The top four seeds remain as the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships begin to close on the final in what looks like a very possible rematch of the 2011 championship where Novak Djokovic took out Roger Federer in straight sets.
Seventh seed Andreas Seppi still remains whereas fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, sixth seed Janko Tipsarevic, and eighth seed Mikhail Youzhny were all sent home early.
Dmitry Tursunov is once against a surprise quarterfinalist and will be looking to make his second semifinal in as many weeks. Nikolay Davydenko has once again turned back the clocks as he did in Doha taking out Janko Tipsarevic and Victor Hanescu to set up a quarterfinal encounter with Roger Federer.
Novak Djokovic v. Andreas Seppi- The 2012 French Open was almost shaken to its core when Novak Djokovic was stretched to five sets by Andreas Seppi in the fourth round. Seppi had the world number one out of sorts and on his heels securing a two sets to love lead before Djokovic rallied to win 6-3 in the fifth. Seppi is 0-9 in tour level matches against Djokovic and has managed to capture only four sets in those matches. There really isn't any aspect of the game that Seppi is able to say he does even as remotely well as the Serb. This match could feature some very protracted rallies as both guys can prove to be quite the backboard and rarely give up inexcusable unforced errors.
Keys for Seppi- If Seppi expects to have any chance in this match, he's going to have to get a ridiculously high percentage of first serves in. As someone whose first serve isn't breaking any radar guns, Seppi's weak second serve surely won't be able to hold weight against arguably the best returner in the history of the game. Seppi will also have to be a lot more aggressive than he is accustomed to being as the longer the rally gets, the more it favors Djokovic. Granted, the shorter rallies favor Djokovic too, but Seppi will be more successful if he is on the offensive. The Italian would also do well to say a little prayer to the tennis gods before the match hoping they grant him an off day from Nole.
Keys for Djokovic: Nothing much needs to be said here. As long as Djokovic is the Djokovic we all know and love, I don't see him having the slightest bit of trouble taking out Seppi in straight sets. If Djokovic does become nonchalant with his footwork and play shots where his natural balance and equilibrium deviate from its norm, he'll have to prevent Seppi from beating him with outright consistency which is what occurred in the first two sets of their French Open match last year.
Prediction: Look for Djokovic to ease past the Italian in straight sets giving up no more than seven games.
Juan Martin Del Potro v. Daniel Brands- The last time these to faced each other, 62 aces were hit in 39 service games and 15 break points were saved. Each of the three sets was decided by a tiebreaker with Del Potro grasping the deciding set in an 8-6 breaker. This match occurred indoors in Vienna on what is a far quicker surface than Dubai, so don't expect the same score line this time around. As close as Brands got in Vienna and as odd as this sounds, I would give the German an even better chance this time around against Del Po. Brands has an absolutely superb start to 2013 reaching the semifinals of Doha, the third round of the Australian Open, the quarterfinals of Rotterdam, and has won four matches this week in Dubai. As a result, Brands will certainly come in with more confidence than he did last time against Del Potro having already recorded more tour level victories in 2013 than he did in 2012.
Keys for Brands: As he did for the most part in Vienna and as a inferior player must always do, Brands need to step up on the big points. While he wasn't able to break Del Po in any of the five chances he had in Vienna, he was able to save all ten break points Del Potro had against him. Brands will have to make sure Del Po's second serve doesn't creep too high on his backhand side which is of course made significantly more difficult to handle with a one handed backhand. In addition, Brands needs to find as many ways as possible to contract the length of the rallies so don't be surprised if the German serves and volleys on a consistent basis throughout the match.
Keys for Del Potro: Del Potro will need to look to use his inside out forehand ripped with heavy topspin to attack the Brand's single handed backhand. This is an extremely high percentage tactic for Del Potro because he is going cross court, hitting with margin, and playing into the weakness of his opponent. Brand's is a big hitter so Del Potro will need to make sure he exploits the German's movement by keeping him off balance and on the move.
Prediction: Although Del Potro is the heavy, heavy favorite, I am going to pick Brands to pull off the shocker in three sets
Dmitry Tursunov v. Tomas Berdych- If you're smart, you wouldn't bet your money on Tursunov on this one even though you'd be getting very, very good odds to do so. Turusnov is 1-6 lifetime against Berdych with his sole victory over the Czech coming in 2006 in a third set tiebreaker. This quarterfinal matchup is a rematch of last week's Marseille semifinal where Berdych swept past Tursunov 6-2 6-1 in under an hour.
Keys for Berdych- Look for Berdych to manage this match with maturity and calmness. As long as Berdych plays his heavy hitting brand of tennis and doesn't allow Tursunov to take the initiative with his powerful ground strokes, he should have no problems in this one. Tursunov is also a very proactive returner so Berdych will be looking to keep the Russian from moving forward and establishing an aggressive posture on his second serves.
Keys for Tursunov: I think the best pattern for Tursunov is to go hard, deep, and flat to the Berdych forehand as much as possible while keeping him out of the middle of the court. Berdych is much better when he is given time as he has increased time and space to adequately set and plant his feet. In addition, Tursunov needs to avoid feeling like he has to do too much. While he definitely doesn't' want to allow Berdych to dictate, by no means is he up against the caliber of defense seen in players such as David Ferrer and Novak Djokovic.
Prediction: I see Berdych duplicating last week's performance to take out the Russian in straight sets once again
Roger Federer v. Nikolay Davydenko- The Australian Open second round encounter between Davydenko and Federer was their 20th time facing off against one another. Federer won the first twelve encounters before the Russian rattled off two stunningly impressive victories over Federer. The last six times these two have met, Federer has won each time only conceding three sets in these matches. The seemingly irreconcilable difficulty Davydenko has with Federer is that at least from the baseline, these guys are almost mirror images of each other. Federer certainly has more variety, but both thrive upon taking the initiative in points by stepping inside the baseline and taking balls off the rise. Both men have immense affinities for offensive, first strike minded tennis but everything Davydenko does, Federer does infinitely better.
Keys for Davydenko: A tactic that is often preached to be used against Federer is to spread him out wide to his forehand in order to open up his backhand. While I believe this is a potent tactic if executed flawlessly, it can be deadly otherwise. First of all, you are hitting into what is widely considered the best forehand of all time. Secondly, while Federer's backhand is the weaker side, it has improved and he defends pretty darn well off the slice. With this said, I think this is a play Davydeno should use with cautious moderation. For someone who moves forward as well as Davydenko, I think the more viable play is to force Federer to play high backhands especially off the second serve where Federer frequently chips the ball back into play enticing his opponents to move forward and be aggressive.
Keys for Federer: Since Davydenko tends to drive through and flatten out a lot of his shots, Federer will be looking for these balls to supply and feed into his monstrous offensive weapons. One thing Federer needs to be wary of is Davydenko's second serve return. Davydenko, as mentioned, is one of the best players on tour at handling topspin infused balls with high trajectories. If Federer leaves too many short second serves, it could spell trouble much like it did for Federer in his 2012 semifinal lost to Andy Murray in Shanghai. This was a match in which Murray viciously abused the Federer second serve forcing Federer into a ton of double faults.
Prediction: Davydenko has had a wonderful week but I think he'll be contained by the Swiss in two tight sets.