Monday, January 21, 2008

AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2008: Men's Quarterfinals Preview

by Mad Professah

The 2008 Australian Open Men's Quarterfinals have now been set.

Roger Federer SUI (1) vs James Blake USA (12).

Both Roger Federer and James Blake have had near-death experiences in earlier 5-set matches during this tournament. Of course, that is a more unusual experience for the world No. 1 than the previously slumping American. In the third round, Federer won one of the best matches of the tournament (and probably the year) against unseeded Serbian Janko Tipsarevic 6-7(5) 7-6(1) 5-7 6-1 10-8, with both players hitting more winners than errors (96 to 64 for Federer, 52 to 47 for Tipsaveric) and the Swiss player hitting the most aces he has ever had in an ATP match: 39 (to Tipsarevic's 14). A few hours before the Federer fireworks Blake improved his horrendous lifetime 5-set record to 2 and 10 after coming back from 2 sets down (and 1-4 in the 4th set tiebreak) to defeat veteran Frenchman Sebastian Grosjean 4-6, 2-6, 6-0, 7-6(5), 6-2. They both easily won their next round matches. Federer and Blake have played 22 sets of tennis against each other and Federer has won 21 (the one set Blake won, at the 2006 US Open quarterfinals, was a 13-11 3rd set tiebreaker). I do believe that Blake's comeback signals a newfound toughness in the American. He, like Tipsarevic, has the game to beat the Greatest Of All Time 12-time Grand Slam champion on a hard court, but unlike the Serbian, Blake doesn't really believe deep inside that he can win this match, and he won't.
Mad Professah's Pick: Federer in 4 sets.

Novak Djokovic SRB (3) vs David Ferrer ESP (5).

Spaniard David Ferrer made a believer (and admirer) out of me when he had his breakthrough at the season-ending ATP Masters Cup in Shanghai last year, losing to the final against Federer after defeating world No. 3 Novak Djokovic, World No. 2 Rafael Nadal (twice!) and Richard Gasquet. Ferrer is now the world No. 5 but Djokovic has been firmly ensconced in the No. 3 position for nearly a year after his break-out hardcourt season in early 2007 during Federer's post-Australian Open lapse. Although Ferrer leads the Serbian head-to-head 3-2, the two have never really played a very close (or high quality) match. Ferrer did not play up to his potential in their last Grand Slam meeting, at the 2007 U.S. Open semifinals (Ferrer's first major semifinal) which was played after he had outlasted his compatriot Nadal two nights before. Djokovic hasn't really been tested at this year's Australian Open championship and I suspect that Ferrer may be a tad hungrier, plus I'm just not a fan of the Djokester. Mad Professah's pick: Ferrer in 5 sets.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga FRA vs Mikhail Youzhny RUS (14).

The unseeded Frenchman is finally living up to his tremendous potential by reaching his first Grand Slam quarterfinal. The Russian Youzhny has been playing excellent tennis recently and has already won a title (d. Nadal) this year. They both had to get through emotionally meaningful matches by defeating higher ranked countrymen to reach this point in the tournament. Tsonga defeated Gasquet and Youzhny defeated World No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko. Interestingly, these two have never played against each other before, so this is what is called in legal circles, "a case of first impression." I would really just like to say that this match is a toss-up, but since that really is a wimpy prognostication, I will go with the more experienced player to make his second career Grand Slam semifinal. Mad Professah's pick: Youzhny in 4 sets.

Jarkko Nieminen FIN (24) vs Rafael Nadal ESP (2).

One would think that since left-handers often have extreme difficulty playing against each other the wily, veteran Finnish left-hander would give the muscular, young Spanish left-hander more difficulty but the results do not support this belief. Their three previous matches have been all one-sided affairs with Nadal prevailing relatively easily. I suspect this match may be a bit closer than people expect, since Nadal is clearly not at his physical best in this tournament. Nieminen really should have lost his 4th round match against Roddick-killer Phillip Kohschreiber and he often does find a way to win matches he should lose. The two have not played since Nadal beat Nieminen in the 2006 Wimbledon Quarterfinals so there's a (slight) possibility of an upset. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal in 3 sets.


oddman said...

Vamos, Rafa! Wore down the Finn, took the legs out from the fit Jarkko. Good call, Mad Professor.

I also think (or maybe just hope) Ferrer's gonna take down Djoker. I would love that. He had his 'mental midget' moment at the USO, now's the time to step up and wear down the Serb. I love how he's so business-like on court, stomping around, let's hope he's totally focused. He's looked great in earlier rounds. Vamos, David!

I'd hoped for Tsonga to win his match, and then have a let-down against Nadal tomorrow. But, the Frenchman sounds very confident, and who can blame him - look how he's playing. That's gonna be a hard one for Rafa.
Can't even comment on Fed-Blake.