Previews: U.S. Open Men’s Semifinals | PETER BODO | 05 September 2014

Roger Federer beat Marin Cilic in Toronto last month. (AP Photo)

Roger Federer beat Marin Cilic in Toronto last month. (AP Photo)

A Djokovic-Federer final? Not if Nishikori or Cilic have anything to say about it. (AP Photos)

A Djokovic-Federer final? Not if Nishikori or Cilic have anything to say about it. (AP Photos)

NEW YORK—The semifinals of the U.S. Open are set.

It will be Stefan Edberg (Roger Federer) vs. Goran Ivanisevic (Marin Cilic), and Boris Becker (Novak Djokovic) vs. Michael Chang (Kei Nishikori). 

Novak Djokovic [1] vs. Kei Nishikori [10]

This one has “blowout” written all over it, but keep in mind that their head-to-head record is 1-1, and Nishikori won his match on hard courts (semifinals of Basel, 2011).

Djokovic is playing great tennis—even crafty Murray was unable to get more than a set off him, and that was better than any of Djokovic’s previous opponents. Meanwhile Nishikori, the 5’10”, 150-pound underdog, has been winning matches but taking terrible punishment. His last two wins, against No. 5 seed Milos Raonic and No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka, were grim, five-set wars of attrition. Does anyone else see Chang written all over these David-slays-Goliath scenarios? 

But remember, Nishikori has made a living surpassing expectations with an easily underestimated game based on a combination of his quickness and ability to find angles. It’s unlikely that he’ll outlast Djokovic, who will be fresher, and who knows a thing or two about knock-down, drag-out matches—and who simply has more tools. Becker was brought into the Djokovic camp to help him face and master those critical moments when a Grand Slam championship may depend on one or two swings of the racquet.

Tough as Nishikori is, it’s difficult to imagine Becker’s unique perspective will be needed in this one.

Winner: Djokovic

Roger Federer [2] vs. Marin Cilic [14]

The “Edberg effect” has been obvious in Federer’s game. In his quarterfinal win over Gael Monfils, the 17-time Grand Slam singles champion attacked the net 74 times and won an outstanding 72 percent (53 points) of those attempts.

Moreover, the main reason Federer is in a position to win his 18th major on Monday night is that, absent Rafael Nadal, he was able to lock up the No. 2 seed with consistently successful aggression in the weeks leading up to this tournament. That leaves Cilic with a lot to think about, in an age when hitting the passing shot is a lost art.

As for Cilic, who’s winless in five meetings with Federer (four of them on hard courts), he appears to be playing the best tennis of his career now that he’s hooked up with former Wimbledon champ Ivanisevic. Cilic is an introspective guy with a reputation for over-thinking and over-analyzing the game. Ivanisevic, one of the all-time loose cannons of the Open era, has helped Cilic lighten up. He’s swinging much more freely now, and seems to have embraced the idea that, with his atomic serve, he doesn’t need to be great at everything else. Now that he’s made the first serve a priority, Cilic can apply tremendous pressure on a returner—but perhaps not enough to hold an aggressive Federer at bay.

Winner: Federer

Menzi Kulati.



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