The top four seeds have all reached the semifinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
This is only the third tournament of the ATP season in which the top four seeds have reached the semifinals the other two being the Australian Open and the SAP Open in San Jose.
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have been the only winners of this tournament since 2009. Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro will be looking to disrupt this pattern as they each seek their inaugural Dubai title.
Without further hesitation, here are the previews and predictions for the two semifinals in Dubai.
Juan Martin Del Potro v. Novak Djokovic- Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro will be facing each other for the tenth time in the Dubai semifinals. Djokovic leads the head to head 7-2 including a 3-0 record at a majors. These two played two monumental matches last year. Del Potro took out Djokovic in the Bronze Medal match of the Olympics, but the Serb returned the favor in a thrilling quarterfinal matchup at the U.S. Open taking out Del Po in straight sets. The last time these two met, Djokovic rallied from a set down against Juan Martin in the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals.
Keys for for Del Potro: Every time Del Potro plays Djokovic, I'm always intrigued by Del Po's strategy of trying to hit right through the world number one. While this strategy of attacking Djokovic with a blitzkrieg of offensive strikes may work from time to time, in the long run it is a losing proposition to employ as a result of the uncanny and tremendous defensive prowess of Nole. Djokovic not only anticipates brilliantly, but his body is extremely flexible and elastic as he is able to slide and stretch when forced into defensive positions. His capacity to transition from defense to offense is absolutely sublime especially off the backhand side. If I'm Del Po, I would be looking to beat Djokovic by dissecting the court as opposed to hitting through the court. Del Potro needs to look to cut up the court and create acute angles by integrating more spin than power. Del Potro's directional variation off the serve needs to be high, keeping Djokovic off balance and guessing. Del Potro has always been content with going cross court shot after shot after shot with his backhand. If he doesn't put forth a more multifaceted version of his backhand, he'll be victim to Djokovic's versatile and deadly backhand. One play Del Potro can use against Djokovic that actually gets a lot done for the Argentinean is to go inside out with his forehand to the Djokovic backhand implementing high amounts of topspin . This forces Novak into using under spin and allows Del Po to comes right back with a powerful inside in forehand. Djokovic, who tends to misplay his under spin backhands, has to step into the ball and integrate his lower body to allow himself to get under and hit through his slice backhand.
Keys for Djokovic: Djokovic is arguably the greatest returner in tennis history. With that said, I think it would be smart for Novak to take a decent amount of Del Po's first serves right up the middle as it forces Del Po to hit right through him, a play that has already been described as one that hasn't worked at all for the big man in their matchups. Look for Djokovic to put Del Po on the move. Del Po is a solid mover but is nowhere near as effective as he is from a purely stationary position.
Prediction: Expect Djokovic to get the job done in straight sets
Tomas Berdych v. Roger Federer- The last time these two faced, Berdych really took it to Federer. Although Federer won the third set in this match, it wasn't really as close as the scoreboard would seem to indicate. Federer leads the head to head 11-5 though Berdych has taken out Federer on several big occasions including the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, and the Olympics. In fact, these two have only played one match below a Masters Series 1000 event that being in Halle in 2006. Both Federer and Berdych play with eastern forehands although Berdych's forehand is between an eastern and a semi-western. This accounts for the fact these guys cannot not only flatten out the ball and take the ball on early with ease but it provides their forehands with versatility as they can also rip spin. Both have compact swing paths but Federer's is definitely more simple and less wrist dependent.
Keys for Berdych: Berdych will have to take advantage of the short chip backhands Federer is going to provide him with. This one of the absolutely vital plays to be used against Federer and I will repeat it over and over in the previews of Federer's matches. In addition, Federer preparation time needs to be significantly reduced by the Czech who can do so by going hard and flat into Fed's groundstrokes. Federer has an extremely small racket head and takes the ball on early and flat. As a result, Federer's precise shot making can break down which is evident in the amount of shanks he produces.
Keys for Federer: Federer absolutely needs to stay away from the chip backhand off second serves and use it in moderation in rallies. Berdych will just tee off on any slice backhand that doesn't stay low and penetrate through the court. In addition, Federer's racket head speed will be crucial. A big sign that Federer is feeling nervous or pressured is that he begins to decelerate through his backhand. If Fed begins decelerating, it'll leave Berdych with the short balls he just loves to trounce upon. In preparation for writing this article, I watched the highlights from Federer's lost to Berdych in the 2011 Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati. The main area where Fed was being hurt the most was his second serve. In this match, Fed won 7/28 second serve points some of which were Berdych just absolutely crushing Fed's returns for outright winners. This is an area where the 2012 Dubai champion will have to remain solid if he expects to win.
Prediction: I think this is going to be a tightly contested affair but I'll take Federer over Berdych in three sets.