The final weekend of Aussie Wildcard Mania is upon us! And what a wonderful ride it’s been, as ever. Four men remain, as is the case with most semifinals. Lets have a look at who’s playing who, with some whats and whens and wherefores thrown in at no extra cost (other than your patience). First, let me lay down some OOP action:

Melbourne Park – Crt 6
   1. Starting at 10:00 AM AO Women’s Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Knockout Draw 
Olivia Rogowska [5]
Sophie Ferguson [2]
   2. Followed by AO Women’s Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Knockout Draw
Alicia Molik [1]
Jelena Dokic [3]
   3. Not before 12:30 PM AO Men’s Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Main Draw
Peter Luczak [1]
Matthew Ebden [4]
   4. Followed by AO Men’s Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Main Draw
Adam Feeney
Marinko Matosevic [2]

Our first semifinal features top-seeded veteran Peter Luczak against the rising-star fourth seed Matt Ebden (yes, you can be 23 and still be a rising star in men’s tennis; I proclaim it to be so! Plus he just turned 23 so get off my case JEEZ!). Ahem. These two have only met once, in the bronze-medal match of the Commonwealth Games in October, which Ebden won 6-3 6-3.

I happen to have watched both of Luczak’s matches this week – an unconvincing 6-2 4-6 6-2 win over 16 year-old prodigy Luke Saville and a tight 6-3 7-6(5) victory over 9th seed James Lemke – as well as the light hit he had with his 4 year old-son, Sebastian.

In his first match, the 31 year old Melbourne resident looked shaky and inconsistent, as perhaps befitting of a man playing his first match in almost a month. So unimpressive was his opening round performance that some people were strongly convinced he’d go down to Lemke in the next round (of all things!). But the #2 Aussie tightened up his game just enough to take advantage of a nervous start from his quarterfinal foe, and though the match was even, had enough wiles to just squeak through. Luczak hasn’t had the most convincing of years, going 25/35 coming into this event and slipping 73 spots in the ATP rankings since attaining his career high of #64 in October of last year.

On the other hand, Matt Ebden broke into the Top 200 for the first time this year and hit a career high of #162 in September, and he came into the event with almost exactly the reverse W/L record to Luczak at 35/24. But “the other hand” turned out to be the main problem coming in, as the man from Perth took a training tumble last weekend and badly bruised his right hand to the point where he couldn’t pick up a racquet for days, which even put his playoff participation in doubt. Thankfully, he was able to play, and though I’ve only seen 60-second snatches of his matches this week, it seems as if he’s been working himself back into form. He recovered from huge deficits in both sets of his encounter with young Ben Mitchell and pulled out a 7-6(5) 7-6(3) win in a nifty escape act. In his QF match he also had some work to do, coming back from a set down against the red-hot Sam Groth – a man many were picking to win the entire playoff coming in – and advancing in 2-6 6-4 6-2 style.

Interestingly, Luczak and Ebden will be playing doubles together in next month’s Open. “I have so much respect for him as a role model and a mentor,” the unassuming Western Australian said about his semifinal foe. “It’s hard (playing a friend) but at the same time…you’ve just gotta go out there and try to get the best out of each other and the best out of yourself and put it on the park and try to win.” And how. While they may be friends off the court, it seems as if the tennistical trajectories for both men have been going in opposite directions on the court all year long. Will this be the match where the younger Perth man further asserts his ascendancy?

The second match features the combustible second seed Marinko Matosevic against unseeded New South Welshman Adam Feeney. This will be the sixth on court encounter for the two 25 year-olds, and the fiery Matosevic has won 4 of their 5 previous meetings. As Marinko pointed out in a hilarious interview with Rob O’Gorman…

The Legend, Rob O’Gorman, broadcasting from the Rob O’Gorman Memorial Scaffolding

…right after his comprehensive 6-4 6-2 quarterfinal win over Greg Jones, he hasn’t lost to Feeney “in five or six years.” Make that six, Marinko, as Adam won their first encounter in November of 2004 and hasn’t won one since.

On paper, this looks to be an easy affair for the 2nd seed. But on that same paper, Feeney wouldn’t have beaten Colin Ebelthite, third seed Carsten Ball or James Duckworth in successive rounds, which he did and did and did. So THE PAPER LIES, PEOPLE! Don’t believe a thing it says!