Giving tennis more than a shot

Indian Wells – Predictable Semis?

Considering who were in the quarter-finals, the identity of the semi-finalists isn’t too much of a surprise, as they are the four best-ranked players left in the field. This said, the semi-finals in themselves should be, in my mind, just as predictable as far as the matter of who will reach the final is concerned. We should thus get the exact same final as last year (Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic), likely with the exact same result (Djokovic d. Nadal).


Does this mean that the semi-finals won’t be worth watching? Absolutely not! I’m curious to see how John Isner will defend himself against the World no 1 and, like many tennis fans, I will sit and enjoy Fedal XXVIII with great pleasure, just like an old movie I’ve seen time and time again. Knowing the end just like and old movie I’ve seen time and time again, too.


For we’ll have Fedal XXVIII, although until a certain drop shot, we nearly had a Federer – David Nalbandian semi-final. Nearly. In their way, both Federer’s and Nadal’s quarter-final matches were also quite predictable: played in the head for the former and a thriller for the other.


In the head of Juan Martín

It was that out. Juan Martín del Potro, absolutely fuming, contests a line call that the non-functioning Hawk Eye system couldn't overrule. (Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite shoulder issues of which both he and his rival hinted to after the match, Juan Martín del Potro started his match against Roger Federer in a good frame of mind, ready to attack him when he was the most vulnerable, which was at the very beginning. Federer’s first service game was the longest game of the match and lasted a good 10 minutes, with the Argentine having chances to break his rival, chances he usually missed with errors.


However, it’s also in that game that the match was played, as a Federer serve, clearly out, was called in. Del Potro asked to challenge the call, but the Hawk Eye system did not work due to an Internet failure. Although Federer knew as well that the ball was out, and was ready to second serve, the call stood (a rare mistake from umpire Mohamed Lahyani, to which he admitted and apologized afterwards), and Delpo went absolutely ballistic.


Del Potro was ready to fire at the Hawk Eye at some point. (Photo: Darron Cummings/AP)

And I mean ballistic. In anger, he argued for a long moment with Lahyani, but to no avail. The call remained, Federer won the next two points and the game, and the Argentine was positively gone from the match, having lost all his concentration. He was fast broken the next game and if he played better from then on in that set, it was to no good, as this call also woke the 16-time Grand Slam champion that is Roger Federer, who couldn’t do much wrong in his game until the end of the match.


After losing the first set, it seemed like del Potro had lost all the will to fight, which led to Federer winning 6-3 6-2 in a little over an hour. A disappointing match to watch when one’s expecting to see a battle.


If his opponent lost his focus completely after that Hawk Eye mishap, it wasn't the case for Roger Federer, who literally flew to victory... (Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

At the end of the match, the Argentine admitted that this call had indeed made him lose all his focus and took the blame for not getting back to better dispositions to get back into it. Federer, on his part, played just incredible tennis from the second game on and this led to the master class we saw afterwards.


A match played in the head, again, which leads me to hope that Delpo learned the lesson and will, next time, just use this to be more aggressive in his game and turn the tide in his favour. However, hopefully, the next time between these two will not happen for a while at that stage of a tournament.


A real thriller

After that disappointing first quarter-final match of the day, we could only hope that we would be treated to a better match between Rafael Nadal and David Nalbandian. In fact, not only was the match better, it was also the best match of the tournament, a near three-hour battle in which both players gave all they got on court and that kept the public in awe of the extent of both players’ game.


David Nalbandian played a match at his level of late 2007 in a nearly three-hour thriller against Rafael Nadal (Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

I mentioned it in my post yesterday: a healthy and in-form David Nalbandian is a threat to Rafael Nadal and to all the best players. He showed it again yesterday as he delivered pure magic for nearly two sets in a crowded Centre Court. Serving beautifully, playing very aggressive, with a deft touch at the net as only he has, the Argentine gave the World no 2 a run for his money.


To his defence (and both players agreed on that after the match as well), Nadal was playing short for the major part of the first two sets. Nalbandian took his chances and it paid off, as Nadal served to stay in the first set. A flurry of errors from the Spaniard, helped by the flaming returns of his opponent, gave Nalbandian the privilege to be the first one to break Nadal in the singles tournament, but also to be the first one to take a set off him, in either singles or doubles.


However, the end of the second set brought an air of déjà-vu, as a costly missed dropped shot from Nalbandian at 5-5 gave Nadal a break point, which he took when Nalbandian double faulted, thus giving Nadal the break… and waking up the sleeping bull. For a rare time this tournament, Nadal served out the set without a problem and Nalbandian was all but done for, being broken quickly in the decisive set.


It was a close call for Rafael Nadal but once the sleeping bull was awakened, it was victory awaiting the Spaniard (Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Then again, at the moment where we thought it was all but over for Nalbandian, as Nadal was serving for the match, up 5-2, the Spaniard knew again the issues he’s been having serving it out. The Argentine didn’t let it pass and recuperated one of the breaks, saved a match point on his own serve but to no avail: this time, Rafael Nadal served out the match without too many problem, sealing a hard-fought 4-6 7-5 6-4 win.


Yes, of course, we all have to salute Nadal’s fighting spirit, which he showed yet again in this match. But what I will remember the most is the great level of play showed by David Nalbandian, something we haven’t see outside of Davis Cup since 2007. That’s the level at which he was playing and we can only hope he continues like that. Nalbandian played like the top 10 player he used to be. May he keep it up!


Predictable semis

John Isner will have the difficult task to try and defeat World no 1 Novak Djokovic in semi-finals (Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

As I mentioned in introduction, the identity of the semi-finalists, ranking-wise, is of absolutely no surprise. Furthermore, I don’t see John Isner, even if he serves like he did throughout most of the tournament, getting the better of Novak Djokovic, no matter how badly Djokovic may serve (and I doubt he will).


Isner’s return game, though improved, will not do much against the impeccable defence of the Serb. The tall American’s chance would be if he takes one of the sets to a tiebreak, where all is possible. My prediction, nevertheless, is a straight-set win from the World no 1, and the end of a fantastic run for Isner.


It wasn't always pretty but Novak Djokovic came through to semi-finals with relative ease in Indian Wells (Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

The other semi is about as predictable as can be. We all know the head-to-head between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. We also know that the surface (very slow hard court, like clay covered with cement) is more suited for Nadal’s game than for Federer’s. Then again, the improbable is always possible in tennis so we never know.


My prediction doesn’t change for tomorrow’s finals: another Djokovic – Nadal final.


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