Novak Djokovic - 2011 US Open - Day 8

Djokovic vs. Tipsarevic:  In his first Slam quarterfinal, one of the ATP’s most mercurial personalities faces a compatriot whose exploits have redoubled his own motivation.  Long known more for his off-court antics than on-court achievements, Tipsarevic has elevated his once dubious perseverance to raise his ranking inside the top 20 for the first time.  Overcoming the ageless Ferrero in nearly four hours a round ago, the third-ranked Serb broke through with a semifinal at the Rogers Cup after defeating Verdasco and Berdych.  His down-the-line backhand has sizzled this fortnight as it did a year ago when he upset Roddick, while he has learned to deploy his explosive but unruly forehand more judiciously.  Despite his unprepossessing physique, Tipsarevic projects unexpected power from behind the baseline by leaning into his compact strokes with sturdy balance and timing.  An idiosyncratic character who loves to entertain, he should enjoy the opportunity of playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium.  In addition to his upset over Roddick here last year, the Serb dazzled the Melbourne crowd in 2008 with an inspired, resilient performance against Federer.

Against the world #1, however, Tipsarevic can find few weaknesses to probe either physically or mentally.  Without even finding his peak form, Djokovic has eased through his first four matches without dropping a set—an intimidating thought for his second-week opponents.  More spirited than second-ranked Serb Troicki, Tipsarevic has won sets from his compatriot in both of their previous encounters but has dropped a bagel, a breadstick, and a 6-2 set among the four that he has lost.  Although the top seed’s return game has fallen short of its usual ferocity so far, he should have little trouble attacking his opponent’s benign second serve.  For every penetrating backhand that Tipsarevic can strike, Djokovic can deliver an even more formidable blow.  In the best-of-five format, his fitness should prove an advantage against an opponent who has played many fewer matches at majors, while his focus should stay the stronger of the two during a potential rain delay.  The last match before Djokovic confronts his genuine rivals, this quarterfinal should represent an opportunity to advance efficiently, regain his ball-striking rhythm after the odd Dolgopolov encounter, and accumulate confidence before Super Saturday, when he might face Federer for a fifth consecutive US Open.

Serena vs. Pavlyuchenkova:  Leading the eight WTA quarterfinalists in double faults, the 20-year-old Russian ranks second among them in breaks of serve (and ranked first until Kuznetsova capitulated in Monday’s third set).  From that pair of statistics emerges the narrative sketched by Pavlyuchenkova’s four victories here, defined by plentiful breaks, blistering returns, and fragile serving.  Quite the opposite are the statistics accumulated by her quarterfinal opponent, who leads the final eight in aces and in service points won.  Dropping her serve just twice in the tournament, Serena has allowed her opponents almost no margin for error.  In straight-sets victories over Azarenka and Ivanovic, the world #4 and former world #1 played some of the most impressive tennis that they can produce but still could not seriously threaten the three-time US Open champion.  Somewhat frustrated by the wind a round ago, Serena will enjoy the more settled evening conditions unless another storm arrives.  Her own hurricane of winners from serve and groundstrokes has dazzled with an effortlessness absent from the games of her rivals.  For the rising Pavlyuchenkova, a junior #1 and junior US Open champion, the task will prove especially intimidating considering her struggle to protect her own serve.

If this newest Russian talent aims to become the first player to defeat Serena on a hard court this year, she will want to step into her second-serve returns with aggressive positioning that signals her menacing intent.  This tactic worked relatively well for Ivanovic, who won more than half of the American’s second-serve points by taking more risks with her returns rather than allowing a rally to develop.  An indifferent mover at best, Pavlyuchenkova can contend only by playing offense for the majority of the rallies.  Armed with stinging groundstrokes on both wings, the Russian has the ability to thrust Serena behind the baseline if she can establish herself in the center of the court.  In order to dictate play, though, she will need to serve much more effectively than she has until this stage.  As shaky servers have learned before, Serena only waxes in confidence when she realizes that she can break regularly.  Rarely do her matches disintegrate into the type of break-fest where Pavlyuchenkova flourishes.  While they did play a three-setter in their only previous meeting, an ailing stomach and the inimical clay hampered Serena’s efforts on that occasion.  Nevertheless, the feisty Russian should provide a glimpse under the lights of the raw talent that has brought her to two Slam quarterfinals this year and that might eventually carry her to this title.

