The Cincinnati Tennis Masters Final between Roger Federer and Mardy Fish kicks off in about 90 minutes. The defending champion Federer is bidding for his fourth Cincinnati title and 17th Masters victory of his career.
Fish has been among the hottest players on the tour this summer. Now some 30 pounds lighter, the 28-year-old has recent wins over Andy Murray, John Isner, Fernando Verdasco and yesterday earned his second straight over Andy Roddick.
In the semifinal, Fish outlasted his good friend Roddick and Mother Nature in a streaky, unusual 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-1 win.
The first set was played on fairly even terms until a rain-delay hit just as Fish served 4-5. When play resumed an hour later Fish’s form fell apart and behind a flurry of errors Roddick snatched the easy break and with it the first set.
Things continued to unravel for Mardy as Roddick grabbed another break early in the second and appeared to be well in control up 5-2. But then a second rain stoppage hit, this one just for a few minutes. But that’s all the time Fish needed to regroup.
When the match resumed Fish suddenly came to life and stunningly broke Roddick when he served for the match at 5-3. Fish eventually claimed the tiebreaker winning four straight points off Roddick’s serve at one stretch. He then raced out to a 5-0 lead in the third as Roddick’s game came unglued.
What an absolutely bizarre match.
“You could see that in that situation,” Fish said of Roddick’s inability to serve out the match at 5-3. “Guys are gonna are nervous. And, you know, trying to serve it out, as big of a service game as Andy has, you know you don’t real feel too confident. I just tried to make him play as much as I could. I tried not to make too many errors on that game. I think I missed a second serve return and maybe missed a passing shot to lose the two points that I lost in that game. I made him play four points.”
Fish added, “We were both in a really good position in the semis of a Masters Series. I felt great. I’ve never felt better on the court and I’ve never been more confident and I’ve never played better. So I kept that in the back of my head, you know, that I’ve won a lot of matches this summer. You know, tried to take as much confidence from that as I can.”
Roddick said, “The first one really helped; the second one obviously didn’t. That’s the thing with rain delays. The momentum can shift really fast. I benefited from it the first time for sure. He came out and served kind of a sluggish game right away, and I kind of matched that. And then once he got back into it, he completely outplayed me in the third set. He was swinging from the hips. Even the breaker, I didn’t play a bad breaker. I made first serves and he played well. A lot of it comes down to one of the most important points was the ball I missed, the first point of the game where I was serving it out. You know, it was a short ball. I kind of think I hit it — because he had been hitting his passes pretty well, I think I overhit it. I make him play there, it might be a different story.”
Fish improves to 3-9 against his childhood friend, and the win is his 16th in his last 17 matches. He’s also back into the Cincinnati final for a second time after losing a heartbreaker back in 2003 to Roddick.
For Roddick, considering he’s been battling mono he had a great week to build off of for the US Open. The semifinal also returns him (and America) back into the Top 10 at No. 9. But, that’s back-to-back matches in which Andy was unable to serve out the match which is a little troubling.
“I feel okay,” Roddick said. “You know, to be honest, I came here and I had no expectations. For me to get in five really tough matches is more than I could’ve asked for going into the Open. Honestly, when I came here I was thinking maybe two matches we’ll see. I hadn’t really put too much time in. So beyond the disappointment that’s gonna linger for the next couple of hours, I think this week has been a complete positive considering how I felt and kind of where I was at 11 or 12 days ago.”
Last night, Federer got his revenge on Marcos Baghdatis for an Indian Wells loss earlier this year. In that match Federer held match points in what should have been a routine straight set win. This time Federer didn’t falter beating the Cypriot 6-4, 6-3 in comfortable fashion.
“I thought I read his first serve well, and that kind of put pressure on him,” said Federer who is now assured of the No. 2 seeding at the US Open. “I used the chip and charge here a bit because I know he’s struggled with that in the past. It’s quick conditions here, you know. I thought it was tough to control the ball today. So I kind of felt comfortable doing that. It worked on a couple of key moments, and that’s what I was trying to do. So I’m happy it all worked out. And yesterday I think he served something around almost 20 aces, and today he was only able to maybe get 3 or so. It’s funny how it goes. You know, that’s what tennis is. You never know what to expect the next day against the next opponent. I’m happy I was able to beat such a good player like Marcos today.”
Baghdatis, who had wins this week over Tomas Berdych and Friday night Rafael Nadal, was pleased with his week.
“It was a great week for me, and now back in the Top 20,” he said. “I felt great. I am fit and playing top guys well. I played three Top 10 guys and one Top 15 (Cilic) in the first round this week. Playing those matches without any pain is a bonus for me. I have to continue the way I’m working and just be patient and more success will come. I don’t have to think about any points or rankings and my ranking will go up by itself.”
So today in the final we have Federer and Fish. In the all-important head-to-head, Federer leads 5-1. But that one win for Mardy came in their most recent meeting at Indian Wells in 2008 when Fish clobbered Federer 6-3, 6-2 in one of those “mono matches” (a la Roddick yesterday).
Still, Federer is the clear favorite today. Roger’s shown some of his best form in quite a while this week and he hasn’t dropped a set (he was the beneficiary of a retirement and a walkover). Federer’s been attacking at the right moments, serving good and moving pretty well. I think today, Roger will try to pick on and attack Fish’s forehand and try to jump on Mardy’s nerves by getting an early break.
Said Federer of Fish, “He’s been injured sometimes, and obviously he likes to play the American hardcourts where maybe we stay more in Europe, so we kind of miss each other at times. But the time we played in Indian Wells I thought he came out and played the perfect match really. Yeah, it was a good match from his side. I never really got into the match. It was something similar to today, only I was on the loser’s side. Those matches go quickly. He seems like he’s playing well. Must be confident. I’m ready for that. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.”
As I said earlier, few players are hotter right now than Fish. This stretch has to be the best tennis of his career so his confidence level right now has never been higher. Add that with his win over Federer in 2008 and mentally he has to feel good about his chances today.
That said, I do wonder about Mardy’s legs. You have to think that eventually this run will catch up to him physically. He’s played a lot of tennis this week – consecutive three sets wins over Murray and Roddick, and doubles. Plus, you still have to question can Mardy handle the pressure, situation and stage of a big-match final like this. We saw him some crumbling yesterday. And this is arguably the biggest match of Mardy’s career. There is no doubt Federer can, but can Fish?
My pick: Federer in two
Today’s final will be televised in the US on CBS sports live at noon.
SUNDAY CINCINNATI SCHEDULE
STADIUM start 12:00 noon
 R Federer (SUI) vs [WC] M Fish (USA)
Not Before 2:00 PM
 M Bhupathi (IND) / M Mirnyi (BLR) vs  B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA)
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