This article originally appeared on The Grandstand
Ricky Dimon and Cheryl Murray of The Grandstand along with Pete Ziebron of Tennis Acumen make their picks for Friday’s U.S. Open semifinals. It’s Rafael Nadal vs. Juan Martin Del Potro and Novak Djokovic vs. Kei Nishikori.
(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (3) Juan Martin Del Potro
Ricky: Del Potro destroyed Nadal 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 in the 2009 U.S. Open semifinals. To say this is a different matchup nine years later would be a gross understatement. Nadal is now a three-time U.S. Open champion and Del Potro’s backhand, although improved since the early stages of his comeback, is not as powerful as it once was and is more vulnerable to Nadal’s heavy topspin. The key shot in this matchup is Nadal’s down-the-line forehand into the deuce court, which will always be open given that Del Potro consistently runs around his backhand to hit forehands in the ad court. Nadal was hitting the DTLFH incredibly well in his marathon five-set win over Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals. Moreover, the world No. 1 has won three in a row against Del Potro and seven of their last nine meetings. Nadal in 4: 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5.
Cheryl: It seems like recently, you can just count on Nadal and Delpo in the latter stages of a slam. In fact, this is the third consecutive major meeting for the two champions (and good friends)–all the previous two have gone to Nadal. On paper, Del Potro has the tools needed to trouble Nadal; in other words, he’s tall with big, powerful groundstrokes….But the Spaniard always seems to have the answers. Nadal has had a much more difficult path to the semis, capped by his epic five-set win over Thiem on Tuesday night, but he also had two days rest which should give him enough time to be relatively fresh for the encounter. Nadal in 5: 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 6-7, 7-5.
Pete: Throw out the overall H2H that favors Nadal 11-5 in this series and look a bit deeper into the fact that each man has won five times against the other on a hard court. Del Potro fans will fondly recall the 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 pasting of Nadal en route to the Argentine’s 2009 U.S. Open title. But that was then. Nadal has not lost since the Wimbledon semifinals and will most definitely rebound from the significant scare he received on Tuesday from Thiem in the quarters. Del Potro’s consecutive set winning streak in New York was snapped at 12 in the opening set of his quarterfinal against John Isner. Order was quickly restored as the world No. 3 swept the next three sets to advance. Nadal however, has been in top form for several months. His deep confidence will be the difference in this meeting as the Spaniard puts himself in position to yet again let Federer know that he is one match away from closing the gap on the ultimate scoreboard in tennis. Nadal in 4: 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-4.
(21) Kei Nishikori vs. (6) Novak Djokovic
Ricky: Djokovic completely owns this head-to-head series 14-2, including 13-0 since losing to Nishikori in the U.S. Open semis four years ago. He beat the Japanese star twice on clay this season and again in four sets at Wimbledon. The clay-court swing came when Djokovic was just barely finding his form in his comeback, so if Nishikori couldn’t win then there is no reason to think he can get the job done now. After all, Djokovic is 20-1 in his last 21 matches with titles at Wimbledon and in Cincinnati. The Serb has raised his level to win his last three matches in straight sets, while Nishikori is coming off a five-setter against Marin Cilic. Djokovic in 4: 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.
Cheryl: This U.S. Open has been something of a case study for Djokovic facing exactly the opposite player of the one that was expected. Instead of Federer, he played Millman in the quarters. And instead of Cilic, he’ll play Nishikori in the semis. This is all good news for Djokovic. He boasts a 14-2 record over Nishikori, and the Japanese man last beat him back in 2014. Djokovic lost a couple sets in the early rounds last week, but he’s taken care of business in straight sets since. Nishikori would need a whole lot of things to go right for him to beat an in-form Djokovic on hard courts when he couldn’t even do it on clay in the spring. Djokovic in 4: 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2.
Pete: After once trailing 2-1 in this series, Djokovic has rolled to victory in the last 13. The Serb is appearing in his 11th consecutive U.S. Open semifinal. Following his Wimbledon title, an overwhelming consensus concluded that he was indeed back and even Djokovic himself claimed that he was better than before. Personally, I disagreed and witnessed a sluggish Djokovic who still managed to win Cincinnati. The two-time U.S. Open champion has also continued to win thus far in New York. We are still waiting to see the absolute vintage play of Djokovic on a consistent basis and that is a scary prospect for the players remaining in the draw. Nishikori had dropped three of four matches in the U.S. Open Series before finally steadying his game when it counts the most–at a major. His quarterfinal win over Cilic will certainly boost his confidence, but reality will once again set in quickly when he sees that it is Djokovic who is on the other side of the net. Djokovic in 3: 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.