Watching Roger Federer this week, one has to get the sense that he’s trying to prove a point. The point being that he can still play. After two months of sleepwalking his way through the circuit and again engendering rounds of speculation that the “King is Dead”, Federer has seemingly flipped the switch to display his “A” game this week in Madrid.
Federer pounced on Benjamin Becker in the second round, then looked sublime in a win over friend, fellow father and countryman Stan Wawrinka and today after a sluggish start he put to together two of the finest sets he’s played all year.
Federer’s 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 dissection of Ernests Gulbis earned the Swiss his first three-match win streak since January and put him into the semifinals at the Madrid Tennis Masters.
“I think this tournament’s been great for me,” Federer said. “In all the matches I’ve hit the ball cleanly, serving well. There are no complaints from my side. Even the set I lost today was good.”
And he’s right.
Gulbis had beaten Federer just a few weeks ago in Rome. And after taking the first set and accumulating an early break in set two it looked like a second straight win for the Latvian over the World No. 1. But Federer took his game to another level.
“I think that’s one of the toughest things in tennis: When you lose to a player and you have to play him again in the next couple weeks,” Federer said. “There’s not much a change in playing styles or practice… all he did was sleep 10 times. And off you go and play each other again. It’s tough, so that’s why I’m particularly happy that I was able to come up with the proper game plan today. And even though I got off with a slow start, I managed to come through.”
Federer hit 34 winners en route to his 696th career win leaving him now just four shy of the 700 plateau. In the semifinals it’s him against the Spanish Armada. That is Federer gets David Ferrer while in the other semifinals tournament favorite Rafael Nadal meets Nicolas Almagro.
Ferrer sealed his spot with a grinding 7-5, 6-3 victory over Andy Murray. Ferrer’s been in-form all clay season and should pose a serious threat to Federer. But the Swiss owns Ferrer 9-0 in their head-to-head
“I think this is the best clay season I’ve had in my career,” Ferrer said. “I’ve been winning many matches, and it’s given me a lot of confidence looking towards the match with Federer. I’ve never beaten him. He’s a really complicated player, because his style doesn’t work at all in my favor. Mine, however, plays well into his. He changes the pace constantly, which hurts me a lot, but I’ll do my best. I’m in the semis and I’m going to enjoy it at the moment.”
While Federer-Ferrer figures to be a tight affair; all indications are Nadal will romp over his baby-faced countryman Almagro, a winner over Jurgen Melzer. Earlier today Nadal ran Gael Monfils ragged in a 6-1, 6-3 destruction. As usual, Monfils stands way too far behind the baseline and the Frenchman ended up doing most of the legwork with little to show for it.
“In the first set, I played at a very high level,” said Nadal, who is just one win from reclaiming the No. 2 ranking and the second seed at the French Open. “This is the toughest tournament for me, the conditions are the most difficult of the year for me on clay, but I’m fine.”
Nadal hasn’t looked like he did in Monte Carlo when he angrily destroyed everyone. But despite the quicker conditions and the uneven surface, Nadal’s seems to playing better this week than he did in Rome which he also won.
As for the picks, in the first semifinal I’m staying with Nadal. Almagro does have some weapons that can do some damage (serve, backhand, power) but he’s not a great mover and he’s lacking mentally.
In the big night showdown, as I said Federer’s beaten Ferrer all nine times they’ve played and 19 of 21 sets. In fact in only three sets of the 21 sets has Ferrer even held a set point! And it seems based on his remarks that he knows Federer has his number. Ferrer’s a hard worker and admire his tenacity and fight, but when players start talking about the other guy as being “complicated” and how the opponent’s style doesn’t work in their “favor” that raises a red (Swiss) flag.
Also working against Ferrer is the lateness of his finish today against Murray. That match ended nearly 1am local time and even though the semifinal is at 8pm I think that helps the better-rested Federer. We’ve seen it too often. Late finish one night means a loss in the next round.
Like today, if Roger serves well and minimizes the errors he’ll win. Ferrer’s had some tough matches this week and the late finish Friday night hurts him. I’ll pick Federer.
Of course if both my picks come through, you know what that means. But I won’t mention it!
In the women’s semifinals, Venus Williams takes on Shahar Peer and Lucie Safarova squares off against Aravane Rezai who ousted Jelena Jankovic.
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