by Craig Hickman
No, he hasn't won the tournament. But in his effort against Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal delivered a regal performance in his 7-5, 6-4 victory. In the best (televised) match since the US Open, Rafa and Andy the Younger covered more real estate than a broker and came up with shot after shot of scintillating madness.
After a career-threatening wrist injury, Murray seems to be back to his retrieving best and pushed Nadal to the limit. When the Scot fought his way to a 4-2 lead in the second set, the match seemed sure to go the distance. But Rafa would have none of it. He battled back to regain the break and reeled off the last four games of the set to seal the match on his second match point.
Afterwards, Feliciano Lopez advanced to his second quarterfinal in Madrid when he withstood the angled attack of Stefan Koubek 7-6(9), 6-4. It's not often we get to see two lefties craft their way through match at the same time, but the artistry on display today was topnotch. Koubek is a throwback player. No, he doesn't serve and volley, but he can run down just about every shot and send it back at such an acute angle you have to blink to make sure you saw it correctly.
Rafa's win means that we will finally get to see him play David Nalbandian, who toughed out a tight win over compatriot Juan Martin del Potro. Lopez will face Roger Federer, who was in full Ninja mode when he cut up Guillermo Cañas, exacting a bit of revenge on the Argentinean for sending him packing in two back-to-back Masters events this past spring.
Mario Ancic and Nicolas Kiefer, both recently back from illness and injury, dispatched of Paul Henri Mathieu and Ivo Karlovic, respectively. The Croat, who suffered from mono, will play Novak Djokovic, who tanked yet another set against Juan Carlos Ferrero. I can't keep from finding Djoke's tactics bush league. Kiefer, who seems to have fully recovered from a wrist injury (and mellowed in the process) will face a resurgent Fernando González , who fought off an inspired Juan Monaco in two tight sets.
The event has awakened. What a difference a day makes.