Giving tennis more than a shot

Miami Surprises

The Sony Ericsson Open will end in a few hours with a men’s final that isn’t all too strange for us: a meeting between no 4 Andy Murray and no 1 Novak Djokovic. However, there have been a few surprises throughout the tournament, even though the final will oppose two of the four best players in the world.

 

However, if the surprises caused throughout the tournament by Grigor Dimitrov, Andy Roddick and Juan Mónaco were agreeable ones, as they were great performances, the least agreeable surprise came to us two hours before the beginning of the first semi-final, Friday, as Rafael Nadal was forced to withdraw due to yet another knee injury, thus giving Andy Murray his second walkover of the tournament (Milos Raonic had to do the same prior to their Round 3 encounter because of an ankle injury sustained during practice the day before).

 

I’m only hoping that Nadal will have recovered in time for the clay season. I still find it rather preoccupying, although I won’t start just yet on Rafa’s game style and the over-slowing down of surfaces. Someday, for sure, I will, as the Spaniard is not the only one who pays the price for the latter.

 

Dimitrov finally defeats a top 10 player

Last weekend, upon starting his match against World no 7 Tomas Berdych, Grigor Dimitrov was resting on a 0-9 run against top 10 players. The talented Bulgarian, who is at the moment ranked 101st in the world, was obviously the underdog for that match. However, as soon as it started, it was clear that the one labelled “Baby Fed” was there to fight a mighty fight, quite like he did against Nicolás Almagro in Australia and contrary of the one-sided match against David Ferrer in Indian Wells.

 

Of course, the playing styles of Berdych and Ferrer are quite dissimilar and, for a young player, it is always more of a challenge (and of a learning experience) to face the experienced Spaniard, who will always make his opponent play one more ball and who came, again, very aggressive on court.

 

Last Sunday, nonetheless, it was a whole other story as Dimitrov was facing the talented but inconsistent Berdych, which gave way to a quite spectacular match, punctuated with long rallies, impressive winners… and many errors on both ends.

 

Like many, when I saw Berdych playing such a strong second set (and such a lapse from Dimitrov as well) after the first one was taken by the Bulgarian, I thought it was over for Dimitrov. However, Dimitrov recovered and we were treated to a tight third set, in which the Bulgarian broke in the ninth game, on his first and only break point of the set, and albeit with a bit of (understandable) difficulty, he successfully closed out his first top 10 win, a 6-3 2-6 6-4 triumph over World no 7 Berdych.

 

The looks of disbelief at first and pure joy afterwards were absolutely touching to see:

 

Disbelief (Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

 

Pure joy (Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images)

 

It was, however, a tough ask for him to repeat this performance in the third round against World no 9 Janko Tipsarevic. Even though he tried and fought, Dimitrov ended up losing 7-6(3) 6-2. Nevertheless, let’s hope that Dimitrov builds on this first top 10 win and finally breaks through.

 

Four years later, Roddick gets one over Federer

Monday night, I was anticipating with joy the “battle of the Gramps” opposing Roger Federer and Andy Roddick. A lot of people found me weird to look forward to it, because we all know that Federer – Roddick encounters are usually for the former to win and for the other to fight, only to lose in the end.

 

My replies never varied: I like those matches between veterans, I want a good match, and what if Roddick pulls the upset? After all, Roddick has been playing amazing tennis the last two weeks.

 

Well, that’s exactly what Andy Roddick did. He took a very even first set in the tiebreak, before letting Federer come back in a crushing second set. However, he regrouped in time for the deciding set, in which he played absolutely inspired tennis to log his first win against the Swiss since Miami 2008, 7-6(4) 1-6 6-4.

 

Hard-fought win for Andy Roddick over Roger Federer, the first in four years (Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

 

This long and hard match quite emptied Roddick for the round-of-16, where he faced an inspired Juan Mónaco. Just like he did in 2008, Roddick had lost meekly the round after defeating his old rival. However, this bodes very well for the coming weeks, as Roddick proved once again that if he can (finally) stay healthy, he will not be scratched out of the tennis map so easily as many wanted to do in the last few months.

 

An inspired Juan Mónaco goes all the way to the final four

Since last fall, we could see a steady progress in Juan Mónaco’s game. To be honest, this progress started before that, as we could see improvement in his serve, particularly, but also in his forehand, two of the technical aspects of his game that have been lacking in the past. With it came more confidence and more consistency in his play, which led to the very good results he’s had last fall and since the beginning of the season.

 

Finally quite healthy (except for this wrist that seems to still be bothering him at times), Mónaco has been playing inspired tennis and it showed again during this tournament. If he benefited from the retirement of Yen-Hsun Lu in the first round, in the other three, he showed great power and consistency, especially in his serve, to defeat World no 14 Gaël Monfils (4-6 6-3 6-4), then Andy Roddick (7-5 6-0), and World no 8 Mardy Fish (6-1 6-3).

 

This last match against Fish, in the quarter-finals, was, I think, the most convincing of his matches. Serving impeccably (96% of first serves in the first set, for instance), keeping the errors as low as possible, Pico controlled the match from end to end, although he had been broken back in the middle of the second set. Defeating a(nother) top 10 player and reaching his second career Masters 1000 semi-finals (the first one being Shanghai 2010) was the best birthday present he could make himself.

 

Juan Mónaco made himself a nice gift for his 28th birthday with defeating World no 8 Mardy Fish and reaching his second career Masters 1000 semi-finals (Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images)

 

Then again, it’s not too surprising. With the adjustment he and his team (both last year with Pepo Clavet/Mariano Zabaleta and this year with Gustavo Marcaccio) brought to lethargic aspects of his play, especially on hard courts, and his usual fighting spirit and great physical strength and endurance, finding a steady niche in the top 20 is now possible (he will be no 16 this Monday), and aiming for the top 10 doesn’t sound so delusional to those who don’t follow much of him than it would have been only six months ago, no?

 

This said, it’s true that he did not start his match against Novak Djokovic very well, losing the first set with a resounding bagel. In the second set, however, he showed why he is so admired by his fans: he did not lower his head, he kept fighting, and although the World no 1’s level did slightly drop in that set, credit to Mónaco for hanging in there until the end of the Serbian’s 6-0 7-6(5) semi-final win.

 

Many have disliked Miami a lot this year, but I have to say that the surprises it brought us (except for the walkovers, of course) was what made me like it very much. Let’s see, in a little bit, what the final will bring us.

 

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