Nothing spells Tennis Masters Cup competition more than seeing the 27th-ranked Radek Stepanek grace the court. That’s the true meaning of having an eight-man, best-of-the-best elite field, isn’t it? Well, maybe not. Stepanek was a late fill-in for an injured Andy Roddick today against Roger Federer in Red Group round robin play from Shanghai.
And fortunately for most fans in the audience or those viewing at home Federer took care business defeating Radek 7-6(4), 6-4 insuring another session without the worm dance at the Masters Cup.
In the earlier match it was Andy Murray remaining perfect, destroying Gilles Simon 6-4, 6-2 to clinch semifinal spot.
Credit though to Stepanek for making the effort. With his gear held up in customs, Radek showed up at the tournament without his tennis racquets and without his socks – apparently he got a racquet from Novak Djokovic and had to borrow Andy Murray’s socks! (Hope they were clean.) I can’t necessarily blame him though for being unprepared, ranked No. 27 I’m sure playing the Masters Cup was the furthest thing on his mind a week ago.
But when 17 or so guys ranked above him balked at the chance of a free trip to Shanghai plus 50K spending money, Stepanek, who was probably sitting on the beach in Thailand with girlfriend Nicole Vaidisova thinking up new worm dance routines, stepped up.
Of course Stepanek got the ask when Roddick rolled an ankle earlier during practice. How severe or slight the injury is up for speculation, but with Roddick now out of the tournament along with the absence of Rafael Nadal and the continuing ailments felt by Federer (back and stomach) and Juan Martin Del Potro (big toe), have again sparked concern of tour injuries, player commitment and the length of the season.
First, I have to say I’m miffed as to why this time of year it’s always the big names getting injured or withdrawing. How come Nikolay Davydenko, Svetlana Kuznetsova or Elena Dementieva never withdraw? It seems to be the big stars like Nadal, Roddick, Sharapova, Serena, Andre Agassi, etc., doing the damage. Then again I’m sure there’s evidence to the contrary. At least I hope there is.
I’m also not completely on board with blaming the season length for these withdrawals and injuries. Sure it’s a factor but it’s not the direct cause. Of course the players do what they do, and that is complain. But there really is no quick and easy fix to the problem. Some years we get a rash of withdrawals and other years we don’t, just a case of bad luck in my opinion.
Will shortening the season by a week or two make much difference? Probably not. Will moving the year-end event from faraway locales like Shanghai or Doha to more accessible venues in London or NY help the cause, probably.
Going forward in the tournament, Federer will now need a “miracle” as he puts it to make it into the semifinals. Fed will now have to beat Murray on Friday to have a chance of making it into the semifinals with his berth also contingent upon the result of Simon v. Stepanek. Of course Murray could take a dive giving Federer a better chance to qualify since the Scot’s place is assured, but…
As for tomorrow, in the last day of Gold Group play Novak Djokovic gets Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Nikolay Davydenko meets Juan Martin Del Potro with the winner advancing to the semifinals.
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