Tag Archive | "Nalbandian"

A Gem In The Magic City: Miami’s Sony Ericsson Open

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A Gem In The Magic City: Miami’s Sony Ericsson Open


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Written on May 2, 2008

Since 2000, schedule permitting, I have been a faithful and fervent attendee at my hometown tournament in Key Biscayne, Florida. Yet, as a devout tennis fanatic, my wish has always been to make a pilgrimage to one of the shrines of the sport, a major.

In my mind, there has always been the perception that I was being deprived of an ecclesiastical experience by not going to New York, London, Paris or Melbourne. As luck would have it, in 2006 and 2007, I ascended from the category of lowly television viewer to that of obscured spectator when I was finally able to drink in the atmosphere at the U.S Open. After spending five days at the opening round matches in New York the last couple of years and a week at this year’s Sony Ericsson, I began to view the latter through a new lens. As I surveyed the familiar vista at Crandon Park, the prism through which I evaluated the tournament was suddenly lifted. Moreover, I arrived at the realization that the Sony Ericsson Open is truly a jewel in my own backyard.

Manhattan’s bright lights and vibrant streets are comparable to an impish, unruly child with the magnetic powers to draw one in with a cunning smile. A similar attraction lures one in at the U.S. Open. On the subway, I was overcome by a wave of exhilaration from the chatter of the passengers whose destination, just as mine, was the major’s site. As the train approached the tennis center and the Arthur Ashe stadium came into view, a touch of awe and anxiety intermingled as I became conscious of the magnitude of the place. These sentiments were further accentuated as the grounds crew greeted me with their megaphones shouting instructions such as, “no backpacks allowed into the stadium”. Or as I filed through the long security lines that stretch for miles and saw my precious can of juice seized since opaque containers were prohibited entry. The shear volume of people, over 700,000 attended the tournament in 2007, and the additional security measures implemented after the catastrophic incident at the Twin Towers signify that one has to be willing to tolerate these inconveniences in order to experience the U.S. Open.

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Australian Open Heating Up


Along with the summer temperatures, the action on court is scorching at the first major of the year. Let’s review the key developments of the initial week and try to predict what could unfold the last days at the Australian Open.

The unexpected casualties in the preliminary rounds were Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams, the fifth and sixth seeds, respectively. Venus was shocked in the second round by Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro after having the match on her racket.  Suarez Navarro, a quarterfinalist at last year’s French Open, is now in the round of 16. Ivanovic, the 2008 finalist, was eliminated in the third round by 19 year-old Russian Alisa Kleybanova.  This was not a great surprise.  Since winning the French Open, Ivanovic has yet to make it past the third round at a major. Agnieszka Radwaska, the ninth seed, fell in the first round, beaten by Kateryna Bondarenko. The biggest upset on the men’s section was David Nalbandian, the tenth seed, going down in the second round to Yen-Hsun Lu ranked 61.

As we enter the meat and potatoes part of the tournament, the top four men remain on track to collide in the semifinals. With the exception of Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray have looked extremely sharp. Of the two Americans left, Andy Roddick, the seventh seed, may represent the biggest headache pending on Djokovic’s side of the draw. Roddick’s recent weight lost and coaching change appear to be paying dividends. Andy has dispatched his opponents expeditiously, so an upset could be brewing. James Blake, the ninth seed, has played very well. However, Blake will meet last year’s finalist, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in the round of 16. Vanquishing Tsonga may be too tall an assignment for the American. Nadal will face Fernando Gonzalez, the 2007 finalist. Gonzalez may not have much left in the tank after his high quality, over four hour long, five setter against Frenchman Richard Gasquet. Federer will battle Tomas Berdych. Should Roger advance, waiting will be either Juan Martin Del Potro or Marin Cilic, two tough customers. The French are assured of having at least one man in the quarterfinals with Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils playing one another next. With the leftover field competing so well, the odds maker may need to reshuffle their numbers. The favorite may have to be Nadal, Federer and Murray in that order.

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Nalbandian Holds Off Nieminen To Capture Australian Warm-Up Tournament


In the finals of the Medibank International in Sydney, Argentine David Nalbandian fought off Finn Jarkko Nieminen to claim his tenth career title 6-3, 6-7, 6-2.

After dismissing two break points in his opening service game, Nalbandian used his trademark backhand to set up the points and effortlessly win his next service games. With Nieminen on deck at 2-3, Nalbandian made a forehand down the line winner and caused his opponent to overshoot for triple break point. Later, with a forehand winner, Nalbandian jumped ahead 4-2. With a high percentage of first serve and by perpetually changing the ball’s direction, David took the set in 35 minutes.

