September 11, 2015 by Parveer Mann
The organizers at the US Open are probably thinking that 2016 can’t come soon enough after the entire evening session was rained out on Thursday. However, the lack of a roof on Ashe has created a rarity: All four semifinal matches will be played on one day, something I’m cautiously calling ‘Super Friday at the Open’. All those in attendance will be treated to match after match filled with slam champions and high stakes reminiscent of all those crazy Saturdays in years past that are seared in our memories.
After the sensational atmosphere and competition during her match on Tuesday night, the focus on Serena Williams remains as she tries to finish off the elusive calendar slam. It is the kind of attention she has relished all year whether dominating her opponents or showing her mettle in three set clashes. Case in point, her emotional comeback against an inspired Bethanie Mattek- Sands in the third round when she hit 38 winners over the last two sets. For Serena, the only real technical concern has been the timing on her service motion and both her and her coach have worked hard to correct it after each early round. The loss of confidence in the motion was partly responsible for her dip in play against Venus and it will be something her next opponent will need to remain competitive.
At 32, Roberta Vinci has finally made her own personal history: making a slam semifinal. The Italian veteran was the beneficiary of a draw vacated by Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic that saw her beat four unranked opponents and advance by walkover against her only ranked opponent, Eugenie Bouchard. Regardless, Vinci still had to overcome the talented Kristina Mladenovic in the quarters, she did it by winning over 62 per cent of first serve points in both the first and third sets. Her biggest strengths tend to be her ability to absorb pace and strong net play, both tactics that are hard to employ against Serena’s passing ability and court coverage.
Despite her ranking, Simona Halep still knows how it feels to play like an underdog. In her last two matches, she has overcome long matches, an ailing leg and two heralded players just to put her in position to vie for her first US Open title. It has been a resilience she’s shown throughout the entire US Open series with deep runs in Toronto, Cincinnati and New York but the question will be, does she have enough left to finish the job?
The key for Simona has been her constant pressure on opponent’s service games. In beating Azarenka and Lisicki, she was able to win 38 per cent of return points in 5 of the 6 sets played. However, her time on court and work rate (46.2 feet per point in the QFs) will be factors to contend with before her semifinal clash with Flavia Pennetta.
There is just something about New York and the US Open that brings out the best in Flavia Pennetta’s game. She has now at least made the quarterfinals in six of the last seven times she’s played in New York, an astounding fact when you consider that she has made one other slam quarterfinal (2013 Australian Open) in her career. These two weeks she has steadily gotten better and it showed in her three set win over former Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova. After losing the first set. Pennetta was the player who looked fresher and ultimately forced 17 errors out of a tired Kvitova in the final set.
Pennetta leads the H2H 3-1 including beating Halep at the 2013 US Open. However, Halep prevailed this year in Miami when she won 51 per cent of return points and capitalized on 5 of 11 break points. It won’t surprise me if both players force a lot of break chances again and I believe the player who can adjust to the return pressure will advance. Prediction: Flavia Pennetta in 3 sets. *Urban Tennis co-host picks Simona Halep*
One of the most jarring tennis facts is that Novak Djokovic has only won a single US Open title (in 2011) despite many deep runs in New York. The world number one has once again put himself in position to change that fact with his normal sound play. In his last two matches, he split the opening sets before ultimately finding his way through in four sets. The key against Feliciano Lopez was locking down his first serve points in the final two sets and focusing on extending Feliciano’s service games. It will be important for Novak to continue to execute on his first serve as his opponent will most likely do the same on his.
Most pre-tournament news stories barely mentioned the defending champion Marin Cilic but he has done his best to force all of us to pay attention once again to last year’s surprise winner. Even though he’s had miserable results in 2015, Cilic has thrived in New York and has put on a serving clinic en route to his second consecutive US Open semifinal. In his five set win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Cilic hit 29 aces and won 78 per cent of his first serves. However, he’ll probably remember that Novak limited him to nine aces in their Wimbledon clash this year and I’m sure he’ll look to find a way to win more free points this time.
Novak has dominated the H2H 13-0 including easy victories at Wimbledon and Monte Carlo this year. For Cilic, he’ll need to match the efficiency he showed against Roger Federer in last year’s semifinals to make up for the weaknesses in his game (poor rally player, below average returner). Prediction: Novak Djokovic in 4 sets. *Urban Tennis co-host picks Novak*
It takes a certain degree of genius to have writers still wax poetic about a player who is three years removed from his last slam title. But, Roger Federer is no normal player and he still gives everyone a lot to discuss, whether it be his SABR return tactic or his effortless play so far this US Open. His 87 minute victory over Richard Gasquet in the last round was an example of peak-Federer. The serve was exceptional and the work rate (27.5 feet per point) was controlled and helped conserve energy he’ll certainly need heading into this weekend. As Roger admitted after Wimbledon this year, he can’t peak too early at a slam like he did against Andy Murray (in the SF) and that he hopes he keeps improving every match in New York.
One person certainly familiar with peaking at the right moment is fellow countrymen, Stan Wawrinka. After triumphing in Paris, Stan has had an uneven summer but has found his groove this fortnight as he has made his way through a tepid draw. Against Kevin Anderson, Stan was able to dictate medium length rallies including hitting 9 winners on his stronger backhand side. It will be important for Stan to try and commit Roger into rallies and force him into the erratic shots that have doomed Roger in recent slams.
Federer leads the H2H 16-3 and has never lost to Wawrinka on a hard court. I think if conditions are fairly calm (no wind), Federer should be able exert his power and avoid drawn out rallies. Prediction: Roger Federer in 4 sets. *Urban Tennis co-host picks Roger*