TENNIS: The final four in the final Slam

Time and time again the men’s draw at Grand Slams have featured four of the most talented players the game has ever seen.  Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.  Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have shared an astonishing 29 Grand Slam titles out of the last 30, with the 2009 US Open the only exception.  Nadal has been absent since his shock second round loss at Wimbledon and Federer was recently upset in the quarter-finals by Czech Tomas Berdych.  Judging from previous results it seems that it is Djokovic’s title to lose.  However, it surely will not be as simple as that.

File:2012 US Open Novak Đ vs Rogerio D. Silva5.jpg

Murray has been a consistent performer for a number of years.  He has made the quarter-finals or better at the last seven Grand Slams.  Murray has made four Grand Slam finals losing three times to Federer (US Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon) and once to Djokovic (Australian Open).  Murray was tested by big serving Marin Cilic in the last round but was able to remain calm and dismantle the Croatian.  Notorious for very overt outbursts, Murray has been able to direct that emotion in a positive way to get out of challenging situations.  Now an Olympic gold medallist, Murray has a new found confidence and is extremely eager to break his Grand Slam drought.

David Ferrer has lived in the shadow of the ‘King of Clay’, Nadal, for about six years.  At 30 years of age, the Spaniard is one of the fittest players on tour and does not look like slowing down any time soon.  He has made the quarter-finals at every Grand Slam and semi-finals at three.  Ascending to the number four seeding, with the absence of Nadal, Ferrer has looked dangerous throughout the tournament and will be keen to advance to his first Grand Slam final.

Tomas Berdych caused a major upset in 2010 when he defeated defending champion Roger Federer in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.  The Czech has done it again, sending the Swiss maestro packing in the quarter-finals to contest his third ever semi-final.  This is his opportunity to again back up his impressive display and expose his exciting hard court game.

The Murray and Berdych semi-final will be intriguing as there is a clear difference between the players and their game plans.  Murray is a counter punch player but also has a fantastic double-handed backhand.  The Scot will use his recent Olympic success as motivation, in addition to his improved athletic endurance to reduce the impact that the Berdych serve will pose.  Murray has taken his court movement to another level thanks largely to his coach, former world number one and eight time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl.

Berdych has been able to use his big serve to construct points and put himself in a strong position.  His ability to maintain a long rally and not simply rely on his opponent to make a mistake will hold him in good stead against Murray.  Berdych has matched his groundstrokes with the top players during the tournament and by defeating Federer in the previous round this will give him a lot of confidence against Murray.

The key elements of the match will be for Berdych to get off to a strong start.  Murray uses his athleticism to run out matches but can also incorporate big hitting to add variety to his strategy.  Berdych has had an easier run through the tournament in comparison to Murray, as he has spent less time on court than the number three seed.  Murray played Feliciano Lopez in the third round, Milos Raonic in the fourth round and Marin Cilic in the last round.  This common trait between these three players is that they are all big serving, tall athletes, much like Berdych.  However, Berdych defeated the Roger Federer in the previous round and that has to count for something.

The Djokovic and Ferrer match will be a great contest.  Both players are quick, strong and can easily last over three hours on court.  The defending champion in Djokovic will be confident going into this match as he leads their head to head 9 – 5.  The Serbian has had a solid record on hard court as four of his five Grand Slam titles have come on hard court.  Since 2007 Djokovic has made the semi-finals or better at the final Grand Slam of the year.  This will surely be at the back of the Spaniards mind going into the match.  Ferrer needs to go into the contest with a confident mind set knowing full well that his game is good enough to defeat the Serbian.

Djokovic had one of the most incredible seasons in tennis history in 2011 when he won three Grand Slam titles and made a semi-final in the other.  This has made the middle of 2012 a little difficult as Djokovic failed at both Wimbledon and the Olympic Games.  He has an innate ability to quickly turn a clear defensive situation into attack with one shot.  The defensive backhand of Djokovic has always had pace attached to it which is remarkable due to the position he is in when he hits the ball.  The depth that Djokovic adds to his returns makes it increasingly difficult for the opposition to gain any type of decent court position.  The Serbian has been able to constantly come back from the brink of defeat and emerge victorious, and that is a trait that many players lack.

Ferrer is known for his capacity to grind out points.  He can be moved around the court frequently during games and yet keep enough balance to return balls with placement to trouble his opponent.  In order for Ferrer to have a chance against Djokovic he must take all his opportunities early.  The worst thing for Ferrer is to be thinking about is a missed shot that could have given him an early break for example.  He needs to keep the pressure on the Serbian and not be forced into a false sense of security even if he can get off to a great start.  Ferrer is not a known net player but if he can mix it up by approaching the net in an attempt to finish off points early then it will trouble Djokovic.  Even approaching the net on a fault will maybe give Djokovic something to think about.

The match will be a clash of two great athletes of the game.  Djokovic has more variety to offer than Ferrer but it will be a captivating contest nonetheless.  Djokovic has great variation on his serve and will trouble Ferrer unless he is also able to provide an element of unpredictability.  There are going to be some amazing rallies and it will be a match possibly worthy of a final.

Berdych looks more likely to cause the upset but both Djokovic and Murray should advance through to the final day, which would be a repeat of the 2011 Australian Open final.

Sean Munaweera

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