To start the second set, with a backhand error, Jarkko went down break point. Subsequently, Nieminen netted a forehand to trail 0-1. The Argentine consolidated the break with a backhand volley winner. Although Nalbandian outplayed his rival in every department, for example using the combination of a lob volley and dropshot to win a point, with the minor adjustment of hugging the baseline as the set progressed, Nieminen stayed within striking distance. As Nalbandian served for the match at 5-4, he committed two forehand errors on deep returns by Nieminen to face triple break point. The Finn capitalized when the Argentine’s money stroke, the backhand down the line, went long. Thereafter, Nalbandian erased three break points to send the set to a tiebreak. Initially, neither player could hold serve. After Nieminen took a 2-1 mini-break advantage with a backhand down the line winner, he flirted too closely to the line and gave it back. With a forehand crosscourt winner, Nalbandian went ahead 3-2. But, he also forfeited his lead on the following point. At 9 all, Nalbandian elected not to play a ball he assumed would go long; the ball curled in for a winner giving Jarkko a mini-break. With a good serve, Jarkko wrestled an error and the set from David.

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A New World Order:  The Year That Was 2008

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A New World Order: The Year That Was 2008


img_3045Fascinating is the word in a nutshell that perhaps best describes this past season. With 2009 looming, the time has come to reminisce as to why 2008 was such a quintessential year for the ATP.

The abundance of talent littering the tour foretold of a possible shake up as the year began, threatening Roger Federer’s supremacy. All dynasties have gone through a period of decline; perhaps, for Federer, 2008 will be viewed as such. In Australia, Federer faced two foes, mononucleosis and Serb Novak Djokovic. Unable to vanquish either, Roger succumbed in the semifinals. For Federer, this calendar had many ebbs and few flows with a spanking by Spaniard Rafael Nadal in the French final, a gut wrenching loss in the Wimbledon final in five sets, a much desired gold medal at the Olympics, but in doubles. Roger regained a bit of respect by capturing his fifth consecutive U.S. Open. But, for the first time since the dawning of the Federer era, Roger failed to grab a single masters’ shield. In 2008, not only did the Swiss have to get acclimated to the fact that Wimbledon was no longer his playpen, he also lost his grip on the number one ranking.

What a year for Nadal! Undoubtedly talent is an important part of success, yet hard work cannot be discounted. As the season started, the smart bet would have been on Djokovic yanking the top spot from Federer. Nevertheless, Roger’s clay nemesis, after more than two years of serving as best man, finally moved up to number one. After crushing defeats in the quarterfinals in Australia and finals at the Sony Ericsson, Nadal had a surreal clay run with one solitary loss. Moreover, Rafa won his fourth consecutive French Open and the crown jewel, his first Wimbledon trophy.  He was the first man in over twenty years with this dual combination. The ultimate feather in Rafa’s cap was getting Olympic singles gold. An arduous and lengthy schedule put the breaks to Nadal’s play with tendonitis stopping him from participating in the year-end tournament and the Davis cup finals. Regardless, Nadal could not have scripted this year any better.

In many respects, Djokovic had an up and down ride. After hoisting the Australian and Indian Wells trophies, the world number three had a reality check. Nadal unwilling to relinquish his hold on number two, schooled Djokovic when the two met in Rome and Paris. His confidence slightly dented, Novak was a non-factor mid-year with an early exit at Wimbledon. However, Djokovic finished strongly by winning the year-end tournament in Shanghai.

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Spain Gets The Gold While Argentina Takes Silver in Davis Cup


Argentina’s chances of winning its first Davis Cup trophy in its third appearance were lofty. Firstly, it had home field advantage. Secondly, the surface selected was hardcourt. Moreover, with world number one Rafael Nadal unable to make the trip due to tendonitis, Argentina seemed blessed. But Spain showed that it is far from being a one trick pony. Spaniard Fernando Verdasco defeated Argentine Jose Acasuso 6-3, 6-7, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 in the fourth rubber to take the title leaving thousands of boisterous Argentine fans stupefied.

