The 2018 Australian Open men’s quarterfinals have been full of surprises. We take stock of the two matches already played, and predict the outcome of the two yet to be contested.
Nadal (1) v. Cilic (6)
This match was supposed to hinge on Cilic. Nadal’s form was imperious in the first three rounds and, despite wobbles in his fourth round match against the diminutive Diego Schwartzman, those could be attributed as much to his opponent’s grit and talent as to his own shortcomings. The question before this quarterfinal was: Could Cilic hang with Nadal? Cilic did hold his nerve (and serve) in crucial moments, but in the end it was Nadal’s body that gave out. A retirement due to injury at 0-2 down in the fifth set of a quarterfinal was not how Nadal, last year’s finalist, would have wanted to go out of the first major of 2018.
Cilic will take comfort in the fact that he will not have to face uber-talented Grigor Dimitrov in his semi-final as the Bulgarian succumbed to lower-ranked Kyle Edmund of Great Britain. Cilic’s big-serving power game is a better match up against Edmund than Dimitrov’s smooth all court play since the latter can be better attacked by Edmund’s fearsome forehand.
Dimitrov (3) v. Edmund
On paper Dimitrov should have won this match. However good Edmund’s form has been thus far at the Australian Open, Dimitrov is the reigning World Tour Finals champion and a player of immense natural talent. In his four set win against Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round, in addition to his prodigious shot-making ability, he showed a new level of mental fortitude. Edmund, through a flurry of forehands, chipped slowly away at Dimitrov’s confidence and self belief. At a crucial moment in the fourth set, after Dimitrov had come back from a break down to level at four games all, the Bulgarian tightened and netted a backhand, giving his opponent the crucial break.
The match did not entirely hinge on Dimitrov though. Edmund stood tall on the baseline, walloped every forehand he could and even managed to use his backhand to redirect the ball, building clever points that would allow him to unleash his primary weapon. The mental strength he showed while serving out the match was also a far cry from the Edmund of the past who often lost tight matches.
Federer (2) v. Berdych (19)
Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych have met 25 times on the ATP world tour with Federer leading their head-to-head 19-6. More tellingly, Federer has not lost to Berdych since switching to a larger racquet in 2014. Their last meetings at the Australian Open were straight sets wins for Federer in 2016 and 2017. The latter match was one of the best Federer has ever played. Berdych himself said that he thought it was the best Federer had ever played against him.
This year, Berdych is playing some of his best tennis and Federer has yet to face a real test. Berdych.has twice beaten Federer in the quarterfinals of a grand slam, at Wimbledon and the US Open. The knowledge that, should he win, he will face Tennys Sandgren or Hyung Chung in the semi-final and Marin Cilic or Kyle Edmund in the final will give Berdych, who has perpetually come up short in grand slams, the belief that, if he can survive Federer, he has a shot at the title.
The best predictor for this match is the Wimbledon semifinal Berdych and Federer played in 2017. Berdych played close to the best tennis he is capable of and Federer, at about 80% of the level he had displayed in Indian Wells and Miami, still managed to dispatch him in three tight sets. This match likely will not be the demolition of their 2017 third round encounter at the Australian Open, but Federer is almost certain to triumph in three or four sets.
Prediction: Federer in 3 or 4. At least one tiebreak.
Sandgren v. Chung
The 2018 Australian Open was always going to be an unpredictable tournament. With top players either injured or coming back from rankings-reducing lay-offs, the men’s draw was full of possible surprise match ups and ripe for odd results. This quarterfinal pitches a potential star of the future against an unheralded American in his mid-twenties who, before this tournament, had never won a grand slam match.
Of the two, Chung is far more impressive. He has steadily risen in the rankings and, in his defeat of an admittedly ailing Djokovic, he displayed incredible shot-making abilities. Some commentators went so far as to saw that he out-Djokoviced Djokovic – retrieving balls at full stretch and hitting backhand passing shot winners from impossible positions. Sandgren’s run has been a good one, but it is likely to end here. Chung will absorb his shots, return them with interest, and cruise into his first grand slam semifinal where he will find either an in-form Tomas Berdych or Roger Federer.
Prediction: Chung in 3 straightforward sets.