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Having begun with the ladies during our tournament previews, we start our Friday forecasts with the men.  In the sweltering temperatures of Toronto and Cincinnati, who will sizzle…and who will fizzle?

Toronto: 

Nadal (1) vs. Kohlschreiber:  Despite his unprepossessing, compact frame, the German projects surprising power from both of his groundstrokes and can unleash a blistering one-handed backhand reminiscent of Gasquet’s stroke.  A flamboyant shotmaker who often plays against percentages, Kohlschreiber ebbs and flows dramatically throughout his matches.  In order to trouble Nadal, he’ll need to avoid the untimely dips in form that have hampered him against the ATP elite; he won a set from Rafa in Melbourne with sparkling offense but conceded too many points on feckless unforced errors.  Tested by Wawrinka and briefly by Anderson, the Spaniard is gradually settling into his hard-court rhythm.  His groundstrokes are penetrating the court with increasing conviction, while Kohlschreiber’s modest serve won’t allow him to immediately seize command of points and keep the rallies short.  Pick:  Nadal.

Murray (4) vs. Nalbandian:  Riding the longest winning streak of a fascinatingly convoluted career, the Argentine has defeated Davydenko, Youzhny, Wawrinka, Simon, Cilic, Ferrer, and most recently Soderling during the last several weeks.  Against the Swede, he confidently regrouped from a one-set deficit in an uncharacteristically steady, tenacious performance.  Bageled twice in his last two tournaments, Murray failed to close out Querrey in the LA final and vanished inexplicably for a lengthy period here against Monfils.  Perhaps unsettled by his current coachlessness, the Scot also must cope with the bitter aftertaste of yet another Wimbledon disappointment.  (Fortunately, though, his game hasn’t plummeted abjectly as it did after Melbourne.) Focus on the crisp two-handed backhands in this match, among the finest weapons of this type in the ATP.  Rather than the serve-oriented short points of the quarterfinal below, we expect elongated rallies in which both competitors carefully probe the court’s angles.  Murray must maintain a first-serve percentage higher than his usual level, for the Argentine’s smooth return will feast upon the Scot’s mediocre second ball.  Pick:  Nalbandian.

Berdych (7) vs. Federer (3):  The only all-seeded clash of the day, this quarterfinal offers the most intrigue.  As noted by Alvaro Rama, Berdych is the only Toronto quarterfinalist who has not dropped serve in the tournament.  The Czech ball-bruiser seeks a third victory over Federer this year after a fourth-round epic in Miami and a less nail-biting but more historic triumph at Wimbledon.  In that quarterfinal upset, Federer seemed to glide through his service games effortlessly until he suddenly didn’t, whereas Berdych wobbled and slogged through his service games but ultimately escaped them.  In their backhand-to-backhand exchanges, his sturdy two-hander overpowered the GOAT’s graceful yet frail one-hander.  Even in forehand-to-forehand rallies, the Czech enjoyed similar success to Del Potro when he pinpointed his flat bombs within centimeters of the baseline and forced the Swiss into mistiming his strokes.  Like Nadal, the third seed has won two tiebreaks in Toronto, which bodes well for him in the likely event that a set should reach that point.  A bit of the old, whining Berdych returned in Washington, moreover, when he peevishly threatened to never return to the Legg Mason event after some admittedly ham-handed scheduling.  Nevertheless, there’s no question who has been the better player of the two over the last several months.  It’s not Roger.  Pick:  Berdych.

Chardy vs. Djokovic (2):  Very hot and very bothered in his muggy opener against Benneteau, Djokovic will be relieved not only to play in the night session but also to avoid Davydenko and Verdasco, against whom he has struggled over the past year.  On the other hand, the Serb faces the upstart who dismissed both the Russian and the Spaniard.  Yet another mercurial French talent, the swaggering Chardy should relish the theatrical atmosphere of the night session as he thumps his serve-forehand combinations.  Following a three-hour war of attrition against Verdasco, he recovered admirably to dominate Davydenko and has more than enough potential to enjoy a prolonged scorching streak.  Calmer and cooler in his victory over Hanescu, however, Djokovic has recorded relatively consistent results in Canada over the past few years.  The moderate speed of the hard court suits his extremely complete but not quite overpowering all-court game, much as it does Nadal’s.  Yet much of the Serb’s charm consists of his unpredictability, which makes us hesitate for a moment before writing his name.  Pick:  Djokovic.

