Similar to Indian Wells, we have three guys we thought would get to the Final Four along with an upstart who upset a legend. In the desert it was Alexandr Dolgopolov stunning Rafael Nadal en route to the last for there. This week Kei Nishikori takes over as the new kid on the block, outplaying Roger Federer Wednesday night to reach his first Miami semifinal.
So Friday’s matches are Novak Djokovic against Kei Nishikori and then at night Rafael Nadal takes on Tomas Berdych.
Before I get to tomorrow’s matches, a quick recap of the action from Thursday.
First to the women. Serena Williams continued her hammerlock on rival diva Maria Sharapova beating the Russian 6-4, 6-3 to reach her 9th Miami final. Serena now leads Maria 16-2 having won 15 straight! That’s quite an incredible feat against a competitor like Maria.
“Despite my results against her, I still look forward to playing against Serena, because you learn so much from that type of level that she produces,” Sharapova lamented. “She’s an incredible champion. That’s the reason she’s at the top. She’s accomplished a lot. Her tennis speaks for itself.”
Serena will go for Miami title No. 7 Saturday against the Li Na-Dominika Cibulkova winner. And it would be foolish to think she won’t get it.
As for the men’s quarters, Tomas Berdych did the expected stopping Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-4, 7-6. It wasn’t the greatest of matches but Berdych, being his usual boring self on court, just had too much firepower for the Ukraine who couldn’t put together enough good tennis to do damage.
“It was a very tricky opponent,” said Berdych. “Even the conditions were not the perfect way that I really like. It was quite windy, so it was…a little bit more difficult. But I handled it quite well.”
In the evening, Rafael Nadal shook off a double fault that gave Milos Raonic the first set to beat the Canadian in three 4-6, 6-2, 6-4. Milos played well and showed some promise winning his first set ever over the Spaniard, but Rafa was just too tough, too relentless in the end and Raonic doesn’t have the return game to consistently worry the top guys.
“I feel like this time around I handled myself much better, especially considering the conditions,” said Raonic who drops to 0-5 against Nadal. “So a lot of things we have been working on I managed to incorporate, and I feel like I’m much further ahead. I dealt with the situation much better than I would have a few weeks ago or few months ago.”
So on to my picks for Friday.
Novak Djokovic v Kei Nishikori
I picked Djokovic to win this title from the start and I see no reason to change it here. Nishikori’s enjoyed a fabulous run, beating in succession Grigor Dimitrov, David Ferrer and then Wednesday night Roger Federer. The kid has a lot a of game we know that, but he’s added fitness and strength, and it’s paying off. And unlike other players like Dolgopolov who may be content reaching a big tournament semi, I feel like Nishikori is a guy who’s hungry for more.
But I think that run stops here. After Ferrer blew four matchpoints against the 24-year-old, Federer should have taken care of business the other night but also failed. Now Djokovic finishes the job.
Novak hasn’t lost a set since dropping the opener in that Indian Wells final against Federer and without Becker in the box he’s won 32 straight. So things are looking up again for the Serb as he heads toward a fourth Miami title.
“He’s playing well, no doubt,” said Nishikori. “I played him a long time ago, maybe three or four years ago in Basel, and I beat him before, so hopefully I can play good like today.”
And Nishikori could very well do it again. If Djokovic’s is off his game, he’ll have a crack at it. But if Djokovic plays up to par like I think he will he’ll get through.
The pick: Djokovic in two
Rafael Nadal v Tomas Berdych
I had this semifinal picked however for some reason I took Berdych to beat Rafa! Call it a case of the “March Madness”, but I’m going back on that here. Nadal’s back looks fine and after a shaky Indian Wells his game looks even better.
Berdych is also playing well. In the midst of his best start to a season, the big Czech hasn’t dropped a set and based on matchup has the power game to trouble Nadal.
That said, the raw numbers don’t suggest that at all.
Nadal owns Berdych leading 17-3 and it’s not even that close. Rafa has won 16 straight over the Big Bird. SIXTEEN! As they say, the trend is your friend and in this case no matter how well Berdych might be playing, that streak has got to stick in his head.
“I stopped counting,” cracked Berdych about his losing streak to Nadal. “So that would be really nice to change that, and there is not much really say about him. It’s one of the greatest players playing really well, and really it’s hard to find something what hasn’t been said yet.:
The fact that he can have some fun with it is an encouraging sign if you are a Berdych supporter. And if he serves big and goes for his groundies, he can absolutely win. I just don’t know if mentally he’ll be able to finish a guy he hasn’t beaten in seven years.
Nadal, meanwhile, is gunning for his first Miami title. And a win would really set him up nicely for the clay.
“For me to be in semifinals after losing early in Indian Wells is very important for my confidence,” said Nadal. “The difference between quarter-finals and semifinals is a lot, and tomorrow I have another day to try to keep playing better.”
And he’ll try. Lord knows he’ll try.
The pick: Nadal in three
ESPN2 has the coverage of both men’s semifinals starting at 3pm ET.