The last guy in, Robin Soderling, is the first guy into the semifinals after the Swede defeated the sluggish Novak Djokovic 7-6(5), 6-1 today at the ATP World Tour Finals. Meanwhile, 2009 World No. 1 Rafael Nadal became the first player eliminated from the event after he fell in straight sets by a similar score of 6-1, 7-6(4) to Nikolay Davydenko.
“It’s great,” said Soderling who only gained entry when Andy Roddick withdrew. “Top eight, top nine guys in the world here. I mean, I won two matches in straight sets against the World No. 2 and No. 3. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. So far I’m enjoying it a lot. But there’s still at least two more matches to go. I hope to do really well in those two, as well.”
The bigger shock of the two upsets for me was Djokovic. The loss itself wasn’t the real surprise, rather it was the effort he gave in the second set. As noted by the commentators Djokvoic seemed to be going through the motions and unmotivated, with nothing to give, no fight. And that’s not where a guy who comes into an event like this, in-form and as a favorite, should be at. No way.
“I didn’t enjoy playing today’s match, that’s for sure,” said Djokovic whose 11-match win streak was snapped by the Swede. “He was serving really well. All credit to him. I don’t think I played too much (this season). I just played very solid in all the tournaments that I was committed to play.”
So is it the schedule (probably), the pressure (probably), the competition (probably)? Bottom line for Novak to be a No. 1 he’s going to have to get through the tough times and win on those days when his mind and body say no. Lucky for him because it’s a round-robin format he’s not out.
Novak now must beat Nadal on Friday if he wants to stay in the ATP Finals. And while the red-footed Djokovic crumbled late in his match, Nadal was the contrast. The Spaniard began where Djokovic left off: Lifeless. But Nadal got into the groove against a red-hot Davydenko, overcame some breaks and made a match of it in the end.
“To be out of the [Finals], well, that’s sport and everything can happen,” said Nadal who looked as bad as you’ll ever see him in that first set. “I didn’t arrive to this tournament with the full confidence that you need to win these matches. And in the moments that I had to play well, I didn’t play well. I made mistakes. I fought a lot. Both matches I fought. I tried my best all the time, but it wasn’t enough to win these matches.”
The loss for Rafa was his third straight, his longest such losing streak since the summer of 2004. And Nadal still has just one Top 10 win in the last six months to go with zero titles over that span, neither of which are promising signs going forward. But Nadal still has one big prize left and that’s the Davis Cup final in a couple week. So perhaps he’s just saving himself for the Czech battle. If you’re a Nadal fan you better hope so because Rafa’s performance the second half of the year has fallen way short.
For tomorrow, Roger Federer plays Juan Martin Del Potro in the match of the day. I kind of like DelPo who simply needs the match more than Roger, who should know before the match if he’s in the SF or not. Fed will have some added motivation on his mind as he seeks revenge for DelPo’s US Open win. And if DelPo brings the heat he can get the job done. In some ways I feel the match hinges on the Argentine’s racquet.
Murray is on earlier against Fernando Verdasco. The Scot is the favorite but a free-swinging Verdasco is a dangerous Verdasco (or should be!). So for me there’s no reason Fernando cannot replicate his Australian Open upset over Murray, it’s a just a question of if he’ll bring his A game and put pressure on Murray. Playing in front of the British crowd in London, Murray absolutely has to win that match so Andy will be feeling the heat. Hopefully he’ll be feeling Verdasco as well.
Overall, this tournament is shaping up like a Federer win. Soderling’s the hot man, but I question his ability when the pressure to perform is on him, which may come on Saturday. Davydenko is playing efficient, solid tennis but his head-to-head loss to Novak may come back to hurt him. The same goes for DelPo and Murray.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
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