Seems like only yesterday when my co-writer Nina Rota and I were bubbling happily about the prospect of another Roger Nadal final in Madrid. After all, I reminded her, Roger had “only” Nalbandian to climb over while Rafa could face either Djokovic or Gonzalez once he got by Tomas Berdych. How hard could that be, said I, tra la la la. Harder than we think, said Mr. Berdych, who had other ideas in mind and proceeded to take down the Number Two seed Nadal in straight sets.
Not only did Berdych beat Nadal with a game as powerful from the baseline as his own, Berdych managed to tweak Nadal a bit in the personality department. Too bad for Nadal that Berdych did not make the finger to the lips gesture during the match, instead of over the hand-shake at the end; it might have fired Nadal up. As it was, he could only sullenly call Berdych a “bad boy” at the end for his silencing gesture.
I’m waiting for the day when more players are going to complain about all the time Nadal takes between points. Butt picking, line cleaning and taking his own sweet time is something one could legitimately rant about. Instead Berdych went after the crowd. Maybe Berdych is better suited to team sports; he would rather have hundreds of people on his case instead of just one opponent.
I did not have a problem with Berdych’s gesture. It’s just that he should be prepared for the heat that comes with a gesture like that. The crowd gave him some flame. So far Berdych doesn’t seem able to cash in that anger and turn it back into his game the way McEnroe did. He’s at the stage now where it just festers inside him and gets in the way of his winning matches.
Too bad, because the guy has a great-looking game and we have been waiting on his “arrival” for a while now. As Nina Rota pointed out in her piece, though, he wins a big match then slips back several notches. Consistency is still a stretch for Berdych. Mentally he is suspect; the guy has the look of a brooder about him. A choir boy in search of the proper choir for his talent to shine forth in. But he showed some real smooth power in his strokes against Nadal and his footwork is really nice for a guy who is nearly 6’6″. Smooth quick little steps that seem effortless. No wonder he’s touted as a more powerful version of Roger Federer. Now if only his head could catch up. Berdych became the 8th man to beat Nadal this year and the only one to have done it three times.
I felt absolutely crestfallen. Why can’t the second best player in the world get into more finals so he can give battle to the number one player? The person who was most disappointed, after me, was probably Federer himself. Just when he was starting to learn, at Wimbledon, how to break down Nadal’s game and give him a fit or two. Roger was probably eager as can be to lay further hands upon Nadal.
But Nadal has not materialized in a semi-final since Wimbledon. If this keeps up we may start to think, “Hhmmm, did that Federer win at Wimbledon get inside Rafa’s head a bit?” Does he want to see more Fed? Or would he rather lose to a motley crew like Moya, Berdych, Joachim Johansson, Youzhny, Ferrero, Blake and Clement before he gets to Federer? I am beginning to wonder.
Once again, dear readers, we get the typical Federer final which seems to occur a lot these days when the opponent is not named Nadal. Sunday the victim was Gonzalez, who has not played badly at all this year and may be our pick for the most improved player. But on this day Gonzo saw all his good efforts in the first set go for naught. He fell into the Federer threshing machine and the pattern goes like this: we race through the first set, both players are showing their stuff, it’s neck and neck until….well, usually it happens in a heartbeat.
In Gonzo’s case, it was a sitting forehand that he could not direct up the line for a winner. This would have given him game point at 5-6 in the first set. He wiggled out of that momentarily but a few points later Gonzalez dug more trouble for himself by attempting a backhand dropshot that didn’t drop enough, and Roger nailed it up the line for a winner. Then Roger got a second serve and put away an overhead for the only break and the set is his, 7-5.
After that, you see the air almost literally rush out of Federer’s opponents. Their spirit is crushed, the train now leaves the station and they may as well kiss the match goodbye. Gonzo seemed ready to battle on early in the second set, or maybe it was just his death throes. In any event, he snagged only one game in the second set before getting the bagel in the third.
For Gonzalez it was still a pretty decent day, even though his losing streak to the Fed now goes to 0 and 7. This was his first Masters Series final and it was about time, guy. He threw his all at Federer in the first set; the problem was doing it for five. The man has come a long way this year. He has lost weight but he could still lose a bit more. He has worked hard to tone down the brute force that seemed to come with every shot and he is picking up touch, which he showed on a number of forays to the net and in his use of drop shots. He has learned to make adjustments and hopefully now it will begin to pay off. See you in Shanghai, Gonzo.
As for Federer, he left the field in his dust. Sigh. Maybe Shanghai will provide us with that Roger-Rafa final we have been craving. But don’t count your chickens like I did. As the fall season wears on, it is clear now there is only one constant heart beating in the men’s game and it’s the man from Switzerland.
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If you are deprived of the Tennis Channel because your cable provider does not provide it, or your satellite people can’t set up at your apartment or house, then the ATP Tour site has a nifty little viewing program you may want to check out. For about eight bucks a day you could have signed up to see the Madrid matches on your computer screen. No, really, it’s not as bad as you think. The worst part is getting up real early out here on the west coast to catch it live from overseas.
The viewing is not as clear as on TV, but it’s better than you think. Certainly better than I thought. I wasn’t sure how I would like sitting upright for hours at a desk viewing it. I am a tennis slut, and this week I really needed a good fix of something, so I was happy to try the system out. Periodically you have to refresh your screen to keep it large but not having commercials is really nice. And having Brit commentators is nice too because they have a long tradition of being laconic on the air. Much as I often love the non-stop commentary of Pat and Cliff and Mary and John and Jim, sometimes I just wish….they’d shut up already. Please.