Djokovic to Reign in Aussie Land

by John on January 23, 2008

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It’s been a great 10-day run so far at Melbourne Park. The Australian Open, the Fun Slam, has been marked by upsets, marathon matches, rain and the longest day in tennis ever. Still standing in the men’s bracket are the top three seeds and an upstart Frenchman as the semifinals begin Thursday. In the top half of the draw, No. 1 Roger Federer, who narrowly escaped defeat against unheralded Janko Tipsaravic in a five-set third-round match Saturday, faces Novak Djokovic, seeded third. No. 2 Rafael Nadal, bidding to win his first Grand Slam on a hard court, battles unseeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the other semifinal. Federer, looking to bag his 13th major title, will have to be at his best against Djokovic. The Surging Serb has a 1-5 record against Federer, but gave the Swiss Maestro all he could handle before losing their last meeting, the 2007 U.S. Open final.  Djokovic hasn’t dropped a set in the tournament so far and has looked sharp. The 20-year-old’s variety of game, firepower off the ground, and big serve can give Federer fits. “He’s done a phenomenal job, four semifinals of Grand Slams at his age,” said Federer. “I was never close to that at his age. He’s improved so much in the last couple of years and it’s exciting playing the best in the world.” Federer dispatched American James Blake with an efficient performance in the quarterfinals and appears to be rounding into form after his wobble against Tipsaravic. Still, I give Djokovic the edge. This is the Serb’s breakthrough year. Nadal, playing injury free and showing no ill-effect from the drubbing he took from Russian Mikhail Youzhny in the Chennai final earlier this month, blasted past Finland’s Jarko Nieminen on Tuesday into the final four. The Spaniard is in his first semifinal ever at a hard-court slam and hasn’t lost a set in Melbourne. “Everyone tells me you have to play more aggressive on hard courts,” Nadal said. “You have to serve better.” The Clay Master is doing both and is the favorite against Tsonga. Nadal has a 1-0 record against the Frenchman – a straight-set third-round victory in last year’s U.S. Open. Tsonga has been the upset king and surprise of the tournament, knocking off No. 9 Andy Murray and No. 8 Richard Gasquet before disposing Youzhny, the 14th seed, in the quarterfinals. The big Frenchman plays with power and subtlety. “He’s a very aggressive player, big serve,” said Nadal of his opponent. “I’ll have to play aggressive myself if I’m going to win.” Expect Nadal to grind out a tough win and then fall to Djokovic in the final.

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