All attention shifts to the men's side on Thursday, when four competitors vie for the 2014 U.S. Open's two remaining semifinal spots in Queens, New York.
Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori punched their tickets to Flushing's final four with wins yesterday. While Djokovic has made 15 of the past 16 Grand Slam semifinals, the 24-year-old Japanese riser has never survived this far during his young career.
Djokovic awaits the winner of Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic, who have one finals appearance between them. Regardless of who wins, he'll enter his next bout as the overwhelming underdog, but anything is possible this late in the game.
|No. 6 Tomas Berdych vs. No. 14 Marin Cilic||12 p.m.||Men's Quarterfinals||ESPN|
|No. 2 Roger Federer vs. No. 20 Gael Monfils||7 p.m.||Men's Quarterfinals||ESPN|
No. 6 Tomas Berdych vs. No. 14 Marin Cilic
The only one besides Federer competing today with any championship experience, Berdych lost the 2010 Wimbledon final to Rafael Nadal. Two victories away from receiving another chance, he must combat a surging Cilic.
Having yet to face a ranked opponent, Berdych has enjoyed a smooth bracket in Queens. Cilic, on the other hand, suffered two stiff tests in No. 18 Kevin Anderson and No. 26 Giles Simon. The latter of those last two opponents took Cilic to five sets, one of which required a tiebreaking victory from the 25-year-old Croatian.
On one hand, Berdych motors into Thursday's match with fresher legs, but defeating Dominic Thiem right before his 21st birthday won't instill major confidence in his championship outlook. Cilic, on the other hand, proved he could hold his own against two tough adversaries.
Since returning from suspension due to a failed drug test, Cilic has found a mentor in former Croatian star Goran Ivanisevic. Cilic detailed his improved serve under Ivanisevic's tutelage to Sports Illustrated's Courtney Nguyen:
I'm serving much better. That sort of allows me to have more opportunities in the match on the return of serve, as I can be more aggressive. I can play more risky, as I can rely on my serve that I'm going to win those service games comfortably. Definitely that puts a lot of pressure on the guys so I can, in the return games, play very differently from one to the other and change up my game.
It showed in his latest victory over Simon. Per USOpen.org, Cilic won 81 percent (67 of 83) of his first-serve points. He displayed similar success against Anderson, claiming 82 percent (50 of 61) off first serves.
If he continues to set the tempo on serves against Berdych, he'll advance to face Djokovic in the biggest match of his career.
Prediction: Cilic in five sets
No. 2 Roger Federer vs. No. 20 Gael Monfils
Upon upsetting No. 12 Richard Gasquet and No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov, Monfils has everyone watching with eager eyes.
There are better players in men’s tennis, to wit, five-time U.S. Open winner Roger Federer, the No. 2 seed who will face Monfils, seeded 20th, in the quarterfinals. But nobody is more fun to watch than this Frenchman, because nobody can combine such pure athleticism with the insouciance bordering on disdain he brings to the game.
While he's not afraid of clashing with Federer, he also enters the showdown starstruck, per Nguyen.
"I think right now he's the greatest tennis player we ever had, and for me it's always challenging to play against him," he said. "It's always great, because no matter what, I will say to my children I played against him."
It's difficult to envision the story extending to another chapter, as Federer is playing some of his best tennis in a long time. The 17-time Grand Slam champion has dropped one set through four matches. His last win, per ESPN's SportsCenter Twitter page, tied a U.S. Open record.
Roger Federer wins in straight sets over Roberto Bautista, tying Pete Sampras with 71 career wins at US Open. pic.twitter.com/F90tLugdOB— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 3, 2014
He can claim the record all to himself with a victory on Thursday. Although Monfils is capable of beating anyone at his best, he's also highly erratic, having committed 27 double faults through four rounds. Federer, meanwhile, operates as a trustworthy beacon of consistency.
It may not end without some noise, but expect Federer to outlast his unconventional opponent to draw one step closer to his first U.S. Open finals appearance since 2009.
Prediction: Federer in four sets