I went to the air conditioned press box immediately after my arrival at Day 2 of the Cincinnati Masters 1000 event. The monitors in the press box featured the image of a seemingly bored film crew member slowly clapping his hands every 3 seconds to test the sound pick up of the TV microphones.
Andy Murray was slated to give an interview at 10:30 AM, but the interview did not start until 11:05 AM. This is a common occurrence as John Isner also arrived 25 minutes late to his interview (Gilles Simon arrived 10 minutes early). I get the sense that the top tennis media and the main organizers from the ATP and USTA are locked in an adversarial but mutual relationship. Murray’s interview revealed one interesting thing – he wanted to drive from Montreal to Cincinnati. Due to international law and insurance restrictions, Murray’s team was driven to Buffalo and then his team drove to Cincinnati once crossing the Canada-U.S. border.
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs. Fernando Verdasco: Una Guerra Civil?
On day 1, I gushed about how well Verdasco hits the ball. In all fairness, he hit the ball exceptionally well vs. Garcia-Lopez, but did not seem to choose the right shot at the right time. Sometimes Verdasco would go for winners when grinding a point out would have been more appropriate. At 4-4 in the second set tiebreaker, Verdasco opened the court up with a massive forehand and could have gone down the line for an apparent winner but instead played a conservative cross court shot back to Garcia-Lopez and fell behind a fatal mini-break at 4-5. I don’t have any advice on knowing when to play it safe versus when to go for broke, but that issue plagued Verdasco on day 2.
Garcia-Lopez deserves credit for his win. He served well and his one handed backhand held up versus the spin Verdasco generates. Garcia-Lopez found a winning formula of hitting big serves, making judicious approaches to the net and taking advantage of Verdasco’s unforced errors. Garcia-Lopez won 7-6, 7-6 and was elated as the match ended. I imagine the Spanish players take a special satisfaction in beating their countrymen.
Lleyton Hewitt vs. Robin Soderling
The first set was an exercise in clean power tennis from Soderling. The Swede only broke Hewitt once but had Hewitt in trouble on serve throughout the set. A quick 6-3 set was punctuated by a forehand winner from Soderling. Hewitt immediately asserted himself in rallies and held for a 1-0 lead in the second set. The change in Hewitt’s body language was obvious as he gained traction in the match. At 5-6 Soderling saved 1 set point by hitting a 130 mph serve. The 2nd set tiebreaker saw Hewitt jump to a 5-2 lead all based upon Soderling’s play as the Swede made 5 unforced errors, hit 1 ace, and hit 1 backhand return winner. Soderling then went on a run winning the next 4 points to earn a match point at 6-5. Hewitt saved the 1st match point with an ace. Soderling saved a 2nd set point at 7-8 with a 128 mph serve and then hit a 132 mph serve followed by a backhand winner to gain a 2nd match point at 8-7. Hewitt elicited a forehand error from Soderling to level the tiebreaker at 8-8, and 2 points later the set ended on a Soderling backhand error. Hewitt yelled “c’mon!” The 3rd set got off to a shaky start for Soderling who twice double faulted when holding game point leading to a service break. Each man held serve fairly easily the rest of the way and Hewitt won 3-6, 7-6, 6-4.
Gilles Simon vs. Igor Andreev
This match intrigued me as both players are willing to rally. The first set was close with Gilles Simon winning the tiebreaker 7-5. In a surprise tactic, Simon moved to the net on set point and hit a winning volley. The 2nd set saw some dicey service games, but both players held and pushed to another tiebreaker. Andreev jumped to a 4-0 lead in the tiebreaker in part by slicing his backhand and taking pace off of the ball. Simon feeds off of pace, but generating his own pace led to uncharacteristic errors. Simon fought back to take a 6-5 lead and hold a match point. Andreev hit a big serve, big forehand combination to save match point. Inspired by new life, Andreev powered through the next two points and leveled the match 7-6 (5), 6-7 (6).
