I said at the very start of the tournament one of the most important factors in winning the US Open is having the physical and mental ability to win best-of-five set matches on consecutive days on a hardcourt. Because of the weather and the schedule, this takes on even more importance for Rafael Nadal who is stuck in a holdover rain-delayed quarterfinal with Fernando Gonzalez.
Nadal and Gonzalez walked off the court at 3-2 in the second set tiebreak with the Spaniard having scraped out the first set in a tight breaker. Should the weather clear today, Nadal will have to play four straight days to win the US Open. Meanwhile, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are enjoying their second straight day of rest in preparation for their semifinal showdown Saturday. And Juan Martin Del Potro, who rallied to beat Marin Cilic yesterday afternoon in four sets, also has the luxury of a full day off before he tangles with the Nadal-Gonzalez winner either tomorrow or Sunday.
For Federer, Djokovic and DelPo life is good. For Nadal, not so.
During his match against Gonzalez last night Nadal stretched wide for a forehand in the first set breaker (I believe) and in the process he aggravated the abdominal strain he’s been dealing with the last month or so. The trainer came out in the second set to treat injury and while Nadal look good from that point until the delay, there is cause for concern. In an interview with ESPN’s Pam Shriver, Uncle Toni basically said the injury was a serious issue. “Bad” I think was the word he used.
Does the stoppage help Nadal or will his injury become worse overnight, It’s hard to say, but the bottom line is Nadal’s looking at four straight days of tennis if he wants to complete his career Slam and win the US Open. And he’ll have to beat Gonzalez, then beat Del Potro and then Federer or Djokovic in the final. And remember, all four players have hardcourt wins over Rafa. This will not be easy for any player let alone a guy with bad abs to go along with his bad knees.
As for the scheduling, I’m seeing a lot of disgust aimed at the USTA and the US Open. Is the men’s schedule unfair? Yes. Could it be adjusted to give players a day off between the semifinals and finals? Absolutely. Will it happen anytime soon? Probably not.
Ever since the mid-1980s when had the “Greatest Day in Tennis” with McEnroe, Lendl, etc, The US Open has fallen in love with the idea and the spectacle of “Super Saturday”. So my guess is that Saturday’s schedule is not changing anytime soon. It’s in stone. Two men’s semifinals and a women’s final.
And really there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just playing the men’s final the very next day that raises an issue.
They certainly could play the men’s final on Monday like they did a year ago due to the rain (and might have to again this year if Nadal does not finish today) but it runs right into the NFL Monday Night Football juggernaut and nobody wants to go head-to-head with football in primetime, and you cannot play the final during the day because kids are in school and people are back at work.
So we are stuck with what we have. And yes, for the men’s players it is unfair especially for guys like Nadal and DelPo who have to win three best-of-five matches in four days (Thursday, Saturday, Sunday) or even four in six days.
The schedule isn’t great but like it or not it’s part of what defines the US Open. Unfortunately, the tournament has long decided to put entertainment first, then the players.
And with that in mind, unless the schedule does change it’s going to be very, very difficult for someone like Nadal to ever win the Open.
As for the matches – provided the weather does break – I picked Gonzalez in my draw to beat Nadal in the quarterfinals. Gonzo had his shot last night and had he won that first set I think given Nadal’s injury issues and the road ahead, the Chilean would have finished the Spaniard off today. Being a set down now and having to come back in a breaker, I’m not sure if Gonzo can pull the upset anymore. But a lot depends on just how Rafa’s feeling. If his abs are bad maybe Gonzo can wear down Rafa enough to win in five, maybe four if he can grab the breaker. If Rafa’s healthy he’ll win.
For tomorrow, Federer v. Djokovic is a cracker of a match. Right now I like Federer but I think Novak has an excellent chance. Unlike a year ago when he came into the semifinal with Federer with a target on his back following the comments he made to the crowd after his Roddick win, Djokovic should be in good spirits and form with little pressure on him this time around.
Turning to the women’s semifinals later today, I think Caroline Wozniacki puts the hurt on Yanina Wickmayer in straight sets. Wozniacki’s so tough, especially off the backhand, and even though both players are in their first Slam semifinal, I give Wozniacki a big edge in experience to better handle the situation.
In the big one, I think Serena Williams knocks off Kim Clijsters in two tight sets. Serena hasn’t come this far only to lose. Kim also beat Venus last weekend and i think little ‘sis will avenge that loss!
Let’s just hope the weather allows…
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