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The Early Lead
Posted at 12:29 PM ET, 01/25/2012

Australian Open: Djokovic, Murray join Federer, Nadal in familiar semifinal foursome

In men’s tennis these days, there’s the top four, and then there’s everyone else.

Over the last several years, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have separated themselves from the pack as the only true contenders at the sports four Grand Slam tournaments.

With Djokovic’s straight-sets win over David Ferrer and Andy Murray’s sweep of Kei Nishikori, the 2012 Australian Open semifinals will once again be all chalk. And monotonous as it may seem, fans of compelling, world-class tennis shouldn’t mind seeing the best men in the sport duking it out for the year’s first major championship.

The Roger/Rafa/Novak/Andy foursome filled out the semifinals at both the French and U.S. Opens last season and three of the four advanced to the semis at Wimbledon and the Australian Open. Since the 2005 Australian Open, only one other player — Juan Martin del Potro at the 2009 U.S. Open — has won a Grand Slam.

For the time being, every major tournament feels like an exclusive party for these four men.

But this draw offers a slight twist to the usual pattern. Federer (seeded third) and Nadal (seeded second) are on the same side of the bracket for the first time in a long time, setting up a titanic semifinal clash usually reserved for major finals.

“We have been on opposite sides of the draw many times,” Federer said. “I guess it’s a nice changeup. OK, it doesn’t allow a rematch for the Australian Open final here, you know, but I think it’s good for tennis that it changes up a bit.”

On the other side, Murray hopes to knock Djokovic from his perch in a rematch of last year’s final, won by Djokovic in straight sets. And Murray may have a slight edge with Djokovic suffering a possible hamstring injury during his match against Ferrer. (But his breathing is fine, Jim Courier. Thanks for the concern.) And for the first time in quite some time, Murray will not have to go through Nadal to reach the final.

“It has been amazing, I pretty much drew to be in Nadal’s half ... almost every Slam,” Murray said. “I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t in his half of the draw. It’s been a long time.”

Will this be Murray’s chance to break through and that elusive first major? Will Nadal and Federer restore order atop the world rankings? Or will the Djoker continue his dominant run of success from a year ago?

More from Washington Post Sports:

Djokovic, Murray advance to join Nadal, Federer in semifinals

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal set to meet once again, but this time in a Grand Slam semifinal

Maria Sharapova reaches semifinals eyeing repeat of 2008 Australian Open title

Early Lead: Serena Williams ends American hopes with fourth-round loss

Australian Open: Scoreboard, schedule of play

By  |  12:29 PM ET, 01/25/2012

 
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