There wasn’t much drama for the men today at the French Open. The last four round of 16 matches went fairly according to plan.
Tournament favorite Rafael Nadal got tested a little bit by up-and-coming Thomaz Bellucci winning in the end 6-2, 7-5, 6-4.
Nadal was broken four times during the match by the young Brazilian who was able to do some damage to Rafa with his powerful serve and big forehand. But Nadal probably played some his best tennis answering many of Bellucci’s offerings behind a flurry of ridiculous winners and passing shots.
“It’s an important victory if you look at the points, that’s true,” Nadal said after his 200th career match win on clay. “But I knew he was a very tough opponent. It was a very important match for me. I succeeded well because I managed to play even better. I could shoot into the balls the way I wanted to, mainly the backhand shots, but also my forehand.
“Unfortunately, my shots were a bit too short. I wanted to have longer and deeper shots,” he added. “I wanted to improve this. Sometimes, you know, these details are such that the opponent could take this opportunity so as to dominate the game. It’s better to have deeper balls so as to dominate the game. I think I served better today than any other day, and I’m very satisfied because I think I’ve improved. I’ve not yet dropped a set. Well, a set, yes. But no, no, I have not yet dropped a set. The most important thing is that I won my match.”
Next for Nadal is his countryman Nicolas Almagro who took out the weary Fernando Verdasco 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Verdasco had never lost a set in three prior meetings with the baby-faced Nico. But then again he’d probably never had played as much tennis in his life as he did the last 45 days. I thought Verdasco had one more win left in his tank but apparently not. There’s something to be said for proper schedule management and peaking at the right time. Now that Verdasco’s consistently journeying deep into events he’ll need to be more prudent about his schedule in the future.
For Almagro, remember he did take a set off of Nadal this spring and he reached the quarterfinals at the French Open back in 2008.
“Well, I think there is a lot of difference,” Almagro said. “As compared to 2008, my physical shape has improved a lot. From a mental standpoint, I also am much stronger now. But the next match is going to be very difficult because I’m playing Rafa. He is above all the other players on this surface. But I think I’ll be able to play very good level of tennis, and I hope this will be the case for many, many years. If I can win, that’s gonna be even better.”
In Wednesday’s other quarterfinal, Novak Djokovic will meet the surprise of the tournament, Jurgen Melzer. Give yourself a pat on the back if you had Melzer out this far. The Austrian is as deep as he’s ever been at a Slam after knocking out Teimeraz Gabashvili 7-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Djokovic also won in four sets beating Robby Ginepri 6-4, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2. After a sluggish start Djokovic really turned it on in the last two sets pounding the American despite the early morning start.
“Well, I’m really not a morning person, so it took a lot of time for me to get into the rhythm and warm up basically for the match,” admitted Djokovic. “He was very aggressive from the start. He played well. I was lucky to pull out that first set in my favor. Second set, as usual in these tournaments, went the other way for my opponent. Unfortunately I lost focus. But I overcomed it, you know, again. Third and fourth were really, really good. I was aggressive, I was serving well, and playing from all over the court. With that kind of game I performed in the third and fourth set, I think I have a good chance against anybody on the court now.”
Looking to tomorrow we have a couple of great matches with Roger Federer and Robin Soderling in a reprise of their 2009 title bout, and Tomas Berdych v. Mikhail Youhzny.
First to the Berdych match. I picked Tomas to reach the semifinals from the start and I think he’s playing well enough to get the job done. Berdych is back on Suzanne Lenglen where he also beat Murray so that should help him mentally, and I think he can outclass Youzhny on the slow clay. The Russian is still a decent clay baller and he’s beaten Berdych in six of ten tries. But I think it’s Berdych in four.
In the big showdown, I like Federer simply because of the 12-0 record he holds over Soderling. Had this been a first round or early round match at a Tennis Masters I’d give Soderling a better chance. But to have never beaten a guy in 12 tries (I think Robin’s only won one set!) and then ask him to do it on his least favorite surface (arguably clay) and in a best-of-five format with a ton on the line is just far too much. The element of surprise is also gone.
Soderling’s still playing like a man possessed, unfortunately for him Federer will likely get into Robin’s head (if he hasn’t already done so) and bring the Swede back down to reality. It’s Federer in four.
As for the women tomorrow, I like Elena Dementieva over Nadia Petrova and I’ll go for Caroline Wozniacki over Francesca Schiavone.
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