Cincinnati:

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Amanmuradova (Q) vs. Ivanovic:  Hats off to the towering Uzbek for reaching the quarterfinals after slogging through three qualifying rounds in the Cincinnati midsummer heat.  By far the most impressive win of her career, Akgul’s victory over defending champion Jankovic featured 12 aces and no break points whatsoever on her own serve.  She will enter the quarterfinals filled with confidence but perhaps a little jaded as she prepares to play her seventh match in eight days.  Also brimming with confidence is Ivanovic, who has capitalized convincingly upon her first-round upset of Azarenka to record two dominant victories of higher-ranked opponents.  Possibly galvanized by the Rogers Cup controversy, the smiling Serb seeks to exploit a second half in which she will be defending few points at any tournaments.  Although she doesn’t crush as many outright aces as Amanmuradova, she similarly will rely upon her serve and return to set up benign mid-court balls and abbreviate the baseline exchanges.  Neither player wants to wage a war of attrition, so the Uzbek and the Serb will pull the trigger as soon as they can.  Despite the vast gulf in experience here, this match should be competitive and probably decided by a handful of points.  Recently, Ivanovic had struggled to win such encounters, but perhaps that trend has reversed this week.  Expect an exercise in first-strike tennis with very few service breaks or break points, and a match much less attractive than Ana.  On the other hand, most matches are.  Pick:  Ivanovic.

Clijsters (4) vs. Pennetta (11):  Dangerous during the summer hard-court season last year, Pennetta awakened from a dormant stretch to reach the semifinals in San Diego and has extended that form through three routine wins here.  Forced to battle from the brink against Zvonareva in the 2009 US Open, the fiery Italian comfortably eased past the Wimbledon finalist in the third round.  It’s been an odd year of peaks and valleys for Jada’s mom, meanwhile, who sparkled in Brisbane, flopped in Melbourne and Indian Wells, dazzled in Miami, disappeared on the clay, and did a bit of everything during the grass season.  Avenging a loss to Safina during her comeback event here last year, Kim showed no mercy to home hope Christina McHale.  But don’t extrapolate too much from those matches.  At Wimbledon, Clijsters seemed a genuine contender as she expertly defused Henin, then looked much more like a mom than a murderess when she faced Zvonareva a few days later.  Since neither player possesses overwhelming first-strike potential, this match should unfold in a manner drastically divergent from the quarterfinal above; one imagines that breaks will proliferate and rallies will extend.  If Pennetta can control her seething emotions and stay within range, opportunities probably will present themselves.  But Clijsters is the clearly superior player when focused, and the match ultimately will lie in her hands.  Pick:  Clijsters.

Wickmayer (12) vs. Pavlyuchenkova:  Finally, former junior #1 Pavlyuchenkova may be on the verge of realizing her vast potential after a tantalizing glimpse of what she could become at Indian Wells in 2009.  Following three victories over experienced opponents in Hantuchova, Dementieva, and Peer, her excellent week continues to a winnable match against fellow phenom Wickmayer.  Allowed to develop calmly outside the limelight occupied by Clijsters and Henin, “Wickipedia” scored a startling upset herself by edging Li Na, whom we had expected to reach the semifinals.  Opportunity knocks for these burgeoning talents, both of whom surely will find themselves in the top 10 someday.  At this Premier Five event, heaps of ranking points await such opportunists, elevating their ranking and softening their draws in the coming weeks.  A quarterfinalist in Miami, Wickmayer seems a bit closer to a breakthrough than does Pavlyuchenkova; her game currently is crisper and more reliable, her serve is much more potent, and her mind is clearer at tense moments.  On the other hand, the Russian’s groundstrokes are more balanced, while she has recorded more wins over elite players at this stage in her fledgling career.  Will the Belgian’s forehand or the Russian’s backhand set the tone in the rallies?  Either way, their appearances in the quarterfinals here should encourage WTA fans by suggesting that, although the future may not be here, it’s at least approaching.  Pick:  Wickmayer.

Sharapova (10) vs. Bartoli (16):  At the expense of both San Diego finalists, Sharapova has impressed in her Cincinnati debut after an erratic opener during which she struggled with the intense humidity.  Starting with her May title run at Strasbourg, Maria has compiled a 21-4 record that includes three finals appearances on three different surfaces.  Despite early success at Wimbledon, hard courts have evolved into her battleground of choice, where the ball bounces higher than on grass but travels just as fast.  Building her confidence before the US Open are stirring recent triumphs over Dementieva, Radwanska (twice), Kuznetsova, and Zheng, all of whom had frustrated her on past occasions.  The 2007 Wimbledon finalist often shines during the summer season and looked sharp at Stanford as well as her early rounds here.  (In fact, Bartoli was the only player to win a set from Bank of the West champion Azarenka, who dropped no more than five games in any of her other matches that week.)  Slightly marred by a controversial, maybe not quite “timely” challenge on a key point, the Frenchwoman’s upset of the second-seeded Wozniacki again demonstrated her ability to frustrate marquee competition.  Since both players have honed stunning returns, first-serve percentage will be a crucial factor; neither Maria nor Bartoli prosper when regularly forced to rely upon their second delivery.  Although Sharapova has dominated their previous meetings, they haven’t played in the past three years, during which the Frenchwoman has substantially improved her movement.  Once easily wrong-footed along the baseline, she now can retrieve a remarkable range of shots with dogged scurrying.  Maria’s superior first-strike arsenal eventually should  if she can temper her aggression with a modicum of patience, preserve her focus, and take time away from Bartoli by finishing points in the forecourt.  Pick:  Sharapova.

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Enjoy what promises to be a fascinating quarterfinal day in two different cities (and countries)!  We will return to preview all four semifinals in a similar fashion.

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