AO2016: Djokovic vs Federer

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The semi-finals everyone wanted is finally upon us. The two most successful men of the century at the Australian Open will square off against each other for the 45th time. The world number one Novak Djokovic dominated the field last year while the Roger Federer, currently ranked third in the world, was the only one who challenged the Serbian consistently throughout the year.

Based on the results from last 12 months, it was hard not to see Djokovic as the overwhelming favourite heading into this Slam. Federer and Murray were the next two favourites but they were well below the Serb according to the experts. Then we had former champs, Nadal and Wawrinka, but both of them have been knocked out before the quarterfinal stage.

However, over these 10 days, the form shown by the top 3 contenders for the men’s crown have been slightly different. Murray began the tournament knowing that he would have to leave for the birth of his child

Murray probably began the tournament slightly distracted with the thoughts of the impending birth of his child. It didn’t help his emotional state of mind that his father in law collapsed a few days ago and had to be rushed to the hospital (he is alright now). Djokovic was mostly solid except for a terrible match against Simon where he committed 100 unforced errors but still managed to win the match. Federer probably had the toughest draw but he went through all his opponents so far without breaking too much sweat and dropping only a single set.

And so we are here for the first semi featuring Djokovic and Federer. The duo has 9 Australian Open titles between them and most likely one of them will make it 10 by Sunday. Last year’s form suggests that the Serb will take this one in a memorable tussle. Even though Federer has been more impressive in Melbourne so far, it is difficult for him (or anyone else for that matter) to sustain that same level against Novak. We have seen it many times in the last 2 years where Federer would come pretty much roaring through the draw only to be thwarted by Djokovic at the final hurdle. Playing at night won’t help him ether as the conditions would be much slower and that only plays into the hands of the world number one.

The keys for a Federer win would be for the Swiss Maestro to have an exceptional serving day, like the one he had against Murray at Wimbledon last year. And then be ultra-aggressive on rallies but keep the unforced errors to a minimum. Yeah, a fine line, but if anyone can do it, it would be Federer. He will bring his net play also into the mix and against Djokovic, it will be tricky but a gamble Federer has to take to end points early and on his own terms. Of course, Djokovic having an off day would also be welcome but we all know that is as common as a solar eclipse.

By now you would have guessed that I want Roger Federer to win. But I also know that Djokovic is the safer bet. But then again, it would be a bet I am happy to lose.

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The Novak Djokovic Invitational 2016

After a thoroughly dominating 2015, world number one Novak Djokovic rightly struts into the opening slam of the year as the heavy favourite. The ATP field currently has Djokovic at the very top and then some distance below, four guys who have multiple Grand Slams to their name in Federer, Murray, Wawrinka & Nadal. And then we have everybody else, some would argue just to make up the numbers.

The four guys mentioned above have had an interesting year in 2015. Old man Federer continued to delight his fans and surprise everyone by playing an extremely high level. He was the most consistent threat of Djokovic but just couldn’t break down the Serb in the biggest matches. That honor went to his countryman, Stan Wawrinka who gave his Djokovic his only slam loss of 2015 while wearing the most wildly ridiculed & chastised shorts in sporting history! Nadal had an injury plagued year and struggled to be anywhere near his best. Andy Murray did…umm…he must have done something to end up second in the world. And then he went on to win the Davis Cup at the end of the year.

So everyone was assembled in Melbourne to learn the draw for the Novak Djokovic Invitational, ohh I am sorry, the Australian Open #OopsMyBad. Obviously Djokovic & Murray are on the opposite sides of the draw. Federer lands in Djokovic’s half while Wawrinka & Nadal are in Murray’s.

Potentially waiting for the Serb are Seppi, Karlovic and Nishikori or Tsonga in the 3rd round, 4th round & the quarters. However it is much more likely that Djokovic won’t face any of them in his march towards the semis; Seppi & Tsonga are too inconsistent, Karlovic would have to get through a ton of tie breakers and Nishikori is more injured than fit to safely bet on.

Federer’s quarter is much more interesting and therefore more difficult to predict. Likely opponents for Federer are Dolgopolov in the 2ndround, Dimitrov in the 3rd round, and Goffin or Thiem in the 4th. On paper, the 34 year old Swiss can still be considered the favourite against all these guys but he is now more prone to off days and if the other guy is having a really good day, Federer might bow out of the tournament early like last year. If he gets past them he might be facing Berdych or Kyrgios, both hard hitting guys who know how to beat Roger.

The third quarter is fun, it has an opening round matchup of Nadal and Verdasco. Now, if these two can replicate something close to their 2009 epic slugfest, that would be great for us tennis fans. Somewhere along the way, the Chennai Open champion Wawrinka and the Brisbane Open champion Raonic is most likely to clash as well.

For someone at his level, Murray should sleep walk his way to the semis. But Murray being Murray, he would make things complicated and tough for himself, clutch his hips while mouthing off obscenities and then eventually get to the semis anyway.

It is really difficult to see anyone stopping Djokovic from getting to the final. Logically Federer should give his the most trouble, but the Swiss Maestro has a tough route to the semis himself, too many guys who can get hot and take him out. Maybe the best bet is for Karlovic to go on a monster serving spree against Djokovic (assuming he gets there of course!).

The other semi most likely has to be Wawrinka or Nadal vs Murray. If Nadal gets to the semi, there is no way he is going down to Murray. And how many times will Murray reach the final in Melbourne only to walk away with the runner up trophy? That leaves us with Stan, the true (and the only?) unpredictable guy in ATP right now, if he gets hot, nobody is stopping him, not even Novak. But he also has bad days, so….

Overall, it looks like it is very difficult that anybody but Novak is going to win the Australian Open this year. But if it Djokovic vs Murray, the only thing that can make the final exciting is Paul Heyman coming out an announcing “Ladies & Gentlemen, the winner of this match and still, your Reigning, Defending, Undisputed, Australian Open Champion, NOVAK DJOKOVIC!”