By Dave Seminara
The tennis world is starved for another Federer-Nadal showdown, but Andy Murray doesnâ€™t give a damn. His job in Toronto was to win, and he did just that, with a surprisingly routine 6-3, 6-4 straight-set victory over Rafael Nadal in the matinee semi-final at the Rexall Centre in Toronto on Saturday.
The sport thrives on personalities, and rivalries and none looms larger than Federer-Nadal. Yet the two men havenâ€™t squared off in North America since 2005. Tennis is more popular than ever in the U.S. right now- with more than thirty million recreational players- but the dearth of live matches between the sportâ€™s two most well known gladiators doesnâ€™t bode well for the ATP gaining new fans in the U.S. As it is now, most major U.S. newspapers completely ignore the sport. If you donâ€™t have a magnifying glass, tennis doesnâ€™t exist in the print medium.
But Andy Murray could care less if the sport lives or dies stateside, and the fact that his public persona is that of a dour grump who betrays very little off-court personality isnâ€™t his fault. Murray took it to Nadal from the opening bell- serving bigger, making fewer unforced errors and dictating play from the baseline.
Nadalâ€™s exit is just the latest chapter of his North-American hard court struggles. If he doesnâ€™t make it deep into this yearâ€™s U.S. Open, his detractors will start to chirp that he may be the new Bjorn Borg- a great European champion whose game didnâ€™t translate to N. American hard courts.
Federer held up his end of the draw- as he often does on hard courts- by beating Djokovic, 6-1, 3-6, 7-5, to reach the finals of the Rogers Cup for the 4th time-the first since 2007. Djokovic was nervous at the beginning and the end of the match- missing shots by feet rather than inches- but was often brilliant in between. He played more aggressively than Roger, but ultimately didn’t have the resolve and composure to win the match. After the match, fireworks were launched in celebration of the win, and Fed expressed relief. “It was tight until the end,” he said. “And he’s a younger guy- but I’m feeling good.”
Only time will tell if Fed’s stay at number three in the rankings was just a one month blip, or if his return to #2 is the aberration. After the match, Federer joked that his relationship with new coach Paul Annacone was “real romantic.” But Fed also noted that Swiss Davis Cup CaptainÂ Severin Luthi was set to join him in Cincinnati. He spoke of the relationship with Annacone as though it might not be a long-term arrangement. But surely if he wins the Rogers Cup, he’ll keep Annacone on. At least until his next loss.