Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic routinely took care of business Friday to land semifinal berths at the London ATP Finals. Nadal won early and after a tough, contentious first set, ripped through Tomas Berdych 7-6(3), 6-1 to secure his spot. Djokovic, who had been troubled by Andy Roddick the last few years, had no problems with the American this time around in a 6-2, 6-3 victory.
Said Djokovic, “I knew I had to be kind of in a control of the rallies, and I did that. I needed to get a lot of returns back. I did that, as well. I was using the forehands quite well. So [I am] just happy with the overall performance. It’s never easy. You got to make these shots. You’ve got to get his serves back in the court and try to win the rallies.”
Djokovic had battled an eye problem against Nadal on Wednesday. Today, the Serb was in fine form and perfect health against Roddick who looked like a guy ready to call it a season.
So the final four is set with a lip-smacking dream line-up of Rafael Nadal v. Andy Murray at 9am ET and then Roger Federer v. Novak Djokovic at 3pm ET. On to my picks.
Rafael Nadal v. Andy Murray
It’s been quite a turnaround week for Rafael Nadal. A year ago he was winless in round-robin play, this year perfect. After dropping his opening set of the tournament to Andy Roddick (the only three set match thus far!), Nadal’s been sharp and effective during his six set win streak.
Murray started out his home event with a banger of a win over Robin Soderling, then faltered against Federer before regaining his form against David Ferrer. So he, too, appears to be in form.
However, after three matches based on play this week alone, you have to give the edge to Nadal over Murray. Rafa also leads their head-to-head 8-4 but on hardcourts it is even at 4-all. And Murray is the only guy to score a win over Nadal at a 2010 Slam (albeit a retirement at the Australian Open). But, like Federer, Nadal is a perfect 2-0 against Murray in London with both wins coming at Wimbledon. So Nadal gets even more checkmarks. And even Murray seems to agree.
“He’s obviously the best player in the world,” Murray said of Nadal. “I’ve watched his matches here. He’s been playing unbelievably well. You know, I don’t seem to beat those guys in the big matches. So, you know, I’m going to have to play my best tennis against him to win. I need to do it in a big match, in the semis. I have to see whether I can do that or not.”
When asked if he was confident against Rafa, he said, “No, not really. But I’ll try and win against him.”
That doesn’t sound like the attitude you need going in to beat Rafa, does it?
That said, I’m sure Murray is playing a little possum here and trying to lower the expectation, but I’m going to give him at least a set tomorrow. Still, in what I’ll call a 50/50 match I’ll pick Rafa in three…
Roger Federer v. Novak Djokovic
Of the remaining final foursome Federer’s looked the best. He’s the only player left who hasn’t lost a set and he’s breezed in his matches posting cushy wins over Ferrer, Murray and Soderling.
“So far it’s been good, you know,” said Federer. “I won against top-10 players in straight sets. That’s going to make me feel obviously awfully good for the weekend. But I hope I can keep it up. Tournament’s not over yet. This is really when it starts for me.”
“This is when it starts”? Now that’s the attitude.
When his contact lenses were working properly, Djokovic was sound in impressive wins over Berdych and today Roddick. But I really would have liked to have seen (pun intended) more of Djokovic against Nadal. So I’m not totally convinced of his level of play based on those two wins.
Head-to-head, Federer leads 12-6 and he’s held match points against Novak in their last four meetings, losing only that US Open semifinal. Since that match, Fed’s won both indoor encounters at Shanghai and Basel and I think he’s playing better here this week than he was in those events.
Before the event, I had Federer beating Novak in the final so i’ll stick with that and pick the Swiss here to win in straight sets.
And if both predictions come correct, you all know what that means…
Tennis Channel has live coverage and ESPN2 will also air the matches on tape, I believe.
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