Federer vs. Tsonga:  Following their five-set Wimbledon quarterfinal, one wonders what sort of entr’acte to expect from players who personify clashing dimensions of the game.  Grace and artistry succumbed once again to undiluted power in a Rogers Cup three-setter this summer, tempting spectators to cast Tsonga as the 2011 version of what Berdych accomplished in 2010 and Del Potro accomplished in 2009.  When Federer lost consecutive matches to those ball-bruisers, however, he reversed the result in the following meeting with an especially sparkling performance.  And when he faced Soderling in a 2010 quarterfinal here, having lost to him in the same round at Roland Garros, an emphatic display of Swiss craftsmanship ensued.  To this stage, Federer still has not encountered an adversary worthy of his steel, although Marin Cilic mounted surprising resistance for two and a half sets.  In Wimbledon this year and at other majors, a sudden spike in the level of competition has unsettled or undone the 16-time major champion by forcing him to steeply elevate his own prowess.  Few could imagine a more comfortable fourth-round victory than his rout of a Juan Monaco complicit in own demise.  But Federer’s serve has looked outstanding throughout this tournament, offering an auspicious omen for a match that should feature few service breaks and at least a tiebreak or two.

In his last eight sets against Federer, Tsonga has lost his serve just twice, and he did not lose his serve at all across the last four sets of his Wimbledon upset.  Similarly efficient against Fish in the fourth round, the Frenchman suffered exactly one lull late in the third set and remained unbroken throughout the rest of that five-set rollercoaster.  Once again rallying from a deficit, Tsonga enjoys a 7-2 record in final sets at majors that perplexes considering his struggles with concentration and distinctly trumps Federer’s record in that category.  Unlike many of the ATP’s inveterate baseliners, both players often follow their serves or forehands towards the net in the knowledge that their crisp volleys can slash away most passing shots.  The arrhythmic quality of Tsonga’s spectacularly athletic style has troubled the Swiss master before, especially when he chips back average returns that his opponent can devour.  Too often content to let the Frenchman control points in his last two losses, Federer needs to exchange that passivity for a bolder strategy this time.  During the final stages of his career, he has delivered his most convincing efforts when most motivated, and the quest to avenge an embarrassing Wimbledon setback should spur his motivation as it did last year against Berdych.  A more confident competitor than the Czech, Tsonga will not assist Federer with poor shot selection or nervous execution when the match hangs in the balance.  Although he remains susceptible to passages of indifferent play, this maturing Frenchman lately has found a way to limit their damage and save his most formidable tennis for vital moments.  Should Federer survive this compelling challenge, therefore, he should feel ever more optimistic about his chances of contending for a 17th major title over the weekend.

Andrea Petkovic - 2011 US Open - Day 8

Wozniacki vs. Petkovic:  Fortunate to have reached this round at all, the controversial top seed seemed headed straight for disaster when she trailed Kuznetsova by a set and a break.  Courtesy of another signature Sveta collapse, Wozniacki survived after 182 minutes to play another day, but she cannot expect such generosity from Petkovic.  The only woman to reach three Slam quarterfinals this year, the multitalented German debuted the famous Petko-dance last year on the Louis Armstrong Stadium where she will face the world #1.  This athlete, musician, dancer, politician, and filmmaker found the time amidst her many pursuits to dispatch the Dane in a Miami three-setter before Wozniacki exacted revenge in Stuttgart a few weeks later.  Unlike so many of Caro’s other opponents, Petkovic doesn’t simply hit hard, harder, and hardest in an attempt to burst through the defenses of the WTA’s most impregnable counterpuncher.  More intelligent than many of her peers, she resolved in Miami to disrupt Wozniacki’s rhythm with heavy-spinning groundstrokes to her backhand that set up less penetrating responses for her to hammer into her opponent’s forehand corner.  Those ploys sufficed to topple the Dane on a day when her groundstrokes spewed unforced errors in uncharacteristic quantities, but the top seed has stayed stingier so far in New York.  In three epic sets against Kuznetsova, she committed only four more unforced errors than did Petkovic in two relatively routine sets against Suarez Navarro.

During an eight-match winning streak that started with a fourth straight New Haven title, Wozniacki has retreated from the forced aggression that had seemed so uncomfortable for her in Toronto and Cincinnati.  In order to win a major, she may yet need to tilt further along the spectrum towards offense and strike more than the six winners per set that she averaged in the Kuznetsova marathon.  Confronting the low-margin style of Petkovic, who has a -23 winners/errors differential here, Wozniacki still may find discretion the better part of valor.  Her epic victory in the previous round will have reaffirmed her faith that she knows how to manage these tense matches, so her body language may improve for the quarterfinal.  Sagging and deflated for much of those three hours on Monday night, the world #1 has looked more oppressed this summer than before by the scrutiny surrounding her Slamless condition.  In the second half of that fierce battle, though, Wozniacki found the inner calm that allowed her to outlast an opponent who couldn’t deliver the coup de grace.  Over the last two seasons, the German also has faltered chronically when finishing matches, and she allowed a thoroughly outclassed Suarez Navarro to climb almost all the way out of a 5-1 deficit in the second set.  With the resilience that Wozniacki displayed in stemming Kuznetsova’s tide, Petkovic cannot afford to stagger or meander if she takes a lead.  Can she forestall a tantalizing clash between the world #1 and the woman whom many feel should supplant her?

See the Day 9 article below for the matches postponed from a torrential Tuesday to a potentially waterlogged Wednesday.