Ricky Dimon of The Grandstand and Pete Ziebron of Tennis Acumen preview and pick the two semifinal matches set for Thursday and Friday at the Australian Open. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are one round away from a blockbuster final, but Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov stand in their respective ways
(17) Roger Federer vs. (4) Stan Wawrinka
Ricky: On paper this is an intriguing semifinal: former Australian Open champions with 20 combined major titles, and also friends and countrymen. Of course, the head-to-head statistics suggest otherwise. Federer has won 18 of their 21 career meetings and he is even more dominant than that when it comes to hard courts. In fact, the former world No. 1 has never lost to Wawrinka on anything other than clay. What’s to think the tide will suddenly turn Down Under? Well, nothing. Federer is once again healthy and has been in outstanding form since sleepwalking through his first two rounds this fortnight. Wawrinka is playing decent tennis, but he hasn’t been on fire in Melbourne like he has been at times in the past. Federer is not only the better player, but he also wants it more. Federer in 4: 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Pete: Federer continues to show that his time away from the game last year allowed him to return refreshed, rejuvenated, renewed, and a threat to win majors. He owns a convincing 18-3 head-to-head mark over his countryman and the only times Wawrinka has been able to defeat Federer have all come on clay. However, Wawrinka has won three majors since the last time Federer has managed to tally one of his own. This also marks the first time that Wawrinka comes into the semifinals of a slam as the highest seed of the remaining four players. Should this match reach tiebreaker territory, Wawrinka boasts a perfect 5-0 record in ‘breakers played in this tournament, while Federer has split the two he has contested. The 35-year-old has been able to clean up his break-point conversion considerably, succeeding at a 49 percent clip (27 of 55) so far in Melbourne. The fast courts will prove to be a large advantage to Federer, who will successfully navigate his way to his first Australian Open final since 2010. Federer in 4: 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-5.
(9) Rafael Nadal vs. (15) Grigor Dimitrov
Ricky: Dimitrov’s winning percentage against Nadal is even worse than Wawrinka’s is against Federer: 1-7 lifetime, to be exact. The Bulgarian won their most recent meeting, but that was last fall when Nadal needlessly played two events in Beijing and Shanghai before shutting things down for the rest of 2016 because of a wrist injury. Like Federer, Nadal has clearly benefited from an extra-long offseason. The Spaniard has lost only once this year and he avenged that setback by beating Milos Raonic in straight sets on Wednesday. Record-wise, no one has been better than Dimitrov in 2017 (10-0 with a title in Brisbane). But he has been the beneficiary of an amazing draw Down Under–and this is where that favorable draw ends. Dimitrov doesn’t have the weapons to blow Nadal off the court and he will eventually wear down in an entertaining four-setter. Nadal in 4: 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
Pete: At the time it happened, those remaining in the draw were very aware of the fact that Nadal managed to survive when he came back from a two sets to one deficit against Alexander Zverev in the third round. The rest of the field took special note of Nadal’s accomplishment in that match, as they knew what it could lead to going forward. Sure enough, since that win Nadal has dropped just one collective set to the No. 6 and No. 3 seeds. Dimitrov continued to stay undefeated for 2017 with a convincing thrashing of Goffin in the quarterfinals. Like Nadal, not much was being mentioned about Dimitrov’s chances to put together a deep run at the Australian Open prior to this fortnight. The Bulgarian has dropped just four of the 29 sets he has played this year in racing to 10 consecutive victories. Unfortunately for Dimitrov (and quite possibly the remaining players in the draw), Nadal’s victory over Zverev gave him the confidence boost he needed and those dividends will continue to pay off for the Spaniard. Nadal in 4: 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.