While much of the sporting world stateside has its attention focused solely on the NFL playoffs, the first Grand Slam of 2014 is well underway at the Australian Open.
With half of the fourth round officially in the books on the men’s side of the draw, there are plenty of marquee superstars remaining in the field. Names such as Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and David Ferrer have cruised to victories in the early rounds and appear to be on collision courses with each other for later in the tournament.
Nothing excites tennis fans more than a Grand Slam with superstars facing off in the late stages.
With that in mind, who will be the four semifinalists?
There may be plenty of pitfalls remaining in the Australian Open for the marquee attractions, but Rafa Nadal should have a fairly straightforward path to the semifinals.
The No. 1-ranked player Down Under has not lost a set through the first three rounds. In fact, he hasn’t even lost more than four games in an individual set yet, and one of his victories came against No. 25 Gael Monfils.
Things will get a bit tougher for Nadal in the fourth round and the quarterfinals. He has to face No. 16 Kei Nishikori before possibly running into upstart Grigor Dimitrov. Dimitrov knocked off No. 11 Milos Raonic earlier in the tournament and is looking to make a deeper run than he ever has at a Grand Slam.
However, Nadal is simply too talented and has too much momentum to lose before the semifinals.
Here is where our first major upset will occur in the later stages.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga doesn’t get the attention that many of his contemporaries do, but he hasn’t dropped a set in his first three matches and has a sole focus heading into his fourth-round showdown with Federer. That focus is revenge, as he told The Australian:
“For me it's going to be the possibility to have revenge. I will do my best. I will give 100 per cent and maybe more on the court and [we’ll] see what happens."
Federer knocked Tsonga off in a five-set thriller at the quarterfinals last year at the Australian Open. However, Tsonga has been playing with confidence lately and even beat Federer at last year’s French Open.
Look for Tsonga to use his momentum from upsetting Federer to cruise all the way to the semifinals.
David Ferrer may be the most overlooked No. 3 seed in the history of a Grand Slam, but nobody has played more consistent tennis than he has the past few years.
In fact, this Australian Open marks the 15th consecutive Grand Slam that Ferrer has reached at least the fourth round.
While Ferrer has dropped two sets through the first four rounds, that consistency has paid off in the form of multiple tiebreaker victories within individual sets and the ability to bounce back immediately after dropping a set. Ferrer doesn’t beat himself, which is frequently a good enough formula to advance deep in Grand Slam formats.
Look for Ferrer to knock off No. 7 Tomas Berdych with his usual consistent serves and timely breaks.
We may very well be on our way to a Nadal and Djokovic championship, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Djokovic still has to get past No. 8 Stanislas Wawrinka. That’s not exactly an easy path before the semifinals, where he will almost assuredly face a marquee superstar for the right to play in the finals.
Fortunately for Djokovic fans, he looks more than ready to navigate that path.
He hasn’t dropped a set in the early going in the Australian Open and appears to still be riding the momentum he garnered in late 2013 with championships at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London, the ATP BNP Paribas Masters in Paris, the Shanghai Rolex Masters and the ATP China Open in Beijing.
There is no hotter tennis player in the world right now than Djokovic, and he will cruise to at least the semifinals at the Australian Open.