Big stakes on line for Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and Tsonga

 

WIMBLEDON, England — Each of the four men in Friday's semifinals carries a particular burden beyond the obvious hardware at stake.
Andy Murray bears the weight of his country. Rafael Nadal hopes to keep his crown. Novak Djokovic craves the No. 1 ranking. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga wants to fulfill his talent.
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It makes for a tantalizing matchup of firepower and feet power from four of the game's biggest hitters and best movers: No. 1 Nadal vs. No. 4 Murray, and No. 2 Djokovic against No. 12 Tsonga.
Three of them — Nadal, Djokovic, Murray — have been to this stage at the All England Club more than once before.
But only defending champion Nadal, who is riding a 19-match winning streak on the lawns of London, has pushed past, including victories in 2008 and 2010 (he missed 2009 because of injury).
"I feel like if he plays like that," American Mardy Fish said after his 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 quarterfinal loss to Nadal on Wednesday, "he's probably the favorite on this stage."
The interloper is Tsonga. The explosive Frenchman with the soft hands ended third-ranked Roger Federer's bid for a record-tying seventh Wimbledon title with a stirring comeback from two sets down.
"He kind of crashed the party, but he did it in spectacular fashion," ESPN's Patrick McEnroe said.
Murray has the most on the line. The 24-year-old is trying to become the first British man to hold the trophy aloft in 75 years.
And he faces Nadal, who beat him in last year's semifinals and holds an 11-4 head-to-head advantage, including two meetings on grass.
The key will be if Murray, sometimes prone to passive play, can summon enough offense to break down the Spaniard's defensive wall.
"I haven't done it at Wimbledon," said Murray, who is in his third consecutive semifinal after beating Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. "I know come Friday I'll have to play great tennis if I want to win," he said.
Most worrisome for Nadal is his left foot, which he injured during a fourth-round defeat of Juan Martin del Potro. Nadal said Wednesday he was frightened because the injury felt like the stress fracture he suffered in 2004 that sidelined him for four months. He concluded that defending his Wimbledon title was worth the risk.
"My foot is not fine," said Nadal, who is taking an anesthetic to numb it during matches. "But, you know, we are in quarterfinals of Wimbledon. Is an emergency, so I had to play."
Djokovic, who has reached his fifth consecutive Grand Slam semifinal, overcame 18-year-old Bernard Tomic of Australia 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
For the second time this month, Djokovic is one match away from realizing his lifelong dream of being No. 1. Federer ended that bid in the French Open semifinals. If the 24-year-old Serb can get past Tsonga, he is guaranteed the top spot in next week's rankings.
"I'm very close to reaching the No. 1, but I try not to think about that too much," said the reigning Australian Open champ, who is 46-1 this season.
Keeping that thought far from his mind is a good idea against Tsonga, who owns a 5-2 mark against Djokovic, though they have never met on grass.
Tsonga, showing new calm and self-belief since splitting with his longtime coach in May, served spectacularly against Federer. The Swiss managed only one break point in the entire five-set contest.
"I think I improve a lot mentally," said the gifted Frenchman, 26, who has struggled with injuries and lapses in motivation. "I played three years not far from the top 10, or in the top 10, and now I want more."
The Muhammad Ali lookalike will have maintain his level knock off Djokovic, who hasn't played his best but beat Tsonga in both Grand Slam meetings on hardcourts at the Australian Open, including the 2008 final.
"He certainly has enough firepower," said McEnroe of Tsonga. "He's keeping it together mentally, which is huge. To be on his own has been good for him to mature a little bit."He will be the underdog but it's not as if he has nothing to lose.
"You never know when you're going to be back here again," McEnroe said.
 

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