Sunday, September 7, 2008

Day 14: Murray and Federer to clash on Monday

Wow, the smoke, or should I say rain, has cleared and there is only the men's final left to be played.

The biggest semifinal surprise came from Andy Murray - the rising Scot once again left Rafa Nadal wondering what it would feel like be in the finals of the US Open. It took 2 days and a lot of break point chances (he blew 7 of them in the 3rd game of the fourth set alone), but Andy got the job done.

Rafa, surprisingly, wasn't able to muster that same air of invincibility that he now possesses on both clay and grass; his shots weren't as consistently deep or as accurate today, and he had great difficulty with many of the balls that Murray sent his way.

But don't make the mistake of not crediting Murray - he was just flat-out awesome in this the most monumental match of his young career. He was able to keep Nadal on the run for most of the points, either by drilling two-hand backhands when he needed them or by proving that he was unafraid to mix it up in long rallies with the #1 ranked Spaniard. His game featured astounding diversity: authoritative net play, big serving, zen-like patience, and masterful positioning. Strategically, Murray also seemed better today, as his return game benefitted greatly by his decision to stand far behind the baseline to return Nadal's serve - this seemed to confound Nadal (Nadal was only able to win 59% of his first-serve points, a remarkably low number for him) greatly.

This was a bonafide breakthrough match for Murray, who will finish the tournament ranked #4 in the world, regardless of what happens against Federer tomorrow. Suddenly, with Murray climbing the ladder and youngsters like Del Potro, Nishikori, and Gulbis starting to blossom, men's tennis looks more exciting than it has in years.

As for Rafa - I'm giving him a standing "O" right now. I've been on my feet for nearly an hour... The fiesty Mallorcan was incredible all season, even today in defeat. And more importantly, regarding Rafa the man - he is a Saint. The man knows how to respect his opponent, the game, and the fans, and it is a beautiful thing to see. He is a humble man and the sport is lucky to have him. Inspite of his disappointing loss today, Rafa finally broke through to the semis in New York, his best results thus far at the US Open.

As for our heavenly father, he seems to have regained a bit of his moxie here on the big stage in New York. He took advantage of a lethargic effort by a clearly morose Djokovic, who finally wilted beneath the pressure of playing his archvillian role in the semis against a rejuvanated Federer. Honestly, it looked like Novak had thrown in the towel before the match started. He didn't play horribly but it seemed that something was weighing on his mind. It was easy to see that he was dealing with the aftereffects of a tough victory over Andy aka Izod Roddick in which he berated and was berated by the unforgiving New York crowd.

Unfortunately for Djokovic, he seemed to take that episode to heart, and it showed, as his intensity level waned. He played well for brief stretches against Fed, but Roger eventually swept him aside as if he were a tiny gnat that had suddenly come between his eyeball and his grand vision of winning a 5th straight US Open.

With Murray now thrust into the mix, the top 4 in men's tennis looks mighty good. The final on Monday should yet again prove that men's tennis has a lot to offer it's ravenous fans.