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Stellar stars make Saturday super

Novak Djokovic
By Mark Preston
Saturday, September 8, 2012

Super Saturday at the 2012 US Open showcases two high-voltage men’s semifinals and an equally electric primetime women’s final that brings together two of the top talents in the women’s game. Defending US Open champion Novak Djokovic takes on the fourth seed, David Ferrer in one semi; the other features No. 3 seed Andy Murray against surprise semifinalist Tomas Berdych.  Under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium Friday evening, top-seed Victoria Azarenka takes on three-time champ Serena Williams for the women’s singles championship. It’s a combination of clashes that together should merit the day’s alliterative moniker.

 

Defending champ Djokovic has been the picture of perfection in reaching his sixth consecutive US Open semifinal and his 10th consecutive appearance in the semis of a Slam. The 25-year-old Serb is the only one of the men’s semifinalists to advance to this point without losing a set, and the only thing that might remotely be called a test for him so far was rallying from down a break in the second set of his spectacular quarterfinal win over Juan Martin Del Potro. The No. 2 seed has been second-to-none in hard-court play this year, compiling a 59-10 record while winning three titles on cement, including his fifth career Grand Slam crown at the Australian Open. Indeed, few have been more dominant on the hard stuff than Djokovic, whose career hard-court record is now 281-68. He’s now reached the semis at all four Slams for the second consecutive season.

 

In Ferrer, Djokovic is facing one of the sport’s fiercest fighters, as the Spaniard proved in his five-set, 4 hour, 31 minute win over Janko Tipsarevic in the quarters. In that marathon, Ferrer was down two sets to one and trailed 4-1 in the fifth, but simply refused to lose. In winning, Ferrer, a semifinalist here in 2007, increased his career record in five-setters to 17-9 and became just the third Spanish man (alongside Manuel Santana and Rafael Nadal) to reach multiple US Open semifinals. This has been a great run for the 30-year-old Spaniard, but he’s up against a guy who’s been on a sprint toward the second Sunday from Day 1. Ferrer has spent a total of 15 hours on court through five matches; Djokovic just 9 hours, 8 minutes. That’s a significant difference, but more significant is the fact that Djokovic is playing at an ethereal level, making it virtually impossible for any opponent to step up. Djokovic owns an 8-5 edge in career meetings over the Spaniard, including two hard-court wins in 2012. Put simply, the No. 2 seed is just too good. In three, the defending champ is on to another US Open final.

 

Berdych, the No. 6 seed, scored the upset of the tournament in taking out five-time US Open champion Roger Federer in the quarters, gaining the semis of a Slam for the first time since reaching the Wimbledon final in 2010. The 26-year-old Czech is enjoying his best-ever US Open performance, having never before advanced beyond the fourth round here. The 6-foot-5 Berdych is no small threat, owning a 46-16 hard-court record this season. Against Federer, the Czech played power tennis with remarkable precision, winning 80 percent of his first-serve points, breaking the top-seed five times, and making only 21 unforced errors.

 

Murray, in the semis here for the second consecutive year, is well aware of Berdych’s tall talents, as the Czech owns a 4-2 edge in their career meetings. The two have split their 2012 encounters, with Murray winning on hard courts in Dubai and Berdych winning on clay in Monte Carlo. The 25-year-old Murray, who won the gold medal in singles at the London Olympics, also reached the Wimbledon final this year—the fourth major final in which he’s appeared. With Federer eliminated from this half of the draw, Murray has a serious shot at Slam final number five, putting him one step closer to his first major crown. Certainly, he has the stuff to win on hard courts, owning a 252-71 career record on cement, and he can match Berdych’s explosiveness off the ground. More important, Murray is more experienced at this point in a major, as this is his 10th Slam semifinal and just Berdych’s second. Today, experience tops explosiveness. Give Berdych a set, but Murray wins in four.

 

Women’s top seed Azarenka, who captured her first career Grand Slam tournament title in January at the Australian Open, is appearing in her first US Open final—and her seventh tournament final of the year. The big-hitting Belarusian has had a breakout season, winning four titles—all on hard courts—and leading all women on cement, compiling a 32-2 hard-court mark to this point. The 2005 US Open junior girls’ champion, Azarenka is looking to become only the second player in history to win the US Open women’s title after winning the junior crown (Lindsay Davenport currently is the only woman to win both).

 

That will take a mature effort, as three-time US Open champ Williams has been untouchable during her run through this Flushing fortnight. The 30-year-old American has yet to drop a set, blitzing opponents with her booming serve and punishing ground assault.  Williams, who won the 14th Grand Slam singles title of her career at Wimbledon in July, has put on a non-stop display of fireworks here in reaching her sixth US Open final, dictating play in her every encounter. In six matches, she’s spent a total of 6 hours, 37 minutes on court, playing like someone who was paying for court time. Her semifinal shellacking of Sara Errani was the definition of dominance, as Williams won 92 percent of her first-serve points, never faced a break point on her serve, and dropped just three games.

 

Williams owns an impressive 9-1 edge over Azarenka in their career meetings, including three wins this year alone. In fact, Azarenka hasn’t taken a set off the American since the 2010 Australian Open. I suppose I should point out that prior to last year’s final, I said there was absolutely no way that Williams would lose to Samantha Stosur, but this year, Williams has shown no signs of potential implosion, playing with a familiar fire and focus from round one that suggested no one would lay a glove on her during these two weeks. No one has come close—and no one will. In two, Williams is the 2012 US Open women’s champion.

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