Written by Nina Rota | 22 August 2010

Roger Federer (L) of Switzerland shakes hands with Mardy Fish of the U.S. after defeating him in their championship match at the Cincinnati Masters tennis tournament in Cincinnati, Ohio, August 22, 2010. REUTERS/John Sommers II (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT TENNIS)

I’m not exactly sure how it is that Mardy Fish needed a wild card to get into Cincinnati after reaching three finals this year and winning two of them, but I’m pretty sure Roger Federer is not William Tell.

If you wander over to this video on youtube you’ll see the latest Gillette ad featuring the ever suave and sociable Roger. It’s a little reality based episode in which Roger appears to be taking a break from an ad shoot to show the director his own version of Tiger Woods’s trick shot.

Tiger’s trick shot consisted of bouncing a golf ball on his sand wedge a few times then flipping it up in the air and hitting a drive on the fly. Tiger is out of favor now so it’s Roger’s turn and Gillette has chosen an appropriate reference for the Swiss tennis player.

The director balances a bottle on his head and Roger hits a serve that sends the ball flying a la William Tell – the Swiss patriotic hero. In the 1300s Tell refused to bow to the hat of an invading Austrian tyrant and was forced to shoot an apple off the top of his son’s head with his crossbow or be executed along with his son. Tell eventually killed the tyrant and precipitated a rebellion that led to the Swiss Federation.

However, while Tiger’s shot was real, Roger’s is fake as you can see here (go to the 2:30 mark). That’s only one of the reasons I miss Tiger. I only watch golf when he plays and I knew I’d always see something amazing. Currently, though, he’s in a liminal state and we’ll have to wait until he passes through it before we’ll see amazing things again. I’m sure that’s a strange new word to most of you, at least it was to me.

Someone in a liminal state is going through a transition and Tiger is going through the huge transition of addiction recovery. There are many, many other transitions we go through and one of them is death – both big deaths such as the end of our lives and little deaths such as the end of a phase in our life.

When Mardy Fish faced knee surgery this time last year I’m pretty sure he was face to face with one of those “end of life phase” deaths. He was 27 years old and ranked #48 at the time. I’d say 27 years is about 60 in non-athlete years. The athlete has been cruising along making a living and doing okay then all of a sudden he has knee surgery and he starts calculating how many years he has left. At this point he can either start thinking about his next career or get his butt in gear.

Fish got his butt in gear. He asked his physiotherapist to move in with him, hired a cook, and made the most of his three month surgery recovery. He’s now 30lbs/14kg lighter and a lot more mobile. The specter of career mortality will do that to you.

That is why Fish had three finals and two titles this year and that is how we found Fish facing Roger in the final in Cincinnati today. Fish is never going to beat Roger without a big first serve percentage I said to myself as Fish served up a double fault in his second service game. While that’s probably true, maybe it’s a bit less true because Fish can now do marathons. That second service game lasted almost 14 minutes and featured two double faults and a missed putaway and Fish still managed to win it.

I always thought Fish was doomed to live out his career as a serial streaker because that’s what you get when you go for a winner on every other shot – streaky play. I was wrong. He was an overweight out of shape aggressive player. The streakiness is still there but now there’s foot speed to run down enough shots to ameliorate the streakiness with a few saves here and there. And that makes a big difference in matches where the point differential can be a few shots. And the first set turned on a few shots.

Roger is going through his own transition. He’s got his record 16 slams which takes some edge off the pursuit of greatness, and he just turned 29 himself. It showed in the first set tiebreaker. With Roger serving at 5-4 he got beaten by a Fish approach shot. While that’s not so bad, on the next shot Roger hit a weak shot into the net to give Fish a set point then Fish closed it out with an ace. Fish hung in there just as well in the second set, but in the second set tiebreaker Roger stepped up and went for shots and even a very fit Fish couldn’t catch up.