In Friday’s first rubber, Argentina got off to a flying start. David Nalbandian faced Spaniard David Ferrer with the former proving to be Goliath. As usual, Nalbandian’s backhand was sublime. More impressively, his forehand was solid. He even came up with highlight reel volleys. Nalbandian prevailed 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 to give Argentina a leg up. Argentina maintained the momentum through the first set in the second rubber as world number 9 Juan Martin Del Potro squared off against Feliciano Lopez. Courtesy of one service break, Del Potro carried the first set. However, Lopez no longer feeling generous cleaned up his game and pushed the second set to a tiebreak which the Spaniard easily won. With neither player making inroads on the other’s serve, the third set also went to a tiebreak. Lopez recovered from a minibreak disadvantage to take the third. In the fourth set, after Lopez jumped out to an early lead with a break, Del Potro quickly effaced that advantage. Unfortunately, Del Potro sustained a right groin injury and despite medical treatment was unable to recover. His next service game, Del Potro went down love-40, and then double faulted to get back in a hole. Ultimately, Lopez beat the young Argentine 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-3.

Saturday in the doubles, Argentine Agustin Calleri and Nalbandian took on Verdasco and Lopez. Argentina debuted well, needing a single break to take the first set. In the second, as Calleri served to force a tiebreak, he made some key unforced errors to help Spain carry the set. After stepping on the gas to get a 5-1 lead in the third, Spain sputtered. Argentina forced a tiebreak and was just two points from leading two sets to one. Spain battled back to prevent the home team from stealing the third set. In the fourth set, Spain pulled away as a stunned Argentine public looked on 5-7, 7-5, 7-6, 6-3.

The feature match on Sunday was Acasuso versus Verdasco. Argentina was attempting to defy history since the last team to overcome a 2-1 deficit in the finals was Germany in 1990. Argentina’s was hopeful that despite not having played for months, Acasuso would force a decisive fifth rubber. After a sloppy first set by the Argentine which went in Verdasco’s favor, Acasuso capitalized on errors by the Spaniard to get ahead 4-1. But with multiple unforced backhand errors, Acasuso relinquished his lead. After a seesaw of breaks, the second went to a tiebreak which Argentina finally secured. In the third set, Acasuso tracked down an overhead from Verdasco and made a forehand winner for love-30. Then, a Verdasco double fault gifted Argentina the early break. Swiftly though, Acasuso returned the favor by double faulting to level the set. This back and forth pattern persisted until the tenth game when Acasuso finally consolidated a break to end the set. By picking on Acasuso’s weak backhand, Verdasco dominated the fourth and forced a conclusive fifth set. With three unforced errors, Acasuso faced love-40 in the opening game; Verdasco captured the break when the Argentine netted a makeable forehand. To aggravate matters, Acasuso suffered an abdominal strain. As the errors rained from the Argentine side, Verdasco took control of the fifth set and on the third break chance produced a forehand down the line for winner to cinch the title for Spain, the third this decade.

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Homecoming: Tsonga Lights Up Paris With A Victory


When defending champion Argentine David Nalbandian met Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the BNP Paribas Masters final, not only was a Waterford crystal at stake, but also the last slot at Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai. Moreover, Nalbandian was trying to become the first repeat titleholder in the event’s 23-year history. Urged on by his fellow Parisians, Tsonga defeated Nalbandian in a scintillating match 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.

A supercharged atmosphere became even more electric when Tsonga after winning his service game at love, crushed a forehand down the line for a winner to get a break point. Nalbandian then donated the game by tossing a double fault. Subsequently, the Frenchman consolidated the break with a bullet crosscourt forehand winner in another easy service game 3-0. From that point on, the Argentine steadied himself and maintained the deficit at one break. As Tsonga served at 4-2, a forehand unforced error gave Nalbandian his first shot at getting back on serve. However, with a crisp forehand volley, Tsonga deleted the break point and secured the game with a terrific backhand volley. Serving for the set at 5-3, with great serve placement, Tsonga was able to draw the errors from Nalbandian and take one step closer to winning his first Masters’ shield.

After leading 40-15 in the first game of the second set, Nalbandian lost his way when Tsonga made a volley and crosscourt forehand winners to get to deuce. Then, a few points later, David double faulted to give Jo-Wilfried a break point. But, the steely Argentine erased the Frenchman’s advantage with an ace and secured the game with a forehand volley 1-0. While Tsonga put on a serving clinic, Nalbandian, one of the game’s best returners, continued to pile on the return errors. The Frenchman produced back to back aces to close out his games at love for 2-2 and 3-3. However, ahead 4-3, Nalbandian’s opportunity to break came with Tsonga misfiring on two forehands and making a double fault. Nevertheless, with aces and finesse at net, Tsonga escaped triple break point and equalized the set at 4-4. After holding serve at 5-4, Nalbandian again worked his way to triple break point. This time, the Argentine converted with a forehand error from Tsonga and took the set.

