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Colossal Collisions: Quiet day in Rome creates main-event matchups for quarterfinals

30 Apr 2009 by Matthew Zemek in Rome Masters

Wednesday shook up the Rome Masters tennis tournament, but Thursday’s action calmed the stormy seas at the rain-plagued event. As a result, the locals in Italy’s magnificent capital have two tremendous quarterfinals to look forward to. When the sun rises on Friday, lucky ticketholders at the Foro Italico will be treated to a pair of matches that are worthy of even greater stature.

In the early afternoon session, fifth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro will take on third-seeded Novak Djokovic, the defending champion at this event. Del Potro won his round-of-16 match on Thursday over Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3. The Argentine has has played deep into most of the year’s important tournaments, and is intent on showing the tennis community that his big, lanky frame can move around the court on clay. The one they call “Delpo” is ripening into form largely because his appetite is exceeding his nerves on the big stage. An encounter with the world No. 3 will give this 6-foot-6 giant a chance to cast a long shadow over his competitors in Italy.

Djokovic made his way into the quarters by crushing 13th-seeded Tommy Robredo, 6-1, 6-1. Djokovic has gained a measure of confidence over the past month by reaching prestigious finals at Miami and Monte Carlo. The Serbian star needed match wins to improve his physical fitness and regain the edge that characterized his rise to prominence in the first half of the 2008 tennis season. Now that he’s bagged a few victories in Rome, the 21-year-old will try to chase another trophy at a Masters event. A lot of baseline slugging is in order as two top 5 titans lock horns at the Stadio Pietrangeli center court.

Later in the day, the No. 1 attraction-literally and figuratively-will take center stage, as top-ranked Rafael Nadal will engage in a rematch of the year’s best tennis duel to date. Back in January at the Australian Open, Nadal’s place as the sport’s premier player was threatened in a seminal semifinal, as up-and-coming Fernando Verdasco nearly upset his more credentialed countryman in a 5-hour, 14-minute war. Verdasco held a love-30 lead on Nadal’s serve at 4-all in the final set, but the ever-resourceful Rafa escaped to hold for 5-4 and break for the match in the next game. This rumble in Rome will mark the first Nadal-Verdasco match since that epic encounter in Melbourne, a fact that lends this quarterfinal a championship-like buzz. Nadal steamrolled Sweden’s Robin Soderling on Thursday night, 6-1 and 6-0, while the sixth-seeded Verdasco fought past France’s Richard Gasquet, 7-5, 6-4, to set up the Spanish centerpiece of quarterfinal Friday in Rome.

There you have it, tennis fans: Delpo-Djokovic feels like a semifinal, and Nadal-Verdasco packs the punch of a final. Two quality quarterfinals will satisfy the Roman appetites of ATP Tour fanatics.


(2) Roger Federer d. (16) Radek Stepanek, 6-4, 6-1

Roger Federer avenged a quarterfinal loss to Stepanek at last year’s Rome Masters, punching his own ticket into the final eight. More important than revenge is the fact that this win prevents the second-seeded Swiss from losing a large chunk of rankings points. By defending his quarterfinal showing in Rome, Federer won’t slide closer to world No. 4 Andy Murray, who still has an outside chance of overtaking Federer in the coming weeks for the No. 2 spot and the all-important second seed at the French Open on May 25. Having avoided a significant loss of rankings points, Fed will now try to gain points in his quarterfinal match against qualifier Mischa Zverev.

Mischa Zverev d. (8) Gilles Simon, 6-4, 6-1

While Zverev enjoys a rare appearance in a Masters 1000 quarterfinal, the big news is that Simon’s lost season continues. Simon soared from obscurity to crack the top 10 in 2008, but the early months of 2009 have witnessed steadily declining fortunes for the 24-year-old. A solid quarterfinal showing at the Australian Open has been followed by a lack of impressive results in the year’s first four Masters events. This loss to Zverev means that Simon has failed to register even one quarterfinal appearance at Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, and Rome. Those consistently subpar results won’t cause Simon’s ranking to plummet immediately, but they will force the Frenchman to defend a ton of points in the summer and fall. If Simon doesn’t get going in 2009, he won’t just tumble out of the top 10; he’ll crash out of the top 20.

Juan Monaco d. (15) Marin Cilic, 6-4, 6-4

Monaco reached his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal with this victory. It’s clear that the Argentine is playing with considerable confidence after Wednesday’s takedown of fourth-ranked Andy Murray. Monaco enjoyed a huge 2007 season, climbing from No. 71 to No. 20 in the world rankings, but 2008 set him back. Currently ranked 58th on the tour, Monaco shows signs of returning to prominence in his sport.

(12) Fernando Gonzalez d. Jurgen Melzer, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5

Chile’s best tennis player will take on Monaco in what should be an entertaining quarterfinal. On most days, such a matchup would garner an appreciable amount of publicity, but with Delpo-Djokovic and Nadal-Verdasco filling up the marquee in Rome, this showdown between two South American stars won’t generate a lot of ink or TV time. Nevertheless, Gonzalez-a quarterfinalist at last year’s French Open knows how to move on the red dirt. As long as he can calibrate his groundstrokes and construct points wisely, Gonzalez will be a dangerous claycourt foe against anyone not named Nadal. Speaking of Nadal: If Gonzalez does indeed make it past Monaco, he’ll play the Nadal-Verdasco winner in Saturday’s semis.


