It’s another one of those Rafael Nadal v. Roger Federer epic clashes on Saturday. This one follows the Miami destruction by moving to Rafa’s home soil on the clay at the Madrid Tennis Masters. Honestly, with Federer past his prime I just want to fast forward to Sunday already and see Nadal take on Novak Djokovic. That’s the reality these days with the way the top two are playing.
Djokovic gutted out a tough three setter over David Ferrer 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 to stay perfect on the year at 30-0, and up his overall career-best win streak to 32. It was Djokovic’s first career win over Ferrer on clay and the Serb, while maybe not at the level he was on the hardcourts where he was dishing out bagels and breadsticks with ridiculous regularity, is still playing some very confident, very composed ball.
“I was aware of the quality of my opponent today and the fact that I never won against him on clay,” Djokovic said. “I needed to be emotionally stable and handle in the best possible way because obviously I had to stay focused and work hard and that crowd was behind him which was expected. I wanted to use the opportunity and that’s what I did.”
Credit to Ferrer for really making Djokovic work, but even he conceded the way Novak’s playing he’s virtually unbeatable. There’s no weakness.
“I tried everything,” said Ferrer. “It’s a pity that I had those two faults with a break. Maybe it could have been a little bit more difficult for him but Novak is a player that has a lot of various ways to play and with his serves, he won more free points than me.”
As for the main event, Rafa has a pretty gaudy streak of his own at the moment. Nadal’s easy victory over Michael Llodra pushed his win streak to 36 on his favorite clay surface. And he now draws Federer in the 24th meeting of their incredible, historic rivalry. But these days it really doesn’t feel much like a rivalry at all when both guys seem to be going in opposite directions.
Nadal has been surging since getting back on the clay eating away at what was once a massive lead in 2011 points for Djokovic.
Federer picked up arguably his best win of the year (and his first against a Top 10 player) edging Robin Soderling 7-6, 6-4, but watching the Swiss you just don’t get the feeling that he can compete with Nadal, especially on the clay.
“I think this is a match that many fans and media want to see, especially here in his home country,” said Federer. “It’s obviously special and nice. On clay it’s obviously his territory a bit more, but I’ve enjoyed my time with Rafa on the court, even though I have a lot more time left on the court with more victories.”
Roger, did you enjoy that whipping in Miami? I guess not. I just hope you can keep it close and entertaining tomorrow.
Fortunately the altitude should help Federer and the experience of beating Nadal at the 2009 Madrid final is a plus. But Nadal had just come off a grueling match with Djokovic that year. And his other loss to Federer – at the London finals – also followed an epic three-set SF win. This time, a quick 6-2, 6-2 demolition of Llodra should have no lingering after taste.
Overall, Nadal leads the head-to-head 15-8 and 10-2 on the clay. Rafa’s also won six of the last eight meetings and tomorrow I think he’ll pocket another win over Fed. Unless Rafa has a real poor day in front of his Spanish fans (very unlikely), I don’t think Roger can do much to prevent the inevitable which is a comfortable straight set win.
Does Federer have a chance? I give him maybe a 10% which is pretty good. But he absolutely needs to attack Rafa at every opportunity much like he did at London last fall. But good luck, the Madrid courts are nothing like the fast, low bouncing variety we saw at the finals. Look for Rafa to again pound away at the Federer backhand and jump on anything short.
In the later semifinal, big props to Thomaz Bellucci for resurrecting his game. Long thought of as a Top 20, even Top 10 (John McEnroe called him), Bellucci really hadn’t made much of a global dent on the tour that is until this week. The lefty beat Andy Murray yesterday then today followed up with an impressive win today over Tomas Berdych. But against Djokovic, I think the run ends despite his positive attitude and maybe some Djokovic fatigue.
“I think I can beat any player,” said Bellucci. “Djokovic and Ferrer are very good players and they are in a very good moment for themselves. They are losing very few matches, but they are not invincible, they can also lose. The most important thing is that I continue playing like I have been and with a lot of concentration and I manage to play my best.”
Assuming Bellucci doesn’t pull off the unthinkable, might beating a lefty in the semifinal then playing Nadal in the finals help Novak? We’ll see.
Match time is at 10am ET with live coverage on the Tennis Channel with Federer v. Nadal streaming on ESPN3.com.
SATURDAY MADRID SCHEDULE
MANOLO SANTANA start 11:45 am
J Goerges (GER) vs  V Azarenka (BLR) – WTA
Not Before 1:45 PM
 N Li (CHN) vs  P Kvitova (CZE) – WTA
Not Before 4:00 PM
 R Nadal (ESP) vs  R Federer (SUI) – ATP
Not Before 7:00 PM
T Bellucci (BRA) vs  N Djokovic (SRB) – ATP
 V Azarenka (BLR) / M Kirilenko (RUS) vs  K Peschke (CZE) / K Srebotnik (SLO) – WTA – DOUBLES FINAL
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