US Open Tennis 2013: Breaking Down Thursday's Men's Quarterfinal Matchups
We are just two matches away from the newest chapter of one of the most thrilling, burgeoning rivalries in all of sports.
Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray.
Rafael Nadal, the most white-hot player in tennis right now, seems to have control of the bottom half of the draw after taking care of Tommy Robredo to set up a meeting with Richard Gasquet.
Who will meet in the semis?
Who he'll potentially face in the final, however, is certainly a little more unclear.
It figures to be either Djokovic or Murray, who have faced each other nine times since the start of 2012, including once in last year's U.S. Open final as well as at two more Grand Slam finals—Australia and Wimbledon—this year.
They've split those nine matches as evenly as possible for an odd number, with Djoker taking five and the Brit taking four.
But don't start making your plans for the dream semifinal just yet. There are still two very compelling players standing in the way.
(1) Novak Djokovic vs. (21) Mikhail Youzhny
The 31-year-old Russian actually gave Djokovic some problems early in the Serb's career, but these two have played just once since 2010, with the World No. 1 prevailing on the Monte-Carlo clay in the full three sets.
It will be important for Youzhny to get his first serve in on a consistent basis.
In Monte-Carlo he won 62 percent of the points when he was able to get his first serve in play, but when he had to settle on his second serve, he lost more often than not, winning a meager 42 percent of the points, per ATPWorldTour.com.
That led to five breaks for Djokovic.
Of course, even if he is able to do that, it's still going to take a little bit more for Youzhny to pull off the upset, as the Russian himself even stated, via the U.S. Open's Twitter account:
In four matches in New York, not only has Djoker yet to drop a set, but he has only dropped more than three games in one of those 12 sets. And even that instance was more his own doing, as he hit 18 unforced errors in his first set against Benjamin Becker, which went to a tiebreak.
Youzhny has a fighting chance. He showed tremendous resolve in winning two sets in a row to beat Lleyton Hewitt in the fourth round. His backhand serves as a tremendous weapon, and he is talented at volleying. Most importantly, he has always played Djokovic tough in his career.
But if Djokovic, who has made 13 Grand Slam semis in a row, continues to play with the focus he has displayed recently, he has the superior talent to roll.
(3) Andy Murray vs. (9) Stanislas Wawrinka
Andy Murray better be careful.
The defending U.S. Open champion lacked a real sense of urgency early against Denis Istomin last round. He dropped the first set, and although he regained the passion and energy necessary to advance, he made a lot of errors and let the Uzbek hang around.
If he does that against Wawrinka, he will be in trouble.
The Swiss has always had loads of talent, but since teaming up with Magnus Norman earlier this year, he has shown noticeable improvement in his mental game. He crushed Murray in Monte-Carlo, took Djokovic to the wire in a five-set thriller at Australia and has knocked off guys like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych.
And Murray has noticed the improvements from Wawrinka, who beat the Brit at the 2010 U.S. Open, via ATPWorldTour.com:
"He's improved I think this year quite a bit," Murray said of Wawrinka. "He has less weaknesses. He's more experienced now. He has a very good backhand. He serves well. He's solid up at the net. He makes a lot of returns. He makes it very tricky for you. He's a top player. It will be a very tough match for me."
Don't get it confused. Murray is still undoubtedly the favorite. When he is aggressive and accurate with his forehand, stays focused and doesn't lose his temper (or eat his racket), he's nearly impossible to beat.
But overlooking an improved, dangerous Wawrinka would be a mistake.
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