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If anyone is still trying to identify the favorite to win in Rome, consider Rafael Nadal’s remarks after beating Tomas Berdych 6-4, 7-5 in the quarterfinals on Friday (via the tournament website):
“I played one of my best match on clay against a difficult opponent,” said Nadal. “It was a big match and one of the higher quality matches this year because the level of the opponent is high. He plays with big confidence and I played under pressure all the time under the match and my chances on the return are few and far between and so I have to be focused. I did something fantastic and I went inside with my forehand and my movements were fantastic and yesterday I started to feel very well. I hit a few fantastic shots and this kind of shot comes with the confidence.”
Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Rafa gush like this before. It certainly bodes well for him – and not so much for David Ferrer, his semifinal opponent and the man he beat in last month’s Barcelona final.
Roger Federer made light work of Andreas Seppi in his Friday night quarterfinal. Seppi was coming off three consecutive three-set wins, including an epic battle on Thursday vs. Stan Wawrinka that went three tie break sets. Roger, also coming off three sets vs. Juan Carlos Ferrero, looked sharp and focused on getting off the court fast. He won the match in 54 minutes, making me think he must actually be looking forward to playing Novak Djokovic in the semis. Either he wants some revenge, or has simply brushed off their last, painful, meeting at the US Open.
Djokovic has played well in Rome, especially in the second set of his quarterfinal vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga:
“In the second set I played one of the best sets on clay this year,” he said (via CNN) “This is encouraging for the challenges ahead. With Roland Garros coming, I’m playing and feeling better in every match.”
Nole should be the fresher of the two men tomorrow, considering Roger’s feats in Madrid. But while Nole’s revving up his mojo, Roger already has his confidence set on autopilot. Looking at their head-to-head on the surface is not too helpful in predicting a winner. Of the twenty-four times they’ve met across the net, only four of those matches were played on clay. Roger holds the edge, 3-1, including that notable win at Roland Garros last year, but Nole’s single victory was in the Foro Italico. What I’m trying to say: This is going to be a close one.
I’m sure this is more of fan’s mindset than a pro’s, but I wonder if it will come down to who really wants to test out Rafa before Roland Garros. Novak and Roger are playing the night match, so they’ll know who they will face in the final. Intriguing set up, either way.
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There are still some intriguing matches left on the women’s side as well. Serena Williams will face Li Na and Maria Sharapova will play Angelique Kerber in the semis. Maria took out Venus Williams in straight sets on Friday, and the possibility of her facing Serena in the finals in mouthwatering. But don’t discount the lefty Kerber, who took out Kvitova in the quarters and will be making her top 10 debut on Monday. Kerber’s won 6 out of her last 10 matches vs. top 10 players (via the WTA), including a win over Sharapova this year in Paris.
Speaking of top 10 players, Maria Sharapova had some nice words for about Venus Williams after their match (via the tournament website):
Q: Maria what did think of Venus and do you think she will be able to get to the top again,
Sharapova: No doubt. Its good to see a player like her back and playing and being healthy and she is a great player and competitive and you have to be ready for that … no matter how long she has been out of the game and so …. she is experienced enough to know what she needs to come back
. . .and some not so diplomatic words about her current rival, No. 1 player Victoria Azarenka, who pulled out of the tournament before the third round this week, citing a shoulder injury. Vika complained afterwards that the WTA’s rules were endangering her health. I wonder if Maria actually rolled her eyes when asked about it in her press conference.
Q: Azarenka yesterday said earlier on Twitter that players should have more right because she complained about WTA rules that impose the players to play in a tournament they .. she retired yesterday about her shoulder injury and what do you think about that? Are you with her.
Sharapova : First of all she is probably injured more than any other player and to be number 1 in the world and be able to play a full schedule. I think last year she had more retirements that anyone but played a full schedule and after 2 days retirement you would see her practicing and so its tough to know what her state is and what she is feeling. Personally, if I am injured however big or small the fine is, the body is no support for me and if this is the tournament where you have to participate or get zero points but to be honest I don’t really care about that because but for me the health is the most important thing….if I am healthy then I can go on court and beat someone and not go and save whatever money and I pay the fine.
Speaking of injury, Andy Murray told reporters after his loss to Gasquet on Thursday that he’s been suffering from a lower back injury since December, perhaps explaining some of his recent on court angst.