Six Pick: Quarterfinal Previews
What Robredo must do to win:
Play flawless baseline tennis, take some risk with his serve and forehand, and stay close early. Robredo is at his best grinding away from the baseline, but beating Nadal in a long baseline battle is as easy as beating the No. 7 train in a race. A fast start is vital: Nadal is 45-1 when winning the first set this season.
What Nadal must do to win:
Rafa will want to continue his assertive serving and pound his lefty topspin forehand cross-court to Robredo’s weaker backhand wing. The 31-year-old Spaniard struggles to create sharp angles with his one-hander, particularly when facing the high ball. When Nadal backs his compatriot up behind the baseline, look for him to move forward in the court and use the drop shot to exploit Robredo’s defensive court positioning.
The Pick: Nadal in three sets
Rafa is riding a career-best 19-match hard-court winning streak, has not dropped serve in the tournament, is undefeated against Robredo, and, simply put, does everything better than his fellow Spaniard. Robredo is a resilient competitor, but this match is completely in Nadal’s hands.
What Murray must do to win:
Play with urgency at the outset. When Murray becomes too passive and starts slowly, he struggles with Wawrinka, who has won the opening set in four of his five victories against the Scot. Stay aggressive on his forehand and second serve, two shots Murray can decelerate on under pressure. Murray will want to apply his finesse by using his backhand slice and drop shot when Wawrinka drifts too far behind the baseline.
What Wawrinka must do to win:
Neutralize Murray’s speed by cracking shots down the line. Wawrinka also will want to vary the depth and spin on his versatile one-handed backhand and occasionally tie up the Scot with deep drives down the middle. The first serve is crucial: Wawrinka has won 75 percent or more of his first-serve points in his last two victories against Murray—and in three of his four tournament wins—and will need to meet that mark to advance.
The Pick: Murray in four sets
When these two meet in majors, excitement usually ensues: Murray beat Wawrinka in five sets at Wimbledon in 2009, and Wawrinka prevailed in four sets at the 2010 U.S. Open. Both men own excellent backhands and can hit heavy first serves. But while Wawrinka can dictate with his first serve, Murray is a bit more resourceful on the run and more dangerous on the return (Murray is fifth on the ATP in return games won; Wawrinka is 25th in that category) If he’s assertive, the defending champion should reach his third straight U.S. Open semifinal.
What Azarenka must do to win:
Get off to a fast start—Azarenka has lost the opening set in her last two matches—and impose her deep groundstrokes to make Hantuchova move and hit on the stretch. The 2012 finalist will want to force Hantuchova to defend on the run. Azarenka’s return and two-handed backhand are her strengths, so she should look to take charge with those strokes.
What Hantuchova must do to win:
Serve with the authority and accuracy she showed in the fourth round, when she slammed 15 aces and won 81 percent of her first-serve points. Hantuchova is a clean ball striker but doesn’t hit with as much sting as Azarenka, so the 30-year-old Slovak will want to do damage on the second seed’s sometime shaky second serve and attack any mid-court ball she sees.
The Pick: Azarenka in two sets
This has been a close rivalry in the past because both are clean hitters, aggressive baseliners, and the former U.S. Open mixed doubles champions are comfortable playing from all areas of the court. But Azarenka is typically more explosive and accurate, and she has an outstanding record in three-set matches. Vika also owns a 29-1 record on hard courts this season, which is the best winning percentage on tour.
What Vinci must do to win:
Employ her variety by mixing her topspin forehand and low slice backhand to prevent Pennetta from finding a rhythm in baseline exchanges. Vary the depth and angle of her shots, and use her net skills on occasion. Vinci is the reigning U.S. Open doubles champion and knows how to close at net.
What Pennetta must do to win:
Control the center of the court, take the ball early, and hit her drives into the corners to force Vinci to defend. Pennetta is the bigger hitter who is more comfortable changing direction and playing down the line, particularly off her backhand. If she can establish the edge in cross-court exchanges, Pennetta can move her smaller countrywoman and set her up her down-the-line shots.
The Pick: Pennetta in three sets
They are friends and Fed Cup teammates, so this comes down to execution and managing nerve. Pennetta has not surrendered a set in sweeping three straight seeds—Sara Errani, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Simona Halep—to reach her fourth Flushing Meadows quarterfinal. Vinci is a crafty player adept at shifting spins, but Pennetta has more power, is accurate driving the ball down the line off both wings, and she plays her most aggressive tennis on hard courts.
What Djokovic must do to win:
Maintain the aggression he’s shown throughout the tournament, serve with ambition, and play cross-court to spread the court and force Youzhny to defend. Djokovic won 25 straight points on serve in his fourth-round destruction of Marcel Granollers; if he serves anything near that level against the Russian, the game’s best returner will not be denied.
What Youzhny must do to win:
Use his variety to work the width of the court, hit his backhand down the line, and serve at least 60 percent to prevent the game’s best returner from attacking his second serve. Youzhny has variety in his game and must throw everything in his arsenal at Djokovic to try to prevent the world No. 1 from gaining his rhythm.
The Pick: Djokovic in four sets
Youzhny is a two-time U.S. Open semifinalist, a tenacious competitor and a capable hard-court player—all three of his wins over Djokovic have come on a hard court. But Djokovic does everything better, is the more agile athlete, and is coming off the finest serving performance of his U.S. Open career. Djokovic has the weapons to beat Youzhny from the baseline, and if he’s closing at net as he did in round four—winning 28 of 30 net trips—he will reach his seventh straight U.S. Open semifinal.
What Ferrer must do to win:
Assert his aggressive court positioning by taking the ball earlier and forcing Gasquet to defend from deep positions behind the baseline. Ferrer is more comfortable playing closer to the baseline, and he’ll want to impose that advantage from the start and make the Frenchman run. Ferrer’s inside-out forehand is his signature shot; look for him to vary the depth and angle of that play to draw mid-court balls and finish points.
What Gasquet must do to win:
Engage Ferrer in cross-court backhand exchanges and occasionally hit his one-handed backhand up the line to exploit the Spaniard’s tendency to camp out in his backhand corner. Gasquet has all-court skills—he won 31 of 44 trips to net in the fourth round—and he must be willing to attack Ferrer’s second serve and move forward in the court at times.
The Pick: Ferrer in four sets
Gasquet is a gifted player, however he figures to be drained coming off a four-hour and 36-minute marathon win over Milos Raonic. Ferrer is one of the fittest men in the game: He owns a 19-9 record in five-setters; Gasquet is 6-12 in such matches. Ferrer competes with more ferocity, takes the ball earlier, has enjoyed more success in New York—and should reach his third U.S. Open semifinal.