Well, just days after a Roger Federer v. Rafael Nadal possible semifinal match was squashed, today Robin Soderling came up short ending hopes of a rematch between the Swede and Nadal in the quarterfinal. But, we are left with Novak Djokovic and Fernando Verdasco and a couple other decent matches Friday at the Tennis Masters Rome.
Soderling was dismissed rather routinely by Stan Wawrinka 6-3, 6-2. Of course many of us were looking forward to Robin playing Rafa in a rematch of the Swede’s incredible French Open but. But I get the feeling that Robin wasn’t quite that enamored with the idea.
The way Nadal’s been playing – he ripped up Victor Hanescu today 6-3, 6-2 – it’s hard to see anyone, even Soderling, beating him right now. And from Robin’s point of view, he does on a win over Nadal in their last clay meeting at Roland Garros, maybe it’s psychologically better for him to keep that memory fresh with the slight chance of seeing the beast again in Paris then, getting roughed up by Rafa tomorrow and thus losing any kind of edge. No I won’t say Robin tanked, but like Federer the other day, Robin’s not going to beat himself up over this loss.
And personally, I think Rafa’s going to be Soderling senseless anyway be it in Rome, Madrid or Paris. But by putting that beating, er meeting, off until Paris maybe Robin can draw something from that Chatrier Court experience of last year.
Worth a mention, Nadal’s still not happy with his play this week.
“I played with less intensity after the 4-1,” said Nadal who sounded rather irked after failing to take Hanescu to the bakery. “It’s impossible to play with less intensity at this level and if you stop your intensity a little bit, the other player can get you in big trouble. Yes, I was lucky. I saved a few shots with a good serve and a good forehand so the important thing is that I won 6-2, and I had some problems with myself in the last two games but I saved them.”
Also today David Ferrer knocked out Andy Murray. Djokovic get over on Thomas Bellucci and in the match of the day Ernests Gulbis backed up his win over Federer with another gut-check victory over Filippo Volandri this time in a third set tiebreak.
“I played a little strange but I’m very happy that I won today,” said Gulbis who is still only 21. “I think that is the most important thing because I won against Federer two days ago and the next match is mentally very tough.”
Gulbis now plays Feliciano Lopez who earned a walkover when Ivan Ljubicic hurt a rib in the warm up. Yes, players really do get injured even in the warms. Sad but true.
JW Tsonga was also a winner today beating Santiago Giraldo. Tsonga now plays David Ferrer in one bottom half quarter while Verdasco and Djokovic lock-up in the other one.
The top half tomorrow features Nadal against Wawrinka along with Gulbis and Lopez.
As for my picks, I think Wawrinka will give Nadal his toughest match of the clay season. Stan was a finalist two years ago in Rome and clay is his best surface so I expect a good match from the Swiss.
Tsonga and Ferrer is a pick-em as they say. The two have never played before. Ferrer we know is one of the top tier claycourters but Tsonga has the offense to hit through the Spaniard. But I like Ferrer.
“Maybe this season is my best of my career on clay courts,” said Ferrer. “I’ve never won a lot of matches like this year and I’m happy for that. I think my game is very physical, very mental – it’s important for me, winning matches on clay courts, my favourite surface.”
I also think Gulbis keeps the run going against Lopez – I have to believe Ernests will “find” F-Lo’s backhand to good reward – and in the big match, I think Novak turns the tables on Verdasco. Fernando’s played a lot of tennis lately and I feel Novak will have revenge and atonement on his mind for his piss-poor performance against the lefty in Monte Carlo.
And Roger Federer is back in doubles action Friday. He and buddy Yves Allegro will tackle the tall American duo of Sam Querrey and John Isner at 3pm local time, 9am East in the U.S.
CENTER COURT start 1:00 PM
 F Verdasco (ESP) vs  N Djokovic (SRB)
 J Tsonga (FRA) vs  D Ferrer (ESP)
 R Nadal (ESP) vs S Wawrinka (SUI)
Not Before 8:30 PM
E Gulbis (LAT) vs F Lopez (ESP)
N Almagro (ESP) / M Granollers (ESP) vs  B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA)
PIETRANGELI start 3:00 PM
J Isner (USA) / S Querrey (USA) vs [WC] Y Allegro (SUI) / R Federer (SUI)
P Cuevas (URU) / J Monaco (ARG) vs [WC] S Bolelli (ITA) / P Starace (ITA)
 L Kubot (POL) / O Marach (AUT) vs  L Dlouhy (CZE) / L Paes (IND)
Also Check Out:
Verdasco, Gulbis Showdown Friday in Barcelona
Federer, Nadal Seeded to Meet in Rome Semifinals
Nadal, Federer Face Tough Draws at French Open
For The First Time In Nearly Two Years, Roger Federer Ranks Ahead Of Rafael Nadal
Novak Djokovic: “I’m Physically Fit And Ready For The Challenges That Will Come”