Fri, Jan 24, 9:13am by Daryl Curnow
Where: Melbourne Park, Melbourne
When: Friday, January 24.
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We doubt anyone would argue that with the three remaining players left in the men’s draw, tonight’s semi-final matchup between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will play out like a final. With respect to Stanislas Wawrinka, who has played excellently to make it through to his first Grand Slam final, Nadal and Federer will easily steal the show tonight.
Both had indifferent starts to their 2013 season as Roger Federer saw his ranking drop after every tournament, and it’s hard to believe he’s seeded only sixth in this event whereas David Ferrer, who hasn’t won a Grand Slam, let alone 17, is seeded 3rd. Politics aside, we have a great feast of tennis on display tonight and as the market suggests, we’re in for a close, possibly even a five-setter. Nadal has opened as the $1.62 favourite in a market which suggests rankings rate higher than form, because the way we see it, Federer is the sole player dominating this tournament.
After cruising through his first three rounds without losing a set, including a straight sets win against Australian James Duckworth, Federer then faced his real test in the fourth round against Jo-Wilfield Tsonga, a game in which many punters favoured the Frenchman. Right from the word go however, we all knew what the result was going to be. Federer has his backhand on form and is precision was excellent, Tsonga stood no chance and got swept in straight sets 6-3 7-5 6-4.
The Swiss ace then faced Andy Murray, who to his own discredit was coming off early season back surgery, but it’s not like Federer hasn’t had his injury troubles either. All throughout 2013 Roger Federer struggled with his back, so much that he has changed to a bigger sized racket to put less pressure on his serve. That aside, Murray is a tough opponent and his fighting nature shouldn’t be overlooked. True to form however, Federer took the first two sets with one break of serve before Murray hit back in the fourth by winning a narrow tie-breaker. Federer wasn’t concerned as he finished off the Scotsman 6-3 in the fourth.
Whether or not Roger Federer’s form can be put down to a bigger sized racket, who knows? But, his coaching change to Stefan Edberg has had an immediate effect on the way he plays the game. Federer used to stand at the baseline and trade rallies until his signature backhand would grace the line. Now, Edberg, one master to another, has taught the 17-time Grand Slam champion that coming to the net has its purpose. Federer came to the net frequently against Murray and had great success as it forced Murray to fit an amazing passing show, something most players won’t do more often than not. The tactic seems simple on paper, but its all part of a serve and volley package in which players must adhere to. To put it bluntly, if Federer serves a wide ball then that opens up the entire court for a volley, and that point is as easy as that.
Even though Rafael Nadal is the $1.62 favourite at Sportsbet.com.au, it seems as though he is the underdog coming up against a new and improved champion. To kick off his 2014 season, Nadal basically got a free pass against the enigmatic Australian Bernard Tomic after winning the first set 6-4, the young Aussie retired due to injury, giving Nadal the best possible start to his Australian Open campaign.
An easy second-round match followed where the Spaniard won in straight sets but then he was to face the exciting and inconsistent Gael Monfis. Monfis can bring any form of game of the table but Nadal made him look silly. The Frenchman only managed to win six games throughout the three set drubbing and Nadal looked as invincible as ever.
Rafael Nadal wouldn’t get an easy time of it in his fourth round matchup against Kei Nishikori, even though he won in straight sets. The first set went to a tie-break in which Nadal seemingly struggled but eventually ran out the winner 7-3. Once again, the second set was all tied up at 5-5 until Nadal broke the Japanese players serve which should have been enough to dishearten the strongest of players but Nishikori held strong. He once again forced Nadal to tie-break in the third set, but Nadal class and power was simply too much.
Then came the real test for Nadal as he faced the young up and coming Grigor Dimitrov. The young Bulgarian was being touted as the next big thing to contend the higher seeded players and boy did he show why! Nadal will be thanking his lucky stars that the young 22 seed was unable to take advantage of some gifted opportunities. Nadal lost the first set 3-6 before taking the second in a tie-break, which was Dimitrov’s worst aspect of his game. The third and most important set would be the telling of the match as Dimitrov found himself a break down 2-4, only to come back and have match point in Nadal’s serve. He went on to lose that point and later force and tie-break. With set point on his serve and the ball sitting mid-court, Dimitrov let the pressure get to him and he pulled a sitter wide, later going on to lose the set and the match.
The worrying aspect for Nadal is that he has seemingly lost a little power. Whether or not that’s due to the Uluru-sized blister on his palm, we’re not sure, but if Federer can exquisitely place his backhand down the line and come to the net, Nadal will be in a world of pain.
The history between these two players is immense, but the statistics are actually lob-sided. Or so it seems… Firstly, in the 29 times they have played each other, Nadal was won 20 to Federer’s nine. That’s a rather surprising statistic until you look at what surface the majority of those wins came on. On a clay court, Nadal was a 12-2 record and we all know he dominates on that surfaces, and for this Australian Open match, those stats are irrelevant. Therefore, taking away the clay court figures leaves Nadal on eight wins and Federer on seven.
With that being said, there is one stat that we can’t look past. Throughout their 29 meetings, in games when it is required to win three sets, Nadal has won eight compared to Federer’s two. In other words, Nadal has the massive advantage in Grand Slam tennis results against Federer, but just how much has changed throughout the last few years?
Head-to-head: Nadal @$1.62 vs. Federer @$2.30
Handicap line: Nadal -5.5 games @ $3.50 at Sportsbet.com.au
Our initial thoughts were Roger Federer because he is playing the best tennis he has in a couple of years, but then we looked at the stats and they heavily favour Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard has the big-match advantage over his elder man and he never gives in, despite his bad knees. It’s no doubt this will be a close match, but with Nadal’s persistent ability to get the ball back in play, Federer’s run might come to an end.
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