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November 26, 2009

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2009 Barclays ATP Mens World Tour Finals
November 26, 2009
Editorial by Jane Voigt.


Jane Voigt Photo
Jane Voigt

Federer, del Potro Top Group A
November 26, 2009 -- After seeing thousands of empty seats over the year at premier tennis tournaments, both ATP and WTA, the capacity crowds at The Barclay's ATP Tour Finals inspires awe.
This event, in particular, guarantees ticket holders excellent match viewing. Not from a specific seat, mind you, but from a quality perspective. Fans will see only the elite top eight players, first in round-robin competition, then traditional semifinals and a final match on the weekend. The round-robin format pairs the very good with the ultra very good, where only a couple points can make or break an outcome.
These fans -- 17,500 -- won't see a wildcard entrant play his or her brains out against a ranked player, like Roger Federer. He has said that he finds these types of matches irksome. He characterized them as guys who 'go for broke,' putting him in jeopardy of not advancing to, let's say, a second round. Remember, though, Roger Federer has advanced to the semifinal of the last 22 majors. The wildcards he has faced haven't put much of a dent in his armor. In fact, if a wildcard or any other player lands on his side of the draw, they can assume their tournament hopes will come to an end before the semifinals.
No matter the record set by Federer, the level of early round matches during the year doesn't normally equal a weeks long indulgence from the top eight singles players and the top eight doubles teams. Therefore, it must be nice to know that when a fan plops down hard-earned cash for a session, they will witness the best tennis has to offer.
The level of tennis during the Australian Open semifinal in January, though, stands out. It was one of the top three matches of the year. Fernando Verdasco and Rafael Nadal played a 5-set epic slugfest, which was recorded as the longest match in this major's history: 5 hours and 14 minutes. How they remained standing is a mystery. Yes, both were fit as fit could be. Both were passionate competitors. Both are Spanish; their pride was at stake. Verdasco told Steve Tignor, of Tennis.com, that "'We're not close friends,'" in his spring post Verdasco: Getting the winners in the game. Throw that aspect of their relationship in the mystery mix and minutes in their match could have passed into hours without either experiencing any sense of real time, until Verdasco ended the match with a double fault.
Verdasco's problematic second serve is a thing of the past. His first and second serves are up to any task now. His improved technique can be attributed to practice and an astute and experienced coaching staff that includes Daren Cahill -- the man who stood by Lleyton Hewitt as he ascended to the #1 ranking and Andre Agassi in his final years on tour. Verdasco clearly realizes that his epiphanic moment came during the Davis Cup final against Argentina. He won both of his singles rubbers; the second against Jose Acasuso being the tie-clinching win.
Since then his confidence and belief in himself have soared. He knows he belongs in the top ten and broke that barrier for the first time this year.
Today against the talented Andy Murray, Verdasco repeated his uncanny ability to thwart the Scot, fending off twelve of thirteen break points. The Spaniard exasperated Murray at the Australian Open, too, during the quarterfinals. Murray was expected to win that major, as he has been expected to win other majors this year, the most highly touted being Wimbledon. But when Murray got a toehold in Melbourne, Verdasco responded with brilliant shot making.
Verdasco also repeated errors from years' past today as he went for winners when his feet weren't positioned under him or when the point wasn't ripe for the picking. One of those errors can be blamed on technique. The other can on maturity and mental lapses, which all players experience at good and bad times.
So their match today was tight, both played well in spurts. Murray hit 3 aces, 2 double faults, and needed 4 set points to win the first set 6/4. Verdasco was down 15/40 at five-games all in the second set. He fought off the break points then dumped another backhand volley in the net. He followed a second deuce point up with a double fault. Bottom line... he held, much to Murray's annoyance.
Andy Murray's tiebreak points -- 4 -- in the second set were all a result of unforced errors from Verdasco. Murray didn't kick in his aggressive tactics, at all, which is something he should question. On set point, he double faulted. Verdasco, on the other hand, stepped it up. He struck aggressive returns of serve. He hit an unreturnable serve and a clean forehand approach shot. That's the way to win a tiebreak, which Verdasco did, leveling the match.
Murray continued to be impeded throughout the third set. Up break points, Verdasco would serve out wide and take Murray's return up the line for a winner. Or, he would serve an ace. Or, Murray would fall back on his retriever mentality, drop a ball short and suffer the consequences.
Andy Murray could probably shorten his time on court if he'd consistently play an aggressive game, which he displayed when threatened today. He snapped out of his mediocrity and took it to the Spaniard, visibly attacking his backhand, his mind intensely concentrated on the ball.
The tiebreak in the third was a mirror image of the one in the second. Murray was the aggressor: backhand winner, forehand volley winner, backhand crosscourt screamer of a winner. Verdasco contributed the remainder of the seven points. He double faulted, one forehand return flew wide, and the swinging volley missed the far sideline on the last point of the match.
