Saturday, August 15, 2009

August 15, New World Order

Greetings tennis freaks,

Are the winds of change blowing across the ATP tour? Or are we just experiencing some temporary turbulence on our ATP flight as Rafa and Roger stiffen their resolve for yet another assault on the rankings in early September?

Regardless of what your answers to those last two questions are, the fact of the matter is that Andy Murray's straight set win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga today in Montreal has lifted the 22-year-old into the No. 2 slot in the ATP rankings. Murray now becomes the first player other than Rafa or Roger to hold the No. 2 spot since Lleyton Hewitt was No. 2 on July 18, 2005.

Could this be the beginning of the end of the Roger and Rafa reign of terror over the ATP rankings? While it may not seem like an earth-shattering achievement, Murray has accomplished a feat that Novak Djokovic never could. In stepping between Federer and Nadal, Murray has essentially reached another level of legitimacy. Unlike Djokovic, who won the Australian Open in 2008 and has been a disappointment ever since, Murray has mounted his surge slowly and steadily. Much like the style of play he's crafted for himself, his rise to the top has been calculated, precise, and persistent.

In addition to his 10-4 record against the top-10 in 2009, Murray is 6-2 against world No. 1 Roger Federer (winning the last 4). He's struggled with a 2-7 record against Nadal, but he has managed to split the last four. In other words, the two-headed monster at the top of the ATP's rankings may have just grown another head.

The fiery Scot didn't play his most beautiful tennis today, but it was good enough to defeat a very dangerous opponent in Tsonga. Serving 42 percent is normally a recipe for disaster in a Masters semi-final, but somehow the versatile Murray was able to cull all the other odds and ends in his delightful repertoire and find a way to keep the flying Frenchman at bay.

The new No. 2 ranks 35th on the ATP in first serve percentage, and that is something that he'll undoubtedly need to improve upon if he plans on climbing another step in the rankings. Still, Murray saved 5 of 6 break points against Tsonga and he somehow was able to win 68 percent of his second serve points. He was fortunate to be playing the worst returner in the top-10 today — Tsonga wins a lethargic 19% of his return games — but he won't be so lucky tomorrow against Del Potro.

Speaking of the new world order, does it not seem that Juan Martin Del Potro is on his way up as well? The Argentine, just a baby-faced giant last year when he won his first four ATP titles in succession, is now playing like he belongs in that "Who's going to win the U.S. Open" conversation that everybody is starting to have right about now. His last two wins against Nadal and Roddick have brought his record against the top-10 to a respectable 6-6.

It came down to the nitty-gritty once again on Saturday. As he and Roddick entered the business end of the third set, it was Delpo who looked like the more mature player. Facing a match point while serving to stay in the match, the lanky Argentine fired a service winner to draw to deuce, then hit two aces in the next four points to even the set.

When it was Roddick's turn to wiggle his way out of trouble, he wasn't so calm. He double faulted on game point and left it to the wiry Del Potro to serve out the match. Bad move.

The monster who seems to have the wingspan of an albatross from the baseline hit his fastest serve of the match (142 m.p.h) and proceeded to hold for his first-ever trip to a Masters 1000 final.

Del Potro is also the first player outside the "big 4" to make it to a Masters final this season.

Whoever said that the more things change the more they stay the same was clearly not talking about men's tennis.

Here is the Murray v. Delpo H2H.

Enjoy the final!

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