The men’s semifinals pit experience against young talent. Kyle Edmund and Hyeon Chung are both talented, unseeded players having dream runs. While both enter their respective semifinal matches the confirmed underdogs, both have the potential to cause upsets.
Cilic (6) v. Edmund
Kyle Edmund’s forehand gets all the attention. It is a sledgehammer of a shot with which he can bludgeon even talented opponents into submission. One need look no further than Grigor Dimitrov for evidence of that. However, the real story of the Edmund – Dimitrov match was Edmund’s solidity on his backhand wing and his mental fortitude.
At the tail end of 2017, Kyle Edmund was up 5-1 in the third set against Jack Sock in the second round of the Paris Masters. The American would go on to win that match and claim the title. It was not the first time that Edmund had let a significant lead slip away from him. He was beginning to make a habit of losing tight matches and grasping defeat from the jaws of victory. For him to prevail against a player as talented as Dimitrov in four tight sets shows how far his game has progressed mentally. While it was his forehand that did the damage to the Belgian, his ability to regularly rely on his backhand to redirect balls and keep him in rallies until he could safely deploy a killing blow, made the difference in the match. The Edmund forehand has always been there, what’s new is his belief in himself and his steadier game from the back of the court.
All of that said, Edmund will need a minor miracle to defeat Marin Cilic. Dimitrov’s game, built on all court skill rather than raw power, fits Edmund’s style of play much better than a big hitter like Cilic. Edmund will likely not be given the chance to build points since Cilic’s fast serves and blistering forehands will keep points short. The level Cilic displayed against Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals, while short of that he showed during his run to the 2014 US Open title, was still very high. Edmund can theoretically play like he has nothing to lose, but, in the biggest match of his career against a player whose style he will struggle to cope with, it is a safe bet that he will be sent packing. Hopefully his run, even if it does come to an end against the Croat, will help him achieve even more in his promising career.
Cilic, for his part, is playing in only his second Australian Open semifinal. His last came eight years ago in 2010 when he was defeated in four sets by a British player who went on to lose to Roger Federer in the final.
Prediction: Cilic in 3.
Federer (2) v. Chung
Roger Federer may have been scrappy at times during his straight sets win against Tomas Berdych, but he still got the job done in just over two hours. In doing so he reached his fourteenth Australian Open semifinal and 43rd grand slam semifinal overall. Hyeon Chung was similarly short of his best while taking apart the game of Tennys Sandgren.
Of the two, Federer is the obvious favorite. He has only lost once to a player ranked outside of the top 50 (Chung is currently the world number 58) in grand slams since the 2003 French Open. He was also pushed during his match against Berdych. The Czech threw his full arsenal of powerful shots at the Swiss in the early games of their encounter and it was as much his pressure as Federer’s slightly listless play that garnered him the early advantage. The fact that Federer found a way to win the first set and maintain a higher level throughout the match showed the confidence that he currently has in himself and his game. He raised his level when he needed to, like flipping a switch.
Against Chung, it is unlikely that Federer will be pushed as hard as he was in his quarterfinal. The key for Federer will be to attack Chung’s relatively weak serve. The clean returning that has become the hallmark of Federer’s game since his return from injury will be crucial. Speaking in his post-match press conference Federer stated, “Right now I couldn’t tell you how I’m going to play him [Chung]. One thing I can tell you is I’m going to play aggressive. I don’t know how I’m going to do that exactly yet.” Surely whatever aggressive plan Federer and his coaches devise will be built around taking the initiative as early as possibly by teeing off on Chung’s serve.
Chung, if he hopes to have a chance against Federer, will need to play the kind of defensive tennis he produced during his match against Djokovic. If he can consistently make Federer hit an extra ball and keep shots in play that would, against other players, be clean winners, he could trouble the Swiss, force him to overhit or doubt his game plan, and find a way to victory. As quick around the cout and talented as Chung is, it is unlikely that he can execute at the level necessary consistently over five sets, especially against a player like Federer who expertly takes time away from his opponents.
Prediction: Federer in 3 sets.