OUR only bet of Wednesday was a void when Kei Nishikori, to the surprise of no-one, was nowhere near fit enough to face Novak Djokovic and retired towards the end of set two of their quarter-final.
The no tie-breaks bet was looking a very likely winner, but Kei called it quits after 12 one-sided games, unable to really move much after his activities earlier in the tournament took their toll.
In the other quarter-final I said that Lucas Pouille needed to keep up this spell of fine serving up against Milos Raonic and he was able to do it, landing 66% of his first serves, while Raonic fell below the level we saw from him earlier in the tournament.
The first of the men’s semi-finals takes place at 08:30 UK time and it’s a third career clash between an up and coming young Greek and a 17-time major champion.
Stefanos Tsitsipas vs Rafael Nadal
A night match on the slow Laver court against an opponent who’s spent much of his career punishing single-handed righties with his own lefty forehand doesn’t look the best of situations for Tsitsipas here.
Only Swiss pair Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer as single-handed righties have beaten Nadal at a hard court major since my erstwhile favourite Fernando Gonzalez did it here in Melbourne back in 2007.
And this season so far this season we’ve seen a Nadal that’s come out with a new, more aggressive serve, and it’s been working perfectly for Rafa so far in 2019, setting up the first strike for him with that lefty forehand.
We’re surely going to see more of the same from Nadal on Thursday night (local time) and even using his ‘old’ serve he used that tactic to great effect versus Tsitsipas when they last clashed on an outdoor hard court in Toronto.
That day in a big match at the Rogers Cup final last August Nadal won 93% of his first serve points and 60% on his second ball, so now with a more effective serve at his disposal Rafa looks a strong favourite.
Which brings me on to the weak point in the Tsitsipas game, which is the return of serve, and on his stats this season compared to his last 12 months at main level on outdoor hard there’s very little difference.
Tsitsipas has held serve an impressive 92.5% of the time in his last six main level matches in 2019, but only broken 14.2% of the time, which is similar to his one-year record in that category (15.9% breaks of serve in the last 12 months).
If anything he’s doing slightly worse and one big issue for him I would think in this match-up is going to breaking that Nadal serve while continuing to hold his own deal.
Nadal’s stats (albeit from only five matches) in 2019 are amazing at 97% holds of serve and 37.3% breaks of serve in his five main level matches of 2019 and in his last 12 months on this surface at main level he’s broken serve 28.1% of the time.
Tsitsipas has been serving very well too, but he’ll need to again, as hitting winners in slow conditions at night against Nadal on Laver with these Dunlop balls is not easy to do.
As well as he played against Federer, he did save all 12 break points against him, and given his mediocre break of serve percentage Tsitsipas may well need to rely on a tie break if he’s going to win a set (or sets) here.
Tsitsipas has done well enough in breakers on this surface in the last 12 months (winning 62% of them) but Nadal has done better (winning 73%) and it’s going to take a hell of a performance on the backhand side especially if he’s to win this one.
There could be a chance that Nadal may not be fully fit again (he had tape on his abdominal area during his win over Tiafoe) but otherwise I’d expect him to win this in three or maybe four sets.
Given how scarcely Tsitsipas breaks serve (especially compared to Nadal) I like the -6.5 on Rafa at odds-against here.
- 0.5 points win Nadal -6.5 games to beat Tsitsipas (2.12, Unibet)