Paul-Henri Mathieu is enjoying his career best ranking of 23, so it was clear that Rafael Nadal was in for a real test when he faced the Frenchman in the third round of the Rogers Masters in Montreal. That the recent Gstaad winner would have the match for the taking early in the second set was less expected.
Mathieu had won the opening set 6-3, after dominating Nadal in the majority of the points. The Spaniard was spraying unforced errors off both sides and went back to basics by just keeping the ball in play. Mathieu eagerly grabbed the initiative and earned the opening set on a single break. At 1-1 in the second set with Nadal serving, the 26-year-old Mathieu showed why he has never broken the Top 20 yet. The Geneva resident went up 15-40 but failed twice to put a forehand return in play off a second serve.
Mathieu was handed another break point when Nadal shanked an easy forehand well wide, but unlike PHM, Rafa knows how to step up on the important points. He got an exact same forehand after the one he easily missed on deuce, but this time smoked it for a winner. There was a fourth break point for Mathieu in that game. Nadal aced it.
Despite losing that tough game, Mathieu would not give in just yet. He cruised through his next service game and created another break point at 2-2. Nadal put up a sitter half court, but Mathieu smacked his backhand in the net. On the next point, the Frenchman powered that same shot from a tougher position in court into the forehand corner of Nadal, but Rafa scrambled the ball back and eventually passed Mathieu at the net before finishing off an easy putaway. It was the point of the match, and not only in the beauty department. Nadal let out a big vamos and left his mediocre play behind him. He immediately broke serve in the next game and claimed the set, 6-3.
As the Spaniard became more solid, Mathieu was going for increasingly desperate shots. The Frenchman undid an early break of serve in the third set, but after falling behind once more and seeing a forehand winner overturned with Nadal serving at 3-2 30-30, it was game over.
Nadal was playing decent tennis in the last set and a half, but the No.2 will need to further improve to really be succesful over the hard court season. Rafa has lost a bit of his aggressiveness, which could have cost him already in his opener against Safin. Nadal started out playing close to the baseline and going for his shots, but after losing the break of serve in the first set, it seemed Rafa quickly lost the confidence in his shotmaking ability, reverting to the way he played during last year’s summer hard court swing. If Safin would have consistently been able to smack groundies inside the court, like Berdych and Youzhny did so well in 2006, Nadal woud once again have been overpowered. Against Mathieu, it was the same story. No more post-season clay tournaments next year Rafa.
Federer cruises, Hewitt survives
After beating serving machine Ivo Karlovic in two easy tiebreaks to kick off his US Open Series campaign, Roger Federer only dropped one game per set to Italian qualifier Fabio Fognini, who had taken out Andy Murray 2-and-2 in the second round. Murray may skip Cincinnati next week because he is not feeling fully confident about the state of his wrist yet. The Scotsman is feeling reluctant hitting full power forehands.
In the quarterfinals Federer will face an old rival in Lleyton Hewitt. The 26-year-old Aussie was on court for 3 hours and 12 minutes on Thursday and survived two match points in his win over Slovak veteran Dominik Hrbaty.
It will be the 19th time Federer and Hewitt will square off. Hewitt dominated the rivalry in their younger years, while Federer has won the last nine meetings. The balance currently sits at 11-7 Federer.
The last time these two greats met was back in 2005, when Federer needed four sets to defeat Hewitt in the US Open semis. Nearly two years later, it goes unsaid that Federer will once again be favored to win, but Hewitt could pose a real threat. Despite having lost the last nine encounters to his Swiss opponent, it’s been quite some time since their last meeting and Hewitt has a real desire to get back to the pinnacle of the game again. He’ll want this win more than anything. Furthermore, Hewitt is a player who will always believe in his chances and therefore Federer needs to be at his best to avoid getting into trouble.
Roddick vs. Djokovic
Another great match in prospect. Roddick easily routed Marcos Baghdatis in the third round on Thursday, but in all fairness, there was not much Andy had to do to take the Cypriot out. Baghdatis was nowhere near his best, producing one easy miss after the other. Roddick was serving well and he was effective with his slice backhand, which stayed low and had quite some stick on it. Against Djokovic he will have to do more than just keep the ball in play though, because the Serb has the edge when it comes to exchanging groundies. Roddick needs a great serving day and keep the points short to eliminate the red hot Djoker.
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