By Chris Oddo, Friday, September 6, 2013
A pair of pedigreed thoroughbreds will clash with a pair of dark horses on Saturday in New York, as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, de facto finalists in many eyes prior to the start of the Open, will collide with Richard Gasquet and Stan Wawrinka in the men's semifinals.
Only Stan Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet stand between another Djokovic-Nadal Grand Slam final. Are there upsets in the cards?
Photo Source: AP
Watch: Djokovic and Youzhny Play Electrifying Points in U.S. Open Quarterfinal
Wawrinka and Gasquet are treading in uncharted waters, with a single Grand Slam semifinal between them, while Nadal and Djokovic have 18 Grand Slam titles between them. That's the simple math, and in a lot of ways it's undeniable, but recent signs of life from Gasquet, who has won back-to-back five-setters in New York, and Wawrinka, who played the match of his life against Andy Murray on Thursday, paint a promising future for the two dark horses.
Gasquet and Wawrinka may not be favored, and they are certainly up against two juggernauts who have proven time and time again on the Grand Slam stage that they are not only future Hall of Famers but also two of the best ten or so players to have ever played the game, but it doesn't mean they are locks to lose.
That's why they play the matches. Speaking of which, on to the previews:
Novak Djokovic vs. Stan Wawrinka, 12:00
Head-to-Head: Djokovic leads 12-2
Forget their first 14 meetings, or the fact that Djokovic has won his last eleven meetings with Wawrinka, and remember only the captivating, emotional and riveting five-setter that Djokovic and Wawrinka played at this year's Australian Open. Yes, Djokovic won that one, too, but over the course of that five hour and two minute epic, Wawrinka may have laid the foundation for finally beating the World No. 1.
Wawrinka was close in that match, up a break early in the fifth, and he had four break points at four-all which would have given him a chance to serve for the match. But more important than the result in Australia has been Wawrinka's response to losing that heartbreaker in 2013. He has held his head high, and pushed his game to its highest level.
Wawrinka reached his first French Open quarterfinal this spring and yesterday in New York he absolutely destroyed Andy Murray in straight sets. For those who think Murray handed Wawrinka the victory, go back and watch the video tape and realize that Wawrinka's performance yesterday was the best non-Nadal performance at this year's U.S. Open. Wawrinka was magical on Thursday and if he can do that again, he'll have chances to knock off Djokovic.
Ah, speaking of Djokovic... The Serb has been brilliant at times during the U.S. Open (he won his first 12 sets), and at others he's been human (last night's third set against Youzhny comes to mind, but also other spells during the fortnight). Thus the question of clarity as it pertains to Djokovic must be asked. Can the Serb ratchet up his focus to 2011 levels this weekend? If he does, Wawrinka, even at his very best, might not be able to hurt him. But if he serves as poorly as he did at times last night during his quarterfinal victory over Mikhail Youzhny, then the door will swing open for Wawrinka to score the grandest victory of his career.
Pick: Djokovic in Four
Rafael Nadal vs. Richard Gasquet, Second Match
Head-to-Head: Nadal Leads 10-0
Gasquet has taken Nadal to four deciding sets in their ten previous tour-level matches, but those all occurred before 2009. Since their three-set battle in Canada in 2008, it's been nothing but drubbings. So, the question: Is this a different Richard Gasquet we are seeing this week in New York? By all accounts his fitness and mental toughness are vastly improved from where they were a few years ago. Look no further than his five-set victory over David Ferrer in the quarterfinals for proof.
But in Nadal, Gasquet is facing an altogether different animal. If David Ferrer is a nightmare to play against than Rafael Nadal is the devil incarnate. If Gasquet summons all the magic in his sure-to-be weary body, and puts forth a Herculean effort against the Spaniarda, he may ruffle Nadal's feathers a bit. But given the seemingly unconquerable form that Nadal is in, can anybody other than Djokovic truly push him?
More Rafa: Djokovic and Youzhny Play Electrifying Points in U.S. Open Quarterfinal
No offense to Gasquet, but we think not.
Pick: Nadal in Three