Wimbledon 2012 men’s semi-finals preview: Can Murray break his last-four hoodoo?
With just four men remaining in this year’s Wimbledon, who will make it through to Sunday’s final?
Before a ball was hit at the All England Club this year, many people would have predicted that the top four men’s seeds would once again make it through to the Wimbledon semi-finals.
Although Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have all booked their places in the last four, Rafael Nadal’s shock second-round exit means that the number two seed will not be joining them.
Instead, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will be looking to stop home favourite Murray becoming the first British man to reach the Wimbledon final since Bunny Austin in 1938, while Djokovic and Federer will battle it out in the other semi-final.
But can Murray cope with the heavy weight of expectation on his shoulders? Can Federer regain some of the old magic to knock out reigning champion Djokovic?
Andy Murray vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
The nation is once again in the grips of “Murray mania” as the Scot looks to reach his fourth grand slam final.
His match-up against Tsonga probably represents his best chance of finally achieving his goal of walking out on to Centre Court on the last Sunday, with Murray previously falling at this stage against Andy Roddick in 2009 and Nadal in 2010 and 2011.
It is Nadal, of course, who many expected Murray would be playing in the semi-finals but, with the Spaniard out of the picture, it is Tsonga who now stands in his way.
That will suit the world number four just fine, with Murray coming out on top against the powerful Frenchman in each of their last four matches, including a four-set win at Wimbledon in 2010 and a three-set victory at Queen’s last year.
Since teaming up with coach Ivan Lendl last year, Murray’s all-round game has improved and the former world number one has helped his protégé improve one of his main weaknesses – his second serve.
Last year at the All England Club, Murray won just 55% of points on his second serve but this figure had shot up to 69% at this year’s tournament before his quarter-final clash against David Ferrer.
With his second serve now more of a weapon than a liability, Murray is now many commentators’ favourite to reach the final, but Tsonga should not be underestimated.
The former Australian Open finalist has a good record on grass and became the first man to beat Federer from two sets down at a grand slam following last year’s epic quarter-final win over the Swiss maestro.
Unlike Murray, the 27-year-old has not had a coach for the past 15 months but that has not stopped him surging up the rankings over the past year after tournament wins in Metz, Vienna and Doha.
It is a tough match to call but Murray will rightfully head into it as the favourite thanks to the support of the home crowd and his impressive battling performances in the latter stages of the tournament.
Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer
The phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” can certainly be applied to Djokovic and Federer. The pair have met 26 times now and are said to not be the best of friends in the locker room, though relations have thawed in recent months.
Djokovic has won their last three matches, including a famous five-set triumph at last year’s US Open when the Serb came back from two sets down.
However, the reigning champion is yet to come up against Federer on a grass court and the world number three will be hoping that the surface will prove something of a leveller.
Federer certainly knows his way around the courts of SW19 having claimed six titles there and he will be looking to use his knowledge to reach his first Wimbledon final since 2009.
It will certainly not be easy for the Swiss star, with Djokovic dropping just a single set on his way to the last four and coming off the back of a startling run of form that saw him win three consecutive grand slams before losing to Nadal in the French Open final earlier this year.
Djokovic, who partly attributes his upturn in shape to adopting a gluten-free diet, has looked in unerring form for much of the past 18 months and his powerful baseline hitting could prove a problem for Federer, who has been struggling with a back problem in recent weeks.
Despite telling the BBC that, he managed to serve and move well during his quarter-final match with Mikhail Youzhny. Federer admitted that he was worried about his injury and did not chase balls if he thought there was little chance of winning the point.
This, and indeed any weakness showed by Federer, is likely to be ruthlessly exploited by Djokovic, who is playing very aggressive tennis and is really taking the initiative on big points in a way that wasn’t the case just two years ago.
Expect the world number one to come out on top in a close encounter and set up a mouth-watering final against Murray on Sunday.