Disbelievers, Rafael Nadal won Toronto, and he won it emphatically losing just one single set. The guy has now won 29 straight matches spanning three different surfaces. He’s won his last clay tournament, his last grass tournament and now his last hard court tournament. Not bad for a guy who’s supposed to be a defensive one-surface wonder. And if you still don’t believe, he’s out for No. 1 this week.
So if you are not buying what Rafa’s been selling, you can cling to the hope that his knees give out or that he’ll burn out, that “flat” hitters like James Blake, Tomas Berdych, etc., will get him, that Wimbledon was really a clay court, that he’s hardly beaten anyone during this run, that he’ll go away just like he always does in the second half of the year or that he’s never done squat and he’ll never do squat at the US Open, ignoring the fact the guy just turned 22!
Point is, Rafael Nadal has really stepped it up this year and he could very well ride this wave right through the end of 2008. As I mentioned earlier, he had his best Australian season, his best clay season, his best grass season and he’s well on his way to his best hard court season. Sure, he might get injured (he will), or get in a funk (everyone does) or simply get passed by some junior we know nothing about who’s sitting at home watching Cincinnati on TV this week (an almost certainty), but right now he’s the best and he’s likely to get even better.
And while Nadal ascends we find his chief rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic floundering. Federer of course suffered one of his worst hard court losses when he mentally unraveled at the end of his opening round match with Gilles Simon in Toronto.
Djokovic at least won a few matches before Andy Murray finally got in the win column for the first time against the Serb. Are these losses in tune to Nadal’s rise? I think so.
But that all said, I don’t think Nadal walks away from Cincinnati this week with a title and with it the No. 1 ranking.
As I mentioned last week, because of the brutal scheduling this summer thanks to the Olympics, guys will have to take breathers at some point, and for Nadal I think this is that week. He might win a few rounds but I don’t think he’s playing come Sunday. Maybe golf, but not tennis.
And unlike Toronto, where I thought we’d likely get some strange results and we did with Nicolas Kiefer among many others, this week in Cincinnati I think we’ll briefly find form again giving us two seeded finalists, most likely both Top 10ers.
Onto the draw to figure out just who they might be.
Roger Federer has not reached a single hard court final this year. He’s at zero. Just a reminder. That said he’s really got a great draw this week. If Robby Ginepri can cut down on the errors he can give Roger trouble, but I don’t see it going that way. Roger simply cannot lose back-to-back hard court matches at this stage. Following Gimepri, the dangerous Ivo Karlovic and then probably Roddick, who I think we’ll rebound slightly this week from his disappointing play in Toronto. A faster court, warmer temperatures and being on American soil should help Roddick avenge his Australian loss to Phil Kolhscreiber tonight and I think he’ll bully Robredo or Soderling just enough to set up that Federer clash Friday, but the Swiss gets him there.
The second quarter I think I’ll go with Andy Murray. I’m not sure on this knee MRI situation, but assuming he’s fully healthy I think he gets through. Muray’s playing with some renewed confidence after that Wimbledon win over Richard Gasquet and then notching his first victory over Novak. And hard courts are his best surface. Gasquet, though, could definitely get him in the third round, but Frenchman will have to beat Michael Llodra and then Dmitry Tursunov in tough test that might leave the winner too drained for the Murray encounter. I also like Radek Stepanek to bring the worm back and emerge to face Murray in the quarterfinal.
The third quarter is clearly the toughest with Djokovic, James Blake, Kiefer, Simon, Ernests Gulbis and Berdych. It’s loaded, but Novak’s got to get his game on track and I think he does it here. Remember for most top guys Cincinnati is their last U.S. event before the US Open. So it’s critical to end on a high note. I also like a rested Simon to get revenge on Kiefer and maybe go out to play Novak in the quarterfinals.
And the last half, it’s hard to pick against Nadal right now but I think someone gets him here. But the guys to do it are slim and none. Tommy Haas? Florent Serra or Ben Becker? My man Gael Monfils? That would be a treat but… Monfils and Haas have the game to do it but mentally they are not there. I almost get the feeling that even if Rafa tried to give them the match they’d still manage to screw it up. So maybe Rafa does make it to the semifinals, but no further. Stopped by Novak the day after a grueling three setter with a David Ferrer.
That leaves my semifinals as Federer v. Murray, Novak v. Rafa. And I think Federer beats Novak for his first hard court title on the season and he gets to hold onto that No. 1 ranking a little longer. Or will it be his last week at No. 1?
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