The men’s side of the 2016 U.S. Open has opened up nicely for No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic.
He headlines the remaining four-man field entering Friday’s semifinals in a tournament that no longer features Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray. No. 4 Nadal lost to Lucas Pouille in the fourth round, while No. 2 Murray dropped his quarterfinals showdown with Kei Nishikori. What’s more, Roger Federer didn’t even enter the tournament because of injury.
Djokovic will square off with Gael Monfils in one semifinal, and Stan Wawrinka will face Nishikori in the other. Here is a look at the semifinals schedule and a prediction for each match.
The schedule information is courtesy of the U.S. Open’s official website.
Date: Friday, Sept. 9
Time: 3–11 p.m. ET
Location: Flushing Meadows, New York
Live Stream: WatchESPN
No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 10 Gael Monfils
All indications point toward a Djokovic victory in the semifinals.
For one, he should be comfortable on this stage considering he has 12 major championships in his career. One of those titles came at last year’s U.S. Open when he defeated Federer in the finals. He also won the French and Australian Opens this year and is looking for a third Grand Slam championship in 2016.
ESPN Stats & Info highlighted his overall dominance at the U.S. Open:
Djokovic has also dominated Monfils in his career. According to the ATP World Tour’s website, the Serbian star holds a perfect 12-0 record against Monfils in his career, which should provide a bolster of confidence.
Djokovic will also be fresh since he only completed two of five matches on the way to the semifinals. He earned a walkover against Jiri Vesely in the second round, Mikhail Youzhny retired in the first set of the third round and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired after two sets in the quarterfinals.
He won’t be the only player who is relatively fresh on Friday considering Monfils is yet to lose a single set in Flushing Meadows this year. He tallied 13 aces in a straightforward 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 quarterfinals win over Pouille and has some momentum after the formidable play.
David Waldstein of the New York Times highlighted Monfil’s impressive year that included a title at the Citi Open in Washington and a finals appearance at the Monte Carlo Masters in April.
However, Monfils was fully aware of the daunting task ahead of him when he said, “He’s [a] better player than me, definitely. I think I have no shame to say it. He is better than me,” per Waldstein.
Monfils should take no shame in that statement considering Djokovic is better than everyone at this point as the No. 1 player. He will have fresh legs after so many unfinished matches and has that decisive advantage in head-to-head encounters on his side.
Djokovic will once again dictate the tempo against Monfils and reach the finals at the U.S. Open.
Prediction: Djokovic in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2
No. 3 Stan Wawrinka vs. No. 6 Kei Nishikori
The other semifinals match features a closer showdown in terms of rankings, as No. 3 Wawrinka will face No. 6 Nishikori.
The two have been fairly evenly matched in their head-to-head clashes, with Wawrinka sporting a 3-2 record, per the ATP World Tour’s website. While Wawrinka has the narrow advantage there, the Nishikori match figures to be his biggest challenge to date at this year’s U.S. Open.
He is yet to face a single seeded player and was only truly pushed by Daniel Evans during a five-set match in the third round. That is a testament to his ability to put opponents away in three or four sets, which he did on Wednesday against Juan Martin del Potro, but it is also fair to wonder if his route to the semifinals tested him enough for the upcoming match.
Nishikori is riding some momentum after outlasting Murray in a physically grueling five-set match on Wednesday, 1-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5. He came back from a set down multiple times against one of the world’s best players and prevented Murray from becoming just the fourth man since 1968 to make the finals in all four majors in a year, per BBC.com.
The victory over the reigning Wimbledon champion and gold medalist from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics should give Nishikori plenty of confidence for his clash with Wawrinka.
Wawrinka may be the higher-ranked player, but Nishikori has proven time and again that he plays some of his best tennis in the most clutch moments. According to the ATP World Tour’s website, Nishikori’s 96-26 record in matches that went to a decisive set gave him the highest winning percentage of the Open Era at 79.
He handled Murray in one of those five-set thrillers and moved to a perfect 5-0 against top-10 players at the U.S. Open. Wawrinka falls inside that top-10 designation and doesn’t offer the same challenge as Murray did on Wednesday.
If Nishikori were good enough to beat Murray in the quarterfinals, he will find a way to prevail against Wawrinka as well. Look for the clutch factor to come into play in a fifth and final set.
Prediction: Nishikori in five sets, 6-4, 4-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3