WTA Tour Update - Porsche Tennis Grand Prix - Stuttgart, Germany

Round of 16 Scoreboard (Thursday’s Matches)

(1) Dinara Safina d. Daniela Hantuchova, 6-4, 6-2

(2) Elena Dementieva d. Agnes Szavay, 7-6 (4), 6-1

(3) Jelena Jankovic d. Sabine Lisicki, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3

(5) Svetlana Kuznetsova d. Na Li, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5

Marion Bartoli d. (7) Caroline Wozniacki, 7-6 (6), 6-4

(8) Agnieszka Radwanska d. Tszvetana Pironkova, 6-3, 6-3

Flavia Pennetta d. (6) Nadia Petrova, 6-2, 6-2

Friday’s Quarterfinal Matchups

(1) Safina vs. (8) Radwanska

(3) Jankovic vs. Pennetta

(5) Kuznetsova vs. Gisela Dulko (Dulko defeated No.4 Victoria Azarenka on Wednesday)

Bartoli vs. (2) Dementieva


Federer eliminated from Masters Cup by Murray

14 Nov 2008 by Ricky in Roger Federer

Roger Federer’s loss is Gilles Simon’s gain.

Federer fell to Andy Murray 4-6, 7-6(3), 7-5 on Friday in the final stage of round-robin play at the Masters Cup in Shanghai. The setback eliminated Federer from semifinal contention and gave Simon a spot in the last four.

Heading into Friday, the semifinal scenarios for the red group were outrageously complicated. Simon stood at 1-1 in matches and 2-3 in sets (he beat Federer in three and lost to Murray in two) after two matches. Federer stood at 1-1 in matches and 3-2 in sets (he lost to Simon in three and beat Radek Stepanek in two). Stepanek stood 0-1 in matches and 0-2 in sets and had already been eliminated.

With Federer playing Murray and Simon playing Stepanek, three men (actually four since the Masters Cup standings somehow show Stepanek and Andy Roddick as essentially the same person! Stepanek subbed in when Roddick pulled out of the tournament with an ankle injury shortly before his scheduled showdown against Federer) could have finished round-robin action with a 1-2 record behind Murray’s 3-0 mark. That would have been the case if Murray defeated Federer (which he did) and Stepanek had taken out Simon (which he did not). In that scenario, it would have come down to a tiebreaker between Federer and Simon, both at 1-2, and Simon would get the semifinal nod over Federer due to his head-to-head victory over the Swiss.

There was also a chance three men could finish with a 2-1 record ahead of Stepanek’s (slash Roddick’s) 0-3 clip. That would have been the case if Federer had taken out Murray (which he did not) and Simon got past Stepanek (which he did). With a three-way tie, Simon would have been eliminated due to having the smallest percentage of sets won. So it would have been impossible for Simon to advance if three men had finished 2-1. That means Federer had to lose in order for Simon to advance, yet Simon was guaranteed to advance if Federer lost. In other words, Simon’s own match meant nothing!

Nonetheless, it all ended up a lot simpler than the scenarios described above. Simon defeated Stepanek 6-1, 6-4 and with Federer’s loss, the Frenchman finished at 2-1 and Federer at 1-2. So, obviously, Simon advanced as the No. 2 seed out of the red group behind Andy Murray (3-0).

Stepanek finished 0-2, but he deserves a break since he was on vacation in Thailand and had no ideas whatsoever of participating in the prestigious year-end tournament. Of course, that was before \Roddick pulled out of the event with an ankle injury sustained during practice in between his first and second round-robin matches. After all the possible alternates ranked ahead of the Czech declined invitations to fill in, Stepanek jumped at the opportunity and literally borrowed Murray’s shoes and Novak Djokovic’s rackets in order to play. It wasn’t enough as Stepanek went down to Simon in a routine straight sets.

That quickly set the stage for Murray and Federer, and for a while things looked good for the second-ranked Swiss. He broke Murray at 5-4 in the opener to take the first set 6-4. Federer even had a chance to finish the match off in straights as the second set featured four breaks of serve en route to a tiebreaker. Clutch play from the Scot and several scorching backhands leveled the match and forced a decisive third. Federer came out following treatment for his bad lower back and at first it did not cooperate. Murray sprinted to a 3-0 lead and a lame Federer appeared done. Yet somehow, Federer won the next four games to go up a break 4-3. In a final set that featured more twins and turns than you can possibly imagine, it was then Murray’s turn to regain momentum. The world No. 4 broke right back and held for 5-4, forcing Federer to serve to stay in the match—and the tournament. Federer did, but not before saving an incredible seven match points in dramatic fashion.

In the almost-inevitable end, however, Federer’s back ultimately failed him in the crucial moments. Murray won the final two games easily for the 7-5 win, finishing off Federer’s 2008 season and setting the stage for the semifinals. On Saturday, Murray (red group winner) will square off with Nikolay Davydenko (gold group runner-up), and Djokovic (gold group winner) will face Simon (red group runner-up).

As for Federer, the loss ends a tumultuous season that started off in stunningly bad fashion, peaked towards the latter half, and then ended off mostly neutral. The highlights, of course, were a gold medal in Olympic doubles action a fifth consecutive title at the U.S. Open.

Federer now has almost two full months off before his next significant stop: Australian Open 2009.