Juicy! – ATP semifinal preview

Class. He haz it.

Photo: Yahoo! Images

Juicy!

If I had the power to make this call, it would be a go. The landscape is there – all the peculiarity of the blazing sun of California in opposition of the mountains whose peak is filled with snow. The traditions are there too – the small city in the Coachella Valley, inhabited by no more than 4,000 soul when ATP&WTA are not there, and with them, all the hype, TV and tennis freaks. And, as if Indian Wells still needed an ultimate probation, we have this year’s semifinal lineup.

Putting it all together: Heavenly city, big tournie, big money, big names and probably the four best gems of men’s tennis these days left on the draw, chasing the title. Enough for me. Make official the “5th Grand Slam” thing. Make it a logo, a slogan, whatever.

Or maybe not. Because we, tennis fans, always knew this without anyone trying to tell us. So, let it be.

Let it be Indian Wells, and let it be Rafa. The world no.1, who holds nothing less than 7 titles and over 12 thousand points (of a 20k maximum) is there again. The two time winner – all the titles came in odd years, ’07 and ’09 – fell before the semifinals only once: in his first appearance, in ’04. Ever since, has recorded six straight semifinals. To be one of the last four men alive, Nadal merciless steamrolled over Rik De Voest, ended the not-so-young Ryan Sweeting’s dream, had some troubles against the former NCAA champion Somdev Devvarman, and, on his last test, rebounded from one set down to bounce HUGE server Dr. Ivo in a third set tie-breaker.

Ok, true, his draw wasn’t THAT thing. Even more after the seeds placed on his quarter started falling. In the second round, Nadal found himself without the threat of the 5th and 6th seeds; the 4th and the 9th fell right after. In the end, the highest ranked player he faced en route to the semifinals was Somdev Devvarman – ranked no.84, who came from the qualifying. But, to be honest, do you think he’d be already gone had he faced Almagro, Simon or Ferrer before the semifinals?

Nadal will now play his 2nd semifinal this year – fell to Davydenko at Doha. That’s pretty much the same campaign he had in the start of 2010: a loss to Nikolay in the Middle East, an Australian Open QF run hampered by injuries and now the semifinals at Indian Wells. If you, Nadal fans, are superstitious, last year he had a perfect year, compiling a 8-5 semifinal record (3-5 on Hard with Tokyo and US Open titles) and seven titles; If Rafa beats Del Potro for the first time after three losses tomorrow, Spain will be represented in the final for the 6th time (beside Rafa in ’09 and ’07, Corretja won the title in ’00, Moyá was runner-up in ’99 and Emilio Sanchez, the first of them, fell to Becker in ’88).

Nadal kinda rocks doesn’t he? What about Del Potro? The 22-year old Tandil born Argentine remains as the only man ever to beat Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at a Grand Slam. DelPo is also the only player other than Nadal to beat Federer in a Major final so far. His talent is obvious. But when a wrist injury plagued his 2010, sidelining him from great part of the year and causing him to fall behind the top-200, the doubts were everywhere – even more after his two disappointing losses in Asia, to Feliciano Lopez and Olivier Rochus. This year didn’t start much better too – only modest runs at Sydney and the Australian Open, he fell behind the top-400, and, with no more points to defend for the rest of the year, Del Potro had nowhere to go but up.

And, boy, he did. After nearly one year far from the wins, JMDP found his mojo back in the same country that gave his first and, so far, only, Grand Slam. The fast courts of Memphis and San Jose did nothing but good to him, and, after falling short to Roddick and Verdasco, respectively, Del Potro finally lifted a trophy at Delray Beach – his first since the US Open – and is now enjoying a 4th straight semifinal spot and a rise just as meteoric as his first back in ’08 – he’s now no.51 and haven’t stopped using the ladder yet. Del Potro will now play Nadal – whom he schooled with a triple 6/2 at the US Open ’09, the last of three straight meetings won by him – for his second ever Masters final – he lost to Murray in Montreal, the same year. An Argentinean never made it to the finals of Indian Wells before, and only three Latin Americans did: Marcelo Ríos, winning the title in ’98 and Gustavo Kuerten, who lost to Hewitt in ’03.

Head to head:

Nadal has already played a player from South America this year: Brazilian Marcos Daniel in the 1st round of the Aussie Open. However, the last Argentine he played is Horacio Zeballos, in the 2nd round of Roland Garros last year; and let’s say Nadal has some history with players from Argentina, like Nalbandián, Coria and Del Potro himself.

– Del Potro had a meeting with a Spaniard at Indian Wells. He had: Robredo retired due to an injury before the quarterfinal match up. Other than that, Del Potro lost to Verdasco in the semis of San Jose and defeated Feliciano Lopez in his first match in 2011 – 1-1 vs. Spain, since the quarterfinal won’t count for the H2H, or as a win for DelPo nor a loss for Robredo.

– Last time Rafa lost to a player ranked as low as Del Potro: Queen’s 2007 – when fell to the world #107 Nicolas Mahut.

– Del Potro is 0-2 vs. top-10 this year: lost to #9 Verdasco and #8 Roddick; However, back in the ’09 Masters Cup, he defeated a top-10 (#9 Soderling) and a top-5 (#1 Federer) for the last time.

