Well, that was a surprising day. I had picked both Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal to win in straight sets at the Cincinnati Masters semifinals today, and what happens? Naturally both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic come out ahead, and they do it in straight sets!
In my mind, the bigger surprise was Djokovic’s 6-1, 6-4 win over Rafa. After a pretty poor, listless past few months the Serb really stepped up tonight playing solid tennis. And perhaps it was his best level since his last encounter with Nadal back in Madrid. Nadal may or may not have been at his best (plus a stomach ailment?), but credit to Djokovic for getting a match he absolutely had to have.
And this win for Novak really keeps him among the serious contenders at the US Open. For Rafa, no real cause for panic – unless there’s more to that stomach issue – as the Spaniard can take some comfort in knowing that he simply hasn’t played that much tennis recently and he did get a couple nice wins this week. But there still are question marks as to his ability to beat the big hitters on a fast hardcourt and his durability.
Showing no question marks this afternoon was Federer. Roger really picked apart Murray fairly routinely 6-2, 7-6(8). Sure things got a little dicey in the second set breaker, but Federer was hardly pressed up to that point by Murray who was bidding for a fifth straight win over the World No. 1.
Federer looked fairly sharp off the ground and really attacked Murray, which seems to be accepted M.O. against Andy. Recall Andy Roddick really took it to Murray at Wimbledon and even Fernando Verdasco went after him with positive results at the Australian Open.
For me, this loss by Murray is not a good sign. I picked him to win the Australian Open last year and again to win the US Open later that season, but I’m starting to sense that for him to break through he’s going to have to play more offensive minded. He can’t play such a passive game and regularly beat the big guys, especially in majors. And I’m not convinced of his nerves in pressure matches and moments – we saw him grossly err in that challenge in the tiebreak!
Today, Murray was favored probably for the first time in his career to beat Federer and he couldn’t answer the bell. It’s much easier to play as the underdog and I think Murray is starting to feel the heat the comes when your ranking rises and you win a lot of matches. At least with Nadal losing Murray has secured the No. 2 seeding for the Open meaning a Federer-Murray rematch could only happen in the final.
For Sunday, I think both Federer and Djokovic will sleep well tonight following wins over guys they had trouble with in the past. So I expect both to be loose and fresh for Sunday. Head-to-head Federer leads 7-4, but Novak’s won two straight beating Roger in Miami and again on the clay in Rome. I think Sunday Roger gets him back.
Again, there’s very little pressure on Roger and I feel in a tournament final he’ll handle the occasion better than Novak. But it’s a close contest.
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