Forget Super Saturday, today at Flushing Meadows is Fantastic Friday. After rain prevented any play in the women’s semi-finals scheduled for Thursday, tournament organisers moved the matches onto today’s schedule, meaning that the day session will see Flavia Pennetta square off against Simona Halep, and Roberta Vinci test her luck against top seed Serena Williams – please see yesterday’s issue for my preview of each match.
The night session features both men’s semi-finals, with the first contest between top seed Novak Djokovic and defending champion Marin Cilic, followed by the all-Swiss showdown between Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka. See below for my thoughts on each match.
Matches of the Day – Day 12
1. Novak Djokovic vs. Marin Cilic
Croatia’s Marin Cilic produced the best tennis of his life at Flushing Meadows last year, defeating Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final, respectively, to claim his maiden Grand Slam title. Even more impressively, he won those three matches without dropping a set. Cilic was serving tremendously well and, with former Wimbledon champion and compatriot Goran Ivanisevic giving him the requisite confidence and self-belief, the Croat secured an unlikely victory.
2015 has been an up and down year for Cilic, with injury problems delaying his start to the season. However, a quarter-finals showing at Wimbledon indicated that Cilic was back in form and he has done terrifically well to date in the defence of his US Open crown. The ninth seed has survived five-setters against Kukushkin and Tsonga to get within a couple of wins of a second successive title, but the man across the net from him today is the toughest opponent in men’s tennis.
If not for a red-hot Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final earlier this year, Djokovic would be on track for the calendar Grand Slam, just like Serena Williams is. The Serbian has been the dominant force on the ATP Tour this year, despite Roger Federer’s renaissance, and is out in front in the world rankings by a significant distance. The world number one has beaten Cilic in all 13 of their previous encounters, including straight sets wins at Monte Carlo and the All England Club earlier this year. That said, Cilic did push Djokovic to 5 sets at Wimbledon last year and, as he showed in his demolition of Roger Federer in the semi-finals in New York last year, anything is possible when Cilic is on song.
Cilic played close to the perfect match against Federer at Flushing Meadows last year and, if he is to beat Djokovic this year, I think the Croat will need to replicate the form he showed against the Swiss superstar in 2014. Djokovic looks fresher than last year, when he slumped to a semi-finals loss in New York to Nishikori and, with just one US Open title to his name to date, the top seed will be eager to double his tally this year.
The first set and a half of the match will be crucial – if Cilic can make the early running, his confidence will balloon and he will be hard to stop. But the greater probability is that Djokovic negates the Cilic serve and outplays the Croat from the baseline. I think Cilic will win a set and will fight hard in the others, but I’m backing the top seed to prevail. Djokovic in 4.
2. Stan Wawrinka vs. Roger Federer
Swiss tennis fans should be happy whoever wins this historic clash – either way, a Swiss player will be in the men’s singles final. Second seed Roger Federer is playing only his second tournament since losing to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final, but the 17-time major winner won in Cincinnati with style and flair, and has now swept past his first five opponents en route to the semi-finals.
Wawrinka showed in Paris that he is far from a one-Slam wonder, producing magnificent tennis to stop Federer (in straight sets) in the quarter-finals, Tsonga in the semi-finals, and Djokovic in the final. The fifth seed has the confidence to beat anybody these days, and his coach Magnus Norman is an astute tennis observer who has helped his pupil both tactically and in terms of self-belief.
The win over Federer in Paris earlier this year will give Wawrinka plenty of hope going into this match, but the broader story is that Federer has won 16 of the 19 meetings between the pair. Wawrinka has never beaten his compatriot on hard-courts, although he did come extremely close in London at the ATP World Tour Finals last year, in what was a surprisingly fiery match between the Davis Cup teammates.
I think Wawrinka’s game is well-suited to the conditions in New York, with the bouncy courts giving him plenty of balls in his prime striking zone. Federer, as a 5-time US Open winner, obviously likes the courts as well, and in his case it’s predominantly the speed of the courts that gives him an advantage when he plays first strike tennis and approaches the net confidently.
To my mind, this match comes down to who can dictate play on the majority of points. If Federer serves well and uses his forehand and volleys to keep the points short, then the second seed should prevail. If Wawrinka is able to extend the points a bit longer, and give himself time to set up for a powerful winner from either wing, then he is very capable of winning this match (assuming that his execution is on point). I’ll go for Federer, based on the form he showed in Cincinnati and to date in New York, but this one will be close. Federer in 5.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow. In the meantime, follow all of the action on Twitter: @satelliteserve.