In the two semifinals of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam, there were two very different matches that weighed on opposite ends of the competitive spectrum. In the first semi of the day, Juan Martin del Potro played a near flawless match to dispatch of Tomas Berdych 63 61. In the following match, Roger Federer overcame a stern test from long time foe Nikolay Davydenko 46 63 64 to reach the final in dramatic fashion.
In the first semi, which was expected to be a close, competitive match between two behemoths of the men's game, the final result was an utter demolition. Delpo got the break in the first game of the match and broke serve once again to take the first set 6-3. In the second set, not much changed and the big Argentine raced out to a 4-0 lead and ended up taking the set and match easily. 63 61 in one hour and fifteen minutes, a most impressive victory for the 2009 US Open champion. Del Potro is now proving himself to be a real force in the men's game once again and I have no doubts that he will be back in the top 5 soon enough. As for the match at hand, it was a fairly simple strategy for both Berdych and del Potro, but the latter executed his shots better. Also, while Delpo aimed the majority of his shots to the Czech's backhand wing, Tomas did not do the same in return, and that cost him. It goes without saying that the Delpo forehand may be the most dangerous shot in the game, and quite frankly, Berdych tried to attack it far too much which cost him many points. Anyways, I'm happy to see del Potro back in the final and I wish him well.
The second semifinal of the day between Roger Federer and Nikolay Davydenko was very competitive, and perhaps a little unexpected. Roger had just beaten Davydenko 62 62 in Doha at the start of January, but I knew that it would be a tougher match than that previous encounter. Davydenko showed great form to beat Gasquet in the quarters and I knew he would come with the intentions of beating Roger. And boy, did he ever.
The first set was even enough, with both Fed and Davy holding relatively comfortably until 4-4. Despite the score though, Fed looked very shaky from the baseline and relied on his serve to get him through his service games. He was framing a few backhands and spraying errors left, right, and centre. Still, it was even through eight games, until Davydenko broke through (pun intended) to take the lead. He held on, saving a Federer break point to go onto take the first set 6-4. If Fed was going to win, he would have to tough it out. And tough it out he did.
In the second set it was more of the same shaky baseline play from the Swiss Maestro, and he got down a break and trailed 3-1. At this point I was really having my doubts that Roger would win the match, but fought valiantly and broke the Russian's serve, and was right back in the match. Then, the first real sign of energy and life from Federer came at 3-3 0-15 on the Swiss serve. Davydenko ran him into the forehand corner, then to the backhand side, where Roger exhibited his genius by hitting a smooth cross-court backhand that framed off Davydenko's racquet. Now, you might be wondering why I consider this crowd-pleasing point to be a turning point for Roger and a turning point in the match. Well, Roger had just shown strong heart to get the break back to 3-3, and at that 0-15 point, had he lost it, he would have been in a hole at 0-30. That he won the point under the most difficult of circumstances (full-stretch defensive brilliance) gave him some real belief and it also got the crowd to their feet, and after that I think they started to cheer Roger on more, wanting to see more tennis. This is where all the momentum started to swing Roger's way, and he ended up winning 5 games in a row from 3-1 down to take the 2nd set 6-3. If you remember, Federer was also down a set and 3-1 down to Davydenko at the 2010 Australian Open and racked off 13 straight games to turn that match around. This sudden turn of events kind of had the same feel. Fed battled valiantly to win the set and he did enough to send it to a 3rd set. In that decider, it looked as if Roger may run away with it, but Davydenko kept his nerve together and held the opening game, saving four break points in the process. The two men remained equal until 4-3 for the Russian when Davydenko turned his game up another gear and held three break points at 0-40. Fed saved the first one, then got lucky on the second one when Nikolay had a simple backhand winner and dumped it in the net. Roger aced the next point, and went onto hold. 5 straight points to save the match for himself in incredible Federer fashion. I cannot recall how many times Roger has done that over the course of his career. Anyways, as what usually happens when one squanders important break point chances, Davydenko got broken to love and then Fed held to win the match 46 63 64.
I think this was a HUGE win for Roger to boost his confidence, not only for the final, but perhaps overall in the season. He showed that supreme fighting quality that he had been criticized by some fans for not showing in the Australian Open against Rafa Nadal. In this particular match, Roger Federer was not better than Nikolay Davydenko. He did not win because of his skill, but he won because of his will to win and fighting spirit. He said after the match that he had a "winner's mindset" and I think that is a very valid assessment of this match. For the first set and a half, he was really struggling, and then when he needed it the most, he played some stunning defensive points to turn the momentum and in the end that made all the difference. I am very proud of Roger as a fan that he fought to win this match, and I think he proved to everybody that he will compete to the bitter end to win another Grand Slam.
The final between Federer and del Potro is the best match that the tournament could have asked for. The Argentine is close to being back at his best again, and he should be a real force to be reckoned with for Roger. Fed does have the advantage of knowing he beat Delpo just a few short weeks ago, but with the way Delpo has played the past two matches, that may not matter if Roger is not on his game. Overall, he will need to be much sharper than he was against Niko if he wants to win the title. A positive for Roger is that he used the backhand slice to great effect against Davydenko and that same play works very well against a tall opponent like del Potro. Watch for Roger to try to goad Delpo into the net, where he is very uncomfortable. I hope we see a great match to cap off a great week in Rotterdam!
Be back later, hope Roger wins,
PS: If Roger beats del Potro to win this Rotterdam title, it will have been the first time that he has won a tournament without wearing a collared shirt since the 2006 US Open. Break the drought Rog!