W2W4: Djokovic, Wawrinka face tough competition in semis

NEW YORK — It seems surreal, but this US Open is the first Grand Slam since the 2004 French Open that doesn’t have either Roger Federer, Andy Murray or Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. Top seed Novak Djokovic is the only representative of the Big Four left in the singles. That seems to put him back on track to win his third major of 2016. Or does it? Here’s what you need to know:

How to watch all the action Friday

  • At noon ET, the mixed-doubles final between No. 7 Coco Vandeweghe/Rajeev Ram and Laura Siegemund/Mate Pavic will begin on ESPN2 WatchESPN. Click to watch

  • At noon ET, a number of American juniors will be in action on the outer courts. Click to watch

  • At 3 p.m. ET, the men’s semifinals will begin on ESPN WatchESPN. Click to watch

  • To view starting times of upcoming days at the US Open, click here.

    Live scoring

  • Our real-time scoreboard, updated stats and social handles can be found in one spot: US Open CourtCast.

Friday’s men’s semifinals breakdown

No. 1 Novak Djokovic versus No. 10 Gael Monfils, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN and WatchESPN

Case for Djokovic: The Serbian star came into this tournament hoping that his injured wrist and an unspecified right-arm problem wouldn’t wreck his chances over the course of a punishing two-week major played under grueling late-summer conditions. He ominously hinted that he was hoping just to get through “the beginning” of the event and take his chances from there. But the tennis gods must look upon Djokovic with great favor, because it’s almost as if he couldn’t help making it into the semis. He has played just nine-plus sets, benefiting from a walkover and two retirements. He’s hit enough balls under fire to be seasoned, but his wrist and arm have been spared and given extra recovery time. This much luck must make him confident as well. And to top it off, while Monfils was Djokovic’s feared junior rival, Novak is 12-0 in their pro matches.

Case for Monfils: The whippet-lean Frenchman won the most significant singles title of his career a few weeks ago in Washington, D.C. For a player of his talent, that simply isn’t an adequate career best. Monfils seems to know it, too. He’s been playing this summer with a new and uncharacteristic sense of purpose. He’s won 19 straight sets on hard courts since losing to Kei Nishikori (after holding a match point) at the Rio Olympics. Monfils must continue to play aggressive, first-strike tennis and serve with gusto. He must also avoid challenging Djokovic to rallying contests — even if they give Monfils great opportunities to show off his spectacular retrieving abilities.

Prediction: Djokovic in four

No. 3 Stan Wawrinka versus No. 6 Kei Nishikori, after Djokovic-Monfils

Case for Wawrinka: After surviving a scare in the third round versus Dan Evans, Wawrinka thanked the crowd for “believing in me sometimes more than I believe in myself.” The reality is that the pundits and camp followers often overlook him in their focus on the Big Four, even though he’s won the same amount of majors as Nadal and Andy Murray since the start of 2014 (two). Nobody, but nobody, is more dangerous than when Wawrinka is at the top of his game. Twenty percent of his shots at the US Open have been winners; that’s tied for eighth-best in the tournament, and only one other semifinalist can match him. Wawrinka will likely try to smother Nishikori and keep him from turning the match into a track meet. Wawrinka leads this rivalry 3-2.

Case for Nishikori: The conventional wisdom casts Nishikori as a baseline grinder. It’s a deceptive oversimplification. This year’s youngest Open semifinalist at 26, Nishikori doesn’t have enough pop on his serve to build a conventional attacking game. Instead, he uses his quickness and mastery of angles to open up the court and force an error or win a point outright. That’s why he, not the spectacular Monfils or the precise Djokovic, is one of three men tied with Wawrinka in the winners stats department in New York. This match will be loaded with David vs. Goliath overtones. Nishikori’s game plan will be to get one more ball back, thereby increasing his chances to wear down Wawrinka and/or tease out an error.

Prediction: Wawrinka in three


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