fifth seed

Top Four Players Advance to Rogers Cup Semi-Finals

The top four players in the world took to the court today in Toronto offering fans a terrific line-up of ATP action. By the end of the day, they did not disappoint.

During the day session reality set for David Nalbandian as his career best win streak was halted at eleven. Beaten with ease by fourth seeded Andy Murray 6-2, 6-2, it appeared as though the Argentine simply ran out of gas.

A day after taking care of fifth seed Robin Soderling, Nalbandian’s ground strokes missed the mark with regularity against Murray and his foot work seemed stagnant as well. It was a case of too much tennis in a short period of time as he admitted to after the match.

“I feel a little tired for all the weeks, for the last week and this one, and I didn’t get a rest,” Nalbandian said.

Murray played his best match so far in the tournament and broke early in both the first and second set to take control of each frame.

Going into the match I’d have given Nalbandian a 50/50 chance to pull off the upset, given his 2-0 career head-to-head record against the Scot along with his stellar play of late. He has been playing top-15 tennis since coming back to the tour in July which is where his ranking should be when healthy.

On the positive side for the veteran ball-striker, he will now very likely be able to squeeze out a seeding at the U.S. Open in two week’s time which should help him at his first Grand Slam appearance since the 2009 Aussie Open.

Murray now advances to the semi-finals where he will meet Rafael Nadal a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 winner over Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second match of the day.

Nadal struggled in making the transition to the daytime session as his previous two singles and one doubles match have come after sun-set.

Kohlschreiber stunned the crowd by taking the first set 6-3 and utilizing his one-handed backhand to his advantage.

As he so often does, Nadal fought back hard in the second set and broke early to go up 2-0. The Spaniard always seems to find a way to play his best when he is behind in a match or even within a specific point. He turns his defence into offence just when you think he might be on the edge of losing. He pulled the match even at one set apiece and there was little doubt at that point that he would continue towards the finish line.

Kohlschreiber was having success when he would come to the net and pressure Nadal to hit a perfect passing shot, but unfortunately for the German he chose that strategy to few times during this match. As his backhand began wavering, Nadal broke him for a 4-3 lead and eventually won on triple match point when a Kohlschreiber backhand hit the net. The final score was 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

In the evening session, the match of the day on paper and in execution was clearly the Wimbledon re-match between Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer.

With the suddenly confident Czech having won their last two encounters, the buzz around the press room was leaning towards a Berdych victory.

While Roger has gotten past Juan Ignacio Chela and Michael Llodra with relative ease this week, they represent a cake-walk for a player of Roger’s calibre. Tonight was the true test of where Federer’s game is at and the result would have an enormous impact on his chances moving forward to the U.S. Open.

Should Federer win it would represent a confidence boost for him personally and also for the media with regards to his chances at taking a run at his second Slam of the season. Another loss to Berdych and he would have been taken to task for another missed opportunity and as a glimpse into his continued decline. Talk about pressure!

Federer played wonderfully in the first set mixing up his shots and appearing as composed as ever. For his part, Berdych was struggling with his serve, and ended up down 0-30 during each of his four service games. Mentally he appeared to be totally unprepared for the match.

Tape on his left knee and thigh made me wonder if he was struggling with the physical part of his game as well. That injury – which he would not discuss following the match – was sustained yesterday in his third round victory over Alex Dolgopolov.

Just when it looked liked the old Roger was back, things turned in Berdych’s favour. He finally had an easy hold to take the first game of the set and generally began to serve a much higher first serve percentage. Midway through the set the impact of Berdych’s groundstrokes was also felt across the net for the first time in the match.

At 5-6 and after several tenuous holds for the world No. 3, Federer would double-fault twice en-route to handing the second-set to Berdych.

Things then fell apart quickly for the Swiss player in the third set. Federer had a crucial chance when Berdych was serving at 1-1, 0-40, but he squandered all three break points. As is so often the case in tennis, Federer then came out and was unable to hold his own serve following his golden opportunity. Berdych then held serve and before the crowd could comprehend what was happening it was 4-1.

With Federer serving at 2-5, the crowd tried its best to inspire their hero. As one fan aptly screamed, “this is Roger’s Cup!”

A rare chant of, “Don’t give up Berdych” was followed by, “Give up Berdych!”

Federer held his serve and then it was up to Berdych to close it out while serving at 5-3. Instead, Berdych allowed Federer a total of four break point chances in that game, and on the fourth one he hit a forehand wide which sent the crowd into a frenzy as Federer was suddenly back from the dead.

A final set tiebreak was then upon us and Roger mounted a 4-0 lead before faltering and allowing Berdych to tie it all up at 5 apiece.

A Berdych backhand then gave Federer his first match point at 5-6. Berdych was serving on the next point but it didn’t matter as Federer pressured him into sending the ball long. Miraculously Federer avoided his third successive defeat against Berdych but it sure was close.

The usually polite Canadian crowd got a bit unruly at times throughout the match. Serving at 0-4 in the tie break, someone yelled just as Berdych was about to serve, “Berdych are you nervous?”

