The final combined tally for Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s US Open Series hardcourt season: 0 titles, 0 semifinals, 5 wins, 4 losses. Are those the kind of numbers strike fear into the opposition in 10 days at the US Open?
Yesterday, the two legends of tennis crashed out of the Cincinnati Tennis Masters quarterfinals. Nadal, who had won a spotty 3-hour, 40-minute slugest over Fernando Verdasco, was never in the match against free-flowing Mardy Fish who grabbed his first career victory over the Spaniard 6-3, 6-4.
“I lost because Mardy played much better than me,” said Nadal. “I had a few chances. A little bit unlucky for moments. But that’s tennis.”
“[In New York] I have to play my game. I have to play aggressive. I have to move faster. I have to play with more intensity and less mistakes.”
And Rafa needs to get those two burnt fingers taken care of if he is to have any chance to go deep or defend at the US Open.
Bottom line, the courts just look to quick for him and he’s not serving or playing like he did last summer when he won in New York.
Fish, who’s been the second best player this summer, had never beaten Nadal in six tries until Friday.
“I played a couple nervous points, but I was pretty happy with the way I executed,” said Fish who has twice been a Cincinnati bridesmaid. “That first point or two in the last game was huge. I got a little lucky. I hit the top of the tape and maybe the side of the line on a defensive forehand crosscourt and maybe caught him off guard and he missed his slice out wide. A little bit of luck and a little bit of belief as well.”
With Nadal out, it was then Federer’s turn to restore order against Tomas Berdych. The Czech had beaten Roger in two of their last three meetings and once again Berdych’s power ruled keeping Federer on his heels. And Roger, like Nadal, was never really in the match.
“I was winning quite easily as far as games and I was able to play something more on his serve,” Berdych assessed. “It makes me more confident and then I can go more for the shots, especially on his second serve.”
After two good wins over Juan Martin Del Potro and James Blake, the loss to Berdych has to sting.
“I definitely didn’t feel like I was getting a great read on his serve today, and that definitely cost me a bit of maybe giving myself more opportunities and just getting into the rallies more on his service games, which then maybe would have allowed me to try out a few things and so forth,” said the four-time champ Federer. “I thought he served well. He played a good match. Unfortunately I didn’t play a very good tie-break, and he was better than me today.”
Luckily for Federer and Nadal, the upcoming US Open is best-of-5 otherwise you get the feeling, especially with Federer, they could both be back in Europe by Labor Day. Let’s hope Nadal can get those fingers right.
In the evening, a weary looking Novak Djokovic looked to be heading for the exit until my man Gael Monfils let him off the hook. Playing some the best tennis I’ve seen from him, Monfils took the first set and with Djokovic reeling, he was in total control of the match.
But full credit to Djokovic who rose up, wore down Monfils with a few long rallies mid-way through the second and took over the match, winning 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.
“I had my chances first set, didn’t use them,” said Djokovic who is now 56-1 on the year. “I didn’t step in when I needed to. But in the middle of the second set, I started playing better. Stepped in when I needed to. It was a very physical match in the end. He struggled I think more physically. But I hung in there, and in the end it was a good win.”
Monfils once again showed that he has the game, the talent, the flair, the weapons but mentally and especially physically (he seems to have only enough fuel for two sets max of top flight tennis) he still has a lot of work to do.
For Djokovic, how much will he have left this afternoon against Berdych?
“It’s a very fast court where he plays really well this tournament. He won today against Federer quite comfortably. He was hitting the ball extremely well,” Djokovic said. “He will be aggressive, I’m sure, but it’s another big match. It’s a semi-final.”
Djokovic has won six of seven and if he’s 100% he gets the edge. But I have to think he’s feeling some fatigue and if it’s hot and having gone night to day, I’ll give a slight edge to Berdych.
In the early semifinal, Fish plays Andy Murray. Murray blew out a tired Gilles Simon and the Scot can really save his summer with a title run this weekend. Murray, though, trails Fish 4-3 in their series with Mardy winning all three last year.
“He’s played his best tennis the last year or so,” Murray said of Fish. “If you look at his game, it hasn’t changed a whole lot. It’s just confidence of winning matches and understanding how to play his game most effectively. He’s in good shape. He’s been very, very consistent, which maybe he wasn’t in the past. That’s why his ranking has gone [up].”
I think Mardy’s confidence has to be sky-high after the Nadal win and he loves the Cincinnati courts – he’s yet to drop serve. Meanwhile 2008 Cincinnati champ Murray’s been a little rusty this summer and overall he’s been disappointing in the non-Slam tournaments. So I’ll pick Mardy in an upset today.
The women’s semifinals are tonight with Maria Sharapova against Vera Zvonareva and Andrea Petkovic vs. Jelena Jankovic.
ESPN2 has complete live TV coverage starting at 1pm and again at 7pm. ESPN3.com has live streaming.
SATURDAY CINCINNATI SCHEDULE
CENTER COURT start 1:00 pm
 A Murray (GBR) vs  M Fish (USA) – ATP
Not Before 2:30 PM
 N Djokovic (SRB) vs  T Berdych (CZE) – ATP
Not Before 7:00 PM
 [WC] M Sharapova (RUS) vs  V Zvonareva (RUS) – WTA
 A Petkovic (GER) vs  J Jankovic (SRB) – WTA
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