The men’s quarterfinals are up on Wednesday and while the top four seeds are all still alive, history suggests that at least one of them will be removed from the picture. The last time we saw all four top seeds active in the quarter final round of a Slam was the 2014 Australian Open. There, top seed Rafael Nadal was the only one to advance fromr the quarters. 2nd seed Novak Djokovic was victimized by 8th seed Stan Wawrinka in a five set classic. Third seed David Ferrer lost in four sets to 7th seed Tomas Berdych and 4th seeded Andy Murray was removed by 6th seeded Roger Federer.
At the 2013 French open, the top four seeds made it to the quarters with Djokovic, Federer, Nadal & Ferrer in those spots. By the semis, Roger Federer was ousted by Jo-Wilifried Tsonga in four sets as seeds 1, 3 & 4 did make it through. The 2013 U.S. Open also saw all four top seeds make it to the quarters with Djokovic, Nadal, Murray & Ferrer in those spots. Only Djokovic and Nadal would make it through to the semis. Perhaps with a nod to Wednesday, one of this year’s Wimbledon quarter finalists, Richard Gasquet, was responsible for taking out 4th seeded Ferrer in five sets.
The last time that all four top seeds made the quarters and then got through to the semifinals was the 2013 Australian Open. So nothing is written in stone as we look to Wednesday’s quarterfinal match-ups and where the likely trouble could come from for the top four seeds.
(1) Novak Djokovic v. (9) Marin Cilic
Although the favorite to repeat as Champion, this looks like a slight trouble spot for the #1 seed. Djokovic was given all he could handle by the big game of Kevin Anderson in the 4th round. Anderson aced Djokovic 40 times over the course of five sets. Over the course of the first two sets that both ended in tie breaks, Djokovic only saw one break point. He obviously got into Anderson’s serve a bit more as the match wore on with eight break points seen by the end of the match and five converted. Anderson painted the lines impressively enough for 71 winners to Djokovic’s 41. That is the formula for beating the best player in the world. Serve big. Hit big.
Cilic has proven he can do it on these very courts after putting Djokovic on the ropes last year in the QFs. Cilic took a two sets to one lead before becoming unravelled by Djokovic who would win the 4th & 5th sets by identical 6-2 scorelines to secure the win. Cilic did all that despite doling out 19 break chances to Djokovic. I’d venture to say his serve is a shade better this year with 99 aces through four rounds. Of course none have come against the quality of return he will see on Wednesday. Still, there will be confidence from Cilic because of last year and from what he saw Anderson do in R4.
Djokovic certainly won’t want to put himself in another 0-2 hole and he knows the danger of Cilic from last year. A big X factor though could be the weather which is expected to deliver some rain, but become less by the PM hours. The wind though will be the big issue as it could be up to 15 mph or higher. Both players will have to play in those same conditions though, but it could make it a bit more difficult to measure that big serve of Cilic. That seemeed to be the most troubling factor in Djokovic struggling against Anderson as he admitted that Big Kev’s serve was difficult to read and it’s a mental drain if that serve continually earns your opponent cheap points.
This ends one of two ways in my mind. Djokovic comes out in RoboNole mode after his 4th round scare and takes care of Cilic in straight sets or Cilic’s serve is on and this one goes deep into the 4th or 5th set where anything goes.
(2) Roger Federer v. (12) Gilles Simon
Federer has been whipping through the rounds with relative ease this fortnight, dropping just one set to Sam Groth in the 3rd round out of 13 played. His last two matches, he was won 90% or better off his 1st serve which is absolutely incredible. Simon was slick on-serve in his own right last round in his straight sets beat down of Tomas Berdych. He faced just one break point and saved it. That’s not usually the norm for Simon though as he faced 17 break points the two rounds combined before that. When he’s serving that well though, he is going to be in position to contend with anyone.
Simon’s tactics we know won’t change. He wants to engage in long rallies and force his opponent to make errors as they tire. Federer for his part has adapted to the style that coach Stefan Edberg dictated would bring him the most success; short points, go for winners. That has to be the game plan against Simon. Against Monfils and Berdych, he got both into rallies and he worked them over and over into unforced errors that enabled him to win both matches.
