It’s another strong lineup at the Cincinnati Tennis Masters Friday. The quarterfinal schedule consists of Andy Murray v. Mardy Fish, Novak Djokovic v. Andy Roddick, Roger Federer v. Nikolay Davydenko and Rafael Nadal v. Marcos Baghdatis.
Among the eight players only Mardy Fish and Nikolay Davydenko have yet to reach a Grand Slam final, and all but Fish have been or are currently in the ATP Top 10.
Yesterday had it share of drama. First, Murray was pushed to the very edge by Ernests Gulbis in an uneven affair. The Latvian had his chances against Murray who was at times playing a baffling brand of tennis. The Scot prevailed in the end in a third set breaker to run his current win streak to seven, but in the press he gave fans pause of his continued success this week.
“Today I was struggling,” Murray said. “I felt a bit dehydrated on the court, which isn’t really acceptable. You should make sure you’ve already drunk enough before you go on… I played seven matches in nine days, every one of them between 12:00 and 3:00, which is obviously when it’s at its warmest. I think everybody would be feeling like that in my position.
“I had an ice bath yesterday evening. I’ll probably have another one this evening. Massage, stretching, and then try and drink and eat as much as possible.”
Meanwhile, Nadal also had his struggles. The World No. 1 saved a match point in the second set in a tight 6-7, 7-6(6), 6-2 win over the spirited Julien Benneteau.
“I think he played great; he played very good tennis,” said Nadal. “Especially in the beginning I wasn’t playing bad; I was playing not perfect, but well. He was playing really well, very aggressive, very good shots from his backhand, even if he arrive in not very good position. His serve works very well. [It] was a very difficult match.”
In the evening, Roddick was too good again for Robin Soderling beating the Swede in a thriller 7-5 in the third set tiebreak and earning one of his best wins since Miami. Roddick, who’s still battling mono, had his serve in gear firing 26 aces and showed some extra (not a lot) aggression on his groundstrokes.
Also yesterday, Djokovic earned a excellent win over the suddenly cold again David Nalbandian. Baghdatis collected his first career win over Tomas Berdych and Davydenko got passed Ferrer in three sets.
Defending champ Federer didn’t even have to take the court as his opponent and friend Phil Kohlschreiber withdrew prior to their match because of a shoulder injury.
Some thoughts on today…
From his language Murray seems to be fighting himself and his body and today in the heat again he’ll have to fight the Fish. Mardy’s on a hot streak having won 20 of his last 23 matches and he’s already beaten Murray twice this season – in Miami and at Queen’s (their H2H is tied 3-3). Despite that, Murray should match up well with Mardy and it’s up to the Scot here. If he feels tapped out and already content with his summer perfomance, which it sounds like he does, then Fish gets the slim edge in this one.
Thereafter, Roddick and Djokovic meet for a seventh time. Roddick leads 4-2 having won three straight since that memorable US Open match in 2008. In this contest Novak gets the edge in just about every technical category – forehand, backhand, movement, volleys, etc. – except serve. But Roddick wins on grit, toughness and heart.
For me, this match comes down to fitness and the serve. With the match time at 2pm, the heat could very well be a factor especially for Novak who’s had his struggles in the warmer temperatures. But Roddick is also a question mark. With mono still in his system, how well is the American going to recover after the late finish Thursday night?
That said, even despite his circumstances Roddick should handle the heat better. And if Roddick is fit enough and serving like he did yesterday I give him the edge over Novak. My guess is Roddick will employ the same strategy of serving big and hoping for the errors from the opponent, and if he can get enough balls back into play forcing Novak into long rallies those errors just may come.
Said Roddick, “I came here with not a whole a lot of expectation. This probably exceeds what my confidence level was coming in, so I’m gonna leave this tournament, regardless of what happens, a lot more confident than I came. That’s the first time I’ve been able to say that for a little bit.”
That does sound like Roddick’s happy with where he’s at right now, while Novak hints of wanting more.
“I have been very successful in United States hard courts,” Djokovic said after his win over Nalbandian. “I won both Indian Wells, Miami, and won Montreal. This is where I haven’t won, so to complete that, I will try to win the title this year. But it’s still a long way. I was really happy with today’s performance. I think it was better than yesterday. David is a great player; plays very fast. And considering the conditions, which are very fast here as well, it was not easy to stay in the point with him.”
While the Nadal, Roddick, Djokovic and Murray have been through the ringer this week with tough matches, Federer’s been on a impromptu vacation. The Swiss has played just seven games en route to the quarterfinals today where he goes up against Davydenko in the all-29 tussle. It’s a rematch of their incredible Australian Open showdown from January which Federer somehow won (or Davydenko choked) to improve his mark to 13-2 over the Russian. Unfortunately for the Nikolay, I think these courts are far too quick for him to do real damage. And while Federer’s fresh, I don’t think Nikolay’s back to that form we saw from him at the start of the year.
Under the lights, it’s an interesting battle between Baghdatis and Nadal. Marcos has slowly climbed his way back into the Top 20 behind some really improved play and I think we’ll see him back in the Top 10 again by this time next year – only Roddick (32) has more hardcourt wins this year than Marcos (26).
Nadal has looked shaky this week. The faster courts are giving him problems but to his credit he’s survived in a place he’s never won at. And today he holds a decisive 6-0 record against Baghdatis.
“To beat Berdych he must be playing really well,” said Nadal, “I have to play aggressive, I have to serve well, and return better than today. And that’s it. Just wait that he doesn’t have his inspiration there, and just try to play my best tennis.”
For me, the Cypriot’s problems against Nadal is his movement. To beat Rafa you have to move well and that’s a weakness for Marcos. But I think tonight he’s in the running for that first win over the Spaniard, however I still give Nadal the very, very narrow edge.
Now, if all goes to plan that means tomorrow we would see a Federer v. Nadal nighttime collision (which means it won’t happen).
Overall though, looking at the schedule the four matches could go either way. I give Federer the best chance of winning otherwise every match is really, really close. So if nothing else it should be an unpredictable day of tennis from Cincinnati.
As for television, ESPN2 will have live coverage in the afternoon starting at noon although I believe they are on tape delay in the evening for Nadal’s match.
CINCINNATI FRIDAY SCHEDULE
STADIUM start 10:00 am
 M Bhupathi (IND) / M Mirnyi (BLR) vs  M Fyrstenberg (POL) / M
Not Before 12:00 PM
[WC] M Fish (USA) vs  A Murray (GBR)
Not Before 2:00 PM
 A Roddick (USA) vs  N Djokovic (SRB)
 R Federer (SUI) vs  N Davydenko (RUS)
Not Before 7:00 PM
 R Nadal (ESP) vs M Baghdatis (CYP)
 J Knowle (AUT) / A Ram (ISR) vs  B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA)
GRANDSTAND start 2:00 pm
F Cermak (CZE) / M Mertinak (SVK) vs  L Kubot (POL) / O Marach (AUT)
W Moodie (RSA) / D Norman (BEL) vs M Fish (USA) / M Knowles (BAH)
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