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The Final 4: How they arrived, Where They'll Go

January 25, 2012 | 07:59 PM

Now that we know the final four men and women, and may have seen enough tennis from each to form an opinion of how they're playing, are we any closer to being able to predict the last two rounds?

We don't have much time before ROG takes the court with RAFA in a few hours (at 3am EST), so let's start with them.

ROGER V RAFA (Match #26; Rafa leading 17-9 overall; Roger leading 6-3 on hard courts)

Federer's dominant performance against Del Potro was a surprise to me. Does it mean Delpo is still not back where he was 2.5 years ago when the two split 5 setters in majors (Paris and new York)?

Neither man was firing aces at their usual rate (only 5 each), probably due to the slower surface Rog anticipated during the night session (the heat during the day made the conditions faster). Roger seemed prepared and made the best of the conditions, using the extra time to move himself into aggressive positions. Delpo is not as able to do this, and suffered the consequences. On big points, it was Federer who scored (5 of 8 break points converted, versus 1 of 6 for Delpo).

So it may have been the conditions as much as Delpo's condition which hurt him in this match up. The US Open surface, where Delpo had one of his two life time wins over Rog, may be better for him. While the Argentine certainly improved on his performance here from 3 years ago when he won only 3 games, losing this one in short of 2 hours was a big disappointment. And winning fewer games in each set was not a good sign for his ability to turn the tide.

For Fed, this win is a positive in two respects: he won quickly, and played brilliantly. But is this enough?

He himself said that after this it was going to get "more athletic and tougher."

Rafa's first 2 sets took longer than Fed's match, and he was a point from being down two sets to Berdych in the 2nd set tie-breaker. While his knee and his shoulder probably didn't need over 4 hours of punishment, The Rafa who's won so much is an animal that feeds on the fight and gets better during and after long contests like this. So his odds of replicating this performance against Fed improved as a result.

The slow night conditions when they play will favor Rafa in the match up with Rog, as the Spaniard has the mobility and endurance to chase Roger's shots down, as he does on clay, and turn the angles in his favor. He didn't win as many points on serve or return as Rog did, but was broken only twice in 13 chances, meaning he played tough on the big points, as he has to do to win. He also won 5 of 13 break chances against Berdych. And most importantly, Rafa hit a lot of winners for him (57) and served 6 aces (he's added weight to his racquet in hopes of re-gaining some mph on the 1st serve that he hasn't had since The Open in 2010).

Bottom line: Rafa should be favored to win, and perhaps to dominate by the end, unless Rog is able to serve effectively at all the key points. That will come down to confidence and luck after the ball toss. Whoever wins this contest will gain enough to face a Djokovic in the final and have a chance.

The odds, however, don't favor Rafa, giving Roger a 6/4 advantage. Make of that what you can or will... maybe it's that he's only lost 3 times to Rafa on hard courts, even if one of the times was on these courts in Australia 3 years ago in the final (a 5 set surprise).

The odds for Joker over Andy are more like 2/1 after last night. Both men won in straight sets, Andy easily over Nishikori (6-3, 6-3, 6-1), Joker 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-1 over Ferrer. In the slow conditions tomorrow night, Joker's offense will benefit as Roger's does, and his defense will benefit as Rafa's does.

Where does that leave Andy?

Worse off than the odds suggest. Andy doesn't win enough free points on serve, even in a lop-sided score like his with Nishikori (3, 3 and 1) where he won over 59% of the points (he won only 66% of his serve points to 75% for Fed, 69% for Joker in a closer contest, and 58% for Rafa in a much closer contest. Against Joker, his high percentage of points won receiving (53%) is not sustainable. Joker may not win quite the 71% of 1st serve points and 67% of 2nd serve points that he did against Ferrer, but he won't lose to Murray on his own serve. Ferrer, an excellent returner, only managed to earn 4 break chances in 15 games on Joker's serve.

WOMEN:

THE TWO SEMI-FINAL MATCHES ARE TONIGHT on ESPN2 after 9.

The Betfair odds give no strong favorite in either match, although Kvitova has a slight edge over Maria on Betfair. That seems reasonable as the stronger server usually has an edge over the stronger receiver, especially if the receiver is not a mobile player (like Nadal) who can sometimes turn points around after a weak 1st service return. Neither struggled in her quarter final with their unseeded opponents.

Clijsters has to be more of a favorite to beat Azarenka than the odds suggest. It's the old everything you can do I can do better, which the superior athlete Clijsters can certainly say. The wild card is Kim's ankle, which she turned in the 4th round. Diminished as her movement was in that match, in the quarters against Wozniacki she moved as well as ever and won most of the long scrambling points, winning 6-3, 7-6 (4).

Azarenka struggled in her first set, losing 6-7 (0) to #8 seed Radwanska before winning 6-0, 6-2.

Rick

Australian Open 2012, semi-final set


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