Rafael Nadal 4-3 Juan Martin Del Potro

– ’07 Miami R16 – Nadal, 6/0, 6/2 – Hard

– ’07 Roland Garros R128 – Nadal, 7/5, 6/3, 6/3 – Clay

– ’07 Queen’s Club R32 – Nadal, 6/4, 6/4 – Grass

– ’09 Indian Wells Quarterfinals – Nadal, 6/2, 6/4 – Hard

– ’09 Miami Quarterfinals – Del Potro, 6/4, 3/6, 7/6 (3) – Hard

– ’09 Montreal Quarterfinals – Del Potro, 7/6 (5), 6/1 – Hard

– ’09 US Open Semifinals – Del Potro, 6/2, 6/2, 6/2 – Hard

————————————————————————————————-

Think fast: What’s better than an 18-2 YTD record, with one title, one final and one Grand Slam semifinal? If you had to think twice, you’re not into ’11 men’s tennis. Those two brief lines account for Roger Federer. Thing is, his only two losses came by the hands of the same player, who happens to be still undefeated since the last WTF – and whose last defeat were imposed by Federer himself. Yes, I’m talking about the 16-0, Slam, Dubai and Davis Cup champion, Novak Djokovic. Nole doesn’t know the feeling of leaving a court defeated since November.

Want to make it more interesting? Ok. The world no.2 is on the line. They already played for the second biggest prize twice last year – the last, in Shangai, resulted in Federer prevailing, but losing the final do Andy Murray. Novak played Roger in 6 of his last 7 semifinals or finals: Canada (Federer won), US Open (He won), Shangai (Federer won to regain no.2), all these in semifinals, then in Federer’s backyard, in the final (homeboy won), Masters Cup semifinal (another Swiss party), then the two times this year: Aussie Open and Dubai, all won by the Serbian – last time they were drawn in different halves was in Cincinnati. They are both former champions – Nole won it in 2008, as his 3rd ever Master Series; by the time, Federer had already his record three-peat from 04/05/06; ever since their last titles, this means, five years for the Swiss and three for Nole, they haven’t came back to the final. And, finally, Nole is FLYING – the guy is on fire, en fuego, voando, and whichever they call it in Serbia. Nole bageled Golubev, Gulbis and Troicki in the first set of their matches and also won six straight games vs. Richard Gasquet in the quarterfinals – only this time he dropped the first two. Nole is beginning to exhale that aura that rounded and still rounds both Nadal and Federer: the impression they’re invincible floats in the air, the fear and the respect they impose. Federer is yet to drop a set too – faced some problems vs. Andreev in the debut, Mr. MaKiri always hardens things for him; schooled his old friend Chela in the third, dropping only two games, in less than one hour; suffered against the audacious wildcard Ryan Harrison and, in the quarterfinals, bounced his doubles partner and eternal bestie, Stan.

Some stats now, how about it? Djokovic plays his 4th straight semifinal, 3rd this year – and I don’t even have to glorify his well-known record. But with this 16 straight wins, Nole has the best start of the year for an ATP player since Federer himself in ’06 – back then, Roger won two titles, including the Aussie Open, and made it all the way through Dubai final (l. to Nadal), compiling the same 16 wins. Djokovic also plays for his 12th Masters final (5-6 record), and the first since Paris in ’09; Nole tries to win at Indian Wells the same Masters event more than once. Last year, Djokovic went 4-6 in semifinals – a levelled in 4 on hard courts, with his only two titles coming on that surface.

With this Indian Wells semifinal, Federer has now reached a dozen straight – last time he missed it, when fell to Berdych at Wimbledon; if he defeats Djokovic tomorrow, will reach his 30th lifetime Masters Series final, plus setting a new Indian Wells record with four final appearances, surpassing Michael Chang (1992/97/98), Pete Sampras (1994/95/2001), Andre Agassi (90/95/2001) and Lleyton Hewit (2002/03/05)

Head to head:

– Aside from Djokovic, Federer has only played one other Serbian this year: Viktor Troicki, in the quarterfinals at Doha, and he won, 2 and 2.

– Djokovic, however, last played a Swiss not-named Roger Federer at Monte Carlo last year, when defeated Wawrinka; Nole and Stan even have some history – and by this you can read three finals, including Wawrinka’s only Masters final so far and one semifinal, at the same Monte Carlo, but in 2009 – all won by Djokovic, who leads the series 8-2.

Roger Federer 13-8 Novak Djokovic

– Played their last 10 meetings on Hard – Federer leads by 6-4

– All their meetings but the first four were played either in the semifinals or the finals – Federer leads, 9-8

– Lifetime Hard Court record: Federer 11-7

– Lifetime semifinals record: Federer 6-5

– Three-win streaks: Only Federer – Monte Carlo and Davis Cup in ’06; Australian Open and Dubai in ’07 accounted for their first four meetings and the biggest streak by either of them; three years later, in ’10, the Swiss won three straight in the semifinals of Shangai and the Masters Cup, with the Basel final between them.

About Pete S. Liguori
Pete was born in São Paulo, Brasil. Loves sports - pigskin fanatic, tennis lover. One of his most famous quotes is "I'm no Tolstoi, but I love the Dallas Cowboys" His favorite quote of all time is "I'll keep playing", unknown author.

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