Fish played with the slightest bit of slop at 4-4 in the third set to lose his serve and Roger served out for the match. Don’t blame Fish too much or go overboard in praise of Roger. This was Fish’s sixth match of the week and his semifinal was a three setter with his good friend Andy Roddick. For Roger this was only his third complete match of the week after starting off with a bye followed by a retirement followed by a walkover

Fish needed a wild card here because he was #79 when Cincinnati announced the seedings, though he was #36 by the time the event rolled around. If Fish’s fantastic year continues he’ll have to defend all these points he’s racking up this year. If he plays Cincinnati next year he’ll have to reach the final or lose a lot of points. We’ll see what state he’s in when he has to deal with all of that and you can be sure I’ll be paying close attention.


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Written by Mike McIntyre | 15 August 2010

For two of the top four players in the world, Roger Federer and Andy Murray sure have had forgettable seasons so far.

Of course by other players standards the one Grand Slam title and two quarterfinal appearances by Federer would constitute a dream year while Andy Murray's Aussie Open final and Wimbledon semi-final showing aren't too shabby either.

The problem for these two court magicians is that they are not judged merely against the other players on the ATP Tour, but against their own greatness and achievements from years past as well.

Roger Federer would top the list of most people's all-time tennis greats while at 23 years old, Murray is probably the most talented player on tour to have yet to win a major.

If we rewind to a year ago, these were the top two players on tour at this stage of the season. By August 2009, Federer had reached the final of Australia, won his first French Open and re-gained his Wimbledon title. He had returned to the pinnacle of the rankings and had overtaken Pete Sampras for the most Grand Slam singles titles in the history of the sport.

Andy Murray had won four titles by the time he came to the Rogers Cup in Montreal and was about to add the Canadians Masters event to his list for number five. He had already taken titles in Doha, Miami, Rotterdam and a grass court tune-up event in London. The buzz approaching the U.S. Open had his name as a serious favourite.

Given his comments this week I have to wonder if Murray believes in himself enough at this stage to make the leap to Grand Slam champion. He still refers to the best players in the world without seeming to include himself in that conversation. It is as if he views them as being above him despite the fact he has beaten Federer, Nadal and Djokovic several times during his young career.

"You never expect...to beat the best players in the world, but I think if I play my best tennis like I did today, I have a very good chance against all of them," Murray said yesterday after defeating Nadal 6-3, 6-4.

One area where Murray has yet to show the necessary self-confidence is when he meets Federer in tournament finals. Despite leading their head-to-head career series 6-5, all of which have come on hard-courts, Murray is 0-3 against him when a trophy is on the line. In their two Grand Slam finals at the '08 U.S. Open and the '10 Australian Open, Federer coasted easily to straight set wins. A victory for Murray today will signal a turn in the right direction even if it is not yet at the finals of one of the big ones.

One area where both players converge here in Toronto is that they have both experienced coaching adjustments since Wimbledon. Federer has decided to add Paul Annacone to his team on a trial basis while Murray has inexplicably split from longtime coach Miles MacLagan. So far the moves seem to be paying dividends for them although both players have said they are taking a cautious approach moving forward.

"I'm not going to rush into hiring a coach unless I feel like it's the right person, because it's a big commitment, you know," Murray stated. "I don't want to pick someone or choose someone right before the U.S. Open and make a mistake. Then I will sit down after...and think about what I want to do."

Roger Federer took a slightly more humorous approach to answering a question about his new relationship with Annacone as he said, "It's very romantic. Look, it's going okay. I mean, we don't go to candlelight dinner every night. I have a wife, you know."

Federer continued on a more serious note by saying that, "...we don't know yet if he's going to come to Cincy. We're debating that. He's a nice guy. So far it's been doing well, so we will see how it goes tomorrow."

Given their play this week I'd give a slight edge to Murray in today's final. He has breezed through his past two matches against David Nalbandian and then yesterday versus Nadal. He's as composed as I've ever seen him on the court and has displayed a strong command of keeping his shots aggressive while still between the lines.

Federer has certainly taken a more dramatic route to the finals. His last two victories thrilled the Toronto night time crowds as he came back from a 2-5 third set deficit against Tomas Berdych in the quarters and negated two break points while serving at 5-5 in the third against Novak Djokovic last night in the semis.

Despite the extra tennis, Roger says he feels fresh heading into the match against Murray. He is now on the cusp of his first title since beating the Scot in Australia, while Murray is remarkably on the verge of just his first title of 2010.

