What. A. Collapse.
Rafael Nadal had full control of Stan Wawrinka leading 6-2 in the first set tiebreaker. Wawrinka, in fact, had appeared to have even cracked his racquet on that 8th point, won by Nadal. It was all over. But Nadal inexplicably couldn’t finish the job, losing four straight points and eventually the tiebreaker 9-7.
A head scratcher.
Wawrinka then got on top early in the second and hung on for a 7-6(7), 6-2 win over a beleaguered Nadal who surely couldn’t have shaken that 6-2 choke job in the first set breaker.
“I was happy with the way I played,” Nadal said. “He played some amazing shots. I’ve lost in the quarter-final but I had two weeks in a row playing well and only one bad match with Andy Murray. I’m not playing bad.
“The only thing I’m sure is I will try in Paris, I feel like I’m playing well and if I continue practicing the way I am, I am confident. I have not been playing with nerves and that’s the most important thing.
“I am ready to accept the challenge but if I don’t play well I lose, life goes on, I have still won there so many times before.”
Life does go on, but this one has to hurt Rafa. He was in complete control of the match. Win any of those set points and the match is over – Stan’s not coming back. But he couldn’t close the door, not even on his favorite surface.
And it’s almost the worst possible way for Nadal to go into the French Open. Without a title, with his game in free fall and who knows where his mind is at. And he’ll be seeded no higher than No. 7 (8 if Ferrer beats Djokovic) and little hope that he’ll turn things around. Not after this recent run.
Nadal’s final pre-French leadup:
Monte Carlo SF (Djokovic)
Barcelona 2nd RD (Fognini)
Madrid F (Murray)
Rome QF (Wawrinka)
All losses in straight sets and none of losses had any positives you could point. That said, Rafa will have the benefit of best-of-5 format in Paris and that fact the first two rounds should be against tomato cans.
As for the winners on the day, credit to Stan for hanging around at the end of that tough, physical first set. After a pretty lousy run of late, Stan found some form today and this week to pull off one of his biggest wins of the year, defeating Nadal for the second straight time following that stunner in Australia. And that should really help him in Paris where he hasn’t played his best tennis.
“It was a great match for sure,” Wawrinka said. “I’m really happy. I think the first set was really important for him. I’m doing the right thing for a few weeks now.
“He was missing something, the forehand shot on the baseline especially in the first set. To beat Rafa on clay is something amazing for me.”
Of course Stan’s win ends the hopes we had of a Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal semifinal showdown, which would have been our first since that Australian Open semis last year. Paced by his serve, Federer did his part earlier in the day breezing impressively past Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-3.
“From the baseline I was playing very well,” said Federer who has never won Rome in 14 previous attempts. “My serve was not quite there in the beginning. I had to go through too many second serves and he was able to take advantage of that and break early. For me, it was important to pick it up on the serve, which is maybe the easiest thing to do.
“I felt good again on the return, moving well. As it went on, I think I got into the match better and better. The wind picked up in the second set. That’s why I think Tomas didn’t play so well anymore and I was able to get the job done. So I’m very pleased how the match went.”
Tomas, who been a model of consistency this year, may have been tired from the battle the day before with Fabio Fognini, but after some waffling over playing Rome, it’s certainly been a good week for Roger. And I think he should get over on Stan tomorrow. Roger leads 15-2 though Stan’s two wins were on clay, both in Monte Carlo. If Roger serves like he did today he should get through.
“I’m excited to play Roger, it’s always nice to play each other,” Wawrinka said. “It’s never easy for me to play him though, his game is not something I like. He is mixing it a lot and serving well and I will need to be at the top to have a chance of beating him.”
In the earlier semifinal, it’s Novak Djokovic against David Ferrer. Djokovic continues to leak sets but win, and today he won his third three-setter of the week beating Kei Nishikori 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 for his 20th straight victory.
What’s interesting is that Djokovic has been really dominant in those final sets. Just looking at his scores, most have been one-sided. But he also admits he’s not at the level where he was last month.
“I have to be honest, I’ve not been playing as well as I was in Monte-Carlo and I’m still not at the level I want to be at,” said Djokovic. “Little by little, it’s coming together. I’m still in the semi-finals and the wins against high quality opponents can only help my confidence level. Hopefully I’ll be able to play better, more consistently, less ups and downs in tomorrow’s match. I have another clay-court specialist, one of the best competitors on Tour and someone who isn’t going to hand me the win. He’s going to make me work.”
Djokovic might end up losing another set tomorrow to David Ferrer, but I think he’ll get past the Spaniard who won today over David Goffin in three. Novak leads David 14-5 winning their last eight.
Tennis Channel has live coverage of the four semifinals starting at 6am ET with the women’s.
SATURDAY ROME SCHEDULE
CENTRALE start 12:00
WTA –  C. Suárez Navarro (ESP) vs  S. Halep (ROU)
Not Before 2:00 pm
ATP –  N. Djokovic (SRB) vs  D. Ferrer (ESP)
Not Before 4:30 pm
WTA – [Q] D. Gavrilova (RUS) vs  M. Sharapova (RUS)
ATP –  S. Wawrinka (SUI) vs  R. Federer (SUI)
ATP –  M. Granollers (ESP) / M. Lopez (ESP) vs N. Kyrgios (AUS) / J. Sock (USA)
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