SPORTS
06/08/2012 08:10 am ET

Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic: French Open Semifinal Latest Match In Rivalry

The editors of TENNIS.com preview Thursday's French Open semifinals -- and offer their picks.

1) Novak Djokovic vs. (3) Roger Federer
—Head to Head: Federer leads 14-11

What Djokovic must do to win
Nole will be facing two opponents in this match: Federer, and the substantial weight of history as he strives to become the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four Grand Slam singles titles at one time. How he handles the second opponent will depend largely on his nerves. How he handles the first will depend partly on how fresh his legs and how live his right arm will be after his epic, five-set quarterfinal battle with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga -- a clash in which Tsonga had four match points

Djokovic will have to return well to keep Federer on the defensive, and remain patient -- secure in the knowledge that he can win most of the long rallies. He needs to work errors out of Federer’s one-handed backhand and play from inside the court to keep the 16-time Grand Slam champ from getting too cute with drop shots and sharply angled slice backhands.

What Federer must do to win
Federer will have to serve well; 70 percent (first-serve conversion rate) or better if he wants to withstand the fury of Djokovic’s groundstrokes. He must also get maximum use out of his forehand, his most dangerous weapon. It would pay for him to avoid hitting to the Djokovic backhand, which is so effective in setting up the world No. 1's deadly-inside out forehand.

Federer has struggled at times in this tournament against a string of not-terribly dangerous players. He can’t afford the letdowns he had in those matches, and he certainly can’t afford to go down by two sets to none, as he did in his quarterfinal battle with Juan Martin del Potro. Federer is, after all, over 30 years old. He's always been a bold risk-taker, and he won’t beat Djokovic unless he’s willing to take chances and mix things up in a way that will keep the Serb from making him lace up his track shoes.

Picks:

Peter Bodo: Novak Djokovic
The world No. 1 simply has too much firepower off the ground, and unless Federer serves out of his mind, Djokovic will grind his one-handed backhand to a pulp and pull away.

Steve Tignor: Novak Djokovic
He says he's learned from last year's loss and knows he needs to be aggressive from the start, and Federer has struggled with rhythm here so far.

Richard Pagliaro: Novak Djokovic
Djokovic has the advantage in the backhand exchanges, is the world's best returner, and is battle-tested, with rousing five-set wins over Andreas Seppi and Tsonga that should empower him.

Ed McGrogan: Novak Djokovic
Of the two quarterfinal tightrope walkers, Nole probably wants this title a little bit more. Considering he's come back from two sets down (against Seppi) and saved four elimination points, Djokovic is playing with house money—always a scary proposition.

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