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April 1, 2011

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Sony Ericsson Open 2011, Miami, Florida, USA
April 1, 2011
Editorial by Jane Voigt.


 

Jane Voigt Photo
Jane Voigt

Final Four In Miami
 
April 1, 2011 -- Tennis doesn't hold a candle to baseball or basketball when it comes to media coverage in the United States, especially this weekend. Like who cares that Mardy Fish will surpass his life-long friend and America tennis great Andy Roddick in the rankings come Monday morning?
 
Not that many.
 
But that Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer would reignite their rivalry in Miami in the semifinals of one of the biggest tennis tournaments of the entire year... that's blockbuster sports news.
 
Sports Center gave tennis a shout out. And ESPN2 couldn't have been more tickled for its advertisers. The front page of The Miami Herald sports section splashed news of the evening's blockbuster event.
 
Of course the biggest paper in the state should raise its voice about the hometown Sony Ericsson Open (SEO). Outside the four Majors in tennis, the SEO stands second to none according to its own promotions and the fact that it's an ATP Masters 1000 series for the men and a WTA Premier Mandatory for the women.
 
But with all the other news crowding the in-boxes of sports editors -- NCAA Final Four, second day of Major League Baseball -- who would fault them for spiking tennis news?
 
Those that did delete missed out, even though the first semifinal left American fans disappointed. Mardy Fish sunk under Novak Djokovic's formidable pressure 63 61, as the Serbian and #2 seed upped his record to 23-0 for the year.
 
Djokovic won the title here in 2007 and lost in the finals to Andy Murray in 2009. Maybe the odd years are favorable for this red-hot player.
 
"He's moving better than anyone on a hard court," Fish admitted to the press. "He's crushing us. It's his playground right now."
 
Watching Djokovic, Fish's characterization rings true. His anticipation is sharp. His serve is a weapon, not a liability that would misfire on key points a year ago. His return of serve has always been one of the best, and it hasn't diminished in potency. His game, which borders risky, rewards him more than undermines his progress through a match.
 
He came through the draw without dropping a set. He held every game and fended off all break points. He was four-for-four on break points saved today. He leads the field with return games won, break point conversions, and points won on returns of serve.
 
When Nadal meets Mr. Djokovic on Sunday he will have his hands full. Nadal could topple Novak and he knows it. Nadal was 18-3 for the year, with only one loss attributable to Djokovic -- the finals at this year's BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
 
Mardy Fish said he played well, but didn't convert critical break points in the first set and missed routine volleys that would've put more pressure on his opponent.
 
The scoreline shows a dominant Djokovic; however, the Serb won only eight more points than Fish.
 
"That kind of tells you that I didn't win any of the big points. None of them," Fish said emphatically.
 
Djokovic has bumped the glass ceiling of the ATP rankings since 2007, when he first stepped up the lofty top-five rungs. When Federer hit his slump in 2008, having struggled with mononucleosis and less-that-Federer-like match results, plus a three-set thwacking by his now-friend Nadal at Roland Garros, Novak was there to stir the pot.
 
In London before the 2008 Wimbledon Championships, Djokovic told the Associated Press that Roger Federer was vulnerable, that a younger generation of players was on its way up.
 
"Some things are changing. I think he's a little bit shaken with that loss [to Nadal at Roland Garros] and mentally he has been struggling in the last couple months," Djokovic said, adding that he "is one of several players who could end the Swiss star's five-year reign at Wimbledon."
 
However, the news of Federer's struggles with food poisoning in Melbourne followed by a diagnosis of mononucleosis had already hit the press. Djokovic had all the information he needed to characterize his aspirations in a manner that could have been called more professional.
 
"I don't think it's fair to assess it this way," Federer told Christopher Clarey of The New York Times in March, 2008, about news that his dominance was at an end. "I think the younger guys are doing well, but I think it would be very premature, almost a little bit rude toward me, because of everything I've already done over the last few years. I think it's not fair."
 
Does Djokovic think he's invincible now, being on a 23-0 streak, which is within two matches of Ivan Lendl's 25-0 streak from 1986?
 
"No, I don't feel invincible," he said cautiously, after defeating Mardy Fish. "I don't feel that I can't lose on the court. What I feel is big confidence. What I feel is that I'm playing best tennis of my life. This is as simple as that."
 
And as simple as that the evening rolled around, as did the chic cars lined up for valet parking behind Stadium Court. Fans crowded the open stairwells hopeful for a glimpse of a celebrity or sports star or a person they could almost recognize from a far off memory. Even if these fans weren't diehard tennis aficionados, they knew the significance of the rivalry between Nadal and Federer.
 
These two tennis champions met for their first match ever in Miami in 2004. But it was the next year that they made a significant case for their future friction, which has evolved more recently into a friendship.
 
