Roger Federer vanquished Juan Martin Del Potro for the second time in three weeks 4-6, 7-6(2), 7-5 to set up another collision with his rival, friend and fellow-GOAT Rafael Nadal. It’s round 32 for the two as Rafa seeks his first career indoor win against Roger. But we almost didn’t get the match.
Federer needed all he could muster to deny Del Potro on the last day of round robin play. The Argentine, who appeared a little gassed near the end, led by a break in the final two sets but was unable to close either one out, allowing a motivated and focused Federer to score his second Top 10 win of the week and clinch an 11th semifinal at the event.
“I was probably slightly angry more than thinking it’s going to be over soon,” said Federer who was down 3-0 in the final set and looked agitated at times in the final set. “It’s one of those moments today, because I kind of fought back the whole match – the first, second set. Here we go again.
“Once on even terms, I was able to play a little bit more freely.”
Watching the match, it was one Del Potro should have won – he was the better player for most of the day, but on critical points that’s where Roger was sharp. And going forward for 2014, that’s a real good sign for Federer fans.
“I think I got two chances to win the match,” said Del Potro. “I broke his serve in the second set and in the third one. But he played great when I was up, and he deserved to come back in both sets. But at the end, when you have to be focus and find the winners, I made the mistakes and he was there really focused to take the chance. I think that was the key of the match.”
The 2.5 hour win by Roger sets up the big showdown with Nadal who, apart from a No. 1 ceremony, enjoyed a full day of rest.
The final round robin match proved a meaningless one. With Novak Djokovic already slotted as the top seed from Group B and Richard Gasquet eliminated, at stake were just points, prize and a streak. In the end the Serb fended off Gasquet in three ho-hum sets.
So the semifinals at the last stop on the 2013 ATP season are set, and no one is complaining.
Roger Federer v. Rafael Nadal
We know the history (21-10 in favor of Nadal) and we are well versed in the matchup particulars (the Nadal forehand to the Federer backhand; Federer needs to serve well, minimize errors and be agressive), so what will we see Sunday? I think we’ll get a close, competitive match, one that Federer, despite his age and despite having lost all three to Nadal this year, will be right in.
“I just have to have the right mindset to give it one last go, maybe play with a little less pressure than I have in previous matches with him,” Federer said. “I just feel like I need to look at it more as being an underdog a little bit because of circumstances, because of my year, because of his year. Maybe that free swinging is what I kind of need to do a little bit more tomorrow.”
Of the two Nadal’s been the clear-cut better player, and he is the better player. But because this is indoors, I give Roger a real chance here.
In fact, the last time the two played indoors Federer blitzed Nadal 6-3, 6-0 two years ago in the London round robin. And overall indoors Federer leads Rafa 4-0 with all four matches at this event (Roger’s won eight of nine sets). But I think that changes tomorrow.
Federer’s played a lot of tennis and at age 32 I think it catches up to him a little tomorrow against the fresher Nadal. Remember Rafa withdrew from Basel and took it easy in Paris just to be fit for this weekend, and that strategy should pay off at least tomorrow.
“The only way to win the match of semifinals is playing my best match, playing fantastic tennis,” Nadal said Friday, before he knew he’d play Fedeer. “That’s what I gonna try.”
And try he will. He’s never won this ATP Finals title, the only missing big trophy from his resume and he’s never beaten Roger indoors (0-4), and I think that motivation is too great to ignore. Then again, there’s a reason he hasn’t won it – he doesn’t play his best at the end of the year, indoors.
Watching this week, however, this court appears to be one the slowest we’ve seen at the event, so that’s another big plus for Rafa.
Meanwhile, Federer is playing the best tennis of his season right now. His confidence has to be sky high after converting over Del Potro and playing Djokovic tough earlier in the week. Yet today, he did get a little lucky with Del Potro failing to consolidate those two leads. That won’t happen with Rafa.
Still, Federer will keep this on edge, using his serve and the crowd I expect he’ll give Rafa a real test. After all, for one of these two GOATs, their 2013 season will end tomorrow.
The Pick: Nadal in three
Novak Djokovic v Stan Wawrinka
What a debut for Stan. He beat Tomas Berdych on Monday, played Rafa tough on Wednesday then scratched out a win yesterday over David Ferrer. So he’s got to be feeling good about where his game is at right now. Unfortunately next up is the best player in tennis, Novak Djokovic.
Much like he has this season, Novak’s been a little up-and-down this week. But bottom line is he keeps on winning, ballooning his streak to 20 straight since the US Open after a lax win today.
Head-to-head in this one it’s been all Novak. He leads 14-2 having won 13 straight including two five setters this year and a comprehensive win last week in Paris where the Serb played a scary-good first set.
“I lost against him quite easy last week in Paris. He was playing really good. To be honest, I don’t want to think too much about that,” Stan said yesterday.
I expect a tighter match this time around but I think this close to finish Novak runs it to 14 over the other Swiss.
The pick: Djokovic in two
If things go to form we’ll fittingly end the year with Djokovic-Nadal. Could we see an all-Swiss final? Absolutely. But it’s a longshot. Based on their history and indoor climate, Federer could certainly beat Nadal, and Djokovic might have a letdown against the free-swinging, confident Wawrinka. So neither match is a 100% certainty or anywhere close to it. But I’d be very surprised if Djokovic lost.
ESPN2 has live coverage of both semifinals at 9am ET with Federer-Nadal and Djokovic at 3pm.
SUNDAY ATP FINALS SCHEDULE
DOUBLES / 12:00 PM
I DODIG/M MELO VS D MARRERO/F VERDASCO
SINGLES / 02:00 PM
NADAL VS FEDERER
DOUBLES / 06:00 PM
A PEYA/B SOARES VS B BRYAN/M BRYAN
SINGLES / 08:00 PM
DJOKOVIC VS WAWRINKA
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