It is written in the stars. It is written in destiny. It is meant to be. If Melbourne, Paris, and London have had a taste of the most riveting rivalry of all time, why shouldn’t New York?
And the stars have aligned so far—be it the exit of Andy Murray early in the tournament or the much too windy conditions in the Big Apple that has made the two guys in consideration stronger and their opponents weaker.
But it is not only the conditions that have been responsible for this inevitable showdown. It has been the players themselves.
Roger Federer said after his routine mauling of Robin Soderling that he now actually likes to play in windy conditions and it doesn’t affect his service toss in any way. The way he served against Soderling was ample proof of that—and that he can wake up at 2AM and still hit first serves in.
In fact, the way he succumbed Soderling to his feet was even more inspirational. For all the talk of Federer needing to be more aggressive and venture to the net more often using chip-n-charge (and the now-stale news of Paul Annacone), he left all of that in the trash and battled Soderling from the baseline, trading power blows. He won just six points at the net.
Champions are stubborn, and Federer (just like Pete Sampras) showed his stubbornness. Not a wise thing to do in a quarterfinal against a formidable opponent, but then this is why he is a 16-time Grand Slam champion, and I am...well, just a wise man.
Rafael Nadal has been impressive in his own way. With a much improved serve north of 130 mph, a flatter forehand, and closer positioning to the baseline, Nadal has torn apart his part of the draw, losing no sets and just one service game. And if Federer did his own trick with a second between-the-legs shot, Nadal countered it with his own 360-degree rotating half-volley. Nadal himself has come with a purpose this time, and is looking stronger than ever with his hard-court play.
With the top-class form of both players, something we haven’t seen simultaneously from both players since the Australian Open in 2009—it is really THAT long that both haven’t met in a Grand Slam final—the fans can almost be heard saying, “Novak Djokovic and Mikhail Youzhny, please get the hail out of New York so we can see another Federer-Nadal final.” No disrespect meant to either one of them (or am I kidding myself?)
So do Youzhny or Djokovic stand a chance to play spoilsport this time around?
Rafael Nadal vs. Mikhail Youzhny
Youzhny has troubled Nadal in the past, taking him down in the quarters before and stretching him to five at Wimbledon, but Nadal has usually felt comfortable in their matchups, winning seven out of the 11 between them.
Add to the fact that Youzhny might be spent after his five-set battle with Stanislas Wawrinka and Nadal has been well rested—I repeat, well rested—in the tournament with all his matches slightly above two hours, and there is little chance that the Russian can come up with the upset.
Youzhny is confident, though, of his chances to be the “bad boy” by going further than he ever has in a Grand Slam. For that to happen, the nuts and bolts must fire at the same time, and he could give Nadal a tough time with his flat strokes that penetrate well on this surface. It is unlikely, however, that this will happen.
Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic
Djokovic has lost to Federer three straight times at the U.S. Open, and five straight times at North American hard-court tournaments. In the process, Federer has lost only two sets to the Serb compared to the 13 lost by the latter. Federer has mostly appeared in cruise control in these matches—except the one in Toronto—while Djokovic has mostly been overwhelmed. In short, Federer has owned Djokovic at the U.S. Open. But then, is there a player who Federer has not owned in NYC? Apart from Juan Martin del Potro, he hasn’t lost to anyone here since he first won in 2004.
Can Djokovic reverse the trend? Sure. But for it to happen, he needs to make sure he does not come out slow and look mentally spent like he did for the first set and a half in Toronto. He needs to come out with a nothing-to-lose mindset, go for broke on the forehand and fire away as he did for the latter half of their Toronto matchup, and be solid at his stronger wing—the backhand.
Moreover, he needs to hope that Federer doesn’t come out in the same god-like form as he did against Soderling. In short, the stars need to align in a pin point way for that to happen—exactly opposite of which has happened till now as I wrote above.
Djokovic has been in fine form so far, not losing a set after his marathon five setter in the opening round. Having lost to Federer three consecutive times here, he has to favor his chances just basing it on the law of averages. But then, these averages have not been true for the dozen other players as well.
Champion: You really want me to predict?