Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - 2011 China Open - Day 7

Djokovic vs. Tsonga:  Throughout the most spectacular season in the modern era of tennis, the world #1 shed the reputation of physical frailty that had dogged him during his formative years and beyond.  When Basel marked his third retirement in four tournaments, commentators no longer sniffed at his propensity for injuries but instead questioned why he had played at all.  Sensitive to issues surrounding his fitness, Djokovic may have felt the need to prove his durability as evidence of his maturity.  Few expected him to enter Paris, an event that could add little luster to his 2011 accomplishments despite its Masters 1000 status.  Yet the world #1 overcame a concerning shoulder injury to register victories over Dodig and Troicki, rallying from a one-set deficit against the latter opponent.  Having won his last 17 quarterfinals, Djokovic seeks to extend that streak at the expense of a foe whom he has toppled twice this year.  At both Wimbledon and the Rogers Cup, the Serb soared past Tsonga in relatively uneventful fashion; so thoroughly did he dominate him in Montreal that some suspected the Frenchman of a dubious retirement.  Before this year, though, Djokovic had struggled to contain Tsonga’s first-strike power, especially indoors, and his shoulder injury may prevent him from swinging with abandon as he must in order to avoid playing an entirely defensive match.  Although this surface has slowed, few players can defeat elite attackers by playing pure defense on an indoor hard court.  If Tsonga stays optimistic and focused, the last Frenchman remaining in the draw should have an excellent opportunity to rekindle the electricity of his title run here three years ago.

Ferrer vs. Isner:  A tale of twelve inches, the height disparity between the Spaniard and the American represents a weapon as vital as any in this stark contrast of styles.  Long one of the ATP’s most efficient returners, Ferrer has blunted pace with intimidating ease.  Beyond the reflexes and coordination necessary to develop that talent, his tenacious attitude has enabled him to withstand the demoralizing sensation of watching one’s opponent hold serve with minimal effort.  More than any quarterfinalist except Monaco, the highest-ranked Spaniard in the draw will have appreciated the tournament’s decision to reduce its surface speed this year.  Not known for his fall prowess, Ferrer has excelled in his unassuming way since the US Open with a semifinal appearance in Tokyo, a charge to the Shanghai final, and another semifinal in Valencia.  Despite his grinding style, he has remained in prime physical condition as the long calendar winds to its conclusion.  Across the net, Isner has served his way past the more balanced Wawrinka and the lefty net-rushing of Lopez.  Available only to players of his heights are the acute angles and leaping bounces that swing balls away from returners with short wingspans like Ferrer.  Only in three sets did the Spaniard overcome Lopez on the slow court of Shanghai, but he protected his serve doggedly during that encounter and should edge through here if he can repeat that performance.  Neither player generally enjoys venturing towards the net, but both should seek to unleash that dimension of their games in order to take time away from their opponent.

Federer vs. Monaco:  In search of his 800th career victory, the world #4 usually has not enjoyed his visits to the City of Light, whether in the springtime or in the fall.  But this year Federer delivered his strongest Slam run at Roland Garros, while his draw has lain invitingly open at the only Masters 1000 tournament where he never has reached the final.  A week after he claimed a fifth Basel crown, he will recognize the opportunity to accumulate more momentum before he attempts to defend his title at the World Tour Finals.  The slower surface may expose Federer’s sporadic inconsistency in a potential semifinal encounter with Murray, who has learned how to draw the Swiss superstar out of his comfort zone.  Against the unheralded Monaco, though, even the occasional lull should not cost him much more than it did at the US Open.  Under the lights of Arthur Ashe, Federer sparkled throughout an emphatically terse rout of the Argentine clay specialist, who looked overwhelmed by the occasion.  Like most veteran journeymen of his generation, Monaco still appears too awed by the Swiss legend to mount a convincing challenge.  And little in Federer’s first two victories here will have fueled his confidence, for he looked even crisper there than in his home tournament.  After a lopsided first set on Thursday, Monaco reversed the momentum of his match against Fish with impressively steady self-belief.  On Friday, however, his opponent will not offer him a chance to regroup.

Berdych vs. Murray:  Tormented repeatedly by Tipsarevic, the top-ranked Czech finally earned a measure of revenge by halting the London hopes of his nemesis.  After a 2010 campaign that brought him into the edge of the ATP elite, Berdych regressed from those accomplishments to his familiarly unreliable self in 2011.  Despite snapping an interminable title drought in Beijing, he defeated no opponent more notable than Verdasco at a major.  Nevertheless, he has remained firmly entrenched in the top 10 and clinched a second straight berth at the year-end championships, no small feat.  Barring his route to the semifinals is a player whom he has played only once since 2006, dominating a straight-sets meeting at Roland Garros a year ago.  Never have Berdych and Murray intersected on an indoor hard court, which would seem to tilt towards the world #7’s superior offensive firepower.  With a comprehensive triumph over Roddick on Thursday, though, the Scot found the slower surface an accommodating canvas for his fluid court coverage and efficient counterpunching.  Unbeaten since the US Open, he likely shares Federer’s determination to end 2011 with a formidable statement.  In a season controlled by Djokovic and Nadal, Murray quietly has compiled an impressive foundation for 2012.  A player who rarely fails to capitalize upon opportunities, he did not let the Cincinnati or Shanghai titles escape him against overmatched opponents.  The absence of the top two should inspire him to redouble his energies here.

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