Novak Djokovic highlights a group of four of the top players in the world who will take the court Friday afternoon for a berth in the championship round at the semifinals of the 2016 U.S. Open.
With Andy Murray now gone, Djokovic is undoubtedly the favorite to win his third title at Flushing Meadows, but a talented Gael Monfils stands in the way. Kei Nishikori, the man who beat Murray, will also face a harrowing challenge against Stan Wawrinka, who is looking to join the ranks of the sport's elite with a possible third career Grand Slam win.
Tune into ESPN for full coverage of the day's action, with the broadcast running from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET. Take a look below at the start times for each match, courtesy of ESPN, and predictions for this excellent slate of tennis.
|2016 U.S. Open Men's Semifinal Schedule|
|Matchup||Date||Start Time (ET)||Court||Prediction|
|No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 10 Gael Monfils||Friday, Sept. 9||3 p.m.||Arthur Ashe Stadium||Djokovic in Four|
|No. 3 Stan Wawrinka vs. No. 6 Kei Nishikori||Friday, Sept. 9||4:30 p.m.||Arthur Ashe Stadium||Wawrinka in Five|
|ESPN.com, Personal Picks|
Djokovic has had a rather fortuitous draw at this point, with two of his opponents retiring, including Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals, and one his matches being a walkover. As a result, he has been pretty fresh, only dropping a set thus far. This is great news for his coach, Marian Vajda, per Christopher Clarey of the New York Times:
Djokovic meets one of the fastest players in the sport in Monfils, but the history between these two has been heavily one-sided. Djokovic is a staggering 12-0 against Monfils, but the French underdog has been strong as of late on hard court surfaces, according to ESPN.com:
"He's been playing this summer with a new and uncharacteristic sense of purpose. He's won 19 straight sets on hard courts since losing to Kei Nishikori (after holding a match point) at the Rio Olympics."
This should bode well for Monfils and give him a chance in this match, but Djokovic has to be the pick here. He is a stout 33-2 this year on hard courts, and the excess amount of rest he has received should offset Monfils' speed advantages and any serious issues with Djokovic's wrist. Expect him to move on to the finals.
Meanwhile, the other semifinal looks to be nearly too close to call.
The two play a similar style with some slight idiosyncrasies. Nishikori is not a power player, but he is quick enough to return the ball at will in order to force opponents into mistakes. Wawrinka will not overpower foes either, but he is one of the best in the sport at finishing off volleys with winners.
These two strengths seem to conflict, which explains the two's narrow 3-2 career matchup results in favor of Wawrinka. When looking at the numbers in this tournament, the edge in this one becomes even more convoluted.
Wawrinka is averaging an outstanding 49 winners per contest, which can make him dangerous when he is hitting beautiful daggers like this, courtesy of the U.S. Open's Twitter feed:
But that aggressive play has sometimes cost him, with an average of 45 unforced errors per match. Nishikori is only averaging 31 unforced errors, but he is less of a threat to put pressure on his opponents with 42 winners a match.
Wawrinka has been more consistent of late at the U.S. Open, with two semifinals and a quarterfinals appearance in the previous three events. Nishikori finished as the runner-up in 2014, but he exited in the first round twice in the last three years. It is only the slightest of edges, but Wawrinka my be a safer pick on Friday.