Wimbledon Finals Form by Scott Ferguson
The demise of Roger Federer was not a shock to some, and I did hint that this year was not going to be a cakewalk for him in my first Wimbledon preview piece last week. Now we are to be treated to an exceptionally even pair of semi-finals. Only one of the quartet has won here before (Nadal), one other can lay claim to a Grand Slam title (Djokovic), one has been a Grand Slam bridesmaid on two occasions (Murray) and the other only reached his first major semi-final at French Open.
First up on court will be the clash between Tomas Berdych (2.06) of the Czech Republic and Novak Djokovic (1.93) of Serbia. Since the brief hardcourt swing through North American in March/April, Berdych has been in incredible form. At 24, he has finally matured into the player befitting his athletic 1.95m frame. He was aided by Federer not being 100% fit in the last round, but he had been him fair and square earlier in the year, and the likes of Murray, Isner, Verdasco and Soderling have all succumbed to his power game this year.
Djokovic had looked troubled leading into this event, with mixed results in 2010 and a serve which had lost penetration. He showed on Monday that he had more up his sleeve in beating Hewitt comfortably. The facile win over Lu was always expected, his returning is far and above the level of Roddick, so Lu had very few free points coming his way.
The h2h record here is 2-0 in favour of Djokovic without a set being dropped (check for yourself here), but they were back when Berdych was ranked outside the top 20. Next week the Czech moves into the top 10 with a bullet, and it's a whole different story, as is evident in the near flip-of-a-coin market. In their previous clashes, Djokovic was 1.3 or shorter.
If Djokovic didn't have the lingering doubts over his health, and sinuses in particular, I think he'd be much shorter - 1.6 or so. The problem wasn't sinuses on Monday against Hewitt, it was a minor stomach ailment, so that gives the impression he may just last the distance. I'll be backing Djokovic, I can't help thinking his win over Hewitt on Monday was more impressive than Berdych's over an ailing Federer. If you are doubtful over Djokovic's health or stamina, then back him early to lay after a set.
The later semi-final will capture the attention of most of Britain, particularly since the England football team are long back home. Andy Murray (2.56) returns for his second straight semi-final here while Rafa Nadal (1.64) is 'defending' his 2008 crown, having missed last year due to injury. Nadal beat the Scot in straight sets in 08 on his way to the title, when Murray hovered just outside the top 10. Since then, Murray holds a 4-3 record over Nadal (4-7 overall) and I can make excuses for the last two defeats - one was on clay, the other in a howling gale at Indian Wells.
Can Murray go one better than Tim Henman, who fell at the semi-final stage four times in five years? Without doubt he's a better player, but he does have to face the world number one who has an enormous bag of tricks up his sleeve. Murray's win over Tsonga came down to one key point in the second set tiebreak. When the chance emerged he claimed it faster than a seagull on a chip and ran away with the match. Now he faces an opponent he knows he can beat.
Nadal weathered the storm perfectly against Soderling on Wednesday. The Swede was shooting the lights out early, taking a 5-0 lead in the opening set before Rafa steadied and motored home convincingly. It is said that Nadal has altered his game in order to beat Soderling, such was his distaste at losing on clay to him last year in Paris. Andy Murray is never going to overpower him, but he does have the all-round game to stretch Nadal as far as he can go.
I think Murray is value at anything above 2.3.
For Sunday's final, it could genuinely be any combination of the four players doing battle, and to complicate matters even further, I think they are all capable of beating each other, so watch closely and hope for a fantastic trading spectacle. One word of warning, if Djokovic and Murray do meet on Sunday, only the first of their seven clashes (4-3 to Novak) has been anything other than straight sets.
H2Hs for the final
Djokovic v Murray (4-3, but the last three to Murray)
Djokovic v Nadal (7-14, but the last three to Djokovic)
Berdych v Murray (2-1)
Berdych v Nadal (3-7, last six to Nadal without dropping a set)
The betting for the women's final suggests it could be a procession for Serena Williams (1.19) to claim her fourth Wimbledon title and another Rosewater Dish. Only two players can lay claim to beating Serena in 15 Grand Slam singles finals - her sister Venus (twice), and the emerging 17yo Maria Sharapova in the form of her life here back in 2004.
Serena's record against Vera Zvonareva stands at 5-1, with 'Bepa' (the cyrillic spelling for Vera) taking advantage back in July 2006 when Serena was playing her first event back from six months out with a knee injury. In three of the five Serena victories though, the Russian has taken a set so it may not be over in an hour.
Zvonareva (6.2) struggled to overcome Pironkova in the semi-final. I know that facing a more regular opponent in the world no.1 will be easier to set a game plan for but I think the gap is too big for her to make up. If she takes a set and a half to figure out the way to win cheap points again, the horse will have well and truly bolted this time around.
Serena again, and quite comfortably.
* All odds taken at 8am 02/07/2010