Federer keads the head-to-head 5-2 with a couple of Grand Slam meetings. Way back in 2011, Simon famously fought back from down 0-2 to force a 5th set in their 2nd round meeting at the Australian Open. That was a Federer though who was willing to engage in those rallies and it nearly cost him. They met again two years later at the French Open in 2013. Simon again pushed Federer to five sets with Federer rallying from down 2-1 to secure the 4th round win. That was all pre-Edberg though. Their one meeting since Federer hired Edberg came at last year’s Shanghai Masters. Fed won in two sets, 7-6, 7-6.
I think this one is a longshot for an upset if Federer plays at the level we have seen so far. He will be challenged to do more, but his serve will be a large asset. The conditions are one thing that could help negate some of his advantage however as a windy day can make it harder to serve as effectively as he would like. As long as Federer doesn’t stray from the short and sweet type of game plan on the ground, I think he survives this one although I would not expect Simon to go away without winnning a set, maybe two before it’s all said and done.
(3) Andy Murray v. Vasek Pospisil
This certainly looks like the longest shot for an upset in the quarters. Pospisil is in his 1st Grand Slam quarter final on the heels of a pair of five set matches, the last which required a rally from down 0-2. Murray was able to weather the big serving storm of Ivo Karlovic who spouted 29 aces in their four set affair. Murray though did eventually get more and more into Ivo’s service games, seeing 12 break points. Frustratingly, he was only able to convert two. Murray did do a good job of protecting his own serve though as he saved four of five break points and won 74% of his service points.
Pospisil can certainly bring the thunder with his serve, but he’s also prone to struggle against A-level returners/defenders like Murray. Murray has taken all six sets in their three career meetings with two wins coming this year. Admittedly, Pospisil physically was not at his best to start the season when those happened, but Murray won 43% & 54% of the points off the Canadian’s serve in those two meetings. I think Pospisil could be a little bit gassed at this stage after playing the long singles matches and heavy play in doubles as well. Expect Murray to test his endurance early and often which will likely go a long way in taking Pospisil’s legs and serve.
(4) Stan Wawrinka v. (21) Richard Gasquet
This is the most fascinating of the quarter finals for me and the one that I think is more likely than the others to produce an upset. Wawrinka has put himself into the Slam conversation every time now with a pair of wins in Australia and most recently at the French Open. Grass is definitely not the best surface, but so far through four rounds he has been stout without dropping a set. Some of that can be attributed to opponent and more of it to Wawrinka’s serve which has been rock solid for the most part. Goffin was the 1st player to break him this tournament. He did it twice, but he still lost a tight battle 7-6, 7-6, 6-4.
Gasquet has been unsung through this point with wins over Kyrgios & Dimirov in the last two rounds. The win over Kyrgios will ring sounder than Dimitrov who is still pretty lost in his own mind right now. Against the Aussie though, Gasquet broke that big serve five times in 14 opportunities. He took care of his serve well enough with 19 aces and just two breaks of serve allowed. Where he did well was in rallies with Kyrgios getting a big number of winners with 59, but also committing 48 errors. Gasquet ripped the ball with 67 winners to just 21 unforced errors. That would be a good recipe against the Swiss.
This one I think will be decided more in the rallies and court positioning. If Wawrinka has his heavy groundies working, he can push Gasquet into bad positions that will allow him to hit the winning shot in rallies. Gasquet will need a serve to match Wawrinka’s and on grass, he should get a little help. When they met in the French Open in 2013, Wawrinka outlasted Gasquet in five sets and saw 20 break opportunities. That’s not a repeat Gasquet will be looking to hand out, even though with all that he barely lost the final set, 9-7. Wawrinka made 55 unforced errors in that match, but had an astounding 92 winners.
That’s going to be his game again on Wednesday. He’ll go for bigger shots and if he’s hitting them and hitting the lines, he’ll be nearly impossible to beat. I just think somehow on grass, even the “new” Wawrinka might have just enough wobble to allow Gasquet the chances he needs to pull off a stunner. Especially if he leaves #FrenchBrain at home for another round.