Redemption awaits one of these two great players as they both seek a Canadian confidence booster two weeks before the final Grand Slam of the year.

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Written by Mike McIntyre | 13 August 2010

Reality set in today at the Rogers Cup in Toronto as David Nalbandian's career best win streak was halted at eleven. Beaten with ease by fourth seeded Andy Murray 6-2, 6-2, it appeared as though the Argentine simply ran out of gas.

A day after taking care of fifth seed Robin Soderling, Nalbandian's ground strokes missed the mark with regularity against Murray and his foot work seemed stagnant as well. A case of too much tennis in a short period of time perhaps.

Murray played his best match so far in the tournament and broke early in both the first and second set to take control of each frame.

Going into the match I'd have given Nalbandian a 50/50 chance to pull off the upset, given his 2-0 career head-to-head record against the Scot along with his stellar play of late. He has been playing top-15 tennis since coming back to the tour in July which is where his ranking should be when healthy.
On the positive side for the veteran ball-striker, he will now very likely be able to squeeze out a seeding at the U.S. Open in two week's time which should help him at his first Grand Slam appearance since the 2009 Aussie Open.

Murray now advances to the semi-finals where he will meet Rafael Nadal a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 winner over Philipp Kohlschreiber in his attempt to defend his Rogers Cup title.

Keep checking back for more updates from a fantastic day of tennis here in Toronto. The evening matches of Roger Federer vs. Tomas Berdych should answer a lot of questions we all have about the status of the Swiss star's game. Later, Novak Djokovic will try to take advantage of the cool night time conditions to play against Frenchman Jeremy Chardy.

You can also follow me on Twitter for timely updates throughout the day.

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Written by Mike McIntyre | 11 August 2010

It was a hot and humid day in Toronto on Wednesday with temperatures cracking the hundred degree mark on court. Those players who were unfortunate enough to draw daytime matches were forced to sweat it out in order to advance to the third round. All part of being a professional tennis player, right?

Somebody tell that to Novak Djokovic who once again was troubled with breathing issues and appeared ready to collapse between points during his match with Frenchman Julien Benneteau. I'm not sure whether the Serb has a real medical condition or is just super-sensitive to these types of conditions, but I can't see him making a real dent during the hard court swing if he can't find a way to get through it. How did this guy ever manage to win the Aussie Open during the summer down-under?

While he prevailed 7-5, 7-5, the match was a real back and forth affair that could easily have gone to a third set. If that had happened I feel that Djokovic would have likely either wilted away or chosen to retire. Instead, he smashed up a racquet in fine style and that seemed to help him to refocus and pull out the victory.

Tournament organizers must have felt sorry for him as they have scheduled his Thursday match against Victor Hanescu for no earlier than 5pm ET. Djokovic is undoubtedly going to have to play another daytime match at some point this week and with weather conditions expected to remain similar to today I can't see him emerging as Rogers Cup champion this year.

After the match Djokovic was asked several questions about his health issues.

"Well it's really hard to explain. Anybody who didn't play professional level will not understand quite what's going on. Today I was really on the edge, so health is the most important thing for me, and then tennis and success and whatever comes with it."

Djokovic spoke about what he feared the worst case scenario might have been, "..at a certain moment you might collapse or whatever. But after half an hour, hour, with the proper recovery, you will get back to the normal feeling and normal state of body. I guess that in the long term it can hurt you, and it happens to me quite often. And, I don't know, it's just something that you cannot fight against. Nobody can turn off the sun and just do me a favour, even though I would like it."

Andy Murray seemed to handle the weather just fine, but was troubled early on by Xavier Malisse. A former Wimbledon semi-finalist in 2002, Malisse has a lethal forehand and the experience to trouble anyone on tour. He was up a break for most of the first set but collapsed while serving at 5-4 and dropped three games in a row to hand the first set to Murray.

The Belgian faded even further in the second set and his forehand began missing the mark with regularity. Murray closed out the match 7-5, 6-2. He will advance to play Gael Monfils in the third match on Centre Court on Thursday in what should be an entertaining match.

