In a Shanghai surprise, Jurgen Melzer stunned Rafael Nadal 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 at the third round of the Tennis Masters in China on Thursday.
The Austrian Melzer had never taken a set from Rafa in three prior attempts, most recently at the French Open. But after playing three straight weeks in Asia on the hardcourts, Nadal grew increasingly vulnerable and Melzer finished him off.
“I think the key was to put a lot of pressure on him,” said Melzer. “You cannot let him play his game. You’ll always be second. That play with his forehand, he’s just too good.
“So I tried to take the ball early. I was serving really well, especially on big moments. I executed my game plan, which was putting a lot of pressure, especially on his forehand.”
Nadal, seemed to say his schedule and season played a role in his defeat.
“I felt slow on court,” said Nadal. “I had more mistakes than usual. I played shorter than usual. [I was] a little bit more tired than usual, just physically and mentally. [I] just [want to] congratulate him. It’s true, he played very aggressive, but [it] wasn’t very difficult [to] play that aggressive against me today.”
After some strong serving performances the last few months, Nadal finished with just one ace and won only 61% of his first serves. The World No. 1 still has events in Paris and at London remaining on his schedule.
While Nadal fell, his followers had little trouble. No. 2 ranked Novak Djokovic blew out an exhausted Richard Gasquet 6-1, 6-1. Roger Federer was broken in the second set but still won easily 6-3, 6-4 and Andy Murray scored an impressive 6-3, 6-4 win over qualifier Jeremy Chardy.
Robin Soderling, a winner over David Ferrer, JW Tsonga, Juan Monaco and Guillermo Garcia who beat Tomas Berdych to collect his third big scalp during this Asian swing after wins over Nadal and Andy Roddick.
So Friday’s quarterfinal shapes up as Murray v. Tsonga, Monaco v. Melzer, Djokovic v. Garcia-Lopez and then Federer v. Soderling.
In the first match, Murray leads Tsonga 3-1 losing to the Frenchman only at the 2008 Australian Open first round (I remember, I picked Murray to win the Australian Open that year!). This time I like Murray again simply because Tsonga has been off the tour for so long that he can’t be back at 100%. Though JW, who is trying to qualify for London, probably needs this match more than Murray who has already secured his berth.
“He’s obviously a very tough player,” Murray said when asked about Tsonga. “Big serve, big forehand, you know, very aggressive game. He’s kind of similar to Chardy in many ways, but probably just kind of a better all-around player. He’s a very good athlete. He’s one of the top players, that’s for sure. He’s just come back from quite a long injury, you know, which is always tough. But, you know, I’m sure he’ll be very motivated for the last few tournaments of the year.”
Melzer and Monaco is a toss up. Monaco has a 4-1 edge but all wins are on clay. I think Melzer should get through given the confidence he should have after beating Rafa. And the lefty still has some added motivation of making the final eight in London.
Djokovic has never lost to G-Lo in three previous matches, but the Spaniards won some sets off of Novak and he’s won 10 of his last 11 matches overall. But Novak was my pick to win at the start the tournament so I’m sticking with him here. Djokovic has also won his last 15 sets. And incredibly, if I’m reading the schedule correctly, Djokovic could play up to three matches tomorrow – 1 singles, 2 doubles!
“The fact is that I’m feeling good on the court,” Djokovic said. “I’m hitting the ball and playing better and better every day. So I’m just hoping that it’s going to stay that way in the upcoming rounds.”
And in the main event, Federer takes a dominating 13-1 head-to-head advantage into his match against Soderling. The Swede has fallen in recent weeks at this quarterfinal stage and I think he’ll go down again to Federer tomorrow in a tight match, maybe even three sets. Federer’s looked pretty good thus far in Shanghai and while Soderling should be able to test him I don’t think the Swede has been in-form this second half of the tennis season.
“I’m looking forward to a tough match,” Federer said. “It’s going to be very different to the US Open. It’s going to be very different to the French Open. We’ve had the last couple matches in really tough conditions. It was raining during the French. It was super windy during the US Open. We’re looking forward to something a little bit normal.”
FRIDAY SHANGHAI SCHEDULE
STADIUM start 2:00 pm
 A Murray (GBR) vs  J Tsonga (FRA)
G Garcia-Lopez (ESP) vs  N Djokovic (SRB)
Not Before 6:00 PM
 J Melzer (AUT) vs J Monaco (ARG)
Not Before 8:00 PM
 R Soderling (SWE) vs  R Federer (SUI)
GRANDSTAND start 1:00 pm
 B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA) vs  F Cermak (CZE) / M Mertinak (SVK)
Not Before 3:30 PM
 M Bhupathi (IND) / M Mirnyi (BLR) vs  L Kubot (POL) / O Marach (AUT)
Not Before 4:00 PM
N Djokovic (SRB) / J Erlich (ISR) vs  D Nestor (CAN) / N Zimonjic (SRB) – After Suitable Rest
Not Before 7:00 PM
 J Melzer (AUT) / L Paes (IND) or T Bellucci (BRA) / J Tipsarevic (SRB) vs R Bopanna (IND) / A Qureshi (PAK) – After Suitable Rest
 M Fyrstenberg (POL) / M Matkowski (POL) vs N Djokovic (SRB) / J Erlich (ISR) or  D Nestor (CAN) / N Zimonjic (SRB) – To Be Arranged
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