Thursday, 28 January 2016

Australian Open 2016 : semi-finals preview

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The Australian Open 2016 semi final spots have been booked. After 10 days of gruelling tennis down under, we are down to the last four contenders for the coveted first major of the year.

On the women's side, the legendary Serena Williams, and world number 1, takes on fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the first semis final. In the second semi final, the 28 year old German and number 7 seed Angelique Kerber will take on the fast rising Brit, (unseeded) Johanna Konta. Serena is undoubtedly the best player out of the four. If she plays even OK tennis by her standards, she is going to take this trophy home, period.

Serena Williams in action at this year's Australian open
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On the men's side, the blockbuster 45th showdown between world number 1 Novak Djokovic and number 3 Roger Federer has every one taking. On the other side, current number 2 Andy Murray takes on the 13th seed Canadian Milos Raonic.

I follow the atp circuit more closely so I will give my views on them.


Novak Djokovic : The world number 1 has been the most consistent player in the world for the last couple of years. He has raised the bar of tennis to a level never achieved before by anyone else, at least that consistently (in my opinion). This Australian Open has been a different story however. The 5 time Australian open champion started off quite convincingly in the opening rounds. Andreas Seppi gave him a tough fight in the third round, but he came out unscathed in 3 sets. The fourth round match against Simon was a scare though as he barely managed to win it in 5 sets after committing 100 unforced errors. Against Kei Nishikori in the quarters, he won convincingly if you look at the scoreline (6-3, 6-2, 6-4). Yet I felt he was far from his best that day. He gave Kei too many opportunities to break (8 overall; even though the Japanese managed to convert only 2) and made uncharacteristic unforced errors. But even at his worst days, he finds a way to beat his opponents, which is why he is the best player in the world.

Roger Federer : He had a fabulous 2015; almost a perfect season if you take out his losses to Djokovic in 5 finals out of 8. In my opinion, Federer is currently the only one who can beat Djokovic even at his imperial best. He has the tools to counter Djokovic's game and make him look mortal. His road to the semi finals has been fairly uncomplicated. He has dropped just 1 set against Dimitrov in the 3rd round. That match was not a spectacular one as both players leaked errors and struggled on big points. Apart from that match though Federer has been red hot. He almost demolished David Goffin in the 4th round (6-2, 6-1, 6-4) and played great tennis to subdue the always dangerous Tomas Berdych in straight sets (7-6(4), 6-2, 6-4). I feel he has been very aggressive with the backhand and is playing more topspin than slices this year. It has yielded great results so far and will be a key component against Novak tomorrow.

Going by their head to head, it is as even as it can get; it is a 22-22 in 44 meetings. Going by current form, Federer has a better chance; by their recent history it is Djokovic who has the edge (He beat Federer in their last 3 grand slam final meetings). I really hope both of them come out firing and play a match which would live up to the expectations.

A lot will depend on how each of them play the big points. The US open final 2015 was a story of missed opportunities for Federer as he converted just 4 out of 27 break points. Federer's ability to find the first serve will also be crucial. The 2015 Wimbledon final was a story of how his first serves deserted him in crucial points. Federer will obviously try and keep the points short and will try and open up the forehand side of Djokovic. He will have to be aggressive with his backhand and will need to come up to the net
 often to finish points before Djokovic gets comfortable from the back of the court. Djokovic on the other hand will rely on his backhands to do some damage both to Federer's slightly weaker backhand side and also down the line. His composure will also be tested as the crowd is surely going to root for Federer.

As much as I want Federer to win it, I feel Djokovic will rise up to the occasion and deliver his best tennis of the tournament. Federer will not be blown away, but will find it difficult to break Djokovic's solid game. A set, maybe two might go the Roger, but I think the world number one prevails in the end.

I want a 6-4, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 in favour of Federer but I think it is going to be 7-6, 7-5, 4-6, 7-5 in Djokovic's favour.


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Andy Murray : The world number 2 had been quite consistent last year after his back surgery marred his 2013 and 2014 seasons. He was last year's finalist at this venue and has what it takes to win majors. He has been good at this tournament this year too, even though he dropped a set each against Sousa and Ferrer. He has been good with his return game as usual, but an added bonus has been his serve, which I feel has let him down on 
a few occasions before. His ability to stay in the rally and make the opponent play that extra ball has paid dividends too. He looks in decent shape and will be tough to beat in this form.

Milos Raonic : The world number 13 had a great 2014, but an injury filled 2015 saw him drop out of the top 10. This year has been different though. He looks a much improved player. He beat Federer for the Brisbane open a couple of weeks ago and has made the semi finals here as well. His biggest weapon, the serve, has been at its best. But his movement, baseline game and the return game has taken a huge leap. He looks much more confident too which is always a bad sign for the opponent on the other side of the net.

Their head to head is an even 3-3, so we cannot make a statement based on that. On current form, they look equally formidable. Murray has an edge because he has been at this stage so many times before (this is his 6th Australian open semi final). But Milos can turn that into his advantage if he comes out believing he can win. The pressure will be on the veteran and if Raonic plays his best tennis, he can potentially overcome Murray. His booming forehand will be a key aspect to penetrate Murray's defenses. Murray on the other hand will definitely look to draw Raonic into long rallies and move him around the court. If he can manage to do that, Raonic will have a tough time snatching the victory from the 'favourite'.

I feel that is exactly what is going to happen. I am making a bold choice here, but I like the look of Raonic this year. He is going to out-serve and out-hit Murray and dictate play on his service games. On return games, Raonic will need to look for tiny openings to get crucial breaks and that he can only do if he is aggressive on the return. Murray's serve might waver if he is mentally not a 100% and I feel it might be such a case on Friday if Raonic manages to get the early advantage.

I think I will go with a 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 victory for Raonic.

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