Rafael Nadal stayed perfect on hardcourts this season after beating Tomas Berdych 7-5, 7-6(4) in the semifinals of the Cincinnati Tennis Masters on Saturday. Nadal, who won in Montreal last week, is now improbably 14-0 on his least favorite, most problematic surface on the circuit.
Rafa had dominated Berdych in their series winning 14 of 17 including 13 straight. And this time was more of the same. Berdych could hardly make on dent on Rafa’s serve in the first set, but managed to break Nadal for a 4-2 lead in the second only to (predictably) lose it and then collapse in the breaker.
“I finished the match playing aggressive with the forehand, with the backhand, and it’s great,” said Nadal. “I think I played a very good match this afternoon against a very difficult opponent who came to this match playing very well, and I have to be very, very happy about everything.”
Nadal will put his surprising cement streak on the line tomorrow afternoon against the big guy from Carolina, John Isner.
The 6-foot-10 American is having one of his best stretches and Saturday he kept it going, with some help, saving a matchpoint in an impressive 6-7(5), 7-6(9), 6-3 win over Juan Martin Del Potro.
Isner, who had never beaten Del Potro in four previous tries, was in trouble again to the Argentine. At 5-3 in the second Del Potro held a matchpoint on his serve but inexplicably double faulted. Isner, who hadn’t even seen a break chance up to that point, broke Del Potro, then won a long, tight breaker and broke Del Potro in the second game of the third. That was the match.
“I had my chance to beat him in the second,” Del Potro said. “Serving for the match, I made too many errors for these kind of matches. And then in the end, he was fighting all the time. I think he deserves to win in the third set, but I missed my chance in the second set, and I’m very disappointed for that.”
Del Potro really looked wary at the end, almost disinterested. Hopefully he can get his groove back for New York.
Meanwhile, Isner collects his third straight Top 10 win and he’ll need one more, over Rafa, if he is to pick up his biggest career title.
“I’ve been winning a lot of matches this summer,” said Isner who’s also been playing a lot of match this summer. “I feel like this tournament here is where I’m really starting to put it all together. I’ve beaten three Top 10 guys in a row. For me to do that, I have been playing well, really in pretty much all facets of my game. There’s definitely some stuff I can always improve on, but I do think I’m playing well.”
Nadal has beaten Isner in all three of their meetings but they haven’t played since their 2011 epic in the French Open first round.
Because of Isner’s serve, he always has a chance to win any match on any surface, and that includes the final against Rafa. But I just don’t know how John’s legs will be after a long match Saturday and really a long summer, so I expect Rafa to avoid those perilous tiebreaks and win this in straight sets.
After the start of the week many, myself included, figured Nadal would not even play in Cincinnati after his big Montreal win. But credit to the Spaniard, he showed up and his game did too. And if he wins he’ll get the No. 2 seed at the US Open and that means he’ll be Novak-free until the finals (maybe that’s also good for Novak, too?).
In the women’s final, the streaking Serena Williams will also seek her first Cincinnati title. Serena’s won 14 straight herself and up next in the Sunday final is former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.
Serena toughed out Li Na 7-5, 7-5 while Azarenka, in a match just concluded within the hour and one that featured no fewer than 23 breaks of serve, rallied to beat Jelena Jankovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Serena has beaten Azarenka 12 of 14 but the Belarussian did post a win this year on the Doha hardcourts where the world No. 1 gaveherself a “2 of of 10” for her performance. Look for a better one from Serena tomorrow.
“I’m really excited to be in the final,” Serena said. “And I want to give a shout out to some guy back there – thank you! You helped me today. Actually everyone was so amazing – I didn’t feel great, but you were all so amazing today. Thank you very much!”
CBS will have the men’s final at 12:30pm. ESPN2 will air the women’s final at 4pm.
SUNDAY CINCINNATI SCHEDULE
CENTER COURT start 12:30 pm
J Isner (USA) vs  R Nadal (ESP) – ATP
Starting at 4:00 PM
 S Williams (USA) vs  J Jankovic (SRB) or  V Azarenka (BLR) – WTA
GRANDSTAND start 2:00 pm
 A Groenefeld (GER) / K Peschke (CZE) vs  S Hsieh (TPE) / S Peng (CHN) – WTA
Not Before 3:00 PM
 B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA) vs  M Granollers (ESP) / M Lopez (ESP) – ATP
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