I expected a lot of unseeded players to reach the quarterfinals in Hamburg but what were Nicolas Kiefer and Andreas Seppi doing there?
When I filed my ATP fantasy picks this week I noted that Hamburg is pretty bad about predicting its quarterfinalists. In the past five years, less that three of the top eight seeded players have reached the final eight. This year is only slightly better. The top three are there – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic – and that’s really the story of the week because a game of musical chairs could be just beginning.
Before we get to that, though, how were we supposed to know which unseeded players would go far this week? It would have been difficult enough if the tournament hadn’t reseeded the draw because five players dropped out. James Blake ended up in one corner of the draw instead of Andy Roddick who hurt his back moving into his new apartment in New York – can’t he afford movers?
You might think Nicolas Kiefer was a good choice because he’s German but he had a losing record on clay before this week and a bad record at Hamburg. Italian Andreas Seppi makes more sense because he reached the quarterfinals here as a qualifier three years ago, but his fellow Italian, Simone Bolelli, was in his part of the draw and beat him in Munich on clay only two weeks ago.
Still, here they were, Kiwi and Seppi in the quarterfinals at Hamburg and Kiwi was up a break on Seppi at 4-2 in the third set and working on going up two breaks when he argued against a service winner that landed on the inside of the service line. He was clearly trying to rile up his home crowd. After getting a break point on the next point, he made a point of clearing the service line then flashing a look at the chair umpire.
Kiwi is doing a second act on the tennis circuit. He missed half of last year due to knee surgery and when he returned we had a warmer fuzzier version of the formerly crusty grumpy Kiwi. He used to be the kind of guy who would get mad at his opponent for making a good shot. He’s still feisty but now it takes the form of getting angry at line calls.
Kiwi didn’t get that second break of serve but he did serve for the match at 5-4 and, unfortunately, chose the worst time to play a terrible game. I couldn’t help having the slightest touch of pleasure that Kiwi lost that game if only because of his attitude is still annoying. But which is better, a grumpy guy who brings you some on court entertainment and variety in his game – Kiwi – or a grinder who is a nice but has very little variety and shows almost no emotion on the court – Seppi?
This wasn’t a great tennis match. Clay court tennis is supposed to be all about constructing a masterful point but these two kept hitting backhand to backhand and forehand to forehand. Kiwi was the only one doing much in the way of coming to the net or using the drop shot. On one point I counted 23 backhands. Seppi seems to be constitutionally unable to change the direction of the ball. But he is steady and today that was enough because those backhands came in the game that put Seppi up 6-5 in that third set.
Okay, I did start feeling bad as Kiwi hit a double fault in the next game to give Seppi a match point. But this is clay after all, not Kiwi’s best surface, and he’d done very well to get to the quarterfinals so don’t give me too hard a time for my previous bit of ill will towards him.
Seppi hit two good passing shots to win the match and then we finally saw the emotion as he dropped to his knees. Understandable considering that he’d just won a 3 hour and 45 minute battle and pushed himself into the semifinals of a Masters Series event. There he will meet Federer which could be a gift for the current number one, or not. Seppi did lose to him in Monte Carlo last year in their only meeting, but it took Federer two tiebreakers to beat him.
Does anyone play musical chairs anymore? I haven’t played it since I was 7 or 8 years old in the small village in England where I grew up. I can still clearly see the village hall with its shiny wooden floor and rows of chairs. Every time the music stopped, we literally crawled over each other to find an empty chair and one person was left out because there was one less chair in each succeeding round. At the end, one person snatched the very last chair and they were declared the winner.
It looks like Djokovic will be the winner. Nadal didn’t win a title after the clay court season last year and he didn’t win one until the clay court season this year. He can still win Wimbledon because it’s easier on his knees and feet and the points are shorter, but I’m not looking for him to improve on hard courts. And he certainly can’t improve on clay courts.
Whether you believe it’s his Saturn return or the sheer impossibility of dominating the tour for more than three years in a row, Federer winning is no longer a sure thing. Djokovic’s ascendance to his throne probably will not happen in the immediate future because he has four slam semifinals to defend this year and that takes some luck as well as skill, but it looks like it will happen. The question is: will Djokovic wear out physically as quickly as Nadal appears to have done or will he get his full run as number one as Mr. Federer has?