Day session ticket holders were treated to some fantastic tennis on Wednesday, featuring two dramatic three set matches involving Roger Federer (def. Wawrinka) and Rafael Nadal (def. Gulbis.) You can’t get much better than Roger and Rafa back-to-back, especially when they’re playing to meet each other in the next round. And so they clash for the 29th time tonight (7pm Pacific). This is the first time they’ve played each other since meeting in the semis of this tournament last year (Roger won 6-3, 6-4) and the first time they’ve met before the semifinal round since their first meeting in Miami in 2004 (Rafa, just 17 years old won it 6-3, 6-3!)
A few observations:
Roger mentioned that he tweaked his back this week – though he stressed it’s not that big a deal, saying on Monday: “I’m not too worried. I have gone through it so many times where you feel a little tweak.” I couldn’t help thinking about the back during his match vs. Wawrinka, especially when the commentators pointed out his ginger movement on the overheads. Roger’s been guilty of thinking ahead in the past – most notably at the US Open a few years ago, when he admitted to worrying about facing Rafa in the final while still struggling (and eventually failing) against Novak Djokovic in the semis – so I wondered if he was worrying about his injury and a potential meeting with Rafa during this match vs. Stan. He was certainly on edge during the match, flubbing multiple break point chances and failing to serve out the match in the second set. No wonder he vented some of his frustration at the umpire and the challenge system: “Get me Lars!”
Roger managed to pull himself together, even after being broken in the third set by Stan. Let’s hope he’s calmed himself down in time for tonight’s contest.
Rafael Nadal was also on edge last night, flirting with disaster vs. a spirited Ernests Gulbis in his round of sixteen. Though he won only two more points total in the match, Rafa made them the right ones and eventually won it: 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. Nadal had his own altercation with the chair ump, this time about a coaching warning. I don’t think his argument that he and coach Francisco Roig were speaking Catalan was really the best defense, but it made for an entertaining exchange:
So, both Rafa and Roger eventually won out over their opponents and their frustrations and set up the meeting everyone was hoping for. But why, exactly, are we still so excited about this match-up? It’s interesting that the New York Times is calling this match between the aged (Roger) and terminally injured (Rafa, maybe Roger) stars the “undercard” to the main show, wondering if “the tennis world might have begun to move past them, leaving the spotlight on Murray and top-ranked Novak Djokovic.” (Nole plays Tsonga and Murray plays Del Potro in Friday’s quarterfinals.)
What do you think, tennis fans? Is Rafa vs. Roger simply sentimental or does it still hold sway? I think that as long as this match up means something to them, it has to mean something to us – and both guys showed in their behavior last night that this match is worth anticipating.