Make it 27 straight wins and climbing now for Rafael Nadal after last night’s impressive 6-7(12), 6-2, 6-1 performance over Richard Gasquet at the Rogers Cup in Toronto last night. I wasn’t able to watch the match but from the comments and reports it seems as though Gasquet played about as well as he possible could have to win that first set.
What’s striking to me is that when a talented player like Gasquet playing at his very highest of levels still needs to go to 14-12 in a tiebreak just to wrestle a set away from Nadal who is playing on arguably his worst surface! That tells you just how tough Nadal really is right now. And then as we’ve seen many times before this year, when down a set or in a deep hole, Nadal doesn’t panic, doesn’t get discouraged, he just has the discipline to go right back to work on the task at hand. The guy’s mental toughness is really amazing.
Gasquet’s surprising me, though. After his Davis Cup debacle earlier this year and poor clay season I thought he’d really just go through the motions the rest of the 2008. But the Frenchman played a good Wimbledon – that is until he royally gagged when serving for the match against Murray – and again put up some good results in Toronto this week. Game-wise he’s right there with anyone but I think mentally it looks like he’s still going to need some more “seasoning”, maybe a couple years even, before he really becomes a consistent threat and a serious Slam contender like he should be. But I like the way he’s bounced back from adversity. That’s a good sign for the rest of the year.
Earlier last night Andy Murray finally got his first career “W” over Novak Djokovic. As the ESPN2 commentary team pointed out, Murray, who was 0-4 vs. the Serb with just one set win, really took it to Novak, hitting with far more pace and aggression than what we usually see from him. The Scot is learning and recognizing. The off-pace moonballs game plan simply didn’t work against Novak, so Murray went a different route and it paid off nicely.
As for Novak, I saw just the first set and at that time he wasn’t playing particularly well, making a lot of easy errors. As I said before, I think the weight of pressure, the expectations, the fact that his countrywomen Ana Ivanovic is already No. 1 and Jelena Jankovic on the verge and of course how Nadal and Roger Federer are seemingly pulling away from again are all getting to the Serb.
Novak was far and away the No. 1 played on hard courts the first three months. He’s not anymore and I don’t think he’s the same player. I think he’s really feeling the pressure and this loss to Murray isn’t going to help.
The loss also means no Djokovic-Nadal semifinal. I didn’t talk much about this semifinal possibility in my earlier posts because I just didn’t think it would happen. On paper it was hard at least for me not to see it, but in some ways I’m not so sure the players wanted it or were ready for such stern test this early in the hard court season. I almost got the sense that maybe Novak didn’t want to run into Rafa here. And vice-versa, had Novak won last night maybe Rafa would have taken Gasquet a little lighter. Maybe. Just a feeling I had, it’s neither here nor there.
As for the other semifinal, I thought from the outset that we could very well get a surprise finalist here, and well it’s happened again as we’ll have either Gilles Simon or Nicolas Kiefer in the title match. Who picked that?
Kiefer crushed James Blake, 6-1, 6-2. If you are James Blake you cannot let that happen. The win isn’t terribly surprising as Kiefer’s a very tricky customer, but the scoreline really is.
Also yesterday, Simon continued his hot streak ending the run of Marin Cilic, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3. Simon has now won nine straight matches including his win at Indianapolis last Sunday.
So for today, we have Simon v. Kiefer and Murray v. Nadal. And I’ll go with both hot guys, Simon and Nadal.
Simon and Kiefer have never played until today, and the two will actually play again in the first round at Cincinnati on Tuesday (more on the Cincy draw later). And I think Kiefer will do all he can to disrupt the Frenchman, but tired or not, Simon should get the job done here (though I like Kiefer to win in Cincy!)
As for the main event 7pm night match, Nadal’s really had his way with Murray recently. Since their five-set battle in Australia last year won by Rafa, the Spaniard has won three straight and all seven sets over Andy including a thumping in the Wimbledon quarterfinals earlier this month.
But I feel hard courts is Murray’s best surface and Rafa’s worst, so the Scot should make this one a true, tight test. Yet in the end it’s really hard to pick against Rafa right now when he’s just that close to No. 1. I’ll say 28 it is for Rafa tonight and then he gets No. 29 tomorrow with No. 1 soon to come.
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