Wow, what a drama filled day yesterday was in group A of the Masters Cup! First up was Murray and Verdasco, with Murray edging out Verdasco 6-4, 6-7, 7-6. And again it was was Verdasco who faltered in the final set tie break, when it really mattered. The fact that Murray could not put Verdasco out of his misery sooner, meant that there was still a chance that he could be eliminated in the group stage. As for Roger, he only needed one set and a few games against Del Potro to qualify. Sounds easy right? Well Roger came extremely close to be eliminated in the group stage as well, within two points to be exact. But in the end he qualified on top of group A. In the first set Roger did the same thing he did against Verdasco, which was to lose serve in his opening service game.
In fact he has started off poorly in all his matches so far in the Masters Cup, and against Del Potro there was no exception. So Roger lost his serve twice in the first set to concede it 6-2. I knew from the start this was going to be Roger’s toughest match. Del Potro is one hell of a player, and once Roger went a set down, for the first time in the tournament I was seriously worried. Of course I expected Roger to come back in the second set, but there was still no guarantee he would win it. Against any other player I would have thought Roger would probably win the second set, but Del Potro is just so dangerous that I couldn’t be sure. It’s a really tough match up for Roger, and there are many reasons for this.
Because Del Potro is so tall and almost always gets a racquet on the ball on the return, it neutralizes probably Roger’s biggest strength that is the serve. Del Potro’s serve on the other hand is pretty huge itself, and if he serves well he becomes very hard to break. Then from the base line he hits the ball so hard, that once again Roger can’t just dictate play with his forehand. Also Del Potro is solid at the net, so he doesn’t have much weakness to speak of. You would think because he is so tall it would be a good idea to make him move a lot, but because he puts you under so much pressure on the base line, that isn’t easy to do, and for a big guy he moves well. Is there any way to beat this guy?! For a while there I didn’t think so.
At least Roger started holding serve easily in the second set, which was an encouraging sign. Then came the tie break. Very nervous times indeed. It was the tie break that would decide whether Roger would qualify for the semi-finals, and I could hardly watch. Even though Roger had already secured the number one ranking, I would have hated it if he lost to Del Potro in straight sets and not qualify for the semi’s. And he came ever so close. At 5-4 in the tie break and Del Potro serving, Roger was staring down the barrel of a gun, and it was pretty much impossible to watch. But the legend that Roger is, he came up with the goods once more when it mattered most. On the first service point Del Potro came up with a big first serve to Roger’s backhand, and Roger did extremely well to hit a short backhand slice angle, which Del Potro couldn’t return over the net.
Massive drama. The next point I don’t really remember, I think Roger hit a big forehand down the line which Del Potro couldn’t return, and on the last point Roger sealed the deal with some deft net play. Once more Roger had done the impossible, and in doing so he almost caused me another heart attack. After this I think Roger had to win one more game, which would be enough to qualify for the semi-finals, and he did so by winning his first service game. Del Potro and Murray on the other hand was still uncertain. Del Potro had to win the third set with a score of 6-3 or better to qualify. At 3-3 and Roger holding break points on the Del Potro serve, it looked like the Argentine would soon be heading home.
Roger got sloppy however, just like he did in the US Open final, and once more failed to put away Del Potro. After he failed to take advantage of several break points, Del Potro took advantage of it in the next game, and broke Roger to take a 5-3 lead. This meant he only needed to hold serve and he would be in the semi-finals, while Murray would have to pack his bags. And almost uncannily, this is what happened. Group A could not have been any closer, and Murray must be furious at Roger for not converting those break points at 3-3 in the third set. It serves him right though. Last year something similar happened, with Roger being the one missing the semi-finals. Murray had already qualified for the semi-finals after his first two group matches, but in his final group match against Roger it was so important for him to win, that he exhausted himself and went on to lose in the semi-finals against Davydenko.
Surely you must think of conserving energy when you go into a third set. But no, Murray would not let Roger have his way. So in the end I am very okay with the fact that Roger lost to Del Potro in three sets. It would have been nice if Roger got revenge for the US Open, but he still has a 6-2 head-to-head record against Del Potro, and the fact that Murray is out makes it almost worth while for me that Roger lost. Roger looked like he was relaxing at 3-3 in the third set anyway, as he probably knew at some level that he had already qualified for the semi’s. The important thing was that he won that second set tie break, and he still qualified on top of group A. So no real damage done. All in all I am delighted with the way things turned out. At 5-4 down in the tie break Roger came very close to the edge of the cliff indeed.
As far as group B goes, I’m not going to bother with all the different scenarios just now. It does look however like Soderling will qualify in the first place after another straight set victory over Djokovic. Also Davydenko beat Rafa in straight sets, and he still has a chance to qualify for the semi-finals as well. At the moment Djokovic is playing against Rafa, and it looks like he will win in straight sets. Then tonight Soderling plays against Davydenko, who is a very nice match up for him. So my guess is that probably Soderling will go through at the top of group B and Djokovic will go through second. If that is the case, then Roger will play against Djokovic in the semi-finals, which gives him a nice chance to avenge his loss to Djokovic in the Basel final.
Also it would mean Del Potro will play against Soderling, with Del Potro probably the favorite to win that one. It’s all hypotheticalal still at this point, but it does look to me like there is a good chance that Roger and Del Potro will meet again in the final. That would mean Del Potro would have the confidence of beating Roger in their last two meetings behind him, but I’m sure Roger would not let the match slip away from him AGAIN…