It’s a return to the old norm with the Big Three – Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic – all advancing this week to a major tennis tournament semifinal, the Rome Tennis Masters. Fernando Gonzalez will try to assume the role of party crasher, but good luck to the Chilean who’ll have to knock off Nadal.
All eyes though will likely be on the first semifinal between Djokovic and Federer. Of the triplets, one could argue that it’s Djokovic who’s playing at the highest level. Since pushed to a tiebreak in the second round against Albert Montanes, the Serb lost just nine games in his last five sets, and that’s against some sturdy competition in Tommy Robredo and Juan Martin Del Potro.
After a very poor start to the clay season, Federer has really sharpened his game in Rome. Let’s face it, though, Roger hasn’t faced the toughest of draws but he does seem to have cut down on the errors which plagued his game in on the hardcourts in March, and he’s serving a little better. A sign of things to come for the former World No. 1? Perhaps. Tomorrow is the real test against Novak.
In 10 meetings it’s Federer with the decided 7-3 edge over Novak who did win their most recent rumble coming during an error-filled, racquet-smashing performance from Federer in Miami. I cannot imagine Federer plays that bad again tomorrow. For if Roger’s not on his game he’ll surely lose because Djokovic is playing his best tennis of the year. But will it be enough? Hard to say.
The way both are playing I think this match is in Novak’s hands and probably for the first time in his career he’s the betting favorite against Federer. If Novak plays like he’s been playing he should win regardless of Federer who I don’t think has that jaw-dropping “peak form” that we’ve seen in the past at his disposal right now. So I’m actually going to pick Novak in this one. At this moment, he’s the better guy on clay. It’s his time, he’s the favorite, but can he seize it? Somehow I think so.
In the second semifinal, it’s a rematch of the 2007 Rome final with Nadal and Gonzo. Nadal has won 10 straight sets against Fernando and after tomorrow’s tussle I suspect that streak will swell to 12. I think Gonzo actually has the kind of game that can really to damage to Nadal.
Like his namesake Fernando Verdasco who was impressively expunged by Rafa earlier today, this Fernando also hits the ball hard and flat and an take advantage of some of Nadal’s “clay weaknesses” (I say that almost jokingly!) like his serve and court positioning by playing first strike tennis. But, like Verdasco, I just don’t think Gonzalez has enough between the ears to maintain a level necessary to defeat Nadal over the course of an entire match. So it’s Nadal winning in straight sets.
Regardless the scoreline, Gonzales v. Nadal will be entertaining as I fully expect Fernando to be going for broke at every opportunity. While in the earlier semifinal Djokovic could easily run away with it if Federer comes out in a funk. Let’s hope Roger doesn’t as I’m anxious to see how they both respond in a tight situation with their roles reversed. Novak the favorite. Federer the underdog. Interesting!
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