Federer, Monfils headline bottom half of U.S. Open men's quarterfinals
NEW YORK -- A contrast of styles or wrecking ball vs. wrecking ball? Those are the match-ups featured on Thursday as the men's quarterfinal round finishes up at the U.S. Open. Here's our preview:
Roger Federer vs. Gael Monfils (night match, Arthur Ashe Stadium): Does Monfils believe he can win? That's the first question that will be answered these two take the court under the lights on Ashe on Thursday night. The Frenchman is into his sixth Slam quarterfinal, but he has never arrived at this stage of a major without the loss of a set. Watching him dismiss seventh-seed Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets in the fourth round was enough to make you believe he's playing his best tennis of the year in New York. When he needs the big serve to get out of a jam, he's found it so far and he's playing aggressive tennis. Monfils can usually fall into the trap of relying on his athleticism and hanging in the back of the court to play defense, but he's been willing to step into the court this tournament.
Monfils has been focused and hungry through four matches, but playing Federer is huge test for him mentally. The Swiss leads the head-to-head 7-2, but Federer is 3-2 on hard courts and the two have split their last four meetings. Monfils took Federer to three sets in a quality match a few weeks ago at the Western & Southern Open, losing 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, but Federer lost to Monfils at the end of last season at the Shanghai Masters 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3. Monfils has to put his deference for the man he called "a legend in tennis" aside. "I think right now he's the greatest tennis player we ever had, and for me it's always challenging to play against him," he said of Federer. "It's always great, because no matter what, I will say to my children I played against him."
When told about Monfils comments, Federer laughed. "I like the guy, you know. We always joke around and we always have a good talk. I think it's very fair once out on the court. It's tough but it's fair. I think our games match up nicely against each other. So, yeah, we played a good, tough match against each other just last week. Yeah, let's hope it's going to be memorable for everybody involved, especially the unborn children so far." Fed's got jokes.
Prediction: Federer in 4.
Tomas Berdych vs. Marin Cilic (1:30 pm, Arthur Ashe Stadium): Sixth-seeded Berdych has enjoyed a nice path to the quarterfinals, beating Lleyton Hewitt, Martin Klizan, Teymuraz Gabashvili, and Dominic Thiem. The string of relatively easy matches -- Klizan did take him to five sets in the second round -- has allowed him to get his legs under him and his confidence back after a poor showing over the hard-court summer. He needed just an hour and 38 minutes route 20-year-old Thiem on Tuesday, which means he'll have plenty of energy for what could be a grueling match against Cilic. The big-serving Croat was on court for more than four hours in his fourth round win over Gilles Simon, and while that five-set victory was a huge confidence booster, it's also undoubtedly taxing. Berdych leads their head-to-head 5-3 but they've split their last four meetings. Cilic won their last match at Wimbledon this summer in straight sets.
It's no surprise that Cilic's serve has improved since teaming up with Goran Ivanisevic. That's the stroke that will be the key to match against Berdych. "I'm serving much better," Cilic said. "That sort of allows me to have more opportunities in the match on the return of serve, as I can be more aggressive. I can play more risky, as I can rely on my serve that I'm going to win those service games comfortably. Definitely that puts a lot of pressure on the guys so I can, in the return games, play very differently from one to the other and change up my game."