Even though Roger Federer lost his opening encounter against Fernando Gonzalez in Shanghai, he wasn’t playing a poor match. Nikolay Davydenko and Andy Roddick didn’t come close to winning a set over the No. 1, and the Swiss capped his renowned form this week with a thumping win over Rafael Nadal in the semis.
Federer got off to a little bit of a tough start against Nadal, facing deficits and one break point in three of his service games in the opening set. However, just like in the Wimbledon final, his serve kept him safe from facing real trouble. Serving at 2-2, 0-30, Federer produced four straight aces, three of which went to Nadal’s forehand side. I like this play from Federer, as Nadal is better at returning powerful serves to his backhand, instead of with his long-swinging forehand.
Nadal was playing his best tennis of the week in this opening set. For the first time he managed to get some good depth on his groundstrokes, and he was getting a lot of free points off his serve as well. However, it always seemed to me as if Federer was in control, even though he was the one struggling most on his service games. Federer took the initiative in most of the rallies, because although Nadal was playing very solid – near the end of the first set the Spaniard had only hit one unforced error – he was never truly aggressive.
Serving at 4-5, Nadal showed that he is lacking the confidence that made him so imposing during the first half of the season. His balls were falling short again, he netted a backhand at 0-15, and put an easy forehand wide at 0-30. On his second set point, Federer struck a forehand winner down the line to claim the set.
With the lead under his belt, Federer rolled at the start of the second set. He claimed the first 13(!) points playing excellent attacking tennis, stepping into the court whenever possible and moving up to the net. A tactic he insisted on executing from the get-go, and which worked to perfection from this point on. I can’t recall another match these two played when Federer played aggressive tennis right from the very first point, all the way through to the end. He usually needed some time to feel his way into the match, or never even got to the point where he became the dominant player. During some of their clay court battles, Federer attacked Nadal early on, but couldn’t keep it up. Today, he was dominant from start to finish, and that’ll do him good.
When Nadal double faulted facing another break point at 0-3, the match was in the bag for Federer.
Nadal’s season has been almost an exact copy of how he performed in 2006. He started the year off playing aggressively, but from the moment he stepped on the American hard courts, Rafa seemed to have lost faith in his game because all the attacking spirits have vanished from his head. Although Nadal has narrowed the gap with Federer in ranking points in 2007, their match today showed that the younger player hasn’t picked up his game compared to last year. It was Federer who employed better tactics than before in battling his main rival, which earned him the convincing 6-4, 6-1 win in less than an hour.
If Nadal fails to develop into more than a formidable defensive player on hard courts, or better said, doesn’t play with the intention of forcing the issue on his opponents himself, like he did so well at Indian Wells and in Miami, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray will be the prime candidates to threaten Federer’s top spot over the next couple of years.
Ferrer comes out of nowhere
Just when you think you’ve seen enough miracle runs from one David, another one pops up. David Ferrer’s performance in Shanghai this week can be called exactly that: miraculous. There’s no way that anyone who is serious about tennis could have said after Wimbledon: “Hey, you know what, I believe David Ferrer will start playing some serious ball from now on, and end the year in the Top 5”. Be that as it may, the never-say-die Spaniard even has a chance to finish the year as No. 4, if he beats Federer on Sunday.
Ferrer was the only player in this year’s Masters Cup to come out of the round robins undefeated. He routed Andy Roddick in the semis – which will see him overtake the Rod as the No. 5 player in the rankings – in another display of rock-solid tennis. Roddick was outplayed in every sense of the word. He couldn’t use his serve as a weapon, he was unable to apply any pressure from the backcourt, his approach shots were too weak and wrongly timed, and when he did make it to the net, Ferrer came up with the passing shot time and time again.
After Wimbledon, Ferrer has put up a 5-2 record against Top 5 players. He beat Nadal at the US Open and this week in Shanghai, went 1-1 against Djokovic, defeated Roddick twice, and lost to Davydenko in Cincinnati. Against Federer, Ferrer is a career 0-7. However, the only set he won off the Swiss, came in their last meeting in Hamburg.
Ferrer has never played a major final and he is debuting at this year’s Masters Cup. Federer is playing some of his best tennis of the season, and therefore, the Swiss will be heavily favored in the championship match. However, if Ferrer plays like he has done all week, it’ll surely be a great encounter to watch. There’s no doubt that the two best players of the event have made it through to the final. Federer to win in four.
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