One Semifinal Berth Remains. Will it Be Federer? Simon?
November 13, 2008 -- Two of the four singles players worked hard at their matches in the Tennis Masters Cup today. They weren't on the same court. The two other players were decidedly uninspired. They might have had excuses or, if you wish, rationales for their lackluster performance. Juan Martin de Potro has had a heavy schedule that started in July; he is about as exhausted as one can get without falling to the court in embarrassment. His knee, too, is problematic. Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, however, pumped up his game mid second set and never took his foot off the pedal. But "tanked" came to mind as Novak Djokovic strode to the net to shake Tsonga's hand.
The third set -- he lost it 6/1 - pronounced to the world "I'm through with you JW. I'm in the semis. This match means nothing to me." How sad for the thousands of fans in the stands. They had anticipated this match-up. People who put aside everything else in their lives to sat for hours and watched 1.5 sets of great tennis from the Joker, and 1.5 sets of when-is-it-gonna-be-over tennis from the same dude while his opponent slowly erupted in spectacular fashion, using brilliant athleticism and mind-blowing shots.
"He knew where he [Djokovic] wanted to be," Peter Fleming commented on Sky Sports. "He knew he had made it through to the semis."
Fleming added that Novak was "running on fumes... he's distracted and mentally tired."
Fumes or no fumes, the Serbian has a history of histrionics in matches. He retired from the semifinals of Monte Carlo this year against Federer, after having played a decent first set. Early in the second, he bagged it. We found out later that he had had a sore throat. A sore throat! Come on... you have got to be kidding. Mr. Djokovic should be reminded that his professional tennis career is a privilege. Manners and good sportsmanship count, and are just as much part of the game as an inside out forehand. One person on a popular blog this morning wrote that Tsonga should pay Djokovic for the win. Sarcasm is the poor man's truth; it stings with authenticity.
"If Novak wants to rise in the ranks, he has to up his game," Greg Rusedski at Sky Sports said. "He has to get better to win another slam. It's even harder to defend one and he has that in front of him.
Jo-Wilfred did raise his game, beginning in the second set. He won it on a break -- 7/5. Remember his match at last year's Australian Open in the semis against Rafael Nadal? A most amazingly awesome spectacle of tennis. Tsonga out Nadal-ed Nadal. The Spaniard had no answer for the Frenchman... no answer. And Nadal is a man who never ever ever gives up. If he's down two sets and a break in a slam and manages to win one game, or one point, he gets fired up. The bull is out of the gate. Look out you across the net. Djokovic doesn't have an ounce of that fighting spirit. Very sad for his fans, or what's left of them.
The final score was Tsonga 16 75 61, which was his only win during the TMC. It was a fabulous way for this bright star to end his season.
Nikolay Davydenko today showed the world what consistency is for pro tennis. Some might conclude that he was machine like, wooden. A player with no flair. However, Davydenko played the best he has since he beat Nadal in Miami.
From the first strike of the ball to the final point, Davydenko demonstrated tight stroke production, smart tactics, and dominance. He dictated play throughout against the admittedly tired Juan Martin del Potro who probably was in a hurry to get things wrapped up in Shanghai. He has a Davis Cup final next week at home in Argentina.
Davydenko didn't give del Potro anything to work with. The Russian flung the ball up the center of the court, decreasing all angles for his opponent. In an effort to finish the point, del Potro would change the ball's direction and it would end up short in Nikolay's court. That's all the invitation he needed. Time after time, he'd take a couple quick steps and hit a winner. One severely angled backhand left fans breathless. The applause was delayed.
He took pace off the ball, too, and then angled it to pull del Potro wide. He'd return the shot, but Davydenko was, by then, perfectly positioned for another put away.
One of the Russian's best attributes is his balance. Watching him today, viewers witnessed a fit player who could get back into a point at the same time he returned a ball. Lleyton Hewitt was one of the first players to demonstrate this type of fast transition. Nikolay's crouched stance, his anticipation, and his ability to take the ball on the rise made him one tough customer today.
He won 63 62. He also won a spot in the semifinals, the second semi in his second appearance at the men's year-ending competition.
Tomorrow's contest between Roger Federer, the #1 seed, and Andy Murray is much anticipated. From most reports, Murray is favored. However, if The Mighty Fed beats Murray, he takes the last berth in the semifinals. If he doesn't beat Murray, Gilles Simon will take the spot. This would be Federer's fifth TMC title, and, of course, Simon's first chance at the crown.