one. Nadal's crushing of Federer in the '08 French final comes to mind as a better analogy.

As far as the crowd was concerned, those who endured past the end of Roddick's Reduction were treated to a mini-revival of American spirits without alcohol as youngsters Jack Sock (18) and Melanie Oudin (19) took the MIXED DOUBLES title from veteran Argentine double specialists, 8th seeds Gisela Dulko and Eduardo Schwank, 7-6, 4-6, 10-8 (super-breaker). If I'd been present, I'd have spoken out for a full 3rd set, as is played in Men's and Women's doubles in the Open. Regardless, this seemed a fitting result for the pair who had heaped more pain on Bob Bryan in the first round of the mixed after he and Mike had been upset in the 1st round of the men's.

Rafa was spared physical toil, which is of vital importance to him at this point in the season and in the draw. And he certainly gained some confidence in important parts of his own game from this outing (return of serve, forehand, serve). His not having been tested throughout the tournament would work against some players - he has not beaten a top 20 player this summer, let alone played anyone of the level of Murray - but he is such a good competitor and loves the mental endurance required in a tough match, so this hardly seems a concern.

Whatever the outcome of today's two semis, if only one of the two winners is pushed for over 3 hours, recovery for the final will be a key concern. With Murray being the fittest of the four at this point in the season, yesterday's match can be seen as a leveler. Monday's final may be a battle of will power, which would favor Joker or Rafa. If they face each other, whoever comes into it more depleted from today will be at a disadvantage.


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