Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Monte Carlo: Round of 16 Underway

Greetings OCTF's,

What a difference ten days makes. The high octane tennis that we saw on the faster surfaces of Melbourne, IW, and Key Biscane has given way to a slower more strategic flavor of tennis. One that is more chess-like and longer playing; one where angles, spin, and consistency can comfortably compete with power-serves and quick strikes.

Ah, I remember this. It's all coming clearer to me now: Clay is like the formal dance of an ancient people, while hard-court is the thrill-seeking bump-and-grind of the new world. Clay court tennis is never without an element of struggle. It introduces another dimension to matches that we don't get to see on other surfaces, and it provides us with another window from which to observe the hero's of our game.

We've already seen evidence of this at Monte Carlos this week. Players at times seem tortured, worked to the bone, covered in the dirt that they are so tirelessly trying to scramble around on. Meanwhile, other players seem calm, stoic, right at home - happy to submit to the will of the dust.

The action: Nine of the top-ten men entered the Monte Carlo field of fifty-six four days ago; of those nine, only six have proven themselves worthy of the round-of-16.

Crash # 1: On Wednesdays final match of the day, #5-ranked Juan Martin Del Potro became the highest-ranked player to exit the tournament. His hopes were dashed at the hands of a recently rejuvanated Ivan Ljubicic. The 30-year-old Croatian, who resides in Monte Carlo, has won 6 out of 9 matches after starting the year poorly. This current spell of "better" tennis includes a surprising run to the QF's @ Indian Wells which featured wins over Nishikori, Ancic, Simon, and Andreev.

Crash # 2: On tuesday, #7-ranked Gilles Simon also went down. Serving at 32% in the 2nd set, he was drubbed easily by Andreas Beck of Germany, 7-5, 6-1. The Australian Open quarter finalist has not made the round-of-16 in 2 of the 3 Masters Series events.

Crash # 3: Also on Tuesday, #10-ranked Gael Monfils was shown to the door by Serbian Janko Tipsarevic, 6-3, 6-1, in the first round.

But the 4 big dogs at the top of the food chain have all advanced as expected.

This bodes well for the faithful fans, as many enticing matchups are on the menu.

Verdasco v. Ferrer: Earlier today, in an all-Spanish affair, Fernando Verdasco continued his shining play by turning in a dominating performance over David Ferrer, 6-2, 6-1. Verdasco awaits the winner of Djokovic v. Montanes, which is just getting underway on court 2.

Federer v. Wawrinka: As I write, roger aka our heavenly father has just fought off a break point @ 3-3 in the 2nd set against his Swiss mate Stan Wawrinka. Federer dropped the first set and is in danger of yet another surprising defeat. Though another loss seems possible, the good news for Fed is that his on-court demeanor seems more relaxed, even during times of trouble. He has just held to go up 4-3 in the 2nd set.

Elsewhere: Andy Murray was trailing 5-1 in the first set to Italian Fabio Fognini, but Murray has crept all the way back and is now serving @ 4-5.

The main attraction: After Federer's match on Court Central, it'll be the King of Clay. Rafa's foe today will be Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador. The feisty qualifier pushed Marat Safin to the brink of insanity yesterday, finally triumphing over the prince of tennis darkness in the 3rd set tiebreak that saw several grade-A tantrums from the enigmatic Russian, and some stylistic racquet smashing to boot.

But Lapentti will not be so fortunate against Nadal. We are talking about a man who hasn't lost a set in Monte Carlo since the finals of 2006. If there ever was a reign of terror in tennis, this is it. The king of clay is now 160-14 in his career on the surface.

Rains forced a late start today, and tournament management was forced to move action onto Court 2 and Court 9 in order to get the 8 scheduled matches in.

The QF's should be set in 3 hours if the rain stays away.


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