In the evening match fans were expecting a routine victory from Rafael Nadal as he faced a strong but underwhelming Stan Wawrinka. Instead he ended up requiring a 93 minute first set that culminated with a tiebreak where he was forced to save multiple set points. He finally prevailed 14-12 which equals the longest tiebreak of his career.You can thank Greg Sharko from the ATP for that fun stat!

The second set turned out to be smoother sailing as the world No. 1 captured it along with the match 7-6(12), 6-3.

The Spaniard's path to the finals became easier today when American Sam Querrey lost to qualifier Kevin Anderson. Marin Cilic was also in his quarter but was bounced in the opening round.

In terms of upset potential for the third round look no further than the opening match of the schedule on Thursday between a resurgent David Nalbandian as he takes on 5th seed Robin Soderling on Centre Court. Nalbandian just won his tenth consecutive match since he came back in July and demolished Tommy Robredo today 6-3, 6-0.

That's all for today from Toronto. Stay tuned for more coverage from the Rogers Cup as the week progresses. You can also follow me on Twitter for regular updates.

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Written by Mike McIntyre | 07 August 2010

Hi folks, I'm in Toronto this week for the Rogers Cup event and wanted to share some observation from the first day of qualifying. I'll try to update as often as I can. Feel free as well to follow me on Twitter for regular updates.

It is really quite interesting to walk around the grounds at any professional tennis tournament and see who the pro's like to practice with. Often you'll see them perfecting some techniques with their coaches or an unfamiliar hitting partner. Today was a pretty sweet day at the Rogers Cup in Toronto for practice pairs. Here are some of the coolest combinations that were put together:

Djokovic/Nadal: Whoa - the world's number one and two players practicing together! Something tells me these two are getting a bit too chummy...we need more drama on this tour, no?

Federer/Soderling: Perhaps these two swapped some stories about what it feels like to lose to Rafa in the finals of the French Open.

Davydenko/Monfils: Davydenko must have been asking Monfils what he can do to get jacked like the Frencman. Seriously, the Russian needs to put on some muscle!

Aside from the practice match-ups there were a few decent qualifying matches going on as well. Canadian Philip Bester who is ranked 459th in the world defeated Florent Serra in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6(3). Bester will now play American Michael Russell who disposed of another Canuck, Steven Diez in three sets. Bester is the last Canadian hope left in the qualifying draw, as the other five all fell by the wayside on day one.

I'm looking forward to watching the Denis Istomin vs Somdev Devvarman match tomorrow as well as P.H. Mathieu against Jarkko Nieminen. Part of me still holds a grudge against Nieminen for beating an injured Andre Agassi at his last French Open appearance in 2005.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will also be addressing the media for the first time at the Rogers Cup tomorrow so stay tuned to Tennis Diary for some analysis on their comments.

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Written by Pat Davis | 30 July 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 29: Ernests Gulbis of Latvia reacts after losing a point to Alejandro Falla of Coloumbia during the Farmers Classic at the Los Angeles Tennis Center - UCLA on July 29, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

You'd think after some key months  passed recovering from injury that Ernests Gulbis would be all fired up to return to play.  I say "key" because he had just shown the best form of his entire young career earlier in the year, then the hamstring injury came along to derail his momentum.  So you'd think he would look half-way happy at least in just being out on court again.  

But no, for some reason he showed a real attitude in losing in three sets to Alejandro Falla at the ATP Farmers Classic stop in Los Angeles yesterday.  To his credit, Falla has shown some real competitive persistence of late.  He nearly upset Roger Federer's apple cart at Wimbledon this year, pressing the world's then-Number One player into waging a return from two sets down before pulling it out.  He's one of those guys - Montanes is another - who have been kind of hanging around a bit and now they are figuring out how to really play the game, and their results have gotten better.  

Gulbis played well enough to take the first set on a single break, but I was not about to count Falla out.  He played his way into it and let Gulbis screw up.  

Gulbis did really well at that, sadly.  His best shot of the day seemed to be the smashing of yet another racquet in disgust with his play.  It's bad enough when you commit a slurry of unforced errors; it gets worse when you beat yourself up too along the way.  Generally fans don't like muggings, at least not this fan.  

