I think it’s safe to say now that Madrid is indeed the most interesting clay court event of the season thus far. Today we saw a sensational match between Rafa and Djokovic, probably only topped by the Australian Open semi between Rafa and Verdasco. Rafa once again showed why he is arguably the strongest player in the history of the game in the mental department, winning 3-6, 7-6, 7-6. He just thrives under pressure and comes up with his best tennis when the stakes are at it’s highest. Even if you are not a fan of Rafa it’s hard not to be inspired by his play. Most players play worse under pressure, it takes a unique individual to play better when the pressure is on. Djokovic also deserves a lot of credit for the way he hung in there, he really didn’t do too much wrong.
There is not many people who can push Rafa on clay and Djokovic certainly did that today. Roger on the other hand beat Del Potro in a fairly one sided match, 6-3, 6-4. Only in the first game of the match did Roger face two break points, and again later in the first set. Other then that he never looked in much trouble. As I hoped he got his first serve percentage up from his last match, which was at 67%. It makes all the difference when he serves like this and it showed. It allows him to take control of the rallies early on which makes him very hard to break. Roger also displayed some sublime touch on the drop shots today, which was nice to see. It has to be said though that Del Potro seems to be a pretty good match up for Roger, so I wouldn’t go as far as to say the old Roger is back or anything like that.
If he wins tomorrow I think it would be safe to say that. So after all Roger is going to face Rafa before the French Open. It will be interesting to see how he matches up against Rafa on clay these days and the altitude in Madrid will work in his favor. He has a good chance now to go play some all out attacking tennis and the match against Del Potro would have helped with that as well. But of course we know Rafa is an all together different story then Del Potro. Rafa is after all the one that instigated Roger’s apparent demise, so getting a win back over him tomorrow would be consolation I’m sure. Maybe Rafa will just be a little tired after his match against Djokovic and from all the tennis he has played of late as well.
If Roger wants to beat Rafa on clay tomorrow will surely be one of his best chances to date. But if it is to happen Roger must try something different and he definitely has to take advantage of the conditions to play attacking tennis. If his serve percentage drops below 60% again and he is content to rally from the base line Rafa will expose his backhand one more time, he will emphasize his dominance over R0ger of late and the rivalry will continue to go south. But not only that he will virtually end any chances he has of beating Rafa at the French Open. If he cannot do it at conditions that suits him he will surely not be able to do it at conditions less favorable for his style of play. I never had much hope that Roger would win the French Open this year.
But if he beats Rafa tomorrow he will at least give himself a chance, however small that chance may be. It will give him his first Masters Series title since August 2007, which is hard to believe in itself. A Masters Series title and a win over the world number one would surely give his confidence a huge boost going into the French Open. Therefor he has everything to play for and should see this as an opportunity for change. He has everything in his favor. Rafa has been looking less then his best this whole week and Roger can take advantage of that with attacking play. Making a high percentage of first serves and attacking Rafa’s second serve will be key. This will already help to avoid his backhand being exploited, and going to the net when the opportunity presents itself will also help.
Roger sure needs something to turn his luck around but he needs to play his part. Will he? Either way it’s great to see Roger in his first final since Australia!
No predictions from me today, I’ll just let you decide this time.