World Tour Finals Semifinals Preview

Well, for those of us who have been watching the round robin portion of the singles tournament, there have been a lot more bagels and breadsticks than we anticipated or, in all honesty, wanted. But, after a topsy-turvy year, the four semifinalists advancing to Saturday’s semifinals are excellent ambassadors for the year that’s been. Needless to say, we’re hoping the matches prove to be much more competitive than the thrashings that took place in the round robin portion of the tournament. We’ve had enough breadsticks and bagels to last us a while.

1. Novak Djokovic v. Kei Nishikori

Funny thing – while no one seemed to be looking, Novak Djokovic put together another incredible season, clinching the year end number 1 ranking with his last round robin win over Tomas Berdych on Friday. It’s true that Djokovic often gets the short end of the stick when compared to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, but in some ways, Djokovic’s worst nemesis is his 2011 season, which ranks as among the most dominant and surprising campaigns of all time.

However, there is no doubt that Djokovic’s confused and desultory loss to Kei Nishikori was among the lowlights of his 2014. Like all great players, Djokovic plays with a considerable amount of pride and swagger, and he will surely be looking to impose himself on Nishikori early. The two met weeks ago at Paris Bercy, where Djokovic won handily. If Djokovic can manage to get ahead early, this could be over quickly.

On the other hand, Kei Nishikori has found his place among the elite of the game this season. Though prone to injury at times, Nishikori has managed to string together victories, both over players ranked ahead of him and against players he is supposed to beat, to reach his first Grand Slam semifinal at the US Open, and to reach a career high ranking of 5 in the world. This week in London, despite lapses in his own form, he pulled out a win against Andy Murray, won a tricky match against a fresh David Ferrer (subbing in after Milos Raonic’s withdrawal), but lost meekly to an in-form Roger Federer. Can he beat Djokovic again on a big stage? In theory, yes, but probably not the Djokovic who has been playing lights out tennis at the O2 this week.

Prediction: Djokovic in 2.

2. Roger Federer v. Stan Wawrinka

Roger Federer might have a quandary. Win too convincingly in this semifinals, and he risks having an unsure Stan Wawrinka in Lille as they attempt to win Switzerland’s first Davis Cup. Lose, and he gives up a chance to win another of his beloved World Tour Finals titles.

That said, the real test for whether this match will be competitive is whether Stan Wawrinka will be able to put together a consistent performance. This week, he did rally to beat Marin Cilic in Friday’s round robin match, and put the beatdown on a flailing Tomas Berdych, but made few waves in losing to Novak Djokovic. After the up and down year he’s had thus far, Wawrinka has done well to reach the semis (although the less charitable among us will note that the other two members of Group A were not exactly on fire), and getting a second win over his compatriot in this season would be quite a coup.

However, based on form going in, it’s hard to imagine. Roger Federer’s path to the semifinal was nearly as smooth as it was a decade ago. Aside from a tight second set against Milos Raonic, Federer has been able to sail past his opponents, where his victory against Andy Murray on Thursday might have been his least comfortable moment on court.

Prediction: Federer in 2 tight sets.