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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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.