Watching the #9 and #27 players in the world from close range at 7-6, 6-7 was awesome. These two guys are among the 30 best practitioners of their vocation in the world, and I was sitting 15′ away as they went toe to toe. Andreev’s forehand was bothering Simon, but Gilles’ ability to change the direction of the ball by hitting his backhand up the line also bothered Andreev. Simon hits both his serve and ground strokes harder than he did when I watched him win Indianapolis in 2008. As a fan, this is all I could ask for because 2 excellent players were dead even after fighting for 26 games.
The third set showed me why Gilles Simon is in the top 10. Never once did he look discouraged after losing the 2nd set and failing to convert a match point. Instead, he converted 2 of 2 break points in the 3rd set and saved 3 of 3 break points he faced. The 3rd set was a one sided 6-1 conclusion that easily could have been another tight set if Simon had not converted 100% of the break points he earned while saving 100% of the break points he faced.
David Ferrer vs. Marin Cilic
I know Day 3 features the top 5 players in the world, but much like the Andreev-Simon match, I watched the 15th ranked Corat take on the 19th ranked Spaniard from 15′ away and the humidity of the day session was gone. Perfect conditions for watching two top 20 players at close proximity is priceless. Any ticket holder could have sat right where I was sitting for either of these matches. I love the early rounds on tennis tournaments for this reason. As an aside, David Ferrer’s tennis shirt looks a bit like how I would imagine people from the 22nd century will dress to play tennis, but it is not a bad looking shirt.
Cilic is green, but has a lot of game. He has a powerful fluid service motion and hits a big open stance forehand. Ferrer was less vocal than he was on day 1. Ferrer played a tidy first set, and Cilic hit bombs and earned the free points a player needs to beat Ferrer; once again the score was 6-6 heading to a tiebreaker. Cilic twice took a mini-break lead. At 4-3 in the tiebreak, Cilic served a double fault. He then hit 3 consecutive unforced errors to lose the set 7-6 (4). The veteran sensed that Cilic had blinked in the 1st set tiebreaker and confidently held in the first portion of the second set. At 6-7, 2-3, Cilic trailed 15-40 and saved 2 break points to force deuce, but Marin then made consecutive unforced errors to drop serve. Ferrer once again served confidently to take a 5-2 lead. He gladly accepted an anemic service game from Cilic to close the match out 7-6, 6-2.
Concluding Thoughts on Play
Hewitt, Simon and Ferrer each demonstrated to me how important mental toughness is when it comes to winning. I did watch the 3rd set of John Isner vs. Tommy Haas and was impressed with Isner’s poise in the 3rd set tiebreaker. Isner came to the net on the final 2 points of the match and this seems like a winning tactic for such a tall player.
I asked Gilles Simon about his mindset after losing the 2nd set despite holding a match point. Simon’s answer was great. “… I had the impression I was still about to win the match.” Simon may never win a major, but his tidy play and fighting attitude are things average players can emulate. After answering questions in English, Simon took 15 minutes of questions in French. My French is beyond poor, but it was nice to hear nonetheless.
I asked John Isner about his service placement now compared to when he first joined the tour. Isner explained that his approach to serving is not much is different, but that he does now try to take some pace off of his wide serve on the deuce side. Isner said he likes his wide serve best on the ad side of the court, but that he also has now established his serve up the T to add variety. John mentioned that he changed shirts 9 times during a night match! He is aiming toward being in the top 50 by the end of the season. He will go to Florida in December to recapture the fitness he lost due to mono. Isner said he feels his serve always gives him a chance to win. Given that he has victories this year over Monfils, Safin, Tsonga, and Haas, it seems realistic that he will be a factor on the tour for several more years especially as the lingering effects of mono diminish.
A Third Installment
I did a few interviews with volunteers for some of the charities present at the tournament and also talked to a few of the tournament volunteers and other members of the press corps. I will share this side of the event with you sometime later this week.
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Roanic Roughs Up Verdasco (Again) in Memphis; Roddick, Del Potro Return Today