He did unleash a number of well-timed drop shots, but even there you felt as I did such annoyance with Gulbis that you suspected he turned to that shot out of sarcastic desperation, his ground game having gone somewhat south, along with the famous Gulbis capacity to ...um....stay patient.  

His disgust with his play is duly noted.  

It occurred to me recently, after years of watching and playing tennis, that every week if you're a pro player you can expect someone somewhere is going to kick your butt on a court.  Unless you are a Roger Federer, who for a while really did come to expect to be in a final and winning that final every time he played.  But for players like Gulbis losing is a pretty steady diet, amazingly so, I thought.  

You wonder how they take that sort of abuse, and it is a kind of self-abuse.  But you learn to ride out the losing and not take it too much to heart.  

And try and stay positive!  Gulbis scarcely showed us that today.   I like the guy and I would love to see him get back on track.  But someone should tell the lad that throwing a hissy fit a la McEnroe from the late 70s - or the 80s for that matter - is something that just doesn't fly well in today's game.

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Written by Nina Rota | 27 July 2010

Serena and James

I’ve arrived at the beautiful campus of UCLA for the ATP Farmer’s Classic event. Novak Djokovic was supposed to join me here but he dropped out for personal reasons. That’s what you say when you change your mind about a lower level event. No medical condition required.

Luckily Andy Murray was looking to play and my home town event now has a bone fide top five player. This is Andy’s first trip to Los Angeles and he’s getting off easy. The highest projected temperature through Saturday is 81F/27C. I’m wearing thick black socks today and last night I considered throwing my thermal bean bag into the microwave to keep my toes toastie warm as I dropped off to sleep.

This is a 28 player event so Andy has a bye for the first round and won’t play until tomorrow. I have a few suggestions for the tourist. There’s the The Bunny Museum in Pasadena which has the largest (inanimate) bunny collection in the world and is open 365 day of the year as long as you call ahead since the museum is in a private home.

If that’s too tame Andy could always go to the Playboy Mansion and consort with live bunnies. Speaking of which, burlesque is making a comeback in a big way. The hottest burlesque star at the moment is Dita von Teese. You can see a classy G-rated tease for Perrier here According to my friend Deb, who is a rabid Dita fan, Dita lives in Los Angeles. I’m sure something could be arranged.

As for the tennis, I was hoping to see Mardy Fish this week because he’s reached the final in three of his last four events and won the last two, but he tweaked an ankle last week and dropped out. Fish apparently decided to clean up his act and stop eating pizza, fries, and cheeseburgers and generally pay close attention to when and what he eats. People don’t usually make such drastic changes for no reason and for Fish it was knee surgery last September.

Anyone my age can tell you extra weight is tough on knees, but the process catches up much faster to pro athletes. The pain we might experience in our fifties catches up to pro athletes towards the end of their careers which is the late twenties for most tennis players – Fish is 28. One piece of connective tissue stops sliding against another piece and stiffness and pain settle in. If you’d like it spelled out in cadaver-like detail, check out The Fuzz Speech by Gil Hedley courtesy of Lenny Parracino, tissue manipulator extraordinaire.

There’s another knee story this week. James Blake is playing Leonardo Mayer this afternoon and James had been slowly sliding off the ATP tour with knee pain. He’s currently ranked 117 after being in the top ten as recently as early last year.

While Fish seems to be grabbing onto tennis, James appeared to be letting go as recently as a month ago. After losing in the first round at Wimbledon this year, he mentioned retirement if his ailing knee didn’t improve. His advisors and doctors were telling him to take an anti-inflammatory but he’s always refused in the past because he thought it was bad for his health.

Maybe the specter of career mortality changed James’ mind because he finally agreed to dig into modern medicine and now his knee is healthy. He looked fast and mobile as he tore through Mayer 6-1, 6-4. The only exciting part was having Serena Williams in the house and, oh yes, that first set break when the speakers started blaring the Lou Reed song Walk on the Wild Side. Something about “he was a she” and “in the backroom she was everybody’s darlin’ but she never lost her head even when she was giving head…”

Do you think maybe the organizers forgot to tell the DJ that it’s Kids Day here at UCLA?

