The top seed and defending champion Novak Djokovic and three time former champion Rafael Nadal will once again face off against each other for the 48th time in their career in what is the longest rivalry in the men’s game. Both had straight sets wins on Friday to complete the last four, while Milos Raonic of Canada and David Goffin of Belgium will compete in the other semi final at this the first Masters 1000 event of the year by BNP Paribas.
Djokovic has a slight 24-23 edge over Nadal, but the Spaniard known as the King of Clay is beginning to show glimpses of the form that has seen him capture 14 grand slam titles. Djokovic though has won last five of their matches but can expect a tough battle on Saturday. Nadal’s last win against the Serb was in the final of the French Open 2014 at Roland Garros. The world number 1 also has a 17-7 advantage over Nadal on hard courts, winning six times since Nadal beat him in the 2013 U.S. Open final.
In the first semifinal of the day a pair of 25 year olds will square off as Milos Raonic takes on David Goffin. On Thursday Raonic continued his impressive 2016, as he saw off the Frenchman Gael Monfils 7-5,6-3 to improve his record to 13-1 for the year. He is the only player to still drop a set in four matches and will be favoured to reach his third Masters 1000 event of his career against a player making his maiden appearance at this level.
Goffin though has won the only contest between the two so far at the 2014 Indoor event in Basel, Switzerland in three sets. The 18th ranked 5 ‘ 11″ Goffin had upset the reigning French Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka in the round of 16 and followed it up with another upset win over the 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic of Croatia 7-6(4),6-2.
In the first quarter final played on Friday, Nishikori was the first to break as he established a 3-1 lead and had chances for a double break but Nadal fended him off and then broke him to level at 3-3. From 4-4 he then reeled off five consecutive games and won the 1 hour 33 minute match 6-4,6-3. Nishikori converted only 2 of the 8 break points, and was clearly frustrated. Nadal took advantage of both break points in the first set and was 2 for 5 in the second set.
Djokovic who has looked patchy throughout this tournament never looked like loosing despite being taken to two tie-breaks by the Frenchman Jo Wilfred Tsonga. Both players dropped serve once in each set but Djokovic was supreme in both the tie-breaks as he clinched the 2 hour 6 minute long match 7-6(2),7-6(2). He converted on 2 out of the 8 break points and won 93 points in the match, while Tsonga won 77 points.
The following is the line up with my pick mentioned first along with their 2016 records and their head to head:-
Milos Raonic (12) (13-1) v. David Goffin (15) (12-4); Goffin leads 1-0
Novak Djokovic (1) (20-1) v. Rafael Nadal (4) (12-4); Djokovic leads 24-24.
Djokovic has won the Doha and Australian Open titles in January this year while Raonic triumphed in Brisbane, the warm up to the Australian Open where he lost in the semi final in five sets to Andy Murray. Both Nadal and Goffin are still looking for their first title in 2016. Nadal’s best showing was a loss in the final to Djokovic in Doha, while Goffin reached the fourth round at the Australian Open loosing to Roger Federer who has missed this 11 day long event that he has won four times.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: firstname.lastname@example.org]