Giving tennis more than a shot

Surprises In Rome

If the return to red clay had come rather smoothly and without surprises since Monday, it was definitely not the case over the last two days, as Italy has got themselves a new hero, the fourth Musketeer fell (and well into jeers in that wake), a veteran realized a dream, and two players suffered tough losses, although not for the same reason.

 

Let’s start with the surprises. 

 

Andreas Seppi transported by the crowd

Italian no 1 Andreas Seppi is the Cinderella story of this Rome Masters 1000 so far. Seppinderella won two epic matches in two days. (Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Wednesday, against John Isner, there was a distinct feeling in the Pietrangeli stadium as the crowd, with each passing moment, each stroke, each point won by the only local man standing in the singles (Fabio Fognini had lost a few hours before), greeted everything with chants of “Seppi Seppi Seppi” worthy of the best Davis Cup ties. It seems to have transported their man, who signed his sixth career top 10 win with a hard-fought comeback, 2-6 7-6(5) 7-5.

 

Andreas Seppi didn’t stop there. I predicted that his upcoming round-of-16 meeting with Stanislas Wawrinka would be pretty open and could very well be one of the most exciting matches of the day. I wasn’t wrong as the Pietrangeli stadium was again the stage of an epic battle, the first in the tournament’s history to end in three tiebreak sets, as Seppi made the stadium explode with a 6-7(1) 7-6(6) 7-6(6) victory that sent him in his first Roman quarter-finals. In so doing, the Italian saved no less than six match points.

 

Roger Federer quickly made the transition from icy blue clay to windy red clay (Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

For once, Andreas Seppi is on the winning end of thrillers and not the one whose heart has been broken by a tight loss. And he did it twice in two days. Tomorrow, however, he will not be playing on Pietrangeli, but on Centrale, as he will face World no 2 Roger Federer, who whiffed a ball and lost a set to the ever combative Juan Carlos Ferrero but ended up winning nonetheless, 6-2 5-7 6-1 in a highly interesting battle of the veterans. Will this be the last stroke of midnight for Seppinderella?

 

Andy Murray: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

This is an expression I had not used in ages when referring to British no 1 Andy Murray. However, after a brilliant match against David Nalbandian on his birthday, the now 25-year-old played abysmally by the standards of many to be defeated 6-7(1) 6-3 6-2 by Richard Gasquet.

 

Even though we know the extent of Gasquet’s (undeniable) talent, it remains a surprise to see last year’s semi-finalist so ousted before the quarter-finals, and even though he mentioned after the match suffering from back problems since December of last year, all the merit goes to the Frenchman for not having been deterred or having lost his focus in front of a more and more unnerved Murray.

 

Andy Murray hasn't played his best match against Richard Gasquet, but is he really worthy of all the jeers and criticism? (Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/GettyImages)

This said, the World no 4’s performance in this tournament reminds me of the end of 2010, when he was alternating a brilliant match with a less brilliant one, thus earning this “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” nickname I had given him then, even though I do it with a little sarcasm today.

 

However, where I don’t agree is when I read over and over again the same comments, analysis, and jeers about Murray’s lack of mental toughness, of how he doesn’t belong with the three other players in the top 4, how he will never win a Grand Slam, how he’s getting old for winning a Grand Slam, etc.

 

On all of this, I need only remind you this: Andy Murray has been in the top 5 without interruption since September 2008. Somehow, somewhere, that must show he belongs where he is, no? Of course, Federer, Nadal, and now Djokovic surpass him or have now surpassed him (in Djokovic’s case), but it doesn’t mean that Murray is less worthy than them. After all, he reached at least the semi-finals of the last five Grand Slams, and has won two Masters 1000 and made the final in one more since the beginning of 2011 only.

 

So I think that we should cut him some slack. In this tournament, his draw started with David Nalbandian, continued (and ended up finishing) with Richard Gasquet, and then would have been facing David Ferrer and, likely, Rafael Nadal. It was, for any of the top 4 players, the toughest draw imaginable. Add to this the back injury Murray mentioned and you have yourself a disaster waiting to happen, ergo the inconsistency shown today, I think. Less dominant than them, perhaps. Less worthy, definitely not.

 

Furthermore, who gives Gasquet a chance against David Ferrer tomorrow? Who would have given Murray a chance had he been the one playing David Ferrer tomorrow? To both, I honestly say: not I.

 

Let’s cut the Scot some slack, shall we?

 

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