Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Murray and Federer Embracing Spoiler Role

Andy Murray has resuscitated his season with a gritty performance on the Roland Garros clay. Rafael Nadal awaits him.

For the first time since the 2006 French Open, the top four seeds in the men's draw have all gained safe passage to the semis in a Grand Slam. It is only the 12th time that this has happened since the Open Era began in 1968.

Perhaps the most surprising member of the semifinals is Andy Murray. Murray, who went adrift after being drubbed in the final of the Australian Open, has finally washed up on shore here on the red clay of Europe. His journey to the finals has not been direct, but the three-time Grand Slam finalist has shown incredible character in overcoming a scary ankle injury in the third round and an even scarier two set deficit to Serb Viktor Troicki in the fourth round. (He was also down 5-2 and 30-love in the fifth -- god knows how he managed to survive that.)

Today, Murray made relatively short work of the only non-European left in the draw, Juan Ignacio Chela, to set up a semifinal clash with Rafael Nadal.

Murray will be the severe underdog vs. Nadal, but I'm not so sure he gives a hoot. Why should a guy who is continuously critiqued by the press for everything from his coach (or lack thereof) to his video-game playing really care what the talking heads are saying?

Does he have a chance? Considering that he just won his first set on clay from Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo and that he served for the match against Novak Djokovic in Rome, I'd say that he's got a better chance to win here in Paris than most people think.

That's probably not saying too much, because most people think he's got no chance.

But Murray's game has really taken form on the clay. He's playing the type of tennis that he enjoys, mixing in angles, spins, and a steady diet of drop shots to keep his opponents gnashing their teeth. For Murray, who's always preferred giving his opponents the rope and letting them hang themselves, it's nice to see him back to his bread and butter. He's a fantastic player -- wonderfully creative and improvisational -- when he's playing the game the way he enjoys playing it. It's when he tries to be someone he's not -- a more aggressive, more powerful version of himself -- that he struggles most.

Murray needs to take his water pistol on the court and see if he can somehow get the amped-up game of Rafael Nadal all wet. It's not an enviable task for anybody, but if Murray can stay true to himself and shut out the rest of the world during the match, he may just have a shot.

Speaking of having a shot, does Roger Federer have a shot to spoil the Novak Djokovic world domination tour?

Hmm, good question right? It's amazing that the power at the top of men's tennis has shifted so much that Roger Federer is a heavy underdog against Novak Djokovic in a Grand Slam, but make no mistake about it, he most certainly is.

Federer is the only player left in Paris who has yet to lose a set, but pretty much everybody is expecting him to lose three Friday against the juggernaut from Serbia.

How has it all shifted so mightily? And how long will Djokovic's reign last? Federer has lost three consecutive matches to Djokovic, but he holds a 13-9 edge in their rivalry. Still, even during this remarkable surge by Djokovic, Federer found himself even at 2-2 in the 3rd set in their last meeting at the Indian Wells semifinals. Federer faded there, but his current form on clay appears to be much better than it was in March.

And more importantly, all the pressure is on Novak Djokovic's shoulders now. Federer claims that he still has plenty of pressure on him as the world's No. 3 (thank you), but he's sure not playing like a guy who is under pressure.

And if there was ever a chance for the Mighty Fed to step up and regain a few lost pieces of his former glory, that chance is Friday.

For the first time in a long while, Federer truly has nothing to lose. If he can't quite see things that way, shame on him. The crowd will go nuts if he finds himself ahead in the match, but the $100,000 question is, if he does gain the lead, will Federer still be able to play like he's got nothing to lose?

Things can change in a heartbeat in the tennis world. Novak Djokovic's ascension has proven that to be true.

Both Andy Murray and Roger Federer are hoping that things will change again on Friday.

Have stranger things happened? Probably not. Do Bears fly? No. Still, you never know. That's why they string their racquets, tape their ankles and eat their pre-match meals. Because you just never know.

1 comment:

  1. I think it will be sooooo exciting if Fed won. He's playing well. And Nole's gotta lose at some point!


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