The Madness finally hit Indian Wells yesterday. After a relatively boring week of men’s tennis, we finally had some pulse-pounding drama as Milos Raonic shocked Rafael Nadal, saving three second set tiebreak matchpoints to win 4-6, 7-6(10), 7-5 in the quarterfinals.
“At the moments when I was playing those match points, it didn’t really feel like match points,” said Raonic who had never beaten Nadal before Friday. “It was just like another point that I was trying to get through… [I was] just sort of going through the paces at that moment of what do I need to do now, not really signifying it as a match point.
“I feel obviously all sorts of good,” said Raonic. “Obviously there was a lot of up and down through that match, and all I could ask of myself was just keep competing and hope to find a way. I got fortunate a few times and it worked out.”
We knew Raonic had the monster serve and we knew Rafa doesn’t like playing those type of players – big servers that don’t give him a lot of rhythm – but I didn’t see that 5-5 break coming and I didn’t see Raonic ever breaking Rafa period on that court. But full credit to the Canadian who kept pounding serves and cracking that cross-court inside-out forehand. He really went after Nadal’s forehands.
What’s more impressive is I thought Nadal played pretty well actually. Much better than he did in that loss to another big man in Australia, Tomas Berdych. A few minor blips here and there (stands far too back at times), but otherwise a solid match from Rafa.
“I think I did well,” said Nadal. “I enjoyed the fact that I felt well with myself on court again. I felt competitive. I felt strong, with the right energy. I lost that match thinking much more positive things than negative ones.”
And early on it looked like Nadal would cruise to a straight set victory. But that darn tiebreaker.
Instead of Rafa, it’s now Raonic who now has a semifinal date today with Roger Federer after the Swiss blew out Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-0. That’s Tomas for you.
“[It’s] not just another win, but another win against a Top 10 player; against Berdych, who has played me tough in recent years,” said Federer.
“I think I really played well off the baseline,” said Federer. “Because I was serving well and moving well, so maybe there is not going to be that many chances for him on the return as it is. But at least he could have stayed with me longer, and as the match goes on maybe he would have also found his groove better.
“But for me, I found it quickly. I felt like I was hitting the ball well but also playing the right way. When those two things happen, it was always going to be tough for him.”
Now to my semifinal picks:
Novak Djokovic v Andy Murray
Here we go again. Since returning from that back surgery at the start of 2014 Andy Murray just hasn’t been the same guy. He plays well, won some titles at the end of last year, but just can’t beat the upper crust including Novak Djokovic. He’s now lost to his friend last 5 times and he’s down 16-8 overall. And based on that trend and the fact he doesn’t play his best tennis at Indian Wells (only made the final once), it’s hard not to pick Novak here.
Djokovic is the defending champion and really other than Federer, he’s been unbeatable on hardcourts since the US Open winning Paris, the ATP Finals and the Australian Open.
He also plays well in the desert winning the event three times prior and so for this week he hasn’t lost a set.
If Murray has hope, and a man of his talents always does, he can take comfort in the fact that he played well for a while against Novak in Australia and at the US Open last year. Also, Novak did get a walkover in the quarterfinals, so maybe the Serb isn’t in his usual tournament flow. The pressure to win won’t be as intense as it was in Australia, so that could help Andy who will be the prohibitive underdog. And maybe Novak isn’t use to 11am match starts, like Murray often gets and is accustomed to.
So some hope.
“11:00 a.m. is significantly cooler,” Murray said. “Ball is not as lively and bouncing as high. So it really depends. Depends what the weather is like when we get out there, but, you know, if it’s anything like it has been, you know, in the sort of mid‑80s, low 90s, it’s going to be a tough physical match. You know, they are quite slow courts, so it’s hard to finish points. And, you know, in these conditions, when it’s this hot, you know, you play a few long rallies, it’s tough. So I expect that to be the case on Saturday.”
The key with these two will again be the second serve and I expect that edge to end up in Djokovic’s favor both serving and in the return game. And Murray’s got to play aggressively, but I don’t think it will be enough in the end.
The pick: Djokovic in two
Roger Federer v Milos Raonic
Roger has to be quietly relieved he’s not playing Rafa because I don’t think he beats Nadal on this Indian Wells court. But hey, he should beat Milos.
After that emotional 3-hour win yesterday over Nadal, I have to wonder how fresh and ready Raonic can be for Federer. So to me, with so little rest and recover I cannot see Raonic doing it again.
Plus, unlike Nadal, Federer doesn’t mind the big serving guys, just ask Andy Roddick. Roger’s not as quick as reading those serves as he once was, but he’s still great at it and I expect him to slice those big bombs back and find the backhand. That’s the start.
“I think I have a good understanding of what I need to do against Roger,” said Raonic. “Obviously that’s the easiest part, understanding it, rather than doing it. But I think the last three times we have played I have sort of been able to change course a little bit, especially when it was important to me in Paris. Even the other two I didn’t play well at the start of the matches, in London and in Brisbane, but I was able to find a way to fight myself back into those matches and give myself some opportunities.
“I’ve just got to keep calm, keep collected, and just try to figure out solutions and adjustments as they come.”
The key will be Milos’s serve. Since I don’t see Federer dropping serve here, as long as Milos can force tiebreaks, get a little luck like yesterday, he’ll have a chance.
But I look for Federer to use the slice, the dropshot, attack the net, etc and keep the Canadian off balance en route to victory. But because the Raonic serve keeps him deep in so many sets, it should be a nailbiter. Unless he’s exhausted from Friday.
The pick: Federer in three
The drama wasn’t done after the Nadal match. It was in fact getting better as would you believe Serena Williams withdrew from the event. Fourteen years ago Venus ignited the Indian Wells controversy withdrawing from her semifinal (w/ Serena), and now Serena does it herself.
Hollywood can’t make up scripts like this.
Serena did the right thing making the media rounds, and the stunned crowd acted properly when Serena addressed them. But it’s just surreal how sports, and especially tennis, works sometimes.
As 33, knee troubles and the accumulating withdrawals are more and more evidence that Serena’s on borrowed time here. And like Federer, the end is near. So enjoy it while we can.
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