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November 27, 2010

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ATP World Tour Finals 2010, London, UK
November 27, 2010
Editorial by Jane Voigt.

Jane Voigt Photo
Jane Voigt

Dream Championships
 
November 27, 2010 -- The ATP Tour, fans, and the press couldn't have asked for a better scenario. Rafael Nadal completely threw the end-of- year monkey off his back and won all his matches. Roger Federer performed perfectly in the round robin. He, too, won all his matches. Andy Murray proved more consistent than Robin Soderling. And, Novak Djokovic saw through his contact lens problems.
 
Today these top-four ranked players stood poised to battle for two prestigious places in Sunday's finals of The 2010 Barclay's ATP World Tour Finals.
 
Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray put on the best show so far this week, in the first semifinal. It was only the second match of the tournament that went three sets. Each set had its own character. The entire arena packed to capacity with 17,500 fans rocked and rolled from front to back.
 
In the first set Nadal did his usual relentless thing. A Sky Sports commentator went so far as to call him a 'freak' after one crazy point. Murray showed consistently solid and offensive tennis -- a break from the usual defensive pose. He took risks and drove the ball as hard as he could. Both men blanketed the court and stretched each other far beyond the court's boundaries. Neither one earned a break point.
 
The tiebreak was Nadal's until Murray surged and tied it up at 5-5. But once you push Rafa into a corner his temper and flair for a comeback push back. He closed it out at 76 (5).
 
Nadal appeared tired and mentally out to lunch midway through the second set, which seemed pretty difficult for fans and player constituents to fathom. Nadal has always had an endless supply of fuel and spirit, no matter the length of a match. But he sliced the ball more frequently instead of driving it, meaning he tended to be out of balance and somewhat slow to the ball.
 
Then at 3-games all British fans held their collective breaths. A magic moment appeared. Murray was on the verge of a break. But hope had to wait as Nadal pulled even, saving Murray's three break points. Murray, though, was keen to get the advantage, which he did and then watched Nadal hit a wayward backhand.
 
Murray held serve to consolidate his edge. And when he broke Nadal again, taking the second set 6/3, the crowd went berserk.
 
Their British number one had evened the match. Hope bloomed sweetly.
 
In the third set Murray's momentum continued. He stood on or inside the baseline as Nadal backed off it, remaining a touch passive.
 
Murray cruised to a quick 40-15 in the third game, but his lead vanished as Rafa energized. Murray held an advantage point, but then hit a poor drop shot that Nadal ran down. At deuce, Murray hit an even worse drop shot from the baseline. It didn't even reach the net. With the advantage on Nadal's racquet, Murray served and volleyed. An aberration fans won't soon forget.
 
All three of those shots were ill conceived, at best. The match had run over two hours by then. Perhaps Murray had a slight touch of brain death. Or maybe he recalled, for an instant, his routine drop shots he'd used back in the Coach Brad Gilbert days.
 
"I probably played one bad game the whole match, or maybe just a couple of bad points," Murray said.
 
Fans were silenced. The obvious thought imbedded in their minds: give Nadal a lead in the final set and the match is his.
 
At 5/4 Nadal had arrived at the finish line. He was a game away from tomorrow's final. But Murray spoiled the Spaniard's party when he did the unthinkable: save a match point and even the match.
 
With fans and momentum again on his side, Murray busted out to a 3-0 lead in the deciding tiebreak. He took the ball earlier, continuing to show his willingness and ability to take valuable time away from Nadal. After six points, Murray held the mini-break. Nadal then surged, followed by a flurry from Murray when he again saved another match point, his second.
 
But on Nadal's third match point, Murray crushed an ill-fated cross- court inside-out forehand that sailed wide. The Spaniard threw up his arms in a victory 'v' and smiled toward his box of supporters that included his parents, Coach Uncle Tony, and his girlfriend, Maria Francisca Perello -- "Xisca."
 
"Today I played one of the best matches of my career," Nadal told the press later.
 
"I played a great match today," Murray said, as reported by the Associated Press. "Whether it's the best match I played and lost, I don't know. But it was a great match."
 
Semifinal Two - Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
 
You have to give it to Novak Djokovic. Here he was getting walloped by Roger Federer in the first set, and a wry smile crossed his face. He'd seen Federer's touch many times. For sure he recalled the two match points Federer held over his head at the U. S. Open. The ones Novak whacked away with two massive strikes. Since then, though, Federer had suppressed the Serbian. First in Shanghai, then in Basel. Djokovic was beginning to realize that it's not nice to beat Roger Federer at a major, unless you feel ultra lucky at any match after that.
 
Luck or no luck, Djokovic didn't have it today. Federer got the better of him in Djokovic's first service game, broke him again, and whizzed the set off in just over thirty minutes, 6-1. The set was an announcement. Bring on what you have, or pack up your court bags.
 
"Federer's movement is the sharpest I've seen in months," Barry Cowan of Sky Sports commented between sets.
 
Pat Cash donated these tips to Djokovic, "He has to slow Federer down and hang in on his serve."
 
And that's what Djokovic did, zooming to a 3-0 lead in the second and looking primed to counter the Swiss machine.
 
However, Djokovic's footwork and shot selection let him down in the face of a man on the fast track to victory. Federer came back, threatened to go up another break and finally put a lid on the match at 6-4.
 
"Seems like it's working this week," a smiling Federer told Mark Petchey on court. "I hope I can take it farther tomorrow."
 
A Nadal and Federer final loomed early in the week. Now, the dream for most fans is a day away. This will be their 18th meeting in a final.
 
Rafael Nadal has a huge chore in front of him tomorrow, as does Roger. Certainly the Spaniard could be tired from his three-hour wrestle with Murray. But the world knows Nadal has handed Federer devastating losses, the first at the 2008 Wimbledon final. Nadal had staked his ground on the grass courts of The All England Club and Federer's heart broke.
 
Since then they split victories, both coming in Madrid. Federer defeated an exhausted Nadal there in 2008. And Nadal slipped past Federer this spring -- his first victory in eleven months.
 
The ATP Championships is not a clay court event. And Federer is past his Wimbledon heartache. Both men are in top form mentally and physically. It will come down to patience, mental calmness, and a bit of luck for each man.
 
The ATP Tour couldn't have asked for a better way to close out the year.
 

Earlier Coverage from this Event:
 
November 26, ATP World Tour Finals 2010: Top Four Into Semifinals
November 25, ATP World Tour Finals 2010: Through to Semifinals
November 24, ATP World Tour Finals 2010: End of the Year Drama
November 23, ATP World Tour Finals 2010: Reverse Engines
November 22, ATP World Tour Finals 2010: Sweet Revenge in London
November 21, ATP World Tour Finals 2010: Another Year
 

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