As expected defending champion Novak Djokovic and Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland will contest the final of the last grand slam for the year 2016 as both advanced on Friday after four set wins over the Frenchman Gael Monfils and Kei Nishikori of Japan at the Flushing Meadows in New York.
It will be a repeat of last year’s French Open final which the Swiss won. While Wawrinka is going for his third major, Djokovic will be going for his third this year and 13th overall. He won the Australian Open down under for a record sixth time and then at the Roland Garros in Paris to complete the career slam.
In the first semi final, Novak Djokovic who had only completed two out of five matches, courtesy of a walkover from Jiri Vesley and retirement of Mikhail Youzhny of Russia and Jo Wilfred Tsonga of France, advanced to his seventh final at the Open where he has been a champion in 2011 and 2015. He was also runner up in 2007 (lost to Federer, 2010 (lost to Nadal), 2012 (lost to Murray) and 2013 (lost to Nadal). He was playing his tenth consecutive semi final in New York and quickly jumped to a 5-0 lead in 19 minutes.
Monfils who had not dropped a set in the tournament got one break of serve back but Djokovic wrapped it up 6-3 and then ran away with the second set 6-2 in just 29 minutes. Djokovic then broke in the opening game of the third set, but Monfils won five consecutive games from 0-2 down and clinched the third set 6-3. In the fourth set it was all Djokovic as both players struggled in humid conditions on Arthur Ashe stadium. There were 12 breaks of serve in the 2 hour 32 minute encounter which Djokovic won 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2. He converted 8 out 20 break point chances while Monfils converted on only 4 out of 11. Djokovic improves to 13-0 against Monfils.
In the second semi final, one break of serve in the fifth game was all that Nishikori needed to clinch the opening set 6-4 in just 29 minutes. He also broke in the very first game of the second set and then held for 2-0. Wawrinka finally broke in the fourth game to level the set 2-2 and then broke in the twelfth game to clinch the 60 minute long set 7-5.
The momentum seemed to have swung in Wawrinka’s favour as he broke in the fourth game and then held his own serve to go up 4-1 in the third. Nishikori broke back in the seventh game before levelling at 4-4, but Wawrinka would take the next two games breaking serve in the tenth game to clinch the set 6-4. The third ranked Swiss then jumped to a 3-0 lead with two service breaks before the sixth seeded Nishikori got a break back to reduce the deficit to 2-3. From there on Wawrinka took the next three games to win the three hour and seven minute long match 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2.
Wawrinka improves to 4-2 in career matches against Nishikori. Djokovic and Wawrinka played a five set semi final in 2013 and the top ranked Serb leads the Swiss 19-4 in career meetings. Djokovic has a 56-5 record in 2016, having won 66 career titles, while Wawrinka is 38-12 in 2016, having claimed 14 career titles. The Swiss won their only final meeting in a grand slam and has all the weapons to rise to the occasion and make it count at the business end of a slam. He will need to be at his best and should give the top seed a good run in the finals.
Prediction :- Djokovic has struggled since winning the French Open and is the only player in grand slam history to advance to the final winning only 3 matches. He is well rested but looked quite ordinary in the third set against Monfils. Wawrinka saved a match point in the third round against Daniel Evans of Britain and seems to be peaking at the right time. Should he get off the blocks first in the final he will be tough to beat. This one should be a classic and I pick the Swiss to win on Sunday in five grueling sets.
In the ladies section it will be the newly crowned world number one Angelique Kerber of Germany against the same player who beat her in Cincinnati just before the Open, Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic. On Thursday in the first semi final played in the evening session, the tenth seeded Pliskova ended the hopes of the six time champion Serena Williams with a 6-2, 7-6(5) win.
The loss means that Williams run of 186 weeks atop the world rankings will end on Monday and Kerber will be the new number one in the WTA rankings. Williams and Graf are the joint holders of 186 consecutive weeks on top of the rankings and each have won an Open Era record of 22 titles. Kerber was next on court against the former world number one Caroline Wozniacki and took a 4-0 lead before the Dane could settle in the match. The 28 year old German was always in control of the match winning it 6-4, 6-3.
Kerber has a 4-3 edge in career meetings against the 24 year old Pliskova, she will be contesting her third grand slam final of the year and her career, having won her maiden title in Melbourne and losing in the final at Wimbledon, both times against Serena. She takes a tour best 53 match wins in to the final. She is 53-14 for the year having won 9 career titles, Pliskova is 39-16 in 2016 having won six career titles.
Prediction:- Pliskova certainly has a chance provided she is not affected by nerves playing her maiden grand slam title. Kerber though should be relaxed having already claimed the number one ranking. The German should win in two tough sets or maybe three on Saturday.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: email@example.com]