The second of the men’s semi finals in the 2017 Australian Open is set for Friday in Melbourne, with Rafael Nadal taking on Grigor Dimitrov.
And if it turns out to be anything like Thursday’s semi final between Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka even Nostradamus himself would have his work cut out calling it.
Federer looked to be cruising through to a straight sets win and a comfortable success for the unders at 2-0 and with Stan struggling with his knee injury, but it all turned on a MTO and it appeared as if Wawrinka would win it in five.
Federer was able to get it done in the fifth though and he’ll face the winner of Friday’s last four clash, which starts at around 08:30 UK time (19:30 local).
Rafael Nadal vs Grigor Dimitrov
We’re one step away from a match that many (including myself) thought we’d never see again – a major final between Federer and Nadal – and it’s going to need a inspired display from Dimitrov to stop that happening.
But inspired is exactly what Dimitrov has been of late, with the Bulgarian back to his best in recent times and he’s chalked up superb service hold/break stats of 87.5% holds and 27.7% breaks (115.2 total) in the last three months.
Unfortunately for Dimitrov, Nadal has done even better, with 92.3% service holds and 27.2% breaks in the same timeframe for a 119.5 total that is pretty much the same as the records of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.
Murray and Djokovic’s numbers are based on a whole year though, rather than merely eight matches in Nadal’s case, and we shall see if this renaissance from the Spaniard lasts for the rest of this season.
Nadal played very aggressively against Milos Raonic in the quarter finals, but the 3-0 scoreline flattered him a little, with Raonic blowing six set points in the second set and also struggling with yet another injury.
Dimitrov has been excellent lately and he’ll be full of confidence, not only from his performances this season, but also after inflicting a heavy defeat (his first) on Nadal at the back end of last season, although it must be said that Rafa was dire that day.
Despite the 1-7 head-to-head career series record that the Bulgarian has versus the Spaniard Dimitrov has taken at least one set in six of their eight clashes, with the two exceptions being matches played on clay.
Interestingly, six of their eight opening sets against each other have ended in 9.5 games or fewer and of his 10 matches so far in 2017 Dimitrov’s first set has finished in under 9.5 on eight occasions.
He tends to either start very well or poorly and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few nerves flying about here – for both men – early on, with Dimitrov admitting after his win over David Goffin in the quarter finals: “In the first set it was absolutely nerve racking.”
It’s surely only going to be worse on Friday in what will be only Dimitrov’s second major semi final and a first since Wimbledon 2014 when he lost in four sets to Djokovic.
Nadal hasn’t played in a major semi final since slightly earlier (the 2014 French Open) and with a lot at stake for both men a price of 2.40 about Dimitrov’s sequence of short sets continuing looks good value.
Nadal hasn’t lost a major semi final since being thrashed by Juan Martin Del Potro at the 2009 US Open and he’s only ever lost once at this stage of the Australian Open – another heavy defeat, this time to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga back in 2008.
A Nadal getting close to somewhere near his best is a tough match-up for any single-handed rightie, but I still feel that this isn’t Rafa at his best and he could be vulnerable here if Dimitrov plays his best tennis.
It’s not easy to bring your best tennis into a major semi final though (or to keep it up for five sets) and I suspect that Dimitrov may just come up a little bit short in the end here, with Nadal’s greater strength perhaps proving the difference.
But at 1.4 on the Spaniard it’s hardly a tempting wager for me and the value here looks to be in the set one unders.
1 point win under 9.5 games in set one at 2.40