INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — The men’s semifinals are set for the BNP Paribas Open after Juan Martin del Potro upset No. 3 Andy Murray 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-1 to earn a shot at Novak Djokovic. Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych will face off in the other semifinal, as Berdych looks to end an 11-match losing streak against the Spaniard.
Novak Djokovic vs. Juan Martin del Potro: Welcome back, DelPo! Del Potro has quietly made his way through the draw away from the crowds and cameras on the outer courts. The big Argentine played his best match of the tournament to score his first win over Murray on hard courts. Del Potro was 1-5 against Murray coming into that match and he’ll go into his semifinal against Djokovic with a similar head-to-head, with Djokovic leading 8-2.
Not to worry, though, as Del Potro looked pretty relaxed after the match. Presenting Juan Martin del Flip Flops:
As well as Del Potro played against Murray he got a lot of help from the Scot, who sprayed more than 40 unforced errors and suffered some untimely double faults. I doubt he’ll get that level of charity from Djokovic on Saturday. Djokovic beat Del Potro 6-3, 7-6 (4) two weeks ago in Dubai.
“Against Nole, I will need to play better than today,” Del Potro said. “I remember the match in Dubai. I was close to win the second set, but he takes all the chances to beat me. He’s the No. 1. You never know if he gives to you a little chance to win.”
As for Djokovic, he played his best match of the tournament in the quarterfinals in a 6-3, 6-1 win over Tsonga in just 54 minutes. He’ll be well rested after that one.
PREDICTION: Djokovic in two sets.
Rafael Nadal vs. Tomas Berdych: You never know what’s going to light a fire under someone and motivate him to pummel you every time you take the court, but for Berdych it was the quarterfinals of the 2006 Madrid Masters against Nadal. Berdych came into that match brimming with confidence with a two-match winning streak over the Spaniard and he backed up his form once again by beating Nadal 6-3, 7-6 (6) in front of a packed, pro-Rafa crowd. And he did something dumb. As Nadal’s return sailed long on match point, Berdych looked up to the crowd and raised a finger to his lips, much to Nadal’s displeasure.
Here’s video of the incident. You can see Nadal exchange some words with Berdych at the net.
Since that “Shush Heard ‘Round the World,” Berdych hasn’t beaten him in seven years. In fact, Berdych has won a mere two sets off Nadal in their 11 meetings since 2006. The wins haven’t been routs every time. Berdych has played Nadal close on hard courts, either taking a set or getting to a tiebreaker at least once in five of their six matches on the surface since 2006.
As Nadal told reporters, if he’s playing this well and having “incredible results,” maybe it’s time to stop asking about the status of his knees. Despite his trepidation regarding the hard courts, Nadal has been fantastic all tournament. If there were any concerns about his movement, he put them to rest against Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, where even he admitted to moving better than he could expect, especially after a long three-set match the night before.
Berdych is coming off back-to-back finals in Marseille and Dubai, where he saved match points against Federer to win. With Nadal’s heavy topspin keeping him off balance in the rallies, Berdych will need a big serving day on these slow courts.
“One day I hope that I’m going to find the way how to beat him again,” Berdych said after beating Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals. “Why not here?”
Well, the problem with “here” is the court is just too slow. Organizers have laid down a very gritty surface that takes spin well and bounces high — two traits that feed right into Nadal’s heavy topspin game.
“With his lefty hand and heavy spins, it’s very tough, especially in these conditions,” Berdych said. “If it’s going to be hot like this, yeah, it’s could be very, very tough one.”
PREDICTION: Nadal in two sets.