Rafael Nadal has about 10 days to get his flegling game in order. In a very scratchy, very nervous affair with friend and countryman Fernando Verdasco, Nadal came away with the 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 7-6(9) victory in the third round at the Cincinnati Tennis Masters.
But problems persist. Like the Ivan Dodig match (he led 6-1, 3-1) and against Juliean Benneteau (he failed to serve out the match in the second set), Nadal again had trouble closing the match yesterday.
Rafa led by a break in the third then blew four matchpoints in the final set breaker before a big sigh of relief as he got the win. Maybe the victory gets him over the hump or maybe after all those losses to Novak Djokovic, the once mentally unbreakable Nadal is breaking.
The end of the match tiebreak was marred by some incredibly bad forehand misses, as both both were tightening up.
“You enjoy always a good match, but when you lose in this way, of course it’s not easy, because it could have been a big win,” said Verdasco who drops to 0-12 career against Nadal. “You have it so close; tennis is like that. Tennis is very tough. It’s a very hard sport, not easy mentally. You need to be strong and not let these situations affect you.”
“The truth is that I am very happy. Very content with the victory,” added Nadal. “It was a tough match for both of us. Now I’m looking ahead to my next round and I hope to continue playing well here in Cincinnati.”
Nadal, who also played (and lost) his doubles after that 3-hour, 40-minute slugfest with Verdasco, moves on to play arguably the second hottest player on the tour, Mardy Fish. The American Fish has been on a rampage this summer and yesterday he edged Richard Gasquet 7-5, 7-5.
While Nadal leads 6-0 in their head-to-head, today you have to give Fish a real shot to pull the upset. He’s playing the better tennis.
“If you want to play someone like Rafa, you hope that he plays a match that’s four hours long before you play him,” joked Fish. “That’s as physical as it gets. It’s hot out there, so I’m sure he’ll be pretty tired. He’s a human being. It’s a great opportunity for me. I’ve never beaten him before. This is probably a surface that I would choose to play him on if I were to pick: something hot, something quick.”
Fish has taken sets off Rafa in their last two including Wimbledon, and with Nadal’s long match yesterday, his two burnt fingers on his right hand and a clear lack of confidence, I’ll give a slight edge to Fish. But Mardy has a history of coming up short and losing that forehand in these big matches (see the Davis Cup), so it could be another nervy affair.
Also today, former champion Andy Murray opens play at 11am against Gilles Simon. Both players are mirror images of each with Murray the more accomplished and he’s won six straight over the Frenchman. And even though Simon’s had the better summer I think Murray’s getting into form and I’ll pick him to win.
“I was hitting the ball a little bit cleaner today,” said Murray after avenging his Miami loss to Alex Bogomolov, Jr. on Thursday. “I would still definitely like to do things better. I didn’t move particularly well, and that’s something that I’ll need to improve on in this kind of 10, 11 days before the US Open. I want to try and make sure that’s perfect before the start of the US Open.”
Roger Federer continues what seems like a mini revenge tour this week against Tomas Berdych. Federer’s facing the third straight player to have a big win over him (he beat Del Potro then Blake), and now gets the Czech who sent him out of Wimbledon last year. A four-time Cincinnati champion, Federer has won 24 of his last 26 in the city, he’s playing very well this week and he leads 9-3 against Berdych. With all those gaudy numbers I think he makes it 10.
“He’s a dangerous player,” Federer said of Berdych. “He hits the ball extremely hard and he can go through matches and dominate from the baseline. I have to make sure I get into his service games and play aggressive myself and see where it takes us. We’ve had some tough matches over the years, and I expect something similar tomorrow.”
Tonight, Novak Djokovic bids for his 56th win of the year against Gael Monfils. It’s a rematch to the hour almost where Djokovic crushed Monfils last Friday in Montreal quarterfinals, but tonight with the Serb maybe showing signs of fatigue I expect a much closer match. Still, it’s hard to pick against Novak.
“I played so many matches, and they caught up to me a little bit,” Djokovic said yesterday after beating Radek Stepanek 6-3, 6-3. “It’s expected that some part of my game is not working 100 per cent.
“But I believe that tomorrow the serve will be better. It’s important to have the right mindset and positive attitude. I don’t think that my rhythm is bad, it’s just a little bit my toss and I’m out of balance on my serve and I’m forcing it a little bit too much. Maybe I should go a little bit for percentage rather than speed.”
Djokovic leads Monfils 7-0 in their series. But if Federer wins easily and Djokovic is embroiled in a long match with Monfils tonight, might there be reason for a weary Novak to avoid to a clash with the Swiss Saturday night?
Maria Sharapova is the class of what’s left of the battered women’s field. She’ll be tested though this morning by Sam Stosur.
ESPN2 again has the TV coverage from 1pm-5pm ET and at 7pm with the Djokovic match.
FRIDAY CINCINNATI SCHEDULE
CENTER COURT start 11:00 am
 S Stosur (AUS) vs  [WC] M Sharapova (RUS) – WTA
Not Before 1:00 PM
 M Fish (USA) vs  R Nadal (ESP) – ATP
Not Before 2:30 PM
 R Federer (SUI) vs  T Berdych (CZE) – ATP
Not Before 7:00 PM
 N Djokovic (SRB) vs  G Monfils (FRA) – ATP
 K Peschke (CZE) / K Srebotnik (SLO) vs N Grandin (RSA) / V Uhlirova (CZE) – WTA
GRANDSTAND start 11:00 am
 G Simon (FRA) vs  A Murray (GBR) – ATP
D Hantuchova (SVK) vs  V Zvonareva (RUS) – WTA
N Petrova (RUS) vs  A Petkovic (GER) – WTA
Not Before 7:00 PM
 S Peng (CHN) vs  J Jankovic (SRB) – WTA
 B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA) vs  M Fyrstenberg (POL) / M Matkowski (POL) – ATP
Also Check Out:
Tennis-X Funk/Trunk: Murray, Rafa, Kim-tastic
Breaking Down the No. 1 Ranking Between Federer, Nadal
Roddick, Fish, Berdych Face Stern Tests Today in Washington
Fish, Isner, Harrison Lead Americans into Atlanta QFs
Nadal, Federer Lead Top 6 Today at Cincinnati