Tsonga’s backhand had been ineffective the entire match with double digit errors and no winner. Nalbandian exploited that deficiency to hold serve at 1-0 in the decisive set. But, Tsonga returned the favor exposing Nalbandian’s weakness on the forehand side and with four consecutive errors converted a break point for a 2-1 advantage. From that point on, neither player was challenged on serve until the sixth game when Nalbandian got a break point courtesy of a backhand error which Jo-Wilfried then dismissed with his 24th ace. Serving for the championship, Tsonga appeared like he would crack again after making three consecutive errors to go down triple break point. Yet, Jo-Wilfried responded with three good first serves which led to a quality volley and a forehand down the line winner for deuce. Sparked on by the crowd, Tsonga produced his 25th ace for match point and with a forehand error from Nalbandian captured the trophy.

After being kept out of the French Open and Wimbledon by knee surgery, Tsonga made up for his absence this week by beating Novak Djokovic in the third round, Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals and James Blake in the semifinals. The Australian Open finalist culminated the season as he had begun, on a high note. Not only did Tsonga knock out countryman Gilles Simon from Shanghai, he jumped to number 7 in the rankings taking over the honor of top ranked Frenchman from Simon. Besides, Tsonga became only the third Frenchman to win this tournament, the last being Sebastien Grosjean in 2001.  Despite injury getting the better of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, Nadal withdrew with a knee problem after being thumped in the first set by Nikolay Davydenko while Federer never took the court against Blake due to back spasm, fans were still rewarded with a high quality final.

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Intrepid Del Potro Puts Argentina Into Davis Cup Final


Urged on by the hometown fans, Argentine teenager Juan Martin Del Potro was the hero on Sunday as he defeated Russian Igor Andreev to secure Argentina’s place into the Davis Cup final 6-4, 6-2, 6-1.

On Friday, Argentina cruised to a 2-0 lead with superb performances by David Nalbandian and Del Potro. In the first rubber, Nalbandian beat Andreev 7-6, 6-2, 6-4. After losing a tight first set in a tiebreak, the Russian simply disappeared. An unforced error by Andreev in the second allowed Nalbandian to capitalize on triple break point and go up 3-1. Andreev had several chances to get back on serve but his erratic forehand proved to be his Achilles heel. Nalbandian closed out the second set with another break; then with his consistent play prevailed in the third for the straight sets win.

In the second rubber, Del Potro took on Nikolay Davydenko who turned out to be no match for the talented youngster 6-1, 6-4, 6-2. With his crushing forehand, Del Potro broke at will to take the first set. After getting a double break at 4-1, Del Potro’s game hit a wall. As a result of unforced errors, he let Davydenko back in the second set. Yet, Davydenko failed to convert on two opportunities to equalize the set and Del Potro eventually secured it. The third set was a cakewalk for the teenager.

On Saturday, the Russian team of Dmitry Tursinov and Igor Kunitsyn defeated Argentines Guillermo Canas and Nalbandian in an exhilarating five set match 6-2, 6-1, 6-7, 3-6, 8-6. After a blazing start whereby the Russians were up two sets to none lead, the relentless Argentines carried the third set in a tiebreak after saving three match points. After winning the fourth, the Argentineans coasted to an early break in the fifth set. However, the Russians broke at love to get back on serve. Then, with multiple unforced errors from their rivals, Russia converted a break point. Subsequently, Tursinov served out the match with a strong game to keep Russia alive.

On Sunday, Davydenko bounced Nalbandian 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-0. With a drop shot winner, Nalbandian went up a double break and won the first set. But once Davydenko cleaned up on the unforced errors, he converted on his fifth break point chance in the second set to take a 3-1 lead and eventually the set. Despite some dicey play, in the third, Davydenko broke Nalbandian at love to edge in front 3-2. But serving for the set at 5-4, the Russian missed a backhand crosscourt allowing Argentina back into the set. However, in the tiebreak, Nalbandian double faulted to concede the set. Then, a barrage of unforced errors followed from the Argentine in the fourth allowing Russia to comfortably win.

