It was a shaky day for the two legends of the sport. While Rafael Nadal’s comeback was nearly cut short by the lightly regarded Carlos Berlocq in Sao Paulo, Roger Federer’s title defense was derailed by new nemesis Julien Benneteau who stunned the Swiss in straight sets 6-3, 7-5 in the quarterfinals at Rotterdam.
After a sloppy first set by Federer, who was broken three times in the opener – five times total in the match, things didn’t get much better in the second. Benneteau, riding a wave of confidence behind his ultra-aggressive play, raced out to what appeared to be an insurmountable 4-1 second set lead. But like he had last year when he led Federer by two sets at Wimbledon, where multiple times he was two points from the win in that match, he couldn’t maintain the lead. Federer briskly broke back and leveled the affair at 4-4.
Credit to the Frenchman, who buckled back in, shook off break chances and eventually broke Federer in the 12th game to close it out for his 200th career ATP win.
“Today, I knew I could do it because I had already done it in Bercy,” Benneteau said referring to his win over Federer at the 2009 Paris Indoor event. “I had to do a lot of good things. I prepared myself to play my game, not to try to play better than I can, but to be aggressive when I could. I needed to show physically and mentally I was here and that I wanted it.”
Federer, who was seeking a third title in Rotterdam, suffered his 200th career loss, and has been titleless since Cincinnati.
“Benneteau deserved to win”, Federer said after once of his worst performances. “He played strong and created more chances than I did.”
“Differences in the top of tennis are small,” he added. “I kept fighting, but I wasn’t able to make a comeback like last year against Nikolay Davydenko. I did not get the chance to. Julien kept me under pressure.”
Federer said the loss will give him the chance to go early to South Africa to do work with his foundation before his next event 10 days from now in Dubai. “I had a fine preparation, but that’s no guarantee for success. It is unfortunate for the people who hoped to see me play on Saturday and Sunday. Instead, I’m now going to South Africa to promote my foundation. Hopefully I will meet Nelson Mandela.”
In the semifinals tomorrow, Benneteau meets countryman Gilles Simon while in the earlier match it’s 2012 finalist Juan Martin Del Potro against Grigor Dimitrov.
Shortly after Federer’s loss, fellow great Nadal found himself in a similar circumstance. Facing Berlocq on a poor court in the Sao Paulo quarterfinals, Nadal rallied after dropping the first set and going down 3-1 in the third to pull out a tough, uneven 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 win.
Rafa, who’s been critical of the playing surface in Brazil, will play lucky loser Martin Alund in the late semifinal. The first semifinal marks the return of David Nalbandian who won a three-setter over No. 2 seed Nicolas Almagro. Nalbandian, who’s playing his first singles event since August, meets Simone Bolelli on Saturday.
In the final San Jose tournament (it moves next year to Memphis, which loses it’s event to Rio), one semifinal is already set between John Isner and Tommy Haas. The second semi will feature defending champion Milos Raonic against the Querrey-Falla winner.
In Doha, Serena Williams needed two sets to return to No. 1 and she got em. But it was easy. The 31-year-old overcame a 4-1 final set deficit to Petra Kvitova to win 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 and make her the oldest No. 1 on the WTA computer ever on Monday.
“I never thought I would be here again,” a teary-eyed Williams said of her returning to No. 1 for the first time October 10, 2010. “I am so thankful that I have the opportunity to get back to No.1. It has been a long road back and it’s a great feeling. It has been a lot of hard work but I don’t want to stop here.”
Next for Serena is a showdown with rival Maria Sharapova. In the other semifinal it’s Victoria Azarenka against Agnieszka Radwanska as all Top 4 women reached the semifinals.
“I’m playing a great player, and hopefully I can play better than I did today,” Serena said of Maria. “I’m happy to still be in the tournament at this point, and I just have to refocus now. I have a tough match tomorrow. We’ll see what happens. It’s not over yet.”
Serena leads Sharapova 10-2 having won nine straight since Maria’s shock win in the 2004 Wimbledon final when the Russian was just 17.
“Serena obviously I haven’t beaten in a while, but I had really tough ones against her last year,” Sharapova said. “I’m looking forward to it. No matter how many losses you have, a good thing is you have another chance against them. It will give me an opportunity to change a few things.”
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