Quarterfinal day at the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles and the big names were all tested. Querrey, the defending champion, not known for his ability to muster comebacks, and has yet to prove that he has the heart of a potential champion, looked to be on the brink of defeat against German senior citizen Rainer Scheuttler. Rainer’s biggest run at a tournament came in 2008 when he climbed the ladder of impossibility and made it to the semi-finals of Wimbledon losing to a red hot Rafa in straights. Since then, the icy German has been culminating some matches in the win column demanding respect from all the players on tour; a bona fide danger opponent swimming through the draws.
Querrey, who looks as though he would have fit perfectly as a member of the Beach Boys, slumbered around the court with a Kermit the Frog mouth that is perpetually shaped in a half smile, won the first set decisively, utilizing his big serve and capitalizing on break opportunities. He looked to be too much for the German. I expected the second set to be a repeat. But I was wrong again, as I have been for most of this tournament. Scheuttler gained some rhythm and began to feel out Querrey’s serve, and broke the top seeded American, leveling the match at a set a piece. Scheuttler continued to pound pressure on the American’s serve and had a perfect opportunity late in the third to close out the match. Then the ever elusive mistress of momentum shifted once again, as Querrey fought back. “I was pretty frustrated the whole time, but I did a great job of playing the 5-4 and 6-5 games,” said Querrey. “I played great points on those games and really battled back well.” The world no. 20 Querrey gained a mini-break lead in the third and took the match. He will next face Tipsarevic in the semis.
Andy Murray faced a trial on Friday night when he faced a streaky player, possibly a future top twenty player, Alejandro Falla who bounced back Thursday after being down a set to upset Ernests Gulbis. The top seeded Murray entered the Farmers Classic with his very first visit to the City of Angels, and has played both his matches under the lights. The first set was tight, with both players feeling each other out. Falla told reporters yesterday, when asked what he thought his chances were against the world number four, that he felt good about his chance to beat the top Brit. “I know I can play against these type of players. I played great against Federer at Wimbledon.” It appeared that Falla was intimidated by the spotlight and almost edged out Murray, who saved three set points to finally take the first set in a tiebreaker. The second seat was a steam roll, as Falla showed signs of fatigue, being run around the court by the craft and variety of Murray, who slammed the second set 6-1. “I feel much better than I did yesterday,” said Murray. “I had the same sort of thing earlier in this year after the Australian Open when I didn’t play for a few weeks. Then I played in Dubai, I was really sore after the first match, and then each match after that I started to feel a lot better. Hopefully that’ll be the case here.” Murray will next play Feliciano Lopez in the semi-finals, someone he has beaten twice in a row. The odds are in favor of a Querrey vs. Murray final, but don’t ask me. The way this tournament is going I need to take my crystal ball to the mechanic.
With the second week of Wimbledon producing a transfer of most of the expected field, the top four specifically, rumblings and chatter have all heightened to the point of jubilation as another bout between Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer looks likely. But, is the rest of the field ready to allow that prized match up? The next two matches for the world’s top two looks anything but easy.
Federer has to go through a red hot Tomas Berdych, who took out the mighty one in a close battle in Miami earlier in the year. Berdych also took Roger to the brink in the 2009 Australian Open taking a two-sets-to-love lead, before Roger suited up in his Federer cape and rescued the show. If he gets through that hurdle, there may be a much renewed Novak “Djoker” Djokovic awaiting him in the semis, who has put together a grass game that looks sharper and sharper, hitting his marks, and stifling his mental demons. Novak has struggled to get an edge in majors against the maestro but in the three set format has proven his mettle. Let’s not forget that when the DJoker gets his cylinders pumping he can beat anyone on any given day, as the 2008 Australian Open has illuminated.
On the other side of the draw stands Rafa, who much like his nemesis has struggled in the early rounds but seems to have gathered some momentum, somehow evading the clutches of early round defeat and packed some wins behind him. He will next face Robin “Smoldering” Soderling in the semis, a rematch of the French Open final in May, and devoid of the comfort of clay, and its forgiving bounce, Rafa may find himself swimming in Mallorca a lot sooner than he wants. There is nothing Roger fans would love to see more on Super Sunday than Rafa wearing a bathing suit. If Rafa gets through that battle, the war may still be looming as Andy Murray could be mounting his front in the semis, armed with a nation and a return to a game style that wields craftiness and cunning mixed with well timed aggression. Murray was able to blast Nadal off the court in the 2010 Australian Open, something he couldn’t duplicate against Federer in the final, which I believe gives him all the more reason to take more risks and may even give him that extra angst, a bit more of an edge; Murray can sometimes come across as a petulant child, moaning and moping, chalk full of lofty expectations, showing improvement daily, and he really believes he deserves to be in the same room as Rafa and Roger. This may be the stage to prove that undeniably. I can’t think of a better stage than Wimbledon.
At this stage of a Grand Slam, at the business end of the tournament, the great ones are separated from the legends. Roddick, picked by many pundits to win it all, couldn’t make the cut, as he went out to underdog Lu, which I think is very telling. If you look at the track record for Federer and Nadal, what speaks to their legacy is the consistency, the will, the heart, the ability to win matches when their opponents are playing stratosphere tennis and they themselves are somewhere in the basement on that day. And on multiple occasions we’ve seen their basement ascension progress as the tournament trudges on. The second week is their moment to shine. Roger’s last two matches have brought replenished faith from loyal fans, walking off center court with straight set victories. In the Melzer match, we saw some vintage Federer with the movement and shot making at a normal level for him, an unreal level for most. This Sunday could be tennis’s version of the ‘Thrilla in Manilla.’ Or maybe the “Greatest Rematch of All Time”?