In the decisive rubber, unaffected by the magnitude of the moment, Del Potro, the hottest player on tour besides Rafael Nadal, began the match by breaking the Russian. Andreev’s inability to contain the unforced errors helped Del Potro to prevail in the first set. In the second set, a net court went in Del Potro’s favor giving him another break point which he converted. Then with that unstoppable forehand, Del Potro hit a couple of winners to extend to a double break lead. In the third set, with his steady play, Del Potro jumped out to a 4-0 advantage then with some thundering forehand winners, the Argentine closed out the match 6-4, 6-2. 6-1. Argentina will face Spain in the finals at home. For sure, the ultimate match up would be Nadal versus Del Potro considering the extraordinary season these two are having.

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“It’s Showtime”: U.S. Open Draw Announced Today


The U.S. Open draws have been posted with Rafael Nadal and Ana Ivanovic the top singles seeds on the men and women’s side respectively.

Nadal should sail through to the quarterfinals where one possible tricky match up could be Argentine David Nalbandian. Despite a disappointing year, Nalbandian has always been dangerous on a hardcourt. Another David, countryman Ferrer who eliminated Rafa in the round of 16 last year may be a nuisance, although Nadal is not the same player. Yet, perhaps, the most dangerous potential opponent is Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro who has been blazing the last few weeks. If Del Potro continues to ride this wave, Nadal could be in trouble in the semifinals. Great Britain’s Andy Murray may have a lot to say in the matter, Del Potro and he could face off in the quarters.

Czech Radek Stepanek who beat him at the ATP Masters in Rome could test second seed and defending champion Roger Federer in the third round. Moreover, Serbian Jarko Tipsaravic who almost defeated Federer in Australia could be a potential quarterfinal challenge. But another Serbian 2007 finalist Novak Djokovic may be Federer’s biggest obstacle as the two may end up clashing in the semifinals. Djokovic has been stumbling of late but his draw looks manageable particularly with a struggling Andy Roddick as a possible opponent in the quarterfinals.

For Ivanovic, the task appears doable until the quarterfinals where she could meet Russian Dinara Safina who’s surely out for revenge after the French Open. Ivanovic’s thumb injury may be factor in the tournament. No possible Williams sisters finals, these two are on the same side of the draw and could clash in the quarterfinals. Moreover, both have intricate first round matches. Standing in the way of Serbian Jelena Jankovic could be China’s Jie Zheng in the third round or Russian Vera Zvonareva in the quarterfinals. The Russians are blessed with many contenders for the trophy. The road to the semifinals for Elena Dementieva and Svetlana Kuznetsova may mean motoring through one another. So it may not be a question of which country but which Russian will hoist the trophy, in my opinion, Safina has to be the favorite.

Miami native Ahsha Rolle is a wildcard entrant. Click here to access all of the draws for the 2008 US Open.

 

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A Man For All Surfaces? Nadal Wins First Title on Grass


One week after his triumph at the French Open, Rafael Nadal, the two time Wimbledon finalist, defeated Novak Djokovic in a grueling match to win his first grass court title at the Artois Championships 7-6, 7-5.

After surviving a break point in the opening game, Djokovic broke Nadal at love to take a 3-0 lead. With his aggressive play, Djokovic had the chance to take a 4-0 lead, but Nadal fought off multiple breaks points to get on the scoreboard 3-1. In the next game, Djokovic paid the price when a net court gave Nadal the point and the players went back on serve. With his advantage gone, Djokovic showed his displeasure by banging his racket. With Nadal beautifully using angles and constructing points that allowed him to get to net, Rafa was getting under Djokovic’s skin. Appropriately, the first set was decided by a tiebreak. After leading by one mini-break or at even several times, Djokovic had a set point at 6-5 when Nadal made an error. But, thanks to a long rally which knocked Djokovic to the ground, Nadal saved the set 6-6. On the next point, despite a great serve by Djokovic, Nadal had an even better reply. This led to Rafa’s first set point which was all he needed to things up.

Djokovic got off to an inauspicious start in the second set and was broken at love. After dismissing a break point on his serve, Nadal extended his lead 2-0. After being down 15-40, Djokovic battled back to get on the board 2-1. Finally, in the sixth game, Djokovic had a break opportunity and converted 3-3. Nadal had double break point in the eight game; but lady luck smiled on Novak. First, with a bad bounce then, with Rafa losing his footing, Novak held his serve.

Djokovic built on that momentum by breaking Nadal at love with some spectacular shots 5-4. Thus, it appeared that a decisive third set would be played. As Djokovic served for the set, Nadal produced a terrific defensive lob in a rally to ultimately earn a break point. After getting to deuce a couple of times, Nadal’s persistence paid dividend and he leveled the set at 5-5. After easily holding his own, Nadal pressured Djokovic’s serve with shots such as a forehand down the line for a winner. When Novak misfired on a volley, Nadal arrived at match point. On the subsequent play, Nadal lured Djokovic to the net with a drop volley and put away the winner to prevail in the tournament.

