Now be honest, who would really have believed that after four days of tennis in Rome that Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Nikolay Davydenko and David Nalbandian would out and Andy Roddick and James Blake would still be in? There’s no one on the planet who would have thought that four days ago. No one.
But, it’s happened. Roddick and Blake are just a win – and a very winnable win – away from a semifinal meeting in a Masters Series clay event. Meanwhile, clay elitists Nadal, Nalbandian, Davydenko and Ferrero are sitting at home or wherever they lay their heads wondering how the hell do a couple of Americans make a mockery of one of their biggest clay events.
Before I go any further, let’s face it, Roddick and Blake got great draws and still have great draws. I picked Roddick to reach the semifinals because of his draw, so for me it’s no surprise he’s gotten this far.
Blake’s also had very a forgiving road (playing Italians in Rome is really a good thing, even if they are clay courters) and now he’s a smiling beneficiary of the Nadal withdrawal – he’s not going to beat a healthy Rafa on clay.
Just like Sam Querrey did in Monte Carlo beating Moya, Seppi and Gasquet, Roddick and Blake are taking full advantage of playing freely and without pressure, while their opponent – usually a clay court European – feels the weight of the World not wanting to return to the locker room having lost to an American on the dirt.
And Tommy Robredo, Roddick’s next opponent, will be feeling that tomorrow. Robredo’s a much better clay court player than Roddick and if this match was at the French I think he’d win. But here in a best-of-3 format Roddick will surely get one break, maybe two and that just might do it. Plus, Robredo is coming off a tough three-set win over and Davydenko and Robredo doesn’t exactly tear it up vs. the Top 10.
Blake’s a different animal. The minute you put your chips on him he collapses in spectacular fashion. For proof, just see Houston and Delray Beach this year. And unlike Roddick he’s probably favored against Stan Wawrinka, the “other Swiss”, who just happened to have beaten James at Roland Garros in 2005 after being down two sets.
And history might be on Stan’s side. We usually see an unseeded semifinalist in Rome so maybe Wawrinka’s the guy. I’m sure Nicolas Almagro is hoping he isn’t, though. The unseeded Spaniard enjoyed a day off today courtesy of an injury to Fernando Gonzalez. His reward is Novak Djokovic, a tough three set victor over Igor Andreev.
Djokovic probably isn’t playing his best right and Almagro can beat him. And I think he will – actually I hope he will because I don’t want to see Novak retire to Fed again.
Speaking of Fed. Federer continues on his quiet, comfy draw tomorrow against Radek Vaidisova-Hingis. Federer should get through.
But back to the Americans.
In my mind, fast clay court + no pressure + big American games = trouble for the lower-ranked, less powerful European clay court guys. And that’s what we’ve seen thus far.
Simone Bolelli had Roddick a break up in the first before falling apart mentally. Bolelli’s a better clay court player than Roddick, but in front of his home crowd in perhaps the biggest stage of his life Simone couldn’t handle it. For Roddick, it was a nice afternoon hit in Rome. He’s been No. 1, he’s won a Slam, he’s won the Davis Cup, he’s engaged to a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, so what the hell does he care? Losing to Bolelli on clay isn’t going to cause him to lose sleep. Bolelli’s will surely be thinking about that blown 3-1 lead for days to come.
Fernando Verdasco, no mental giant himself, was up a set against his American right-handed double Blake, but simply couldn’t sustain whatever got him to be up a set (again, Verdasco could be the biggest waste of a player on the circuit, sorry). And I think tomorrow his countryman Robredo could very well follow suit – cave in.
Wawrinka, however, is the likely underdog against James so I would rate his chances better than Robredo’s.
And before you ask, if this is such the case for the Americans they why do the crap out so bad at the French or even Hamburg. Well, Hamburg is too slow and the French, that’s a Slam and there actually is pressure to succeed – Blake, Roddick and even Querrey have lost matches they should have won. So this American success we are seeing this week in Rome, I don’t think it carries over in Paris unless the guys get really great draws. At least that’s how I see it.
That all said, I still like Roddick, Federer and Almagro getting through, and I think I’ll lean Stan over James. As always, feel free to bet against me. Just give me a cut of your winnings!
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