Nadal Comes up With Nothing, Defending Champ Djokovic Out
November 27, 2009 -- Strange how a round robin tournament can turn on, well, a game. Andy Murray ended up with one less game than Juan Martin del Potro, which was enough to send the Scot north leaving the Argentine and Roger Federer on top of Group A.
Nikolay Davydenko defeated Robin Soderling this evening and, therefore, edged Novak Djokovic out of the semifinals. Davydenko had scored more sets won than Djokovic, in Group B, of the round robin competition. By virtue of his one set today, Robin Soderling, who had already earned his place in the semifinals, won't have to play Roger Federer tomorrow. That's good news for Robin. He's 0-12 against the Swiss. Semifinals rattle players enough. No need for memories of humiliation to cloud the court on such an occasion.
Sadly, Rafael Nadal went 0-3 on matches won, and 0-6 on sets won, here in London this week. The number #2 ranked player went home with $70,000, the appearance fee earned by all eight men. Pretty soon the press will be asking him why he's dropped his performance level to the point where he is 2-9 in matches won against top 10 players since May.
Nadal struck 35 unforced errors today, in his straight set loss to Novak Djokovic. That number is extraordinarily un-Nadal like. Many of those errors came off his forehand, his money shot. In the first set tiebreak, he donated 4 points in unforced errors to the Serb. This is especially remarkable because Nadal was 5-0 in tiebreaks against his opponent, before today. Nadal fought and tried and pumped himself up at the perfect times, but couldn't quite hold on to any momentum, even though the crowd backed him all the way.
Nadal has had a year like Federer had in 2008. The Spaniard's loss to Soderling at The French Open pained him. Nine weeks off the tour to rehabilitate his knees set him back. When he returned, an abdominal strain hampered his success. Then, he announced that his parents had divorced. More pain. Deep pain for a man who honors family and its values. Rafael's parents were in the audience today, sitting next to each other. Maybe that image lurked in his mind while on court, draining any sense of calm he says he needs in order to be the Nadal fans have come to love.
For Novak Djokovic... the pain was visible. Again he looked frustrated and annoyed. He was difficult to watch and more difficult to get behind, witnessing his gestures. Only when he won the match 76 (5) 63 did he smile. He will not defend his title, though. He has never defended any title from any tournament, either. On his time off Novak and his crew should take a look at perseverance in the face of adversity, making this essential champions' characteristic a top priority before the Australian Open.
Imagine Robin Soderling and Nikolay Davydenko standing side-by-side at the net for the official match photograph. Soderling at six-foot-four inches, 184 pounds, and Davydenko at five-foot-ten and 154, according to information from the ATP web site. (Soderling probably is close to six-four, but Davydenko can't be five-ten and he assuredly doesn't weigh any more than, let's say, 145. But, we'll leave that alone for now.)
Tennis matches aren't decided by size, however the two of them are such a contrast you might think that size would nudge the win toward Soderling, comparatively speaking.
Since tennis is a running game and movement key in singles, the advantage here goes to Davydenko, no matter his stature. He's everywhere on the court, covering it better than any of the eight elites other than Roger Federer -- maybe. Combine this foot speed with an intuitively sharp ability to time the ball on the rise and Davydenko gains an edge over the Swede. Davydenko's backhand is razor sharp, honed by practice and risk. Small in stature means large rewards for Nikolay, even when facing someone who looms next to you in a perfunctory photograph.
Size, however, does matter and Robin Soderling uses his to serve big bombs. The trajectory of the ball coming off his racquet is ideal. And he enjoys the dominance his serve applies. Soderling's forehand is his weapon. It is eye-catching. No one else propels the ball with such a wide winged windup.
The inexplicable additional assets for both of these champions begin foremost with genetics. The well of information on that topic is too deep for indulgence, however. Mental focus, though, is approachable. Staying with each ball struck, dancing with each point, releasing good and bad moments... these mental qualities consume the largest chunk of brain power point after point, game after game, set after set, and match after match.
We can all imagine a couple of rash reactions on court. Take, for example, Marat Safin, the newly retired pro. He must have destroyed well over one hundred racquets in his career. Even Roger Federer, the epitome of calm, cool, and collected, has sprung a mental leak. Remember the semifinal in Miami this year against Djokovic. Fans were horrified. Energy expanded in a negative direction, like this, requires just as much, or more, positive energy going in the opposite direction to still the mind that it rocked off track.
Returning for a moment to the pre-match photograph, we realize that their physical presences may have appeared informative, but once these players walked to the baselines chances were pretty even that either one could win the match.
They were so evenly matched in the first set that it ended in a tiebreak, which Davydenko won taking the final four points.
The second set seemed headed in the same direction until the 9th game, which came immediate after Soderling stumbled and fell on the court. Maybe the jolt reminded him that if he lost in straight sets he'd face Roger Federer in the semifinal tomorrow. Soderling snapped to task, igniting his reserve tank of passion. When he won the set he let out a sign of relief.
Soderling continued his inspired tennis in the third set, as did Davydenko. The Russian moved Soderling, but he anticipated well. When hustling outside, he took a couple big clomper steps and balanced himself well enough to then return a competitive shot. It wasn't textbook footwork, but Soderling is one strong Swede and athlete. He can ditch the perfect footwork chapters and swing away from the hip.
In the sixth game, however, the big man went down triple break point. Davydenko didn't need an engraved invitation to take advantage of the opening. He won the game and the match 76 (4) 46 63.