Andy Murray won 64 76 (4) 67 (3), in three hours. Ice, a massage, food, and rest took up the remainder of his day.
Verdasco is now out of the competition. He has no chance to make the semifinals. He ended up 0-3 in his match scores, but since all went to three sets he earned 3 set wins. Not enough, though, when compared to the other players in his group.
Roger Federer has lost once to Juan Martin del Potro, out of their seven meetings. It was at the final of The U. S. Open. The media reported shock at 'the upset.' But the six-foot-six Argentine proved himself a major threat at Roland Garros, when he went up two sets to one in the semifinals against Federer. Sooner or later, Federer expected this giant of a competitor would push him to the limit.
This evening, then, was their first encounter since New York.
Del Potro has been sidelined for most of the time after winning his first major. He lost in the first round at The Japan Open Tennis Championships to a French qualifier Edouard Roger-Vasselin. He retired in the second round of the Shanghai ATP Masters 1000 with an abdominal strain, as he did at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris. His social responsibilities that resulted from his title overwhelmed him, to an extent. He didn't know, couldn't predict, how tennis, friends, family and country would react. It was a bit over the top for the soft-spoken 20 year old.
Roger Federer took a needed break after the U. S. Open Championships, after helping his Swiss Davis Cup team win a tie and boost themselves to the World Group. The U. S. Open final was the first time he had lost this major in five years. He could have had his 16th major at the Open, had he won the second set which he led 5/2. With two sets his, Federer's victory would have been assured. However, that's not how history will remember the match.
Federer returned to the tour for the mandatory ATP World Tour Masters 1000 in Paris. He has never gotten past the quarterfinals here, and lost in his first round to Frenchman Julien Benneteau, who cried afterward, he having had a dismal season to date.
In his hometown of Basel, at the Davidoff Championships, Federer struggled through to the final but couldn't win his fourth title. Novak Djokovic handed him the loss on his home turf.
But Roger Federer's will not forget 2009, nor will history forget. He was married, had twin girls, won his fifteenth major, and clinched the number one ranking for the fifth time. With The French Open title on his resume, Roger Federer is now considered the greatest player of all time.
Nerves shook del Potro in the first set of the U. S. Open. But not here. Not this evening at The O2 Arena. The first two games of the match demonstrated everything superb about his tennis: huge serve, penetrating groundstrokes, and darn good footwork for his size. Del Potro wanted this match in two sets. If he could do that, Federer would be eliminated even though he came with a strong 2-0 record in matches.
Federer scrambled to hold, but was broken twice. Del Potro's groundstrokes seemed too much for the world's number one player, and Federer's own errors afforded him no chances. However, toward the end of that set, Roger started to come in more. It proved helpful. He varied the spin on his balls, too. You could sense his mind at work. You could sense his intentions, his efforts to stem the tide. In the end, del Potro took the set 6/2.
In the second set, Federer held easier and his threats were more frequent. Del Potro's had one break chance and didn't convert. His groundstrokes looked as if they had lost some of their potency; however, Federer handled them better.
Both players reached their comfortable rhythms, as this set progressed. They held comfortably, sometimes at love. In the tiebreak, Federer looked all but eliminated after del Potro took a commanding lead 4/1. He was hitting winners. Del Potro made two unforced errors at 5/3, opening the door for Federer. To the Argentine's chagrin, he had given the tiebreak to the man he most wanted to see leave the arena as a loser.
Del Potro showed signs of frustration, in the third. He was incredulous that he had to play this third set. As he walked to the baseline for his first service game, he took extra balls and slammed them to the court.
In the critical 7th game, del Potro held off three break points. It was Federer's biggest opportunity to gain a dominant position and he didn't do it.
At 4/3, Federer dug the deepest hole in the match. He was down 0/40. If del Potro broke, the writing was on the wall -- he'd serve for the match. The Swiss earned one of the break points, but it wasn't enough. Federer threatened at 30/30 in the final game, but del Potro ended the match on a second-service ace. Score: 62 67 (5) 63.
On the bright side for Federer fans, since Andy Murray won the lowest percentage of games, during the round robin, Federer and del Potro end up at the top of their Group A. Had del Potro lost just one more game against Federer, Murray would have advanced and the Argentine would have been on a plane home, according to the Associated Press.
Things don't get much closer than that.

Earlier Columns from this Event:
November 25, 2009 Barclays ATP Mens World Tour Finals: Djokovic Disappoints, Nadal Out of Contention
November 24, 2009 Barclays ATP Mens World Tour Finals: Federer Clinches Year-end #1 Ranking, Delpo Squeaks Past Verdasco
November 23, 2009 Barclays ATP Mens World Tour Finals: The Not-So-Year-End Men's Tournament, London

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