Just when you think you have this sport figured out, Nikolay Davydenko shows up. And I’m sure CBS and the Sunday tennis-viewing audience is just thrilled about it.
You would think that after Andy Roddick serves out his ass and finally beats Roger Federer again, that Roddick wouldn’t nosedive against Davydenko. You might expect that outcome from James Blake or Mardy Fish, but not Andy who usually follows through on big match wins. Wrong. Davydenko ripped him last night in Miami for his first win over the American, and yes, as if we needed any further proof the Madness from March is continuing in April.
On the other side of the net Sunday facing Dayvdenko will be Rafael Nadal, who like Federer, who like the Bryans, is still in search of his first title is this already topsy-turvy, anything-can-happen year.
I have to salute Rafa, I really didn’t think he would be up for a deep run in Miami with the clay season so close. I thought that after Indian Wells he’d turn his attention to the clay and play a cautious Miami event. But to his credit he hasn’t. He’s recognized an opportunity in Miami with Federer and Novak Djokovic losing and I think he’ll cash it in.
Very, very few thought Rafa would duplicate his Indian Wells-Miami run last year – a title and quarterfinal (I think it was a QF) – but now he’s on the verge of exceeding that. Add to it his best hard court Slam effort in Australia, the fact he’s beaten guys who have troubled him in the past – Blake, Berdych and Tsonga – and things are setting up nicely for Rafa. I think that if he can again find his footing on the clay, which I really think he will, we’ll see a new No. 1 by Wimbledon.
I read the story on this blog that Rafa will never get to No. 1, but I don’t buy that. The guy’s too close, too determined and I think with Fed languishing for the moment, he smells the blood in the water. Djokovic does too, but on clay Rafa’s ahead of the Serb. And while Roger remains in control, the way he’s been hitting his forehand and with the fear factor in freefall, it’s hard to envision him reaching multiple clay finals, so the door for No. 1 could be very well open.
If Rafa doesn’t get to the top this spring, he’ll do it eventually. I know there’s lots of talk and speculation of his body, knees, feet, ankles, etc., but he’s still so young, still physically maturing. If you want to argue that because of his workout routine and style of play his “window” may be shorter than others, that’s fair, but I still think he has another 7-10 years ahead of him. Just because you play a physical brand of tennis doesn’t negate a long career, look at Ivan Lendl or Thomas Muster. (Then again a guy like Jim Courier was spent after six years.)
That said, there will be more injuries I’m sure for Rafa, but I think with smarter scheduling and training he’ll remain in the mix for many years ahead.
I should also mention Davydenko, who’s really been the surprise of the tournament. The guy was down a match point if I recall in his first match against Ernests Gulbis and now he finds himself in his second career Tennis Masters final. Davy credits a switch from 16 to 18 gauge string last week to his improved performance, but regardless if the guy maintains this form he’ll again be a real factor on the clay. And I have to say, I’ve probably taken some shots at him in the past, but I like Davydenko’s games. He takes the ball real early and plays some wonderful angles. The guy really is underrated as a tennis player, and he matches up nicely with Rafa’s game – in their two prior meetings, both won by Rafa, went the distance.
While the men’s tour has been as unpredictable as ever in recent memory, the women’s circuit has been truer to form. Today Serena Williams will try to defend her title against Jelena Jankovic. I admit, I’ve hardly watched any women’s tennis from Miami, but I might even check this one out for a few games.
And I have to gleefully wave goodbye to Fox Sports Net, which has mercifully concluded their Indian Well-Miami double-trouble coverage (if you can even call it coverage). Here in the U.S. FSN passes the TV duties this weekend to CBS which I’m confident will do the sport right. As for FSN, good riddance, unfortunately though not forever, we are stuck with them for the Tennis Masters Cup in November. It’s a long way away I know but it’s never too early to start making alternative viewing plans. After all it would be a crime to be stuck with fishing reruns while Michael Llodra makes his run at Cup glory!
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