In doubles, after defeating the Bryan brothers, the number one seed, in the quarterfinals, Marcelo Melo/Andre Sa faced the second seed, Daniel Nestor/ Nenad Zimonjic, in the finals. Team Nestor/ Zimonjic won the title in straights sets 6-4, 7-6.

In the quarterfinals, Nadal survived a barrage of aces, 35, from Ivo Karlovic to advance by winning a third set tiebreak. In the semifinals, Rafa had a fairly routine win over defending champion Andy Roddick. On the other hand, Djokovic’s path was less sinuous with his dismissal of Lleyton Hewitt in the quarterfinals and a thumping victory over David Nalbandian in the semifinals, the latter won one game. If this match is a preview of what’s in store for Wimbledon, those two weeks will be quite exciting.

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No Surprises: Nadal Comes Out on Top In Monte-Carlo


In their first final meeting of 2008 at the ATP Masters Series tournament in Monte-Carlo, Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer 7-5, 7-5. This victory marks the first time since the 1910’s that the same individual has won this trophy on four consecutive occasions.

Federer started the match well by breaking Nadal’s serve in the very first game, but the Spaniard broke back right away wiping out the advantage. After things settled down, in the 7th game with Nadal serving, Federer built a 0-40 advantage courtesy of two drop shots and went on to take the lead 4-3. Yet, on the next game, poorly executed shots and a net court friendly to Nadal leveled the match at 4-4. Nadal continued to apply pressure on Federer’s service, his tactic of almost exclusively playing to Federer’s backhand began to click whereby through the 11th game of the first set, Federer had committed 8 unforced errors on that side while failing to produce a single winner. As Federer went down 15-40 on his serve, Nadal proceeded to break him for the third time and took the set 7-5.

Nevertheless, in the second set, Federer appeared to shake off the disappointment of losing the first and came out swinging, grabbing a two break advantage and a 4-0 lead. Unperturbed by this new development, Nadal broke Federer to get to 2-4. Then on the subsequent game, Rafael held at love to narrow the deficit to 3-4. In the 8th game, Federer saw his lead evaporate when Nadal broke him at love to equalize things at 4-4. At this stage, as Federer’s first serve percentage was going south and his unforced errors were going north (16 unforced errors to 8 winners), Nadal obligingly assumed the initiative. At 4-5, Federer continued to walk the plank, yet, clung to his serve despite a difficult game. A poised Nadal held once again at love reverting the pressure to the other side of the net. Now, it was Federer’s turn to extend the set into a tiebreak. After multiple chances to prevail in the game, Federer missed some uncomplicated shots anew. With the first opportunity of an ad point, Nadal converted and shut the door on Federer’s chances at winning his first ATP Masters Series title of the year. Probably the most telling statistics of the match was the fact that Federer made 23 winners and 44 unforced errors while Nadal had 15 winners and committed only 20 unforced errors.

Nadal continues to look at home on clay, producing the type of shots that stump his opponents. The Spaniard had an unblemished road to the finals, winning all his matches in straight sets against Mario Ancic, Juan Carlos Ferrero, David Ferrer and Nikolay Davydenko. On the other hand, Federer was lucky to reach the finals after being down 1-5 in the third set and two points from defeat against Spanish qualifier Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo ranked 147. Granted, from that stage on, Federer tidied up his game. Roger was particularly impressive in the quarterfinals after losing the first set against David Nalbandian 5-7, 6-2, 6-2. The same can be said against Novak Djokovic who ended up retiring with a “sore throat” after the Serbian lost the first set, was broken twice in the second and was three games from being ousted. In the finals, for at least the first four games of the second set, Federer appeared to have a reply to Nadal’s game. This included using the drop shot, not one of Federer’s favorite, and the forehand down the line followed by the rush to net which have produced positive results for Roger during this tournament. As Federer goes forward this clay court season, perhaps, coach Jose Higueras and he will come up with a formula which works for the duration of the match on this surface and particularly against Nadal. After all, Nadal’s strategy is no secret, on clay play to Federer’s backhand. For Nadal, this is only the first of many clay court titles to defend, he will be in action next week in Barcelona where he will be searching for his 100th victory on the red dust in the last 4 years with only one lost. Absolutely incredible!

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