Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal booked their clash in the semifinals on Monday by beating the two most dangerous big hitters on tour - Juan Martin del Potro and Tomas Berdych. Federer defeated Del Potro soundly 64 63 62, and Nadal overcame a gaunt task to prevail 67(5) 76(6) 64 63. Their wins set up a muuch anticipated semifinal match between the two rivals.
Before the match against Juan Martin del Potro, many people believed that it would be an extremely difficult match for Roger because of the challenges that the big Argentine poses from the ground. I was confident that Roger was playing well enough to take care of the Grand Slam champion, and he proved me correct. The Fed came out on fire, starting with a ratio of 7 winners to 0 unforced errors to take a quick and maybe surprising 3-0 lead. Was this too good to be true? Could Federer really be playing this well against such a "dangerous" opponent? Well, it didn't last for that long, because Delpo got back from 4-1 to 4-4 by playing his classic and deadly power tennis. Roger started trying to overpower the big guy and it cost him. Fortunately for the Swiss Maestro, he rebounded VERY quickly at 5-4 to play a brilliant returning game to take the set. 6-4, one set in the bag. I know that images of the US Open 2009 final creeped into a lot of heads; Roger had not won yet by any means of the imagination.
However, Fed fans need not have worried, because Roger went up an early break and rode it until 5-4 when he faces a barrage of tough groundstrokes and the sun. He had to really fight his way out of it, saving multiple break points and giving himself many inner pump-ups. The game was interesting because shadows were crossing most of the court except for the sunline near the left sideline. On the deuce side, Roger had trouble serving, and in the rallies, Delpo attacked Fed's backhand so he had to play many shots from the difficult sunline. Clever game. Nevertheless, Roger took the set and all memories of the US Open final vanished - he now had a safe two set lead. The third set was much of the same genius play from The Fed, and he took the set easily 6-2.
This was Roger's 1000th match, and with the win he boosted his record to 814-186. Quite an outstanding achievement that really highlights his elite longevity on tour the past decade. It was the perfect match to play as #1000 too, against a former Grand Slam champion in Fed and Delpo's first Grand Slam meeting since that US Open final. I'm glad everything worked out that way.
Alright time for the technical talk. Roger played....outstanding. He executed all his shots the way I outlined that he needed to if he wanted to have a great shot at winning, specifically the slice, serve, and return. Roger made Delpo quite unomfortable from the usual comfort of the baseline by mixing up his game with slices and then taking his chances to move the big guy around the court. The serve was clicking at a very high rate for much of the match, and he utilized the out-wide slice serve on the deuce court to utter perfection. His returning was also very aggressive and upbeat, which is no doubt an effect of Paul Annacone tinkering with The Fed's game. As far as I can see, Roger is returning as well as he has since his prime years and it is definitely allowing him to break easier and thus feel less pressure on his service games. Overall, it was a true Masterclass performance from Roger. He is playing some of the best tennis he has played in two years right now, and looks VERY dangerous. His serve, return, forehand, backhand, movement, and defense are all being used as well as they ever have. Add to the fact that Roger is very motivated and confident with his attacking game right now, and he will have many great chances to win this title on Sunday.
In the second quarterfinal of the day, Rafa Nadal was pushed to the limit by the most controversial man in tennis, Tomas Berdych. When they came on the court, the big Czech was actually give a good reception, with only a few boos. The first set was about as dead even as it could possibly be, and lasted much longer than it probably should have no doubt with thanks to Rafa taking forever to serve. The set went to a tiebreak, where a crucial mistake was made by Nadal at 5-5. Berdych hit a backhand long, but it was called in. Nadal expected a call but didn't challenge immediately, and Tomas put away an easy forehand winner. Nadal complained to the umpire Carlos Bernardes, but to no avail. The right call was made because Rafa did not signal for a challenge until after Berdych had hit the winner. A point later, Tomas had the set 7-5 in the tiebreak. In the second set, it was another long affair. Nadal got up a break early after originally being down a break for one game. Then Berdych fought back valiantly from 5-3 down to take it to another tiebreak. At 6-5 in it, Berdych had a set point but ducked a volley. Nadal won the next two points to take the 2nd set. Rafa took the 3rd set by riding out a break to the end, but he did not win it without a big test from the dangerous Czech. The 4th set featured the same pattern until Rafa broke to love at 5-3 to take the match 67(5) 76(6) 64 63 in 4 and a quarter hours.
It was a very entertaining match from top to bottom. Berdych was serving very well and played as well as I have seen him play since he made the Wimbledon final two years ago. He gave Rafa everything he could handle and even more. A few points here and there and this could have been a Berdych 4-set win or a tough 5-setter. Rafa was not at his best for the first three sets but picked up his game dramatically in the fourth to seal the deal. I certainly did not expect Tomas to take Rafa to the limit like that. For Berdych, the incident where he refused t shake Almagro's hand in the previous round was blown to the side a little bit as he gained respect from me and many others for his effort. He was given a warm departure from the crowd and he seemed to acknowledge that he made a mistake in his previous match. I hope Berdych has a good 2012 season.
So the match everyone wanted is here: Federer vs Nadal in the semis. I'm going to go much more in-depth about this later, but for now I will say this: Federer has as good a chance as he has ever had to beat Nadal. His playing at an impeccably high level right now and has all the tools to beat Rafa. He just needs to believe.
-- On the women's side, Kim Clijsters upset Caroline Wozniacki in two sets. Woz will now lose her #1 ranking and prove it to be one of the worst reigns ever. She just does not have the attacking mindset to beat the bigger hitters in the majors.
-- In the other women's semifinal on this side, Victoria Azarenka defeated Ag. Radwanska 67(0) 60 62. How many times do you see a bagel and a bagel tiebreak in one match? Azarenka looks very good at the moment and the Clijsters/Azarenka semifinal should be amazing.
Until next time,