Roger Federer faced a stern test from 22 year-old Pole Jerzy Janowicz on Friday night in Rome but prevailed 6-4, 7-6(2) in just under an hour and a half at the Foro Italico.
Janowicz, like Raonic, Tomic, and Dimitrov, is a young rising star on Tour and was riding a wave of momentum after beating back to back top 10 players in Tsonga and Gasquet. Although he is emotional (ripping his shirt off after beating Tsonga) and a bit erratic, he is a great talent and has been on everyone's radar since he made the Paris Indoors final.
Federer started off smooth as silk with his serve and held comfortably. He saved two break points in his next service game but was unable to get a break point chance on Janowicz's own serve until the 10th game, where he broke to win the set.
The very next game, the first one of the second set, Janowicz caught fire and lasered a few returns which Federer wasn't able to handle, and he broke. He consolidated and then both men held serve until the 10th game of the set where, again, Federer managed to break back. After squandering two match points at 5-6 he played a great tiebreak and finished that off seven points to two.
It was Federer's 895th match win and his 17th this year.
Immediately when you saw the draw you knew there was not going to be a simple victory like his matches against Starace and Simon, and with big servers there rarely is a simple win. It took some time for Roger to get used to the massive Janowicz serve, but he returned very well overall and did what he does best against the big servers - block the return back, neutralize the point, and then use his better baseline game to his advantage.
Janowicz played pretty well overall but he did struggle in some areas. For most players, the drop shot is a surprise tactic but with Jerzy it's almost as if the shot is a go-to play and sometimes he does hit it at inappropriate times. A perfect example was when he had set point in the second and tried a drop shot from ankle height that didn't even get halfway up the net. He also used the dropper on set point in the first and Fed dispatched it.
The other part of his game that he and his coaches may want to work on is his forehand. It is certainly a huge weapon but it can be very inconsistent and at times today he went for the wrong shot at the wrong time (for instance, going for the forehand over the higher part of the net instead of taking the higher percentage play cross court). It's also a pretty flat shot even compared to some of the flattest hitters today and the little margin for error can be problematic.
As for Roger, he plays Benoit Paire in the semifinals which is all but a guaranteed victory if you ask me. Paire has had a great week but he has nothing to hurt Roger with when the Swiss is in this kind of form. Roger has hit his serve at over 70% in every match and has 92 winners to 39 unforced errors!
Nadal beat Ferrer 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 to win yet again against his countryman on clay. Ferrer was up 4-0 in the second but Rafa got back in the set only to have Ferrer win it on an incredible set point. David had a chance to break in the second game but failed to do so and almost predictably, he got broken the next game. Nadal broke again and won comfortably even though Ferrer showed much better fight than he did in Madrid when he lost the final set 6-0.
The King of Clay will play Tomas Berdych in the semis instead of Novak Djokovic as many anticipated. The Czech came back from a 6-2, 5-2 deficit to win 10 of the next 14 games to advance to his first Rome final four.
The head-to-head between Berdych and Nadal is 13-3 Rafa, and he hasn't lost to Tomas since 2006, a 12-match winning streak. At the end of that last Berdych win in Madrid, he made a motion to shush the crowd and Rafa disapproved. Since then, it's almost like Rafa refuses to lose against the big man. Nadal has won 28 sets to Berdych's 2 in those last 12 matches. The closest Berdych came to winning was at last year's Australian Open where he was a point away from a two-set lead.
Nadal has had two tough long matches in a row vs Gulbis and Ferrer and Berdych should take a lot of confidence after only getting his second win against Djokovic. Nadal is the favourite of course but the Berdman could pose a big threat if Rafa feels some fatigue.
I know many Fed fans hate Federer/Nadal matchups but if it does happen I would feel a little better about the match after seeing how well Fed has played and served in this tournament, and also the fact that Rafa may be a little tired, plus seeing how he hasn't played his best tennis this week.
I'm 99.9% sure Fed makes his first final of 2013 and it would be so sweet if he could lift the trophy on Sunday for the first time. I can feel good things coming, can you?