Rafa Steps It Up
Beware the sleeved one. Rafa Nadal is looking like he might be on his way to his first major on a non-organic surface. The Spaniard, who’s abandoned the pirate shorts and sleeveless shirts, blitzed 2007 finalist Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 Monday to reach the quarterfinals without dropping a set. Despite missing the Masters Cup and Davis Cup final and taking an extended rest in the offseason, he looks in devastating form. He is pushing players all over the court with his forehand, making them pay on occasion with his backhand and looking as indefatigable as ever.
After Monday’s match, Nadal upped to the fact that he’s in much finer form than last year when he reached the semifinals -- in his typically understated way. “Probably I am playing a little bit better than last year, I think,” he said. “I am not saying I gonna be in the final or I gonna be in semifinals. I think the feeling is a little bit better. But in the end the important thing is the result, no?”
Patrick McEnroe said he didn’t see how Roger Federer, whose backhand has looked vulnerable and weak, could take the strapping 22-year-old from Mallorca. “One or two shots to Federer’s backhand and Rafa will be in control of the point,” the ESPN analyst and Davis Cup captain said. Now that Andy Murray is out of his half of the draw, things just look that much better for the Spaniard. McEnroe, whose wife recently gave birth to twin girls and who already has a young daughter, quipped that he could soon filed his own U.S. Fed Cup team to go along with his multiple TV and USTA duties.
Speaking of Murray, the tournament also had it’s biggest upset of the fortnight when the fourth-ranked Scot, a popular choice to win here, fell to Fernando Verdasco in five sets. Kudos to Verdasco, who served lights out the last two sets and didn’t fold when he served for the match in the fifth set. I thought Murray played too defensively, and as I wrote in my Aussie Open picks, I didn’t feel like he was ready to win a major though he has beaten all the top players in the last few months. I also refer you again to a story I wrote on tennis.com a few days ago about his offseason work with former Agassi fitness guru Gil Reyes. Verdasco also played spoiler to what could have been an Open-era first: the top eight seeds reaching the quarterfinals at a major. With Jo-Wilfried Tsonga up two sets to love on James Blake as I write, it looks like it will be seven of eight.
Ever notice how many top black players are competing now? Besides Tsonga of France and Blake of the USA, Frenchman Gael Monfils lost today in the fourth round and Serena Williams moved into the quarterfinals. Venus lost last week. A golden age in the sport? How appropriate in the Obama era.