Rafael Nadal left no doubt about why he is the bookmaker favorite to win the 2012 French Open. Seeking his record breaking 7th Championship at the home of red clay court tennis, Nadal mowed down an overmatched 12th seed Nicolas Almagro. Nadal, Almagro and 6th seed David Ferrer led a strong Spanish contingency to the quarters without losing a set.
Something had to give. First, it was first Almagro and then it was supposed to be Ferrer, the 30-year old scooter who does not match up well with 4th seed Andy Murray. But, on this day, Ferrer had all it took to help Andy Murray finally self-destruct after coming close in previous rounds. Murray struck 59 unforced errors, 27 more than the hard-working Ferrer. Murray, who has reached five consecutive Grand Slam semifinals, showed visible signs of back pain and missed an inordinate number of forehands. The red clay of Roland Garros proved to be all the equalizer Ferrer needed to dominate his higher seeded opponent.
The match was a grueling 3.75 hour battle in which Murray was turned away every time he mounted a charge. In the final two sets, he had the momentum courtesy of two early well-earned breaks but immediately failed to hold in the following games. Ferrer broke Murray 10 times, the most telling of all statistics. Murray broke five times, which would normally be enough but his dark mood resembled his level of play.
After winning the second set in a tiebreaker, Murray held serve to hold the momentum he had achieved. Unfortunately, the sky unloaded and play was halted. The Andy Murray that had momentum at the break was not the Andy Murray that returned Court Suzanne Lenglen for the third and fourth sets.
Coupled with Ferrer’s regrouping, the match turned on a dime. Ferrer relentlessly went through the third set winning with deep drives and an occasional strong first serve. In the fourth set, the crowd, which has been anti-Murray ever since he ousted France’s Richard Gasquet in a nice four set win, begged Murray to rally. He got a quick break to start the fourth but promptly gave the game back That was all Ferrer needed. He withstood a few break points, especially in the seventh game and aptly closed the match by breaking Murray in the eight game, 6-4, 6-7(3),6-3,6-2.
The win was a milestone for Ferrer, reaching his first semifinals at Paris. However, as Rafa Nadal rested and received his massage, he did not see enough firepower to cause a problem. The King of Clay may be wondering if Ferrer won or if Murray lost.
Nadal’s decisive win did not come against an also-ran. Almagro has played brilliantly, knocking off 8th seed Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia in straight sets in the quarters. As error prone as the Ferrer-Murray match was, Nadal’s win was near perfection. He committed just 16 errors against 36 winners. Rafa’s serve has been especially strong this fortnight. Today, he had one double and 10 aces against a fleet Almagro. The King won a dazzling 84 percent of his first serves.
Ferrer will have to be at his best and Nadal will have to be off his game for an upset. Whe the Spaniards run into Rafa, they appear to acquiesce before the match begins. Some say that Fernando Verdasco never recovered from his five set loss to Rafa In Melbourne three years ago.
Nadal and Ferrer have met 8 times. Although Ferrer defeated Nadal at the 2011 Australian Open, his only other win came in their first meeting in 2004. The challenge for Ferrer will be to slow the pace and not get caught in Nadal’s spidery gamesmanship web, no easy feat.
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