I remember James saying he doesn’t even take vitamins because he’s concerned about running afoul of the drug testing policy, so I asked him if he refused to take an anti-inflammatory for the same reason. No, it’s just the health nut thing. He’s also leery of taking painkillers because he wants to be able to feel his shoulder and his arm and his knee when he wrenches them.

That sound pretty intelligent to me but, hey, if the Veteran’s Administration now let’s its patients use medical marijuana, James should be able to dabble in drugs, right?


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Written by Mike McIntyre | 26 July 2010

Looks like Roger Federer is getting serious about re-establishing his status as the top-dog on the ATP Tour. It was announced today that the current world number three player will be teaming up with PaulAnnacone on a trial basis.

"I've been looking to add someone to my team and I've decided to spend some days with Paul Annacone," Federer said on his website.

"As Paul winds down his responsibilities working for the Lawn Tennis Association, we will explore our relationship through this test. Paul will work alongside my existing team and I am excited to learn from his experiences."

The last time Federer employed the use of a coach was with Darren Cahill (who formerly coached Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt) between February and March 2009. Prior to that he occasionally had Tony Roche show up to bigger tournaments to offer advice and also put him through the paces in Dubai during the off-season.

The 47-year old Annacone was ranked as high as 12th in the world in the mid 1980s. He is most famous for being the coach of Pete Sampras from 1995 to 2001 and then again during the summer of 2002.

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Written by Mike McIntyre | 25 July 2010

It seems that following James Blake's defeat in the first round last week in Atlanta many are calling on the veteran American to hangup his racquet and call it a career. I've read numerous tennis blogs and chat forums where people are surprisingly coming to the conclusion that the thirty year old Blake is suddenly past due.

Admittedly Blake is struggling with his game and as a result his confidence as well of late. His ranking has dropped to 115th in the world which often leaves him outside the direct acceptance list for ATP tournaments. His record on tour is a mediocre 8-10 and he has not made it past the second round of any event since returning from a knee injury in June that kept him off tour for three months.

Of any player on tour however, James Blake should be the last guy you would ever count out. Blake has proven time and time again throughout his life and his career that he is the ultimate come-back player. His resilience has seen him overcome a severe case of scoliosis as a child, partial paralysis following his battle with shingles and even a broken neck from an unlikely collision with the net-post in 2004.

I believe that Blake's recent struggles are simply a case of needing to shake off the rust from his three month absence from the tour this spring. He started the year by giving U.S. Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro a good run for his money at the Aussie Open where he ultimately lost the second-round match by a score of 10-8 in the fifth set. It was only a year ago that he made the finals of the Queen's Club grass-court tournament and he was still in the top-ten as of January 2009.

Blake's frustration is understandable and many saw this exchange at Wimbledon between he and broadcaster Pam Schriver which was quite out of character for him.

Regardless I believe that if he can stay healthy it is only a matter of time before he finds his rythm. While a return to the top-ten is unlikely, Blake can still compete on hard-courts and with all the top guns other than Rafael Nadal struggling with their games lately, a decent run at a Grand Slam on his favorite surface is not implaussible given the right draw.

Next up for Blake is a first round encounter with Leonardo Mayer at the Farmers Classic this week in Los Angeles. Sounds to me like the perfect opponent to turn the corner against.

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Written by Krystle Lee | 24 July 2010

July 23, 2010 - Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany - epa02259055 Germany's Florian Mayer celebrates after winning against Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero at the ATP German Open quarter-finals match at Rothenbaum club in Hamburg, Germany, 23 July 2010.

I don’t think I’ve seen Florian Mayer lie down on the ground like this.  This is one of the high points of his career, and this image is symbolic of many things.  The inspired tennis that he played, how hard he fought and just how much it meant to him playing in front of his home crowd in Germany.  Mayer is into the semi-finals now, after defeating Juan Carlos Ferrero, who played a tough match but just got outplayed and run a little ragged by the end of it.

