US Open—New York
Faster serves, record temperatures, and no American men left in the American Slam—that's what the first week and a half of the US Open has provided.
We've seen our fair share of five-set matches, emerging youngsters, and crowd disappointing retirements. But within all of the action that has been witnessed thus far, the business end of the event is now upon us, and the final touches of a great Slam season await.
I've spent the better part of the last week roaming the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and I've had the chance to catch all eight quarterfinalists in action at one time or another. All eight have been equally as impressive, but only four will have what it takes to reach Super Saturday.
Let's now take a look at whether or not the favorites will move on, or if the sprinkle of upsets will continue into the final four?
Nadal leads the pair's head-to-head series 10-0.
We've come to expect the unexpected from Nadal. He's always looking to improve his game, tinkering with his grips, foot positioning, and fitness. But what we've never seen from Nadal, what he's never been known for to be perfectly honest, is a blistering serve. Consistently clocking his delivery at over 130 MPH, Nadal has attributed his faster serve to a "little grip change." (Wouldn't it be nice if it was really that easy?)
Rolling through four eager but under-matched opponents, Nadal will next face his left-handed countryman, Verdasco.
Verdasco has played with courage and conviction to reach the final eight. Defeating an in form David Nalbandian in fourth sets, Verdasco came all the way back to oust the always dangerous David Ferrer in the fourth round. Hooking in a spectacular winner on match point against Ferrer, Verdasco will need all his reserves to be in line for a chance to upend Nadal.
Verdasco is certainly fit at the moment, but his long road to the quarterfinals will surely hinder the explosiveness in his legs, and subsequently his serve. A statement start will be imperative for Verdasco's chances, and I'm not convinced that he'll be able to last five sets against Nadal.
Verdasco does have a wicked forehand at his disposal, and numerous winners will have to sting off his racket from all parts of the court. However, the impression that I've got from Nadal in this event has been one of "calmness." Although that is one of his favorite words to use during his post match pressers, the Mallorcan has truly saved his best and calmest tennis for New York.
Verdasco should delight the crowd with his flowing locks, and his lights out forehand, but Nadal's improved serve, and efficient path the quarterfinals should provide for a relatively easy victory.
Pick: Nadal in four sets.
Roger Federer vs. Robin Soderling
Federer leads the pair's head-to-head series 12-1.
Could we see a repeat of Soderling's quarterfinal upset at the French Open?
For starters, the conditions at Arthur Ashe Stadium are vastly different from Chatrier Court. The hard surface is much faster than the slow clay courts in Paris, and the swirling winds won't allow Soderling's serve to be as potent. The quickness of the hard court will also prevent Soderling from setting up his groundstrokes, and putting holes in the back stop. While power is the Swede's primary method of operation, he will have to incorporate a few slices and venture into the net to be affective.
If anything, Federer's "recovering" movement will be tested by Soderling's power, but the Swiss' slice backhand could become the X-factor in the contest. Keeping the ball in play when required, Federer has used his slice backhand to set up his point ending forehand.
Don't expect many rallies in this contest, and I also wouldn't expect a repeat of their Roland Garros result.
Federer has looked pretty darn good in this event, and although his first three opponents haven't been as good as Soderling, his summer of payback matches, which has included wins over Tomas Berdych and Marcos Baghdatis, should continue against the Swede.
Pick: Federer in four sets.
Novak Djokovic vs. Gael Monfils
Djokovic leads the pair's head-to-head series 4-0.
Aggression and passion have allowed these two fan favorites to reach the quarterfinals. Where Djokovic played with purpose to dispose of Mardy Fish in straight sets, Monfils was up to his usual array of stick-saving shots to brush aside Richard Gasquet.
Djokovic never really left the contender conversation at the majors, but his lack of a definitive result on the season has left many pundits and naysayers with more than enough to criticize. Although Djokovic has failed to reach the finals of a Slam since winning the '08 Aussie Open, the Serb appears to be fit and ready to end the year on a bright note.
Djokovic could be serving better at this stage of the tournament, but his off-the-rise ball-striking will serve him well against Monfils.
The Frenchman has got his act together after a dodgy season, and his current level of concentration has been a welcome addition to his athletic game style. Monfils has always had the ability to hit winners from any spot on the court, and he'll have to fight the urge of depending on his loopy groundstrokes if he's to advance. Monfils holds more than enough ammo to blow the ball past Djokovic, but his suspect shot-selection could end his campaign.
I like this match up for many reasons, reasons that accompany the innately defensive core of both players. Pulling the trigger and taking control will likely crown the winner of this match, and Djokoivc has occupied that frame of mind much better in this event.
Look for a few deep breaths by Djokovic, and an "allez" by Monfils after a showstopping forehand, but when it's all said and done, the strategically better Serb should move on.
Pick: Djokovic in four sets.
Mikhail Youzhny vs. Stanislas Wawrinka
Series tied at 2-all.
The draw busting duo of the fortnight, will square off in a fit vs. fatigued match up. Youzhny has flown under the radar this event—except of course for his Ashe victory over John Isner—but the former Open semifinalist has produced some of his best results in New York, and his no-nonsense persona has once again flourished.
Youzhny's army inspired game has provided a great amount of down-the-backhands, while his soft hands around the net have aided him in conserving energy. He had an injured Isner in his way and took care of business, and his fourth-round match against Tommy Robredo—hardly a hard-court dynamo—provided further evidence that he can win matches that he should.
Wawrinka is quickly becoming the feel good story of the event. Living in the shadows of Federer for his entire career, he's recorded quality wins over Andy Murray and Sam Querrey along the way. Wawrinka has displayed great resolve during the key moments in his matches thus far, and his upgraded fitness, alongside his new coach Peter Lundgren, have definitely paid dividends.
However, back-to-back four-hour plus matches won't help his cause against a fresher Russian. Although Wawrinka is strong and fit, his game doesn't hold enough power to strike aces and backcourt winners at will. His legs will undoubtedly be heavy coming in, and an opportunistic Youzhny will look to take full advantage.
I don't expect Wawrinka to go down without a fight considering what he's endured in getting to this point, but there's only so much the body can handle in a short period of time.
Taking into account that Youzhny has won both career matches against Wawrinka on hard courts, while not forgetting that the Russian does possess flatter more sensible strokes for the asphalt, I'd find it hard to pick the clay-friendly game of the Swiss to prevail.
I respect how Wawrinka has conducted himself throughout the tournament, but Youzhny's penetrating arsenal will be tough to deny.
Pick: Youzhny in four sets.