Breaking Down Novak Djokovic's Path to the Finals at Sony Open

Tim KeeneyContributor IMarch 25, 2014

KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 21:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia returns a shot to Jeremy Chardy of France during the Sony Open at the Crandon Park Tennis Center on March 21, 2014 in Key Biscayne, Florida.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

It has been a while since the tennis world was treated to a No. 1 vs. No. 2 match.

Of course, at this point, there aren't many complaints in that department. With Andy Murray's emergence as a legitimate contender in 2012 and 2013, Stanislas Wawrinka breaking through in Australia and Roger Federer finding the fountain of youth this year, there's no shortage of elite players at the top of the sport.

As a result, there are rarely ever any semifinal or final matchups that disappoint anymore. 

But it's hard to deny the allure of Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal, especially when both are healthy and at the peak of their games. 

Djokovic is clearly there after winning at Indian Wells last week, and as Sports Illustrated's Twitter feed noted, Nadal absolutely trounced Denis Istomin in the third round after looking a bit unhealthy last week: 

Still, as previously eluded, the men's draw is loaded these days, and a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup won't be easy. 

Let's take a look at Djoker's potential route.

 

Fourth Round: Tommy Robredo

KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 21:  Tommy Robredo of Spain returns a shot to Dominic Thiem of Austria during their match on day 5 of the Sony Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on March 21, 2014 in Key Biscayne, Florida.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

After forgettable 2011 and 2012 seasons that saw his world ranking plummet to outside the top 100, Tommy Robredo bounced back in 2013, advancing to two Grand Slam quarterfinals for the first time in his career and winning two finals. 

That success translated to Australia, as he advanced to the fourth round before playing the eventual champion Wawrinka extremely tough. 

Still, the Spaniard struggled in California with a straight-set defeat to Marin Cilic, and he has lost six of seven matches against Djokovic, with his only victory coming nearly a decade ago. 

Djoker shouldn't be overlooking Robredo, and maybe there will be slight rust after getting a walkover last round, but it would be a surprise if he drops any sets in this one. 

 

Quarterfinals Prediction: Andy Murray

KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 23:  Andy Murray of Great Britain returns a shot to Feliciano Lopez of Spain during the Sony Open at the Crandon Park Tennis Center on March 23, 2014 in Key Biscayne, Florida.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have both shown the ability throughout their careers to beat anyone in the world, making them highly undesirable quarterfinal opponents for any top seed. However, neither has looked quite right lately.

Murray has yet to really play like himself since undergoing back surgery at the end of last year. He was ousted by Federer in the quarterfinals in Australia and fell to Milos Raonic in the fourth round last week.

However, a straight-set victory over Feliciano Lopez in the third round proved encouraging. 

"I moved well [and] returned well," said Murray, via ATPWorldTour.com. "It's not always that easy to feel comfortable against him because there is not [a lot] of rhythm with the way he plays."

Tsonga, meanwhile, was upset in the second round by Julien Benneteau at Indian Wells and needed an epic comeback against Marcos Baghdatis to avoid a similar fate in Miami. 

Ultimately, though, Murray, who owns a condo in Miami, has won this tournament twice, always seems comfortable at Crandon Park and should be able to take care of a struggling Tsonga. 

Should that come to fruition, we've got ourselves a scintillating quarterfinal—in their last 10 head-to-head matches, Murray and Djokovic have each won five. 

 

Semifinals Prediction: Roger Federer

INDIAN WELLS, CA - MARCH 16: Roger Federer of Switzerland and Novak Djokovic of Serbia pose for photographers after their match during the final of the BNP Parabas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 16, 2014 in Indian Wells, California.  (Pho
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Fed-Ex still has to get past Richard Gasquet and then the winner of David Ferrer and Kei Nishikori, but with the way he's been playing, it's difficult to imagine him tripping up along the way. 

That sets up a rematch of last week's final, which lived up to the hype in every was imaginable. Djokovic escaped the three-set thriller, but he could clearly see Federer's improvement, via Sports Illustrated:

He has more depth on his shots, especially from the backhand side. He’s opening with his backhand shot down the line. He gives himself an opportunity to finish with the forehand. He serves well. He just played better than he did in the last 13, 14 months. I needed to really be in the top of my game and very concentrated the last moment in order to win.

Federer won in Dubai. Djokovic won in Indian Wells. The world No. 2 seemed to have the clear advantage heading into 2014—he won 10 of the last 13 head-to-head matchups prior to this yearbut if early results are any indication, these two are in line for many back-and-forth battles this season. 

It's pretty safe to say most would be fine seeing the newest chapter of the rejuvenated rivalry in Miami.