Saturday, October 20, 2007

Madrid Day 5: Surprise, Surprise

Before yesterday, all we could do was imagine what the matchup would look like. How would one of the tour's best tacticians, armed with clean ball striking, fare against the tour's toughest warrior with the strongest will?

It was no contest. David Nalbandian beat Rafael Nadal 6-1, 6-2 in just over an hour to a crowd so stunned, it hissed at the Argentine during the match for playing so well. Nalbandian struck me as a man who had the game to cause Rafa all sorts of trouble, but the scoreline was a surprise, as was David's mental fortitude through the completion of the match.

"I took advantage of all of Rafa's bad shots," David said. "I think Rafa never felt comfortable out there."

Rafa, back in action after a layoff to allow his knees to heal was seen limping after his tough match against Andy Murray the night before. But the Spaniard didn't blame his knees for his poor play.

"I don't want to come up with an excuse," Rafa said. "When you lose, you lose. I think the result reflects enough. It wasn't my day. I never felt good at any point."

That's a wrap.

In the semifinals, Nalbandian will play Novak Djokovic who dismissed Mario Ancic 7-6(3), 6-4. David will try to avenge the straight-set drubbing he received at the hands of the Serb in Montreal this summer.

In a more competitive encounter, Nicolas Kiefer positioned himself for the ATP Comeback Player of the Year award with a 7-6(5), 6-2 victory of a tiring Fernando Gonzalez.

Kiwi, as some of his fans call him, came back this year after a long absence due to a career-threatening left wrist injury. One of the bad boys of tennis, the break from action and his work with sick children mellowed the German, turning him into a player I can actually see myself rooting for.

I'll certainly be rooting for him in the semifinals against Roger Federer who beat a deflated Feliciano Lopez 7-6(4), 6-4 in a match that never seemed as close as the score suggests. After a marathon eighth game in the first set that went to deuce more times than I remember with Lopez finally holding serve, the Spaniard threw the tiebreak away with more forehands over the baselines than I remember. Raja was never pressured on his serve throughout the match and moved a step closer to defending his title in Madrid.

Kiwi usually plays Raja tough. In the third round of Wimbledon 2005, he served for a fifth set against defending champion, only to lose his way and lose in four tough sets. If he doesn't expect much from himself and plays with nothing to lose, he'll hope to win at least another set off the man he hasn't defeated since 2002.

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