It looks like we are heading for another Novak Djokovic-Rafael Nadal showdown Sunday at the Rome Tennis Masters. The only foils left are Andy Murray, who gets the Serb, and Richard Gasquet who has the task of knocking out Nadal.
Today, Djokovic continued his torrid play crushing Robin Soderling 6-3, 6-0. Soderling, a competent, big-serving, big-hitting, two-time French Open finalist could manage just three games (THREE!!) against Djokovic the Destroyer. Unreal.
“I was aware of the importance of the match and the quality of my opponent,” Djokovic said. “He’s a big server, a very big hitter, so I really needed to stay focused the whole time.”
Djokovic’s win streak climbs to 37 straight, 35 this year alone. And if he can keep playing like this it’s not going to end. No one is even close to him right now. The guy is in more of a zone than anyone I think I’ve ever seen, Federer included (would a peak 2006 version of Federer beat this guy? I’m not so sure of that!).
Novak now gets Murray tomorrow evening in the Rome semifinals. The Scot needed three sets to turn away Florian Mayer 1-6, 6-1, 6-1.
As for Nadal, he’s still shaking off that virus. After saying he was feeling better Thursday the fever returned Friday but Rafa still took care of Marin Cilic in routine fashion 6-1, 6-3 to seal the No. 1 ranking through the French Open and put him into another clay semifinal.
“Today I woke up well, but still had fever last night,” said Nadal. “Before the match, I had fever again.”
Rafa, though, was pleased by his performance and says he’s felt better after the win.
“[I feel] much better,” he said. “I think I started the match with a greater intensity and so I was able to move faster and to play more aggressive with the legs and if I play more aggressive with the legs then the shots are automatically more aggressive.”
Next for Nadal is Gasquet who backed up his impressive Thursday win over Roger Federer by ousting Tomas Berdych 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Unfortunately for the Frenchman, he’s 0-8 career against Nadal including a 6-4, 6-2 win at Monte Carlo.
“For sure it will be tough for me, but I want to be there, it is a very big match for me,” said Gasquet. “I am not the favourite of the match tomorrow and I have nothing to lose and I just want to enjoy another match against Rafa.”
If Rafa’s still a little sick and Gasquet can get that backhand humming, the serve cracking and be steady with his forehand he has a shot. Another key will be court positioning. Nadal will pound the ball to the Gasquet backhand corner and if the Richard can maintain his ground he’s in the match. If he starts getting pushed off the baseline then he’s in serious trouble.
Gasquet is ultra talented and tomorrow, like in the Federer match, there’s not much expected of him, so he should and hopefully will just let er rip.
As for the Djokovic-Murray, I give Djokovic the big edge. As I said if he plays like he did yesterday (against Wawrinka) and today against Soderling he’s unbeatable. That simple.
If Novak’s off – and eventually he will be! – Murray has the serve, the power and the variety to capitalize in a way similar to what we saw of him last month against Rafa at Monte Carlo, or maybe just get another cortisone shot. And like Gasquet no one is picking him to win here (unlike the Australian Open final!) so pressure shouldn’t be a problem.
“He’s a great opponent,” said Djokovic of Andy. “We know each other very well. We played last time in the Australian Open final. Obviously he’s motivated to win, so it’s going to be a tough one.”
Djokovic also leads their series 5-3 but Murray had won three straight until that Australian Open final. But Novak is playing much better tennis now (if that’s possible) and Murray’s on his least favorite of surfaces.
In the women’s bracket, top ranking Caroline Wozniacki will meet Maria Sharapova in one semifinal. In the other it’s Sam Stosur against Li Na. Sharapova got through Victoria Azarenka retired due to an elbow injury with the Russian leading in the second 4-6, 3-0. There was a bit of a scuttle after the handshake with Azarenka mouthing “F’ing Bitch” but apparently it was not meant for Maria.
Tennis Channel will have live coverage of Nadal at 8am ET and then Djokovic-Murray at 2pm ET. ESPN3.com has live streaming.
SATURDAY ROME SCHEDULE
CENTRALE start 12:00 noon
 N Li (CHN) vs  S Stosur (AUS) – WTA
Not Before 2:00 PM
 R Nadal (ESP) vs  R Gasquet (FRA) – ATP
Not Before 4:00 PM
 C Wozniacki (DEN) vs  M Sharapova (RUS) – WTA
Not Before 8:00 PM
 A Murray (GBR) vs  N Djokovic (SRB) – ATP
J Isner (USA) / S Querrey (USA) vs [WC] S Bolelli (ITA) / F Fognini (ITA) – ATP
PIETRANGELI start 1:00 pm
 V King (USA) / Y Shvedova (KAZ) vs  K Peschke (CZE) / K Srebotnik (SLO) – WTA
A Dulgheru (ROU) / J Gajdosova (AUS) vs S Peng (CHN) / J Zheng (CHN) – WTA
Not Before 5:00 PM
M Fish (USA) / A Roddick (USA) vs C Berlocq (ARG) / J Nieminen (FIN) – ATP
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