Mayer can be a frustratingly low key character sometimes, looking as if nothing could excite him.  When he’s not playing well, you wish he would just fire up a little bit.  Like yesterday, in the first set against Maximo Gonzalez, where he seemed to constantly walk little circles in between return of serves.  A sign of nerves, or confusion?  After taking an injury time-out late in the first set, he was a changed man and went on a roll.  It’s like he’s always walking a fine line between being the likeable vulnerable underdog, and the guy that doesn’t really know or believe in what he’s doing.

However it seemed like this time around, the slightly excitable Mayer turned up right from the start.  Because from an outsider’s point of view, I can’t really see why he can be so unfazed by his own play sometimes.  He plays a bit like a showman, but he doesn’t act much like one.  I watched him play in Wimbledon this year, and it came to my mind that I don’t think I’ve ever seen another player on the tour enjoy bamboozling their opponents as much as he does. 

It’s one thing to put disguise on your shots, and another to constantly try to make your opponents believe that you’re going to hit a different shot than you actually are.  I think, the main reason is that it’s incredibly difficult to pull off, and it seems easier to just try to hit winners instead.  For me, whenever I change my mind halfway through a stroke, it almost ends up with an error, or either it doesn’t really have anywhere near the effect I was hoping for.

Mayer is quite a talent on the backhand side.  Early on, he sets up for a backhand by jumping on it, then sets up to hit a dropshot and pushes a slice deep in the last minute.  That’s not one false backswing but two mindgames in the one shot, completely unheard of outside of exhibitions.  And that was good enough to get the job done.  It didn’t even matter that the slice backhand practically went mid-court deep, it forced an error from Ferrero because he had no idea where to set himself up.

Mayer can change the pace on the backhand crosscourt, create spectacular angles on it, hit cunning slice backhands, change directions down-the-line and hit jumping dropshots.  It really is one of the most difficult to read shots in the game.  Today, he seemed to be in a good mood.  Because he was jumping on a lot of backhands.  Definitely a good sign that plenty of energy was in reserves for today, and he really needed it.

This match wasn’t only about the high quality and varied play of Mayer today.  It was a great match all-round.  What makes the match even more spectacular is the physical ability that both players showed, in having to constantly chase wide balls and when you consider that means digging your feet into the ground and stretching wide all the time, that’s tough on the muscles.  This was a match full of long rallies, utilizing many angles, dropshots and changes of pace.  It was 3-1 in the first set, and even during those points, there were images of Mayer huffing and puffing, which in the end cost him his break of serve.

Ferrero was hitting the ball well, playing traditionally effective claycourt tennis which generally consists of a lot of side-to-side action and well-constructed points.  I’d say he is the epitome of a professional player, and I’m sure his experience has much to do with that.  His shots are consistently strong and he doesn’t give his opponents much to work with, when he’s hitting on the run.  They just don’t decrease in quality that easily. 

It was a battle on who would come out on top – whether Ferrero could keep Mayer on the run enough, or whether Mayer would throw just enough surprises to change the course of a rally.  In the first set, both players had their fair share of success in this area, but I did think that Ferrero would come through, mainly because Mayer was playing a little above himself while Ferrero looked like he could keep it up forever.

I wouldn’t have thought that as the match wore on that Mayer’s forehand would become more of a prominent feature than Ferrero’s.  I find it hard to believe that Mayer was having anything other than a spectacular day on this side, the way he cracked all these flat winners from up high in the second and third sets, often down-the-line. 

At first, he was lacking somewhat defensively on this side.  Often his elbow would lift up a little too much, and he’d float it into the middle of the court, and he’d have to work hard to turn the rally back around.  That was the exact weakness that he ironed out in the second and third sets, to manufacture a dramatic turnaround. 

He didn’t only improve his defensive forehand.  He tried to do more with it as soon as he had the chance to try to keep rallies more in his favour. I have to say I haven’t seen Mayer play this aggressively from the baseline before.  Usually he uses his strong shots to follow into the net, but this is clay, and perhaps he just can’t make it into the net as much. 

At times, he surprised himself just as much.  By the third set, he was occasionally smiling at some of his big shots.  Let’s hope that he can carry this form into the semi-finals, because he knows it’ll be a good opportunity, playing against Andrey Golubev.  If he can play anywhere near as well as he played today.

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