Last night I stayed up until the early morning hours to watch Roger’s match, and today I had to be up early for my first day of tennis coaching. Hence the delayed post. As I said in previous posts, Roger’s first match against Verdasco was always going to be a key match for him, and it has proved to be exactly the case. Roger got off to the worst start possible, when he elected to serve first and then went on to lose his serve to love. Verdasco, who is playing in his first Masters Cup, immediately lost all signs of nerves and got a big boost in confidence. Roger’s confidence on the other hand was about as low as it can be, and it was a sad sight to behold. Both players kept holding serve, and Verdasco eventually won the first set 6-4 after successfully serving it out.
At this point things were looking pretty bleak for Roger, as Verdasco didn’t look like he planned on going away any time soon. But as I told you, Roger brings it in the big events, and he was not going to let this one slip. At 5-5 in the second set Roger went down 0-30 on his serve, and right after that Verdasco had a look at a forehand pass down the line which would probably have won him the match, but he only just missed it. This was really a key game as Roger’s hopes was hanging by a thread, but he showed just how much he cared as he courageously held serve. Then in the next game at 15-15 came another key moment, as Verdasco was tentative on an approach shot, and Roger made him pay by hitting a peRFectly weighted lob over his head. Verdasco ran back and made a complete mess of the shot as he hit the ball in front of him into the ground.
Roger then converted his first break point of the match to win the second set 7-5. The momentum had swung, and from here on there was only going to be one winner. In stark contrast to the first set, Roger was starting to hit the ball cleanly and winners started to flow from his racquet. It was beautiful to see the maestro back playing like this, and the fact that Roger was starting to rip backhand winners was a clear sign that he was feeling confident. Roger broke Verdasco twice as he went up 5-0, but Verdasco held serve to avoid the bagel. The outcome was inevitable though as Roger gave Verdasco a bread stick, 6-1. The last set was the best set Roger has played since the US Open, and to me it’s a clear sign that he is back and ready to win this tournament.
This match was exactly what Roger needed. Coming into the Masters Cup Roger was clearly lacking confidence and match practice, and it took hard work from him in the second set to get back into the swing of things. But now that he has found his game, he is going to be very hard to stop. With this win Roger has announced that he means business, and believe me when I tell you that the rest of the field has taken note. Roger now comes up against Murray, who was slightly fortunate to be victorious over a match deprived Del Potro. Delpo was slow out of the blocks against Murray, but found his game in the second set, only to lose it again in the third. To me it was clearly a case of Delpo lacking match play, but nonetheless I was impressed with how he came back in the second set. The score was 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.
In the second set when Delpo found his game, he was just outhitting the Scot, who went into full retrieval mode. I don’t think Delpo has any business losing to Murray when he is fully fit. At the moment the head-to-head record is 4-1 in favor of Murray, but don’t let that fool you. You just have to look at their respective grand slam final debuts to see that Delpo is in another class than Murray. I still hink Delpo is mentally extremely sound, and he can hit the ball harder than anyone. Delpo will not win a few slams, he will win many. He will have the injury niggle from time to time, but I don’t see that stopping him from winning several slam titles. And don’t count him out of the tournament just yet, he still has an outside chance to make the semi’s. He will only play better from here on.
Back to Roger’s match against Murray, and as you know Roger beat Murray 6-2, 7-6 in their last meeting in Cincinnati. I see something similar happening this time. I think Roger will pick up where he left off in his match against Verdasco and dominate play to win the first set, as he usually does against Murray. In the second set Murray will put up more resistance, but still Roger should get the job done. I’d prefer that this match does not go to a third set given these two’s history, but whatever the case may be, I favor Roger to beat Murray for the second time in a row. And it will be a much needed win as well, not only to help him secure the number one ranking and get him closer to the title, but also to improve his head-to-head record over Murray.
As Roger said recently, when he plays against Murray the match is on his racquet, and he will pretty much just overpower Murray. I think Roger is now confident enough that exactly that is going to happen. That is my feeling anyway. As far as the number one ranking goes, Roger came yet another step closer today to securing the year end number one spot, when Soderling made short work of Rafa today, 6-4, 6-4. This was a match that I was particularly looking forward to given the history of these two players, but in the end Rafa disappointed. He still looks like a shadow of the player he was in 2008-early 2009, and as the heavy defeats keeps piling up, I’m afraid Rafa will never return to the player he once was.
I think he could still possibly win a French Open or two, but I don’t think he has the variety of a Federer to dig himself out of this hole completely. The power players have figured Rafa out, and he has nothing else to show them. For me it’s pretty much as simple as that. The only surface where he can now still do well is the surface that suits the power players the least, which is of course clay. But as we have seen this year at Roland Garros, the power players can even overpower Rafa on his favorite surface. Someone like Delpo won’t be making it easy for Rafa on clay. It’s a bit sad to see really, but then I think of all those bitter Rafanatics who constantly try to discredit Roger’s accomplishments by bringing up Roger’s head-to-head record with Rafa, and suddenly I don’t feel so sorry for Rafa anymore.
The truth is I don’t have a problem with Rafa, and I like to watch his interviews. But some of his fans are extremely annoying. So in the end Rafa’s downfall is a bit sad to see, but he will fight back and I’m sure somewhere along the line he will come good again. As for Soderling, I didn’t feel like he played particularly well, but he is still my dark horse and there is a good chance he will make the semi’s now. Tonight Djokovic comes up against Davydenko, and I’m going to guess Djokovic will win this one. All in all things have gone exactly according to plan for Roger this far, with the number one ranking now being all but secured. Roger only needs to win one more group match and it will be a done deal. Should be a breeze!