Originally posted on The Sports Headquarters  |  Last updated 7/4/12

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 27: Roger Federer of Switzerland plays a forehand in his quarterfinal match against Nikolay Davydenko of Russia during day ten of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 27, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Roger Federer vs Novak Djokovic

What a difference a round makes. If these two had met in the quarterfinals, we would all be looking at Djokovic as a prohibitive favorite. And maybe we still should be. But Federer looked dominant in beating Mikhail Youzhny today. Youzhny looked like someone who knew he was in a match that he couldn’t win and it really showed in his play. He looked happy just to win points against Federer. It was actually a very disappointing show from Youzhny, a good grass player who was in his first-ever Wimbledon quarterfinal. (We will give him a bit of a break, however, because I just found out that his wife gave birth to their second child the night before the match, so it’s not unreasonable that he was a bit distracted. Congratulations!) Most importantly, however, Federer looked healthy and wasn’t hindered by whatever was ailing his back in his fourth-round match against Malisse.

Djokovic had a tricky match against Florian Mayer, the player on tour who most epitomizes the word “tricky”. Mayer has a selection of shots that are awkward-to say the least-yet somehow quite effective. His play bothered Djokovic for around 15 minutes but after that it was all Nole. Novak still doesn’t look completely comfortable on grass, to be quite honest, but he still plays his normal game on the surface quite well. His defense is nearly impenetrable and he can turn it into devastating attacking shots in the blink of an eye.

This match has quite a bit of history riding on it as well. If Federer wins this tournament, not only will he tie Pete Sampras with 7 Wimbledons (and Nadal, Renshaw, and several others with 7 victories at any individual Slam) but he will return to World #1 and finally break Sampras’s record for weeks at the top spot. It is one of the last big records that Federer has not yet taken from Sampras and Federer has been just one week shy of tying Sampras since the end of the 2010 French Open. The last time Djokovic and Federer met with this much history on the line, Roger played the best match we’ve seen from him in years and Novak faltered. That was, of course, at last year’s French Open when Djokovic was chasing the winning streak record. This time, though, the pressure is all on Federer. Djokovic has certainly been the better player of the two for two years now and that French Open match is still the only time since the start of 2011 that Federer has beaten Djokovic. Grass gives Federer a bit of an advantage, but I think Djokovic is just playing at a higher level now.
Prediction: Djokovic in 4

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs Andy Murray

Tsonga is a Wimbledon semifinalist for the second straight year. Last year he played some great tennis but just ran into an even better Djokovic. This year, though, upsets have meant a much easier road for Tsonga and meant that he has, in theory, an easier semifinal than he had last year. His opponent, though, might not be so relevant. Tsonga played some of the best grass court tennis than any of us have seen in quite a while during the first few rounds here. His fourth-round victory over Mardy Fish, who was playing at a very high level, was nothing short of astounding. Tsonga really looked like a player who could win Wimbledon. And, possibly more importantly, he finally looked like a player who wanted to win Wimbledon.

His quarterfinal match against Philipp Kohlschreiber, though, showed us the Tsonga of old. He still played pretty well, and his serve was tough to deal with as always, but it wasn’t the unstoppable force that it had been until now. Tsonga the showman also returned, which really isn’t a good thing in a Grand Slam quarterfinal. He made some poor decisions and went for some shots that he really shouldn’t have. He got through the match though, so if he can find his form and mentality from the previous rounds he will be very tough for any of the remaining competitors to beat. But if he plays the way he played against Kohlschreiber then it will be another “what could have been” Slam for the Frenchman.

From the standpoint of playing against the crowd, Tsonga could not face a tougher semifinal opponent. The British crowd have been waiting over 75 years for one of their countrymen to win Wimbledon and they don’t want to wait much longer. Tsonga is usually a fan favorite but with Murray not facing Nadal here, you can almost expect this match on Centre Court to take on a Davis Cup feel. Murray seems to play more relaxed at Wimbledon than anywhere else, at least in the early rounds of the tournament. He almost just embraces the expectations and therefore manages to ignore them, something he can’t really seem to do anywhere else.

Murray showed some nerves in his match against Ferrer but really knuckled down when it truly counted. He won two tiebreakers in the match but they weren’t because Ferrer choked them away. It was a tough, grinding match but, to his great credit, Murray never cracked. You really get a feeling that this coming match will rest on the serve of Murray. He’ll be able to break Tsonga a few times, but the real question is how much will he be able to hold his serve when it counts. This match will be driven by the will of both competitors. Both have backed down in crunch time when it was counted in the past. And there really is no way to tell who will be mentally ready on Friday.
Prediction: Tsonga in 4

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