For the second day in a row Rafael Nadal pulled a rabbit out of a hat at the expense of a countryman. Yesterday, Nadal survived five match points from Nicolas Almagro who could not finish off the Spanish great. Today, a near carbon copy as Tommy Robredo found himself serving for the match in the third set at 5-4 but just like Almagro, his nerves simply couldn’t handle the occasion.
Nadal didn’t need to save any matchpoints in this one but it doesn’t diminish the Rafa’s effort and attitude at the Paris Indoor Masters in his 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 win.
“The better news is I didn’t play my best but I played much better than yesterday,” said Nadal who crept a wee bit closer to Roger Federer’s No. 1 ranking with the win. “I felt the ball much better than yesterday. For moments, I felt I have the control of the ball. I have the chance to play big rallies without having mistakes. So that’s very important for me.”
Next up for Nadal is Jo Tsonga who made quick work of his ailing countryman Gilles Simon 6-2, 6-3.
“He’s playing really well,” Nadal said of Tsonga who he leads 3-1. “Sure, he’s playing at home in good conditions for him – indoor, fast court, France – so probably he’s gonna be the favourite tomorrow. But that’s the tennis. I’m gonna try to play better, to play my match.”
Despite the head-to-head edge for Rafa, I’m picking Tsonga here. There won’t be no Houdini act for Nadal in this one. Tsonga needs the win more than Rafa and I think the last two days has to have taken something out of Rafa. So I give a slight edge to JW.
Also today, almost as expected Andy Murray was bounced by Radek Stepanek 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. After a near 2am finish last night and with London looming, it was all but in the cards for Steps to notch his first career win over the Scot.
“I wanted to try and play as many matches as possible,” a content sounding Murray said. “I would have signed up for playing seven matches and winning six of them before these couple of tournaments, and it was kind of just what I needed before London. I get nine days’ rest to get rid of all the niggles and stiffness. I’ll be feeling good going in there, I’m sure; a lot better than I would have been if I had gone out early both weeks.”
Stepanek now meets Juan Martin Del Potro who was the beneficiary of a Fernando Gonzalez retirement. The two had just split two breakers when Gonzo called it a season.
I picked Stepanek to the semifinals, and after two tough matches for DelPo I think Steps is ripe to pull another upset Friday.
In the other two quarters, my man Gael Monfils collides with Marin Cilic. As I said yesterday, Monfils should expect to go deep in the draw, perhaps even walk away with the title. There’s no reason he can’t get to the final and at the very least I think he beats Cilic, who surprised Fernando Verdasco today. The loss takes Verdasco’s London hopes out of his hands into those of Tsonga and Robin Soderling. The Swede kept his London dream alive after beating Nikolay Davydenko in three sets.
Soderling will now have his hands full with Novak Djokovic who’s arguably playing better than anyone right now. Somehow, I think Soderling wins tomorrow. He needs the win more than the Serb. And at this time of year that’s often what it comes down to: Who wants it, who needs it.
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