What an absolute smorgasbord of tasty tennis entertainment is lined up for Thursday at the Cincinnati Tennis Masters. By my count there are no fewer than four matches that could be standalone, single tickets sessions and here we have all of them on the same day plus more.
Among the highlighted tussles are Novak Djokovic v. David Nalbandain, Ernests Gulbis v. Andy Murray, Phil Kolhscreiber v. Roger Federer plus Mardy Fish v. Richard Gasquet, Tomas Berdych v. Marcos Baghdatis and David Ferrer v. Nikolay Davydenko.
And if that’s not enough, in the throwaway match of the day World No. 1 takes on the talented Julien Benneteau.
Where do I begin?
First, for me the best match is Djokovic v. Nalbandian. Djokovic leads 3-1 over the Argentine including a win this year on the clay in Monte Carlo. But this is their first meeting on hardcourt in three years – won by Nalbandian in Madrid – and David’s playing some of the best, most inpsired tennis he’s played in years, although he was in trouble in the first set against John Isner yesterday before the big man retired after rolling his ankle.
Novak’s been patchy and we’ve seen his struggles in the heat and unfortunately for him with the start time around 2pm it’s likely to be warm at first ball. So I think Nalbandian comes through in this one.
Like Nalbandian, Gulbis was the hot guy this clay season but injuries and subpar play quickly cooled the Latvian. Today, he’ll return to the spotlight against Murray who looked unusually rusty against Jeremy Chardy Wednesday in a three set opening win.
“He’s a player that doesn’t give a whole a lot of rhythm, and when he started making some balls, I was a little bit uncomfortable,” said Murray of Chardy. “It was very quick conditions out there; very different to Toronto. I didn’t really adjust that well to it when I had to hit a lot of balls. But third set I had to step up a little bit, and I managed to.”
Few players hit the ball as hard as Gulbis does and on a fast court like Cincinnati that should help the Latvian. Murray is known to “absorb pace” and if he plays like he did over the weekend he’ll survive the challenge. But if tries to outwit Gulbis by reverting back to a rope-a-dope defensive posture he may be in for a difficult afternoon. Regardless of Murray’s 4-0 head-to-head (10 straight sets), it’s quite an intriguing matchup.
Also in the daytime, Federer and Kohlschreiber meet in a rare matchup of one-handed backhands. At this stage in Federer’s regression I’d give the edge to Kohlschreiber off that wing and I think Federer appears to be ripe for the upset today.
The Swiss dodged some bullets in Toronto last week (but couldn’t get out of the way Murray) and yesterday had quick night courtesy of a first set retirement from Denis Istomin. So Federer may come in a little light in the schedule. However Fed has dominated the German 5-0 career winning 11 of 12 sets. It still should be a good match.
“It’s gonna be a tricky match because of what we went through (practicing) the last couple of weeks,” said Federer. “I’m happy he’s playing well. He’s a good guy. He’s dangerous. He’s got the shots. He’s beaten great players along the way. Roddick at the Australian and Djokovic at the French, and has played a few close matches against me in the past. We’ll see how it goes.”
In the evening, Roddick and Soderling hookup in a battle of two of the brashest bashers on the tour. Roddick looked so-so in a sleep-inducing win yesterday over Thiemo De Bakker while Soderling picked up his first career victory over Lleyton Hewitt. If the two-time Cincinnati champ Roddick plays his “girls 16s” defensive game against the Swede it won’t be a memorable night for Andy.
Roddick’s lone win in three tries against Soderling came at Indian Wells when Andy when playing some of his best tennis this March. But he still needed three sets to get the job done. Tonight, he’s no where near that form so the very slight edge goes to Soderling.
Some quick thoughts on the other matches.
Gasquet and Fish is a tough one to call. Gasquet has beaten Fish in both meetings and on a fast court the Frenchman should do well. But Fish is the hotter player so I’ll lean his way.
Ferrer and Davydenko is another coin flip. Nikolay’s won two of three against the Spaniard but based on form I give the edge to Ferrer here. David scored a 7-5, 6-2 win Wednesday over Sam Querrery while Davydenko needed three sets to oust Robby Ginepri. For my money Ferrer’s was the better, more impressive win.
I also like Berdych to get his third straight win over Baghdatis and Nadal to beat Benneteau. It’s worth noting that Julien handed Nadal one of the worst losses of Nadal’s early career, whooping the Spaniard 6-3, 6-0 at Lyon in 2004. I have a hunch that the Frenchman won’t be able to replicate that feat today.
As for television, ESPN2 is scheduled to be on live at noon until 4pm, and then again back on at 7pm live for Roddick’s match.
What a day to be a tennis fan!
THURSDAY CINCINNATI SCHEDULE
STADIUM start 10:00 am
 J Knowle (AUT) / A Ram (ISR) vs T Robredo (ESP) / R Stepanek (CZE)
Not Before 12:00 PM
E Gulbis (LAT) vs  A Murray (GBR)
 R Nadal (ESP) vs J Benneteau (FRA)
 R Federer (SUI) vs P Kohlschreiber (GER)
Not Before 7:00 PM
 R Soderling (SWE) vs  A Roddick (USA)
J Benneteau (FRA) / M Llodra (FRA) vs  B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA)
GRANDSTAND start 12:00 noon
[WC] M Fish (USA) vs R Gasquet (FRA)
D Nalbandian (ARG) vs  N Djokovic (SRB)
M Baghdatis (CYP) vs  T Berdych (CZE)
Not Before 7:00 PM
 D Ferrer (ESP) vs  N Davydenko (RUS)
COURT 3 start 2:00 pm
F Lopez (ESP) / F Verdasco (ESP) vs  L Kubot (POL) / O Marach (AUT)
M Fish (USA) / M Knowles (BAH) vs  L Dlouhy (CZE) / L Paes (IND)
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