Asked about it after the match, Berdych was unwilling to make up excuses or use the crowd’s intimidation as a crutch.

“…it’s all right. I’m happy that so many people just come to see, and they were enjoying, so just let them enjoy, and that’s it,” he concluded.

The final match of the night was unfortunately a dud as Novak Djokovic sent Jeremy Chardy packing 6-2, 6-3 in an hour and twelve minutes. If only all of the Serb’s matches could be played in such cool conditions.

The day’s results allow Canada to have the top four players in the world in the semi-finals of the Rogers Cup for the first time in tournament history.

The Nadal/Murray match goes Saturday at 3pm and the Federer/Djokovic will be at 7pm.

While the Soderling’s and Berdych’s of the world are making the top-ten more competitive this year, the top-four are showing us this week that they are still the serious contenders for the final Slam of the season.

Check back soon for semi-final analysis and of course you can also follow me on Twitter for timely updates throughout the day.

Photos by Bob McIntyre © 2010.

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Murray Brings Nalbandian Back To Earth

Reality set in today at the Rogers Cup in Toronto as David Nalbandian’s career best win streak was halted at eleven. Beaten with ease by fourth seeded Andy Murray 6-2, 6-2, it appeared as though the Argentine simply ran out of gas.

A day after taking care of fifth seed Robin Soderling, Nalbandian’s ground strokes missed the mark with regularity against Murray and his foot work seemed stagnant as well. A case of too much tennis in a short period of time perhaps.

Murray played his best match so far in the tournament and broke early in both the first and second set to take control of each frame.

Going into the match I’d have given Nalbandian a 50/50 chance to pull off the upset, given his 2-0 career head-to-head record against the Scot along with his stellar play of late. He has been playing top-15 tennis since coming back to the tour in July which is where his ranking should be when healthy.

On the positive side for the veteran ball-striker, he will now very likely be able to squeeze out a seeding at the U.S. Open in two week’s time which should help him at his first Grand Slam appearance since the 2009 Aussie Open.

Murray now advances to the semi-finals where he will meet the winner of the Rafael Nadal/Philipp Kohlschreiber match in his attempt to defend his Rogers Cup title.

Keep checking back for more updates from a fantastic day of tennis here in Toronto. The evening matches of Roger Federer vs. Tomas Berdych should answer a lot of questions we all have about the status of the Swiss star’s game. Later, Novak Djokovic will try to take advantage of the cool night time conditions to play against Frenchman Jeremy Chardy.

You can also follow us on Twitter for timely updates throughout the day.

Around the Corner: Clay Court Tennis in Stuttgart and Bastad

With the short grass court season already over, the ATP Tour turns to a couple of clay court tournaments in Europe this week.

Stuttgart:

The chance at redemption to a multitude of players who have missed significant portions of the tennis season due to injury is offered at Stuttgart this year.

Russian Nikolay Davydenko is the top seed in Stuttgart and will try to improve on his semi-final appearances here in 2004 and 2005. Ranked sixth in the world, Davydenko is still struggling with his game since returning from a wrist injury in June. After missing three months he returned in time for Halle and Wimbledon and lost both times in the second round on his least favorite surface of grass. Davydenko gets a first round bye and will then play the winner of the Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Jeremy Chardy match. Chardy won his first career title here a year ago but will be hard-pressed to repeat.

Frenchman Gael Monfils is seeded third and has a fairly easy looking quarter of the draw that is littered with qualifiers. Monfils also missed some time earlier in the year with injury issues and has yet to post any significant results in 2010. This tournament offers the perfect opportunity for Monfils to reach his first final of the season.

Fellow Frenchman Gilles Simon could meet up with veteran Juan Carlos Ferrero in the third quarter-final. Simon will be have trouble living up to this seventh-seed status as he too was out of action for three months between March and June with injuries and is not yet where his game is capable of being.

In the final quarter, clay-court specialist Albert Montanes the fifth seed will likely meet up with second seeded Jurgen Melzer if they can get through the opening two rounds. Melzer is experiencing the season of his career thus far at the age of 29 by making it to the semi-finals at the French Open and the fourth round at Wimbledon. The Austrian had never before advanced past the third round of a Grand Slam.

Bastad:

In Bastad, Sweden, local hope Robin Soderling will look to defend his title from a year ago. Soderling was the first Swede to win the singles title in Bastad since his current coach, Magnus Norman, did it in 2000.

Third seeded David Ferrer won the title in 2007 and is still capable of strong results on clay. This year he has won the title in Acapulco, made the finals of Buenos Aires and the Masters-Series tournament in Rome as well as the semi-finals of four other tournaments.

Nicolas Almagro is seeded fourth and is an able clay-court player. His section seems quite routine and he should be able to find his way deep into the draw.

The bottom quarter features two tough players from Spain in veteran Tommy Robredo, who has won the Bastad title twice before (2006, 2008), and second seeded Fernando Verdasco. Robredo holds a 23-7 career record at this tournament and has a 4-4 head-to-head against Verdasco.

One interesting note when looking at the list of former doubles champions is that Sweden’s Jonas Bjorkman won here on seven separate occasions and with six different partners.