The semifinals of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam were set on Friday, and the two matches to decide the finalists should be very enticing contests. Top seed Roger Federer will play Nikolay Davydenko in one semifinal and #2 and #3 seeds Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro will square off in the other semi clash. Tomas Berdych defeated Andreas Seppi 63 64 while the big Argentine breezed through Viktor Troicki 60 61. In the evening matches of the day, Roger Federer took out Jarkko Nieminen 75 76(2) and Nikolay Davydenko upset #5 seed Richard Gasquet 75 63 to reach his first semifinal of the young 2012 season.
Federer played a solid match to overcome Nieminen in one hour and 31 minutes. It was very even for the first eight games of the match, then at the "business" end of the set, things got more intense. At 4-5, Fed had a 40-0 lead, but inspired play from Nieminen brought the game to deuce. Roger held, and then went on to go down 40-0 on Jarkko's next service game. But like the game before, the returner fought back to deuce, and after squandering two break points, Roger finally got the crucial break with a swift cross-court backhand winner on the 20th shot of the rally. He held comfortably to take the set 7-5. The second set was just as even as the first, with both Federer and Nieminen playing solid attacking tennis. The set eventually went to a tiebreak where Roger had no problems and won it 7-2, and thus the match. Overall, it was a very fun match to watch, with great serving and returning from both men, and both guys going for their shots and approaching the net regularly (Fed especially). I knew it would be a close match because Nieminen always gives Roger a good match, even though he always loses in the end. I also knew that Roger wouldn't go out of his way to lay a beatdown because he does not need to. He coasts in the early rounds far more than he used to so that he can bring his best tennis in the later rounds when he needs it. In reviewing Roger's performance, he served very well (did not face a break point) and he made a concerted effort to run around his backhand and smash forehands on the 2nd serve return. This is no doubt a good thing because the sooner Roger can take the offensive in the rallies the better, and you can't take the offensive in a point sooner than a good, deep return.
Federer will play Nikolay Davydenko, who put together a very convincing win over Gasquet. The Russian started out slowly, getting down 4-2, and it looked like the match would go the same way as it did when they met a few weeks ago in Montpellier, where Gasquet won 63 64. However, Davydenko fought back from a 5-3 deficit to take the first set 7-5 in fine comeback fashion. In the second set, Davydenko broke at 3-3 and emphatically won the next two games to close out the upset. By the end of the match, Nikolay was fully confident and he was ripping winners from the back of the court at ease. He played as well as he did in his prime when he was a top 5 player. Personally, I'm happy that Davydenko has had a good week because I like his game and find him to be unfortunately unappreciated and underrated as the great player that he once was (I have yet to see a player who hits the ball as crisp as Davy does). I hope that he can get back into the top 30 soon. As for Gasquet, I noticed that he still stands too far behind the baseline which hurts him on a fast indoor surface. This is the same kind of problem that Nadal has when playing indoors.
The semifinals will feature two matches with four guys that are four of the purest ball-strikers on the tour. Federer had an easy win over Davydenko in his first match of the season in Doha, but I expect a tougher match this time around, with Niko having gained confidence this week. Nevertheless, Roger should win in straight sets. The Berdych/Delpo match is a toss-up, I'd say. Both men are playing very well and it should be a very close, hard-hitting affair with the vast majority of the points being absolute slugfests from the baseline (though the rallies shouldn't be too long with the aggression both men have). I will give the slight edge to Berdych but I would not be surprised to see the big Argentine in the final come Sunday. No matter what the outcome, I'm positive that Roger can beat either of them.
Hoping for a great day of semifinal tennis,