How many times do you think Feliciano Lopez has already thought about that missed overhead in the third set tiebreak? If you didn’t see it, Lopez, who had never beaten Roger Federer in seven previous tries, was in control leading the Swiss 5-2 in the final set tiebreak when the Spaniard was presented with an absolutely gimmie overhead smash. But instead of putting the ball away and going up 6-2 and four match points, Lopez somehow completely missed the court – looked like even the doubles alley – given Federer the point on the horrendous more.
A smiling Lopez still led 5-3 but in the game of tennis such leads can be deceiving especially after such a gaff. And Federer, the champion that he is, pounced on the opportunity by winning seven of the last nine points (he did save match point at 7-6) in the break to turn away Lopez 7-6(13), 6-7(1), 7-6(7).
“I could have lost, so I’m obviously relieved to have come through this one,” Federer said. “It was a tough match and a nailbiter really from start to finish, so it’s nice to play those sorts of matches.”
Could have lost? More like should have lost. Lopez will be having nightmares about that miss for many, many months. Though the lefty is putting some of the blame on the conditions.
“Maybe that was the key because if not, I would have been up 6-2 and I´d have had the match in my hand but it was a really high ball and I couldn’t see it and with the conditions on the court it wasn’t really clear for me but the ball went three meters out and because I couldn’t see the ball,” explained Lopez.
“Obviously if I had won that point it would have been very complicated for him because I would have had four match points and I think there were other moments,” he added. “I think that today on the big points, he played really good. I have probably only made one error, that ball we were talking about.”
Yup, just one really, really nad error. And in a microcosm we saw why Lopez is…well, Lopez. And Federer is Federer. It’s worth repeating, at the highest levels the pros have all the shots it comes to between the ears and in that respect Lopez again came up short.
Still, you have to credit Federer for pulling out a tough match. On a faster clay court Lopez can be tricky like he was today, but Federer has to be much sharper if he wants to win a third Madrid title. Fortunately for the Swiss, tomorrow he should get a breather against Xavier Malisse before another tough test on Friday.
Fed’s main rival Rafael Nadal has no such luck on Thursday. Rafa plays arguably the third best player this season, the rapidly rising Juan Martin Del Potro. After winning Estoril and surviving a three-setter against Mikhail Youhzny, Delpo showed no signs of fatigue in demolishing Marin Cilic losing just three games.
And as I wrote last week, Delpo’s one of the few guys on the tour that can really hurt and beat Nadal on clay (Novak Djokovic the other).
Nadal leads Delpo 5-3 and beat him at the 2007 French in their only clay meeting. But on a faster clay court with the altitude Delpo can really give Nadal problems especially if Rafa’s leaving the ball short. That said, I still think Nadal comes through this one but I do expect a good, tight match.
“He has a lot of control of the ball,” said Nadal after hammering Marcos Baghdatis. “If I manage to get him moving and to make him feel uncomfortable then I can hurt him. It’s quite difficult to manage this because he’s very tall and from the very back he can hit very good shots but it’s true that I am in good form recently.”
Rafa has won his last 35 matches on clay. Del Potro has won his last nine matches on the dirt.
“I hope I can go out and win the match without many speculations and hopefully in some moment of my career I will beat him on clay,” Del Potro said. “I’ve never been capable of beating him on clay and let’s see if it’s tomorrow, but let me repeat that its against the No. 1 in the world and he’s the best without a doubt on this type of surface.”
A very loaded Thursday third round schedule also includes Novak Djokovic seeking his 31st straight win (29th of 2011 which would equal Ivan Lendl) against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Andy Murray will test Tomaz Bellucci and in two good ones, David Ferrer faces Sergei Stakhovsky and Robin Soderling collides with JW Tsonga. Tomas Berdych is also on against Juan Monaco.
The women’s event will have a big Stuttgart rematch in the third round between Caroline Wozniacki and Julie Gorgeous Georges.
Tennis Channel will again have a full day of coverage. Live streaming is available on ESPN3.com.
THURSDAY MADRID SCHEDULE
MANOLO SANTANA start 11:45 am
 C Wozniacki (DEN) vs J Goerges (GER) – WTA
 V Azarenka (BLR) vs [WC] A Parra Santonja (ESP) – WTA
Not Before 4:00 PM
 R Federer (SUI) vs X Malisse (BEL) – ATP
Not Before 7:00 PM
 R Nadal (ESP) vs J Del Potro (ARG) – ATP
 D Ferrer (ESP) vs S Stakhovsky (UKR) – ATP
ARANTXA SANCHEZ VICARIO start 1:30 pm
 N Li (CHN) vs R Vinci (ITA) – WTA
Not Before 4:00 PM
G Garcia-Lopez (ESP) vs  N Djokovic (SRB) – ATP
T Bellucci (BRA) vs  A Murray (GBR) – ATP
J Tsonga (FRA) vs  R Soderling (SWE) – ATP
R Gasquet (FRA) / J Tsonga (FRA) vs  M Mirnyi (BLR) / D Nestor (CAN) – ATP – After suitable rest
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