The Australian Open men's semifinals are set and it finally feels as if the real tournament is about to begin.
Roger Federer is two wins away from his 13th major victory. By advancing to the semifinals, his number one ranking should be safe regardless of the weekend's outcome, allowing him to focus on the immediate and mighty task at hand: defeating third-ranked Novak Djokovic, who is primed and ready to win his first Grand Slam title. For his part, Djokovic has looked better than Federer in advancing to the penultimate round and he wants nothing more than to truly be part of the conversation when it comes to major tournaments. Djokovic is due for that final breakthrough and a win over the defending champ would symbolize his ascent to the top of the men's game. Of course, Federer will be eager to put the sometimes arrogant upstart firmly in his place. Their semifinal clash could well be the match of the tournament.
Meanwhile, second-ranked Rafael Nadal has been thisclose to overtaking Federer for the top spot it tennis. While it may not happen in Melbourne, a maiden Australian Open crown is certainly within reach, so long as Rafa can dispatch of surprise semifinalist and giant killer Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to advance to the championship bout. With Federer and Djokovic wearing one another out on the opposite half of the draw, Nadal hopes to easily dismiss Tsonga on the big stage and be well rested for the final. Yet Tsonga hits with the type of power that can worry Nadal on hard courts and, if form continues, he will not be so easily overlooked.
Each man has so much at stake: a Federer victory over his two chief rivals would set the tone for a historic year in tennis; Nadal is ready to confirm that he can win majors outside of Paris; Djokovic is looking to fulfill his potential with a Grand Slam title; and Tsonga hopes to continue the Aussie Open's tradition of unexpected champions. Every scenario is so enticing that it is impossible to pick favorites.
May the best man win! --Wyman Meers