W&S Open: Championship Weekend

Saturday semifinals and on the men’s side, the only real intrigue comes from looking ahead to the finals, although any player will tell you that they can never overlook the opponent immediately across the net.

Novak Djokovic, the number two seed, goes toe-to-toe with the sixth seed from Argentina Juan Martin Del Potro, the first man other than Rafael Nadal to steal a Grand Slam from Federer during his amazing run from a few years ago. Del Potro has dealt with injuries, which slowed him down following his US Open win, but he’s back and clearly has what it takes to reach the finals here.

Djokovic has definitely brought that return game of his, which will be key against the taller Del Potro who takes advantage of his height. The first set stays on-serve until Del Potro litters a serve game with two double faults and Djokovic breaks for a 4-2 lead. From that point, it’s a routine set of holds with Djokovic winning the set 6-3.

Djokovic breaks Del Potro during his second service game in the second set. A pair of holds before Djokovic breaks again (Del Potro fails to win a point during this service game) for a 5-2 lead. Watching the latter portion of this set, its curious to see Djokovic pushing Del Potro further and further off the baseline with punishingly deep shots. And he pushes and shoves him right out of the match with a final ace [6-3, 6-2].

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The other semifinal match is all Swiss, all the time. The number one-seed and world’s number one player Roger Federer against Stanislas Wawrinka. The two teamed up to capture the gold in doubles in the Olympics and having served as practice partners over the years, there’s a real familiarity that could make this match intriguing.

Federer comes out and it is apparent that as the man is king of all he surveys. The crowds are overwhelmingly behind him, granting him home court advantage, although its not like he needs it.

The first set features flashes of brilliance from each man as they hold serve with Wawrinka confirming that he has a powerful weapon in his serve. He logs more aces than Federer, yet Federer's net play and shot selection more than keeps him in the match. By the inevitable tiebreak, the all-around game of Federer leads to a 7-4 win.

The second set is more of the same as they trade holds up through 3-games all, and then Federer sneaks in a break and a strong hold for a 5-3 lead. The expectation is for a Wawrinka hold and then Federer to serve it out, but an untimely double fault for Wawrinka gives the game and match to Federer [7-6 (7-4), 6-3].

FINALS

Roger Federer versus Novak Djokovic. The number one seed versus the number two seed – the first time the two top seeds have met in the finals at the W&S Open. This is the match everyone was waiting for and the crowds are raucous.

On court, the action takes an unexpected turn. Federer breaks immediately, holds and then breaks again for a 3-0 lead. He holds again at love and unbelievably breaks once more for 5-0. Is Djokovic hurt? He makes no calls for his coach or a trainer and simply lets Federer serve out the first set [6-0]. Has he ever been blanked in a set, in an event final?

When Djokovic holds to start the second set, the crowd whoops it up, hoping to provide him with a charge. And now both players look like the top seeds we came to see. The service games add up and there’s the sense that a tiebreak is in store.

When it arrives, the temperature seems to rise. Heat and excitement generate a palpable jolt. Federer grabs a mini-break on Djokovic’s first serve and holds his two points. Before the air deflates out of the stands, Djokovic holds and breaks back. Back and forth they go. At 6-6, with the crowd firmly in his corner, Djokovic holds to take a 7-6 lead, but Federer scores a huge smash before taking the next two points and the match.

He raises his arms and grants Mirka a knowing nod as he walks over to towel off before the trophy presentation. This match sets the field on notice that Federer is ready to extend his Grand Slam singles title count even further and everybody, including the defending champion, better watch out.

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The women’s finalists, ninth seed Na Li (CHN) and the fifth seed Angelique Kerber (GER), have the distinction of being the players who took out the Williams sisters on the way towards this meeting and each of them has proven capable of slugging it out or exerting their will through carefully constructed points.

Much like the men’s final though, this one starts off rather one-sided. Kerber follows up an all-business hold with a quick break of Li and another hold.  Li finally hangs on during a service game, but what has undone her thus far is an inability to rein in her shots. Serves and groundstrokes sail far and wide in an-ever increasing avalanche. She seems confounded by her lack of control, but by the time Kerber has earned the first set at 6-1, Li has no answers and yet, it is Kerber who calls for an on-court conference with her coach.

The second set offers more of the same, as Li continues to push shots, except for her swinging half-volleys, which she nails with surprising accuracy. Somehow, she settles into a groove and evens things up at 3-all. Kerber lapses into a funk and before you know it, Li has secured the second set 6-3.

Li breaks to open the third set and suddenly, the two have completely switched games. Kerber can’t keep the ball on the court or as the games mount, it looks like she’s frustrated by Li’s ability to power shots all over the court. Kerber begins to stop chasing down shots that she consistently reached in the first set. She calls for a second pow-wow with her coach after falling down 3-0. Li aces her to take the fourth game, but Kerber digs deep enough to win her next service game and the crowd perks up for a minute, checking Kerber’s resolve.  Unfortunately, Kerber had nothing left in the tank and she allowed Li to sweep her off the court without much resistance.

The final score [1-6, 6-3, 6-1] doesn’t quite reflect the curious lack of sharp precise play. It will be interesting to see if either player can use today’s effort as a springboard into the US Open. The women’s side of the upcoming Slam appears wide open, ready and waiting for someone, anyone to step up to the big stage, like Stosur last year. At this rate though, it will take far more from either of these finalists to own that epic moment.