By Brad Kallet, CBSNewYork.com Staff
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And then there were four.
The semifinals of the 2012 US Open are upon us, and the final quartet of men in the field is a rather intriguing one. Heading into the final Grand Slam of the season, not many would have predicted that both Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer would have a chance to win their maiden major.
The field opened up significantly when Rafael Nadal withdrew from Flushing Meadows prior to the start of the tournament. And with Berdych upsetting Roger Federer — who took home the Wimbledon trophy less than two months ago — it really turned the tournament upside down.
World No. 2 and five-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic has become the favorite in Flushing with Rafa and Fed out of the equation. Djoker put on quite an impressive performance in defeating Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets in the quarterfinals, but the Serbian now appears to be beatable after putting up arguably the greatest tennis season in history in 2011. Djokovic won three Grand Slams last year, but he hasn’t been that unbreakable, immortal force in 2012. It is a grand task for Ferrer, but the feisty Spaniard will have a shot at upending Djokovic in the semis. The 30-year-old will have to put up a monumental effort to outlast Nole in a five-set match, but don’t count out the workmanlike veteran to pull off the upset.
And then of course there is Andy Murray. Haven’t we been down this road before? The 25-year-old finally came through in a significant moment by winning Olympic Gold in London, but make no mistake about it — Olympic Gold does not equal Grand Slam glory. The Scot is a four-time major finalist, but he’s still waiting to take home that elusive Slam title. He’ll be expected to make it to a fifth Slam title when he faces off with Berdych in what should be a back-and-forth, hard-hitting affair. Surprisingly enough, however, Berdych has edged Murray in five of their seven career meetings. Couple that with Berdych’s momentum coming off his thrilling victory over the greatest player of all time, and this one could be a classic in the making.
This semifinal is particularly fascinating because it could signal the passing of the torch in the men’s game. Not that Federer or Nadal are going anywhere anytime soon, but consider this remarkable statistic — only one man not named Federer, Djokovic or Nadal has won a Grand Slam since 2005. Since Marat Safin won the Australian Open in 2005, del Potro is the only man to win a major outside of the Big Three in seven years. (Coincidentally, del Potro reached the pinnacle of tennis heights at the US Open in 2009.)
Berdych has been to a Grand Slam final before — the Czech fell to Nadal at Wimbledon in 2010 — but Ferrer has yet to be one of the last two men standing at a major. He is a four-time Slam semifinalist, but in this unprecedented era of tennis he hasn’t been able to get over the hump into elite status. A model of consistency, however, Ferrer has given Djoker fits over the years, posting a 5-8 career lifetime record against him.
A betting man would most certainly pick Murray and Djokovic — the most accomplished players remaining — to meet in the final of the last Grand Slam of the season. But the way that this tournament has shaped itself, would it be so shocking to see some new blood holding the US Open trophy above his head on Sunday?
Yes, the ingredients are in place for the torch to finally be passed — at least for the moment — to a new men’s Grand Slam champion. And if it does play out that way, what will it feel like? It’s tough to say, as there has only been one blip on the Big Three’s radar since 2005.
Buckle your seatbelts, folks. The final three men’s singles matches of the tournament should prove to be memorable, and potentially unforgettable in the chronicles of tennis lore.
Will Murray and Djokovic meet for the trophy, or do you think that a surprise final is in store? Give us your prediction in the comments section below…
Brad Kallet is a web producer for CBSNewYork.com. He has written for TENNIS.com, MiLB.com and SMASH Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter here.