I know there’s another Final Four taking place this weekend, but I’ll actually take the Final Four we have today in men’s tennis over what we’ll see from the NCAA basketball tournament tomorrow in Detroit.
Today at the Miami Masters we get four of the Top 7 players in the rankings – Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro – competing in semifinal play, and weather and health permitting it’s an entertaining line-up.
First, we had so much talk at the start of the year about the new “Fab Four”, but three months into the season, the foursome have yet to appear in the same tournament semifinal. Not much of a surprise, just something to point out.
Then again, it really looked like we were finally going to get that “Fab Four Final Four” about 16 hours ago when Rafael Nadal was up not one but two breaks on Juan Martin Del Potro yesterday. I sure I wasn’t the only one thinking: Nadal with a two-break lead in the final set, that match is over regardless of the opponent. But credit to DelPo for getting himself off the canvas and chipping away at Rafa’s lead.
We’ve heard so much about Andy Roddick’s improvement, but for me the real guy making strides is DelPo. A year ago the kid was just another promising talent with a lot of untapped potential, but now he’s really turned into a powerhouse, and after arguably his biggest career win yesterday in beating World No. 1 Nadal, he’s playing with belief that he can beat the top guys.
Tonight, though, DelPo will have his hands full with another guy who’s really rocketed up the rankings the last year, Andy Murray, who’s playing better than anyone right now. Since dropping his opening set of the tournament to Juan Monaco, the Scot hasn’t faced a set point while losing a total of FOUR games in his last four sets. Whatever illness he had a month ago I think it’s safe to say it’s long gone.
That said, DelPo going to get more than four games tonight but I don’t think he and his South American supporters will have enough to beat Murray. To steal a line from another writer on this site, Murray’s “toolbox” is just that much bigger and deeper than DelPo’s and he’s been incredibly stingy against players younger than him (try to name the last time Murray lost to a younger player!).
Toss in the head-to-head (Murray leads 2-0) and maybe some lingering fatigue from DelPo’s Nadal victory, and it’s advantage Murray. But I think Juan Martin keeps it close and if the Friday night party crowd really gets on Murray, maybe he can ride them to the upset.
In the earlier 1pm semifinal it’s Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Federer of course is still seeking his first title since last fall while Djokovic is trying to get his name back in the “best in the game” conversation. Right now, I don’t think either happens this week.
Federer’s looked patchy at best. He’s been making far too many errors off the ground and as I’ve said before he’s looking a tad slow. But he did get through the Roddick match so he should be feeling a little more confident. Same goes for Djokovic who ended a four-match slide to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to advance to the semifinals. His confidence should be up as well.
And while Novak absolutely has the game to beat Federer – and right now Federer seems ripe for the picking – I just don’t think the Serb believes in himself enough at this moment to do it.
Factor in the heat, Novak’s health issues during the Tsonga match, his poor record against the top players (he’s lost six straight to Nadal, Fed and Murray) and of course his head-to-head with Fed, and things really turn bleak.
In that H2H, Federer has won seven of nine meetings losing only a third-set breaker to Novak in 2007 Canada and of course the alleged “mono” encounter last year at the Australian Open. And Federer’s fully aware of this series lead over Djoko, telling the press: “I mean, I also beat him in Monaco. He gave up there. But it’s good to have, you know, won the last couple matches against him. In the beginning when he was up and coming, you know, I figured him out pretty quickly, you know. I’m always anxious to play him, especially in the big occasions. You know, I kind of like his game, you know, to play that kind of style player.”
He gave up there (in Monte Carlo)? I figured him out quickly? I kind of like his game? If Novak needed anymore motivation this afternoon, Fed gave it to him. But Federer says it because he knows he can get away with it, and my guess is he’ll get away with it again today v. Novak.
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