Rafael Nadal passed the sternest test of his Indian Wells title defense on Wednesday. The No. 3 seed had to go the distance to beat the big-booming John Isner 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 in fourth round play at the BNP Parisbas Open Tennis Masters.
The win puts Nadal into the quarterfinals where tonight he’ll meet Tomas Berdych. The Czech Berdych crushed Viktor Troicki 6-1, 6-3.
Also on Wednesday, Andy Roddick upped his perfect record to 10-0 against Jurgen Melzer following a 7-6, 6-4 win over the Austrian. Roddick, who has never reached the final in the desert, now gets Tommy Robredo who he is also 10-0 head-to-head. Robredo ended the run of Roger Federer-conqueror Marcos Baghdatis in three sets.
Robin Soderling squashed JW Tsonga 6-3, 6-4 to set up a Friday date with No. 3 seed Andy Murray, a winner when Nicolas Almagro retired with a bum ankle after one game in the second set.
The big semi-surprise of the day was Ivan Ljubicic’s 7-5, 6-3 win over Novak Djokovic. Djokovic was riding a 9-match win streak but the Serb had gone the distance seven of his last eight matches entering the showdown with the Croat. And all those matches and miles finally caught to Novak who said he was gassed afterward.
“This is a tournament where I definitely didn’t feel comfortable on the court,” said Djokovic, the 2008 Indian Wells champ. “It’s not because of the tournament itself. It’s just because I had a very tiring couple of weeks coming from Davis Cup, which was emotionally very exhausting for me.
“I am not happy with the overall performance that I had in this tournament, because I know I could have played better and could have done better. But under decent circumstances I still made it to the fourth round, which is quite okay.”
Djokovic needed to save three matchpoints in the third round against Philipp Kolhschreiber. I think he also needs to plan his schedule better. Is Dubai more important to him than Indian Wells?
Back to Nadal. I watched a good portion of the Nadal match and he looked pretty good. I question his strategy of delivering a lot of balls to John’s forehand when the American looked almost powerless from the backhand wing. Rafa did play one really poor service in the second to hand Isner his lone break. Nadal coughed up back-to-back double faults, then gave Isner a sitter forehand put away. But Rafa was far too steady in the end and really seemed to wear down Isner who by the third set was struggling with his first serve.
“Today was a really difficult match, so I know I have to play my best tennis,” said the two-time Indian Wells champ, Nadal. “I did really well, I think. I only played a really bad game in the fourth game of the second set, but the rest of the match I’m very happy how I did. I think John is a big player, very difficult to play against him, and he has unbelievable potential. So for me it is a very important and very good victory.”
Again, credit to Isner. The guy really is getting better. He hits his forehand a ton and his backhand, mobility and and court sense have all improve. I thought a couple years ago that he would crack the Top 20. He’s done that. Getting into the Top 10 is going to be doubly tougher but he’s on his way.
The match schedule today is a bit sparse compared to what we’ve seen this week – which in some was is good because the NCAA basketball tournament begins! The men’s day quarterfinal is Juan Monaco v. Ivan Ljubicic. In the evening it’s Nadal v. Berdych.
The depleted women’s draw fields it’s final two quarters in the afternoon. First on is Alisa Kleybanova v. Jelena Jankovic and after Ljubicic-Monaco Sam Stosur and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez will battle. Already into tomorrow’s semifinal are good friends Agnieska Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki.
Now to the pick portion of the blog. Ljubicic, who turns 31 tomorrow, I believe has had some good memories at Indian Wells. The guy’s reached the fourth round or better six straight years and I think about four years ago he led Croatia over the U.S. in Davis Cup at the Indian Wells tournament site (or at least it was in Southern Cal). Monaco, though, has been a hot player having already compiled a 16-3 mark on the season with a bulk of those wins on dirt. The two have split two prior meetings, both on clay. On hardcourts I’ll go with the experience of Ljubicic.
Tonight in the main event, Nadal and Berdych will clash for a 10th time with the lefty holding the 6-3 edge. In fact, Nadal has won the last five meetings all in straight sets (12-0 in sets) since Berdych’s last win at 2006 Shanghai. We talk a lot about Berdych’s big, flat game and how it matches up well with Nadal. But while Berdych seems to have all the talent and power in the world, when it comes to big matches on big stages the guy usually comes up short. And Nadal has won 19 of his last 20 matches in the desert. He doesn’t come up short here. The pick is Nadal.
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