It’s hard to do better than the schedule we have today at the Toronto Rogers Cup super Saturday semifinals which feature the top four ranked players in tennis doing battle. On first is top seed Rafael Nadal against Andy Murray. In the evening it’s Roger Federer facing off against Novak Djokovic.
Before I dive into today’s matches, a quick recap of an eventful and dramatic Friday quarterfinal round.
First, what happened to David Nalbandian and Tomas Berdych? Did they both reset to their old ways yesterday right before our eyes?
Nalbandian had won 11 straight matches and was the undisputed hottest player on the planet. But yesterday in a dreary 6-2, 6-2 loss to Andy Murray, “Fat Dave” went “Flat Dave”. Credit to Murray for taking a more aggressive approach, but Nalbandian littered errors all over the court and looked lifeless at times. In fact, he looked like the old Dave.
“Well, when I have little tired I arrive to the ball a little slower and a little far away from the ball, so maybe my shots wasn’t as good as the other day,” Nalbandian said. “So maybe the fatigue was wasn’t on that way, not completely tired, but when you are a little bit not that fast in this level, it’s tough.”
I thought David might feel it in his legs against Soderling but he held out longer. Hopefully, he can regain that freshness for Cincinnati confirming that this run he had isn’t another one-off.
I thought after his second win over Federer en route to the final at Wimbledon, and his semifinal at Roland Garros, that Berdych had shaken the choker label. Well, it dramatically returned last night against Roger.
Federer was in full control of the match early on, serving well, playing aggressive and winning nearly every net point. But late in the second Federer got sloppy and couldn’t covert on a few break chances allowing Berdych to hang around. And the big man hung around long enough to earn a break chance and when he got it he took it to seize the second set.
Credit to Berdych who I think in previous years would have simply “gone away” in that second set, but mentally he’s a better, more resilient player now.
The third set was touch-and-go. Federer wasn’t as effective with his aggressive gameplan while Berdych was slowly honing his groundstrokes and gaining length (And strength). And it paid off as the Czech raced out to a 5-2 lead. Federer held and Berdych served for the match at 5-3.
But that’s when the pro-Federer crowd really grew unruly, yelling out just before Tomas made contact and making comments during mid-toss, and I think it really hindered Berdych who fell apart at that crucial moment. Federer got the break back and eventually prevailed in third set breaker 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(5).
“I think the part of the game is the luck, as well,” Berdych said referring to a lucky netcord winner Federer hit on the first point down at 5-3. “And this aspect I was just missing a little bit today, you know. It was little more on his side, and, you know, it was just about one, two points in the tiebreak.”
It was another close, exiciting match between the two – what a rivalry Federer-Berdych is turning into.
In the other two quarterfinals, Nadal struggled but survived Phil Kohlschreiber 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 while Djokovic dismantled Jeremy Chardy 6-2, 6-3.
As for today…
Andy Murray v. Rafael Nadal
I know Murray looked good yesterday and ESPN’ers said it was Murray’s best match since Australia, but again Nalbandian showed up DOA. Nadal’s not going show up DOA today.
This will be their 12th meeting and Nadal leads 8-3. The three wins for Murray came when Rafa may not have been at his physical best. Not to make excuses, but recall the US Open in 2008 when Nadal was worn out. In 2009 Rotterdam Nadal was troubled by his knees and again earlier this year in Australia Rafa retired in the quarterfinals.
Said Nadal of Murray, “I think here is the favorite surface for him. The hardcourt I think is the surface that is more difficult to beat him. I had good battles against him in every surface, but on hard I have few wins, win Australia in 2005 and 2007, I think, or like this year in Australia was a good match, I think. I had to retire in the beginning, but it was a great match. Last year in Indian Wells was too windy, and in Rotterdam I was injured. So always was tough, and he’s playing well. He did a very good match today and will be very difficult tomorrow, for sure.”
The game plans are fairly simple: Murray has to be offensive-minded and attack Nadal’s second serve. If he gets too defensive Nadal will rout him if the Spaniard’s on. Nadal needs to play his game and cut down on the errors.
Today, Nadal should be ready to go and even though he’s not in his best form, I think it will be enough to get through the defending champ.
My pick: Nadal in two
Novak Djokovic v. Roger Federer
This match is a real coin flip.
Under trial coach Paul Annacone, Federer has looked good in patches this week and not so good in others. I think he should have closed out Berdych in straight sets yesterday but he didn’t. He then got lucky in some ways to have won that match after being down 5-2 in the third. And apart from his serve and netplay, I didn’t like his ground game. His forehand was spraying at times and his backhand was dropping short leaving it open for attack.
Djokovic once again has been the forgotten man this week (isn’t he always?). He struggled in the heat on Wednesday, was afforded a later start in a win on Thursday then late last night he trounced Chardy in straight sets. So if nothing else he’s improving each round and that’s always a good thing. Plus, he’s the only guy yet to lose a set.
And while Fed holds the series lead at 9-5, Novak has won three of the last five beating Federer in 2009 on his home court in Basel and at the Masters events in Miami and Rome. Federer did get him at Cincinnati and at the US Open but that Basel win should give Novak the confidence and comfort to handle the pro-Fed crowd tonight.
Said Djokovic yesterday of playing Federer, “Well, it has to be a positive mentality; otherwise I wouldn’t be looking to get on the court, you know. I played so many times with Federer. Most of the matches we have played was on this surface, and there’s not much to talk about. He’s a big champion and he showed why he’s one of the best players in the world. Today he pulled up a great win even though he was down 5 2 in the third. He has big support of the crowd here. He plays well throughout the whole week. It’s gonna be a tough one, but, you know, semifinals, you never know what’s gonna happen.”
And he’s right. For Novak to win he’s got to be right between the ears. And he also needs to serve well and be sharp with his passing shots because I think Federer’s going to do a lot of attacking and coming in tonight.
Pink Fed’s been playing an ultra aggressive game this week which is fine, but I get the feeling he’s really calibrating this gameplan to peak for the faster courts in New York. This week is more experimentation and testing and he’s willing to take some lumps if it can help down the road. And I think tonight he’ll take a few more and with Novak rounding into form I’ll take a flyer and pick the Serb to get it done tonight.
My pick: Djokovic in three
And good news, I believe both matches are on live on ESPN2!
SATURDAY TORONTO SCHEDULE
CENTRE COURT start 1:00 pm
F Cermak (CZE) / M Mertinak (SVK) vs J Benneteau (FRA) / M Llodra (FRA)
Not Before 3:00 PM
 R Nadal (ESP) vs  A Murray (GBR)
Not Before 7:00 PM
 R Federer (SUI) vs  N Djokovic (SRB)
 M Bhupathi (IND) / M Mirnyi (BLR) vs  B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA)
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