It’s not the matchup I had expected, but it’s matchup we all want to see, that is Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic locking up in the semifinals Saturday at the Paris Indoors.
Earlier today Djokovic survived a game effort from upset-minded Robin Soderling defeating the Swede in three sets 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.
Nadal did his part fending off poor start to turn away Jo-Willy Tsonga 7-5, 7-5.
While I picked Soderling on whim to beat Novak, I really though Tsonga would get past the Spaniard, and he nearly did. But once JW blew what seemed to be about a half dozen break points early in the match the mistake-riddled Frenchman was never in it thereafter. Nadal held his ground and after two harrowing escapes in the first rounds had a mild breather of match today.
The loss by Tsonga clinched a London spot for Fernando Verdasco, and while Soderling is left as the No. 9 alternate I have a feeling he’ll be seeing some playing time in two weeks!
In the other semifinal, my man Gael Monfils plays the worm, Radek Stepanek. Monfils advanced after a tough tussle with Marin Cilic while Steps eased through when Juan Martin Del Potro retired with an ab injury down 4-0 in the first set.
With the Parisian crowd at his side I have to like Monfils here. This is his chance to really finish the year with a flourish and perhaps have it serve as a launching pad to a Top 10, Top 8 finish next year. Monfils fans can only hope and that’s what I’m doing.
In the main event, Nadal leads the head-to-head 14-5 having won five of the last six meetings, but Novak did win their most recent in the Cincinnati semifinals and he played his tough in losses in Monte Carlo and of course that epic in Mardrid.
“Probably he’s the player who’s playing better in this part of the season,” said Nadal. “He’s doing really good end of the season. It’s going to be a challenge for me and a good test. I know he’s the favourite on this kind of surface, but I’m here to keep improving and we will see what happens tomorrow.”
And like Nadal says, in this match I think everything is pointing to Novak as the favorite. The Serb’s been playing better tennis, he’s in form having just won Basel defeating Federer in the final. Indoors also suits Novak’s game more than Nadal’s and when you add the work done during the week to get to this point, Novak should be the fresher of the two.
But… I’m going to pick Rafa here. This is a really tough match to call but I think Rafa’s starting to focus on what’s to gain here. He knows he’s just four sets from putting some serious heat on Federer for the year-end No. 1 ranking and with Monfils-Stepanek to await the winner, it’s virtually just two sets to the title and his 400th career win.
Rafa’s not playing his best but the will he’s shown to win throughout the week has been tremendous and I think he’ll build off that and take down Novak in their match tomorrow. After the season he’s been through with the injuries, his parents, losing earlier in the year in Paris(!), I think he needs this win more than Novak.
Game on in about eight hours.
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