Top Four Into Semifinals
November 26, 2010 -- As day broke in London ATP Tour statisticians busily cast permutations for the remaining two singles matches scheduled for today on the O2 Arena.
If Tomas Berdych defeated Rafael Nadal in two sets, and Djokovic defeats Roddick in two sets, then ...
If Tomas Berdych defeated Rafael Nadal in two sets, and Djokovic defeated Roddick in three sets, then ...
If Roddick defeated Djokovic in two sets and Nadal defeated Berdych in two sets, then ...
You get the picture. The scenarios went on and on, a list only a numbers person could love.
However the stakes were high. With a peak at the possibilities coaches, the press, fans, and the international marketing phenomena could predict, with a certain degree of confidence, which might advance to the semifinals tomorrow at The Barclay's ATP World Tour Finals.
Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych were up first, in a repeat matchup of their Wimbledon final. If Nadal won one set he'd clinch a spot in the semifinals, which was about as perfect a turnaround as he could've hoped. Last year the Spaniard didn't win one set. He learns fast.
The first set, though, was a rugged one. Berdych was intense, acting tough as he stood close to or on the baseline. His pale glassy blue eyes possessed a ghostly glare. His win over Andy Roddick had transformed his belief in himself. It's something Berdych needs to feel: faith he can carry his momentum from match to match. Unlike players at the tippy top of the game, Berdych isn't able to consistently generate faith no matter which way a point swings.
Standing across the net was the number one player in the world, the one who moves flawlessly from point to point, playing each one as if it's the first and last of a match. His specialty: compartmentalization.
But Nadal got in trouble immediately. Berdych held two breakpoints the second game. One by one the Spaniard dismissed them. He didn't face another break point the entire set. He learns fast.
As each man held serve tension rose in the arena. Then there was the point that ignited Nadal into a frenzy rarely, if ever, seen on court.
Berdych hit a deep cross-court backhand. Nadal swung at the ball as he fell back on his heel and threw up his finger, signaling 'out.' Clearly, he had stopped the point. Chair Umpire Carlos Bernardes called "out." Berdych was taken aback, thinking the ball was in.
"You can challenge the call," Bernardes said to Berdych. Up went the tip of Berdych's racquet, the normal signaling devise from players.
Hawkeye, the electronic tracking system, confirmed the ball was in. When Bernardes awarded the point to Berdych, Nadal went off like a rocket. He couldn't believe that Berdych got the point, and they wouldn't replay the point. A player should get a replay if he had a play on the ball originally.
Rafa ranted at Bernardes, as the Brazilian veteran wouldn't budge on his ruling. Nadal's face went white, he clenched his fists, and pleaded to ATP Supervisor Tom Barnes who came to the edge of the court. He wasn't about to overrule Bernardes.
Back to the baseline went an obviously flustered and fuming Nadal. Fans could almost see steam rise from El Toro's nostrils. Score 15-30.
Nadal's normally potent groundstrokes turned into bullets, as his anger transferred to his shots. When Berdych sent a return wide, Nadal pumped it up about as fiercely as if he'd won the whole kit-and-caboodle for the week.
That game threw the set into a tiebreak. Berdych lost the first three points on unforced errors and the rest was up to Nadal. With that one set, Nadal's semifinal berth was secure.
The second set was a blowout. Nadal crushed the Czech 6/1.
This evening, Andy Roddick was in a pretty good spot. He came into the second match of the day against #3 seed Novak Djokovic with mental leverage. The American beat Djokovic in Shanghai and Basel this fall, and held a 5-2 winning head-to-head. Djokovic's contact lens problems, which plagued him two days ago, had apparently cleared up. To poke fun at his own on-court drama, the Serb strode out from the locker room wearing a black eye patch and big smile.
That's where the fun stopped. Djokovic played with intensity and intent. Never one to completely reveal himself in a match and always one to keep fans guessing about his mood, Djokovic convincingly defeated Roddick through precision off the ground and deft strategic choices.
Roddick dug his own shallow grave, too. His footwork was haphazard, looking as if an injury deterred his movement. But Roddick doesn't retire from matches. In his devastating loss to Federer in the 2009 Wimbledon final, Roddick fell and tore his groin muscle mid-way through that marathon. He got up and carried on, only to discover a day later the extent of his injury.
Today was no different. He didn't give up, but without his A-game, A-Rod was sunk. Additionally, after Djokovic had closed out the first set he had clinched the fourth and final spot in the semifinals.
So tomorrow fans will see the top four men in the ATP rankings (Soderling will move back to #5 on Monday) battle it out, a fitting finish to the round-robin matches in London and to the end of the competitive tennis season.