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Matt Cronin's Day 13 picks

Another night, another epic battle in Arthur Ashe with five-time US Open winner, Roger Federer, defeating Gael Monfils. But here, the most memorable moments donâÂÂt just happen on the court. After all, where else can you eat a lobster roll and see the whole world, aka the Unisphere? No wonder itâÂÂs not just Federer but the fans that come back year after year.
By Matt Cronin
Saturday, September 6, 2014

Roger Federer vs. Marin Cilic

Men’s No. 2 seed Roger Federer nearly went down against Gael Monfils in the quarters on Thursday night, but he dug deep and rallied for a remarkable five-set win. Federer stared down two match points, but he did not flinch, even though Monfils had been playing lights out to that point. But Federer refused to let go quietly, won the match, and now he will have to fight a player who is himself playing excellent ball, Marin Cilic.  

Cilic was solid during his three-set win over Tomas Berdych in the quarters, wiping out the Czech who has reached the semis in four Grand Slams. The Croatian has played tough in reaching his second career semi, and he has been untouchable when he’s banging big first serves. Cilic has nailed line after line and has been solid off the ground, not pushing his shots, even when the matches have grown tighter. That is why Cilic has been on a roll; he admits that he is feeling more comfortable and will go for his shots without hesitating.

Federer watches other players, so he knows exactly how well they are playing and has already admitted that Cilic is playing great. The Swiss is 5-0 in their head-to-head meetings, but Cilic was close to upending Federer in Toronto last month, with Roger walking away with a 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 victory. Federer has said that he thinks Cilic is a great guy, but that doesn't mean the Swiss won’t go all out to win the victory.

Cilic can dictate off of his serves—both first and second. He is very tall, at 6-foot-5, but he’s also pretty fast for a big man. He can certainly swing away from his forehand and backhand, but he’s not as comfortable as Federer in mixing things up with different spins. Federer, conversely, can throw in thousands of shots.

While Federer notched another classic win when he came down from 0-2 in sets and ended up winning in five over Monfils, the Swiss did not play his best until the end of the match. Federer simply cannot get way behind and hope that his foe panics because Cilic believes now that he can beat anyone. Federer has to play serve and volley well and efficiently.

The great Federer owns five US Open titles, and he really wants six. He’ll play excellent ball again today and take down Cilic in four sets.   

Novak Djokovic vs. Kei Nishikori

Whether or not Kei Nishikori upends Novak Djokovic in the semis, he has played well enough in this tournament to announce to the world that he is now here to stay. The 24 year old had flashed excellence before, but he never was able to take down two excellent players in four-hour-plus matches back-to-back. He wore down No. 5 Milos Raonic, who was bombing big serves but was unable to out-stroke Nishikori as the fourth-round match wore on into the early morning, ending after 2 a.m. Then the small but super-fast Nishikori was willing to smoke backhands for hours and finally dashed this year’s Australian Open champ Stan Wawrinka in a five-set quarterfinal. He showed guts and heart and never gave in.

Credit has to be given to his coach, Michael Chang, who once reached the US Open final. Chang was also super quick, but even though he wasn't one of the hardest hitters, he always tried until the last ball. He has convinced Nishikori to play that same way.

The Japanese star smacks his two-handed backhand just about better than anyone else. His forehand is pretty good, too, and his first serve has been improving. But here is the real deal: Is he slightly better than No. 1 Novak Djokovic? Not yet.

Yes, Kei can run around for hours and paste his shots, but are there really any spots where he can out-think and out-stroke the game’s No. 1? On occasion, yes, but not if Djokovic is playing well. Right now, Djokovic is playing excellent ball, and he is ready to go over the wall, if necessary. That is what he did against Andy Murray when the Brit pushed him hard in the quarters.

Djokovic has reached eight straight semifinals at the US Open, but he has yet to win more than one title, claiming his lone US Open crown in 2011. He badly wants to reach the final again, which is why he will best Nishikori in four tough sets.

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