By Kevin Ware
(August 16, 2013) MASON. Ohio – The women’s quarterfinal matches were solid, but the men stole the spotlight in a spectacular day at the Western and Southern Open. John Isner beat Novak Djokovic for the second time at a Masters 1000 event during the day session, while the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry thrilled fans in the evening session. It was a great day of tennis by any measure.
Now we must turn our attention to “Semifinal Saturday”, and some great matches that will decide who will vie for the championships on Sunday. The women’s semifinals feature 3 Slam champions, and a former No. 1. The men’s semifinals feature 3 Slam champions and our best US hope for the Top 10.
All are worthy of their spots in the semis, but there can only be two finalists. Let’s dissect the match-ups to see if we can determine who will make it to the finals on Sunday.
 Juan Martin Del Potro vs John Isner
Head-to-Head: Del Potro leads 4-0
Isner notched one of the biggest victories of his career in the quarterfinals by beating world No. 1 Djokovic in 3 tough sets. His reward is a rematch with Del Potro, his nemesis from the Citi Open in D.C. Isner lost that match in 3 sets, but was also running on fumes after back-to-back weeks of play. He’s feeling fresher in Cincy, and also feels like his game is finally coming together.
For his part, Del Potro has played well this week in fits and starts, beating Nikolay Davydenko in two tight sets, Feliciano Lopez in three sets, and Dmitry Tursunov in three sets. Good play was followed by lethargic play, which could set him up for a fall against a surging Isner. Match-ups matter, however, and history matters. Most of Del Potro’s wins over Isner have been comfortable. And that might help him with focus and intensity.
Given Isner’s great play against Djokovic, this match could go either way. But all serves being equal, I’d give the edge to Del Potro for his more potent ground game.
 Rafael Nadal vs  Tomas Berdych
Head-to-Head: Nadal leads 14-3
Nadal hasn’t lost to Berdych since 2006, which is incredible given Berdych’s solid assent into the top 10. He’s beaten the Czech on clay, hard court, and grass during this period, and has only lost a handful of sets. This isn’t to say that the match will be an easy one, because it won’t. Berdych has a big game. And when he’s on top of it, his shots are untouchable.
The problem with Berdych is that he usually can’t sustain that level, whether it be nerves or pressure from his opponent. Nadal quickly seizes these moments and capitalizes on the opportunities given. Also, when you compare their respective quarterfinals, Berdych’s match against Murray wasn’t great, and Nadal’s against Federer was an instant classic. So which player is better prepared for this semifinal? I’d say the man from Mallorca.
 Serena Williams vs  Li Na
Head-to-Head: Williams leads 7-1
It’s not easy to know whether Serena is serious when she makes comments like “It will be a really tough match because she has such a good game and she does everything so well.” In this case, however, odds are pretty good that she means it. The impressive head-to-head record doesn’t take into account the fact that the matches have been very tight with most of the sets decided by a single break of serve.
Li Na has had an extra day rest due to the withdrawal of Aga Radwanska from the tournament. This could work for her in terms of being the fresher player, or it might affect her timing and rhythm. The more likely scenario is that the day off won’t really matter, and that her performance will be based on whether or not she makes her shots. For Serena, it’s all about motivation. She’d like to win Cincinnati and finally add it to her CV, but the ultimate goal is a US Open title defense starting in less than two weeks. Either way, it will be a tight match in two sets.
 Victoria Azarenka vs  Jelena Jankovic
Head-to-Head: Azarenka leads 4-3
Neither woman is playing their best tennis this week, but both have played “well enough” to make it this far in the tournament. Jelena knocked out Roberta Vinci in straight sets, while Vika knocked out Caroline Wozniacki, also in straight sets. They haven’t played one another since 2012 Sydney, which Vika won in a fairly routine victory. I expect this match to be closer than that 4 and 2 score line, and likely little more complicated for Vika because Jelena excels in frustrating her opponents. Will frustration be enough to knock Vika off her game for a victory? Probably not.
ATP – Del Potro, Nadal
WTA – Williams, Azarenka