We’ve found our semifinalists and they are not exactly the usual suspects. I was wrong in my pre-tournament predictions, but at least fairly right with regards to dark horses.
But let's be honest. Who predicted Murray would go out with an injury? Novak was always a big question mark, but Murray? His injury was very much unexpected. We all knew that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga would be dangerous, but perhaps we didn't quite anticipate the extent of it. Surely, Nadal would make it through one way or another, no?
As it happens, we will have a rematch of the 2007 World Tour Finals in the semis, when Roger Federer takes on David Ferrer.
In the other semi, Group A winner Tomas Berdych will take on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in what looks like a serving and forehand slug-fest.
Here’s a preview of the two matches, starting with the afternoon match.
Roger Federer versus David Ferrer.
The Swiss has a commanding 11-0 record against Ferrer, 6-0 on hard, 1-0 on carpet and 4-0 on clay. Federer has lost but one set to Ferrer on hard, which happened in the 2009 Cincinnati Masters.
Last year, they met in the round robin and Roger took down Ferrer 6-1, 6-4.
Then again, last year, Ferrer didn’t win a set. This year, he’s beaten Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in straights and was on the verge of doing the same to Tomas Berdych until the match turned around in the middle of the second set.
The diminutive Spaniard is clearly playing well, if not even some of his best tennis ever.
Yet, against a Federer who hands out a bagel and a straight set defeat to Rafael Nadal in one hour, it’s hard to favor Ferrer’s chances.
While he is incredibly good at staying in a rally, the same holds true for Nadal. That skill didn’t help Nadal much in Tuesday evening’s slaughter as Roger’s groundstrokes were simply too precise and too penetrating to be retrieved for even the best retrievers on tour.
It doesn’t help Ferrer that he will take to the court a mere 16 hours after he got off it, but if anyone can do that, it’s Ferrer.
What does count in favor of Ferrer is this: he doesn’t usually dip too much. He did in the third set against Tomas Berdych, but in general Ferrer is as solid as they come.
If Federer goes on a walkabout, Ferrer will be the first to take advantage with his skillful returns and steady, purposeful groundstrokes. His hold game is sound and his return game is great.
But the match is on Roger’s racquet.
Prediction: Roger in two.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga versus Tomas Berdych
The two biggest servers and biggest hitters both made it out of their groups to meet each other for the final spot. Both casually fires 135 mph aces towards their opponents. Now, they will be at the receiving end of those.
They have only met once, in Beijing a couple of months ago, where Berdych won 6-4, 4-6, 6-1. If we are to go by that match, Berdych is better at handling Tsonga’s serve than vice versa.
While Berdych earned nine breakpoints and took three of them, Tsonga only earned and took one.
Berdych also does better in general on the return of serve if one look against the field. Berdych is the 8th best returner on hard court this year, winning 29 percent of his return games, whereas Tsonga is 49th winning a mere 20 percent.
That could very well prove pivotal when the two big servers meet.
On the other hand, you have Tsonga who strikes the ball even bigger than Berdych, be it with his forehand, backhand or even his serve (though the serve is close to a dead race, Tsonga leads both in aces and hold game percentage won).
Moreover, Tsonga is vastly superior to Berdych at the net and Berdych isn’t a king of the passing shot.
Finally, while Berdych has been great this week, I still feel that Tsonga’s level has been higher than Berdych’s as he came within a few points of beating Federer and took down Mardy Fish and Rafael Nadal, whereas Berdych has beaten David Ferrer, Janko Tipsarevic and almost Novak Djokovic.
Judging by their form this week, I would have to go with Tsonga in three tightly contested sets. But a match like this is very much about who gets the first break, gets in the zone or simply finds the court with his serve and groundstrokes.
Prediction: Tsonga in three.