Shanghai Masters Semi-finals: Preview and Predictions
Even though none of the four quarterfinal matches went to a third set, none of them was a straightforward affair. What if Anderson had converted the set point in the first set? What if Ebden had not let nerves set in after being two-nil up in the first set?
But then Tennis, or any sport for that matter, is not about ‘what if’, for there would be many; rather it’s all about ‘what is’. So, despite the heroics of the losing quarter-finalists, we get four richly deserved semi-finalists who have set up two mouth-watering clashes on a Super Saturday at Shanghai Masters. Here is a preview of the two semi-finals.
Semi Final 1: Novak Djokovic Vs. Alexander Zverev
This is going to be a terrific match between a 14-time grand slam Champion in top form and a youngster who is unanimously regarded as a future number 1 and multiple grand slam winner. There is a lot of similarity in the way they play. They are both solid baseliners, as most players in Contemporary tennis are. Neither of them makes a regular foray to the net.
The most striking similarity between them is their ferocious backhand. Unlike most players, for these two, backhand is not a weakness. They can not only defend very well from their backhand side but rip crosscourt and down the line winners with their two-handed backhands, almost at will.
Even though the twenty-one-year-old Sascha Zverev has firmly ensconced himself among the top ten players for about two years now, he has played Novak Djokovic only once at the outdoor clay of 2017 Rome Masters. He won that particular match in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3. But nothing much should be read from that sole encounter between the two because that is the time when Novak was going through an extended slump and we now know in hindsight, he was carrying an injury and was not mentally focused on the game.
But the old Novak is emphatically back with two back to back grand slam titles, and looks unbeatable. Though the first set between him and Anderson was quite close, once he saved the set point, he was on a roll. He won the tie break rather easily and at no point in the second set did he look in any sort of trouble.
Zverev too had a very solid match. He was solid in his own serve and capitalized on the chances offered to him by a nervy Kyle Edmund, as any top player must. In his nascent career, there have been times when Zverev has struggled to close out matches, and even has surrendered winning positions to lose. Here, however, he had no such issues. He seems to be back in top form and fitness, and can surely cause problems to Novak.
But despite a similar style of play, what separates Novak from the young German is his big match temperament. Though Zverev has the game to match Novak shot for shot, it is in the clutch moments that he sometimes tends to falter. Novak would be delighted to capitalize on any such lapses. I expect Novak to edge Sascha in a match of similar styles.
Prediction: Djokovic to win in 2 Sets
Semi Final 2: Roger Federer Vs. Borna Coric
Coric may not have any big weapons at the moment that could help him get outright winners most of the time. But he is solid on both his forehand and backhand sides, and in recent times has worked on improving his serve as well. His playing style is similar to Novak Djokovic. But having a similar style to a great player is one thing and to actually emulate the success of your idol is another. Just ask Dimitrov who has long been dubbed as Baby Federer.
But Coric seems to be a player with the right attitude and work ethic. Unlike some of his next-gen contemporaries with temperament issues, he is quite focused and intent on improving. His successes at Masters level this year coupled with the biggest win of his career against Roger Federer in Gerry Weber Final at Halle points at the significant strides he has made as a player this year.
But if Coric needs to go further and reach the finals at Shanghai, he must repeat his heroics of Halle. But can lightning strike twice? Will Coric be able to get past Federer a second time this year? It’s possible, and with the kind of inconsistent form and lack of ruthlessness when on top, which has characterised Federer’s game of late, it seems even probable.
Like the first semi-final, the second semi-final too pits a legend of the game against a young player who has the potential to win multiple grand slams in future. The 21-year-old Croatian is having a break out year. Before 2018, he had won only 19 matches at Masters 1000 level; he has already won 17 matches at that level this year with his quarter-final victory over the tenacious Aussie, Matthew Ebden.
Roger has admittedly tapered off quite a bit after his successful defence of the Australian Open this year. He did not seem in top gear in the first two matches of the Shanghai Open, and even against Kei he got broken in the later stages of the second set when he was a set and a break up, and seemed like heading for his first straight-forward victory of the tournament.
Also, his unexpected losses in Halle, Wimbledon and the US Open to players, against whom he was the overwhelming favourite, must be hurting Federer no end, especially the first two where he was well and truly on top before inexplicably losing steam. In the semi-final, he gets a chance to at least avenge one of those defeats.
On the evidence of the patchy form he has exhibited so far, it seems we are in for yet another gruelling match for the Swiss maestro. But despite being nowhere close to the level he is capable of, he has still managed to find a way to win. Expect much the same against Coric as well.
Prediction: Federer to win in 3 Sets