Nadal had taken a two set lead and was up a break in the third, when Federer turned the match around, winning in five. (The format then was best-of-five sets.)
 
"My number one rival to me it seems is Rafa," Federer told the press after Gilles Simon retired from their quarterfinal match. The two stars have played a total of 22 times, with Nadal leading head-to-head 14-8.
 
"We've played in so many big finals against each other. We were able to play over four or five tough sets and have always shown a lot of respect for each other. So, yeah, clearly those are the matches I'm really looking forward to and hoping to play my best tennis."
 
"I think we always had the big respect for each other," Nadal said on their rivalry. "We are closer than before, like friends. When I go on court against him I feel it's a really special match."
 
Special... friends or like friends... when the chair umpire said, 'play,' these men forget everything soft and fuzzy, and concentrated on one thing: winning.
 
But no matter how much the crowd roared for Federer and no matter how hard he tried to find his sweet rhythm, the night wasn't his.
 
"It's always a bit of an adjustment obviously for me coming out and playing Rafa... any lefty, but him in particular," Federer began. "In the first couple games you get a break down, and then I felt like conditions weren't really favoring me as well. I knew it was slow, but just makes is so hard to hit through him on a surface like this."
 
Nadal converted four out of four break point chances while Federer went zero for two. He showed signs of settling down, making what you could call 'good mistakes' as he ran around his backhand on a couple return of serves and dominating the net. But he couldn't sustain any momentum and Nadal was too sharp.
 
"I had a few mini chances, but against Rafa I was down right away," Federer said frankly. "From then it was an uphill battle. When I had chances I played poorly and he came up with some good stuff."
 
Nadal sensed Federer's struggles. The Spaniard thought the first set was a high level of competition. However, he knew Federer tried to speed up the points in the second set, playing more aggressively without hitting his spots.
 
"Second set, I think he played worse," Nadal said. "He had more mistakes than usual. He tried to play shorter points, so I think second set he didn't play well."
 
Nadal has never won the Sony Ericsson Open. In fact, no Spaniard has won it. Nadal does remember his first victory in Miami from 2004, against Federer. Nadal was 17.
 
"For me was unbelievable, that match," Nadal said smiling. "Very emotional. At that point was nothing, but if you see after seven or eight years how many important matches we played against each other, was a fantastic start."
 
Nadal will need a fantastic final come Sunday against the red-hot Djokovic. Just over a week ago Djokovic defeated Nadal in the Indian Wells final. Nadal believes he could've played better in California, admitting he lost valuable concentration in the second set. He has to eliminate those lapses, if he wants to add a Masters' Shield from Miami -- his 19th.
 
"We'll see what's going on in this final," he began. "He's playing fantastic. He don't lose a match this year. I have to play aggressive and I have to play all the points, and that's what I going to try."
 
By now the media has blanketed the globe with news of Fish's and Federer's losses. Hopefully, ESPN's Sports Center will continue to talk tennis this weekend, especially with Maria Sharapova in the women's finals tomorrow.
 
Sharapova entices news from all angles -- sports, fashion and socially with her engagement to Sasha Vujacic of the LA Lakers. Her allure in Miami should hold an allure for the sports world.
 
We won't know until the sun rises and we snap open our favorite newspaper or click on our favorite website for the latest news. But no matter what transpires in a few hours, today was a day of triumph for tennis in the news.
 

 

 
[1] Rafael Nadal (ESP) {green shirt} d [3] Roger Federer (SUI) 63 62
 
Rafael Nadal 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Rafael Nadal 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Roger Federer 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Rafael Nadal 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Roger Federer 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Rafael Nadal 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Roger Federer 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Rafael Nadal 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Rafael Nadal 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Roger Federer 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Rafael Nadal 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Roger Federer 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Rafael Nadal 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis

 
 
[2] Novak Djokovic (SRB) d [14] Mardy Fish (USA) {gray shorts} 63 61
 
Drying the Court 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Mardy Fish 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Mardy Fish 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Mardy Fish 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Mardy Fish 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Mardy Fish 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Mardy Fish 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Mardy Fish 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Mardy Fish 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis
Mardy Fish 2011 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis

 
Earlier Columns from this Event:
 
March 31, 2011 Sony Ericsson Open: Don't Mess With Maria; Federer Into Semifinals - Sharapova, Petkovic, Nadal, Berdych, Federer, Simon
March 30, 2011 Sony Ericsson Open: Live or Electronic - Fish, Ferrer, Azarenka, Clijsters, Djokovic, Anderson, Zvonareva, Radwanska
March 29, 2011 Sony Ericsson Open: Coming Up, Coming Back
March 28, 2011 Sony Ericsson Open: The Grand Slam of South America
March 27, 2011 Sony Ericsson Open: Is Bigger Better?
 

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