Saturday, October 20, 2007

Madrid Day 5: Surprise, Surprise

Before yesterday, all we could do was imagine what the matchup would look like. How would one of the tour's best tacticians, armed with clean ball striking, fare against the tour's toughest warrior with the strongest will?

It was no contest. David Nalbandian beat Rafael Nadal 6-1, 6-2 in just over an hour to a crowd so stunned, it hissed at the Argentine during the match for playing so well. Nalbandian struck me as a man who had the game to cause Rafa all sorts of trouble, but the scoreline was a surprise, as was David's mental fortitude through the completion of the match.

"I took advantage of all of Rafa's bad shots," David said. "I think Rafa never felt comfortable out there."

Rafa, back in action after a layoff to allow his knees to heal was seen limping after his tough match against Andy Murray the night before. But the Spaniard didn't blame his knees for his poor play.

"I don't want to come up with an excuse," Rafa said. "When you lose, you lose. I think the result reflects enough. It wasn't my day. I never felt good at any point."

That's a wrap.

In the semifinals, Nalbandian will play Novak Djokovic who dismissed Mario Ancic 7-6(3), 6-4. David will try to avenge the straight-set drubbing he received at the hands of the Serb in Montreal this summer.

In a more competitive encounter, Nicolas Kiefer positioned himself for the ATP Comeback Player of the Year award with a 7-6(5), 6-2 victory of a tiring Fernando Gonzalez.

Kiwi, as some of his fans call him, came back this year after a long absence due to a career-threatening left wrist injury. One of the bad boys of tennis, the break from action and his work with sick children mellowed the German, turning him into a player I can actually see myself rooting for.

I'll certainly be rooting for him in the semifinals against Roger Federer who beat a deflated Feliciano Lopez 7-6(4), 6-4 in a match that never seemed as close as the score suggests. After a marathon eighth game in the first set that went to deuce more times than I remember with Lopez finally holding serve, the Spaniard threw the tiebreak away with more forehands over the baselines than I remember. Raja was never pressured on his serve throughout the match and moved a step closer to defending his title in Madrid.

Kiwi usually plays Raja tough. In the third round of Wimbledon 2005, he served for a fifth set against defending champion, only to lose his way and lose in four tough sets. If he doesn't expect much from himself and plays with nothing to lose, he'll hope to win at least another set off the man he hasn't defeated since 2002.


Helen W said...

Well it's been an interesting tournament.

After a great game against Andy Murray, Rafa made all kinds of unforced errors against Nalbandian, who played lights out.

If, as seems likely, Federer prevails over Kiefer, I give Daveed a good chance to take him in the final.

IAC it's good to see Nalbandian playing so well again

Helen W said...

Hey Craig,

Could you give me a reference to Kiefer's work with children, and general change of attitude? I have always felt that he was a win-at-all-costs kind of guy, very unsportsmanlike, even to the point of cheating. If he has changed, I would love to know more. All the more credit to him, in a prodigal son kind of way.


Nina said...

I believe when Nalbandian is in the zone, he can beat anyone on any surface. His main weakness has been his inability to close matches and win on important points. He has always been underestimated by the media and experts. He is not media favorite because he doesn't have typical marketable personality and doesn't like talking to them after he loses matches (his press conferences are just awful). Since I am a biased Nalbandian fan, I attribute it to the language and cultural barrier he has with English-speaking crowd:-) Otherwise he is quite nice and friendly when he speaks Spanish:-)Still I think he needs a PR consultant to better market his image.

Karen said...

Hi guys. I tried to post my thoughts earlier but dont know what happened. Could not post. Anywho my 2 faves are playing tomorrow. First love Nalby against current love Yummy. Whoever wins I will not be disappointed. I am just now watching the Golovin/Schiavone match and to hear Katrina and Corina talk, I swear that they came to this site and read the comments about their call of the Serena match. Talk about mea culpa. Talking about how players should have outside interests and stating on the record that at the time when Serena/Venus started up their outside interests was when they were out of the game with injuries. Craig/Savanna can you guys shed any light on this complete turnaround in their thinking.

Craig Hickman said...

Karen, I've decided that Corina is the worst commentator I've ever heard. And with Ted Robinson out there, that's saying something. I did hear her talk about how these young players need not be so sheltered by their parents and need to get some outside interests, and I just rolled my eyes.

helen w, I cannot remember where I read about Kiefer's work with sick children and his change of attitude, but it struck me. I agree about his history, but when people have epiphanies and allow themselves to change, it's all good.

I've always liked DaVEED. Can't say I'm a fan, but I admire his ball striking and strategy even if his mental flakeouts left me cold.

Here's hoping he brings his A game tomorrow. Simply put, the tour needs more winners, not less, as that is healthy for the sport.

Alex said...

Not Roger's fault that nobody wants to step to the plate and TAKE it away from him except for Rafa on clay. However Mr. Hickman's virulent anti-Federer bias is a bit nauseating.

Karen said...

Alex, as a friend of Mr. Hickman and someone who holds no brief of Mr. Hickman. Mr. Hickman is not anti-Federer. Craig, I am with you on people redeeming themselves. I too was not a fan of Keifer but after his wrist injury and reading about his charitable work with sick children, I started thinking differently about him. Ever since he returned to the sport he seems a bit more subdued and not given to the in your face attitude that he had prior to his wrist injury. In saying that not a fan of his and dont think I will ever be, but glad to see that in the twilight of his career he made a good run at a Master's Series event. If his serve was on he would have probably been able to take a set off Yummy today, but not win the whole shebang. Tomorrow's match is going to be good. At least I hope so. As to Corina, that is what you call charity work. She got the gig and I guess she felt that she had a mike so it gave her the opportunity to espouse her views. I guess she did not realise that the comments from viewers and fans of the sport would have been so negative. Every fan board had a problem with her comments, and gives truth to the fact that people of influence do read these message boards and they do listen. Now if only they would get rid of Ted Robinson then that would be Nirvana.

rabbit said...

Djokovic is learning what amount of hard work, consistency, dedication, and care to scheduling it takes to consistently stay on top of the tour. It would not be surprising to see him relinquish the #3 spot within the next 6 months.

Alex said...


It wouldn't matter if Federer wasn't so dedicated to being #1 at 7000+ level. If he were more half-arsed like Sampras, Nadal would be #1 already.

Helen W said...

Very impressive win by Nalbandian!! The way he came back after being demolished and demoralized in the first set was simply astonishing.

According to the commentators, this was the first time an unseeded player beat the 3 top players to take a championship.

Bravo David!