By Megan Fernandez
Andy Murray – Photos Â©Enrique Fernandez for Global Village Tennis News
Thursday at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters, every singles player who walked off Center Court a winner took small comfort in his three-set win. Each squeaked by with at least one tiebreak and had something in his craw. Looking ahead to Fridayâ€™s quarterfinals, the Andys Murray and Roddick were unhappy with their early start times, and Rafael Nadal was once again not at home on Cincyâ€™s fast courts. Ernests Gulbis complained in defeatâ€”that Murray had served like an old lady and that the courts at the site in Mason, Ohio, are of inconsistent speedâ€”and Roddick was still ranting about Hawkeye as he exited his post-match press conference.
Roger Federer didnâ€™t even get a chance to radiate negativity. He advanced to the quarterfinals of the tournament in a walkover when Philipp Kohlschreiber pulled out with a right shoulder injury. Federer should be worried, thoughâ€”he has played only seven games this week (on Wednesday, Denis Istomin retired with an injury trailing 5-2). The burning question on Friday will be whether the defending champ can find some rhythm in a hurry against Nikolay Davydenko, who has won two tight matches this week.
Davydenko , Marcos Baghdatis, and Mardy Fish were the only winners to avoid tiebreaks. Novak Djokovic advanced in two sets, but needed a tiebreak in the second set to put away David Nalbandian 6-1, 7-6 (7). Baghdatis was a 7-5, 6-4 winner over Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych, and Fish sent Richard Gasquet on to next weekâ€™s Pilot Pen Tennis with a 7-6, 6-2 win. Davydenko beat David Ferrer 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.
The extended matches made the day easier on ticketholders torn about picking from the dayâ€™s monster lineup. Eight seeds were in action, including the worldâ€™s top seven players, and tantalizing matchups were overlappingâ€”not to mention that each player still in the draw and several who had already lost were practicing on side courts. Fans had to choose between the third-set tiebreak of Murray/Gulbis, the heavyweight Djokovic/Nalbandian battle on a general-admission court, and Federerâ€™s warm up in a setting similar to a high school tennis match.
What was a tennis fan to do? We asked Doug Perry, author of The Spin of the Ball, an excellent tennis blog on The Oregonian newspaperâ€™s website. His approach: â€œI’d go for Murray/Gulbis first. I really like the way Murray works over opponents, constantly probing and adjusting rather than simply trying to blast through each match. Gulbis is also interesting to watch and very talented, so this should be a good match. I’d want to watch Federer to get a better sense of where he is as we head toward the US Open; is he in decline, or has he just not been focused the last few months? I love watching Nadal when he’s being pushed, and I don’t think Benneteau can push him. I would give Roddick/Soderling a look. I really like Soderling–his big game and puppy-dog-like personality. I’ve never been a fan of Roddick’s, and I would guess Soderling will get the better of him.â€
Rafael Nadal – Photo Â©Enrique Fernandez for Global Village Tennis News
Benneteau did push Nadalâ€”all the way to match point for the Frenchmen, which the world number one swiped away with one of his few hostile forehands of the matchâ€”and Soderling appeared to get the better of Roddick during their three-hour encounter, but didnâ€™t convert his only break point in the 6-2, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (5) Roddick win. The American drew out a conversation about challenges with chair umpire Mohamed El Jennati for an entire set. After the match, he explained: â€œMy simple question was, how longâ€™s too long to challenge? He said, â€˜Timely manner.â€™ Whatâ€™s timely manner? â€˜My judgment.â€™ Give me a number. Thatâ€™s all I want. I ended up badgering him to where he said 10 seconds; I just had another discussion with other people from the ATP, and they said, â€˜Until the other guy serves.â€™ Thatâ€™s 22 seconds. Weâ€™re talking about a 12-second differential. Iâ€™m not asking for a miracle. Just give me a definition.â€
Ernests Gulbis – Photo Â©Enrique Fernandez for Global Village Tennis News
Murray worked over Gulbis with off-pace shots, soft serves, and demure volleys in place of easy overheads. More than anyone, Murray has the presence of mind to choose a gentle shot when it will do the trick. The match featured unusual patches of silence as the ball was kissed over the net by both players. But later, Murray was quick to sound off about playing so often in the heat. â€œIâ€™ve played seven matches in nine days, every one of them between noon and 3 p.m.,â€ he said. Murray requested a later match on Friday, but it wasnâ€™t granted because his opponent, Fish, has to play both singles and doubles.
The fussy attitudes have made it hard for fans to know who will leave Mason as the US Open favorite. Fridayâ€™s equally intriguing quarterfinals lineup may see someone start to break away.