Friday, April 3, 2009

MIAMI: BOTH MEN'S SEMIS GO THE DISTANCE

Greetings OCTF's,



It was a long day of men's semi-final action at the Crandon Park Tennis Center in Key Biscane, Florida. After a whole lot of top-notch tennis, and some screaming and racquet-smashing to boot, we have our men's singles finalists: Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have each secured 600 points for the Sony Ericsson Open, with 400 more on the line (and $310,000 more in prize money) on Sunday.

Tennis warfare is often as emotional and psychological as it is physical, and today was no exception. Both matches, while wildly entertaining from a purely "I can't believe how good these guys can play" perspective, were also wildly intriguing due to heavy emotional and psychological content.

Fed, the Djoker, Andy, and the 20-year-old Del Potro were up to their usual tricks: Slamming tennis balls with ridiculous force and even more ridiculous accuracy. But there was more than just pure athleticism going on. As much as both of these matches were athletic, they were also spiritual and psychological, tests not only of muscles but of spirit, belief, and faith.

Now to the action...

Semi-final # 1: Djokovic d. Federer 3-6,6-2, 6-3.



It wasn't clear that this wasn't going to be Fed's day until more than 2 sets of grueling tennis had been played. After taking the first set 6-3, Fed's serve went downhill - in the 2nd set he allowed Djokovic to win 50% of his 1st-serve and 75% of his 2nd-serve points - and he dropped the 2nd set rather easily.

In the third set, it became painfully clear: Roger was not feeling it. Fed's game went haywire. He committed 6 errors in the first 2 games of the final set and he was walking the tightrope with the match on the line as Novak prepared to serve...

And we all know what happened next. Fed plopped a purposeless forehand into the net (to go down 30-0 in the 3rd game of the set) and before he could subdue his anger he smashed his racquet into the purple painted hardcourt with Safin-like force.

And immediately as it happened you could feel the largeness of it. You could feel the largeness of Roger Federer, the tennis genius, the artist, he of surgeon-like precision, of uncanny grace and limitless shot making abilities. Everything Fed does these days, you can feel the largeness of it. You want to feel it, you want to soak it in, enjoy him while there is still time. You want to see him overcome, to stay on his perch, to show us that he is who we think is: A superhuman.

But today he would not overcome. Novak Djokovic was still serving well enough to keep a clearly discombobulated Federer at bay. Even as the sympathetic crowd attempted to cajole Fed into providing them with some last minute heroics, the closest he could get was down 4-2 with Novak serving. Novak came up with a strong hold to make it 5-2, then broke Fed for good measure to close this strange emotional thriller out. Novak wins his 3rd career match in 10 tries against Federer, and books a spot in the final alongside Andy Murray.

Quotable : You've had other matches where things aren't going as well and you don't get as upset about that particular moment. What was different about today that you just lost it there?

Federer: "I didn't lose it. I was just frustrated. Just because I smashed the racquet doesn't mean I lose it. Didn't feel great. Didn't feel - it's just a natural thing I did."

---

Semi-final # 2: Murray d. Del Potro, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2



The evening session semi-final was another tense affair, even though it didn't start that way. Andy Murray earned the right to go after his third ATP title of the 2009 season with a win over the youngest player in the top ten, Juan Martin Del Potro.

Murray, 25-2 on the year, last faced Del Potro in a memorable QF battle during the 2008 U.S. Open, and is currently 3-0 against the 20-year-old Argentinian, who will move to an all-time high spot of #5 when updated rankings are released on Monday.

Easy Street: Murray's tennis was so convincing in the first set (and Del Potro's 18 unforced errors were so unconvincing) that it looked like it might be over before some of the paid audience had found their seats. All Del Potro could manage was a hold to bring the score to 5-1, before Murray sealed the set with a hold of his own.

The Turnaround: But Del Potro found his game as the 2nd set began. Some fine serving earned him his first lead of the match, then 2 straight double-faults, including one at game point, gave him his first break of the match. Rowdy chanting fans of the Argentine were eager to will him back in the match, but much of their (but definitely not all of it) enthusiasm was tempered when Murray broke back in the next game, then held to even the set at 2-all.

But Del Potro continued to elevate his game. He really started to pop his ground strokes and as the winners came his confidence grew. Some of the best tennis of the match was played in the middle games of the 2nd set, with each player ripping the cover off the ball, serving big, and mixing in lobs, volleys, and passing shots.

As Del Potro closed the second set with a break, it appeared that the upset was within his grasp. But Murray struck first in the third set, taking a 3-2 lead with a break, then consolidating the break with an easy hold.

Down the stretch: Murray, a veteran of more of these high-stakes matches than Del Potro, seemed to be cruising, getting into a zen-like pose and constructing points as if he were a chess master. Already up a break, he went for the kill in the 7th game of the set: After luring Del Potro in with a drop shot, Murray punched a two-hander that forced his opponent to lunge and miss. Another break point and a chance to all but lock the match up for Murray.

But Del Potro chose that tense moment to ask for the trainer. Murray seemed nonplussed but dealt with it effectively. After a long delay, Del Potro washed out the break point, but two points later none of it mattered, as a focused Murray got the break and closed out the match with an emphatic hold, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2.

Quotable: "The guy served like 80% first serves in the 2nd set and served big. It wasn't like he was just rolling them in. He was serving like 125, 130, and it made it tough for me."

Andy Murray in the post-match press conference, on playing why overcoming Del Potro was so tough.

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