November 2, 2008

A Marathon Event

The New York City Marathon is being run outside my apartment this morning. Forty thousand men and women are pounding the pavement of the five boroughs, and the only thing I can think about is how I'm going to cross First Avenue and make it to the Central Park courts on what might be the last nice day of fall -- that, and how I hope none of the runners forgot to turn back his clock last night, but I digress.

Across the Atlantic some of the world's best tennis players are nearing the end of their own marathon. Since January these men have been competing for their chance to vie for the ATP Masters Cup, and this week the final three spots would be filled.

But there will be plenty of time to discuss that later. In the meantime action in Paris held its own set of upsets, thrills and downright shockers that threw the tournament -- and the ATP race -- wide open.

It started in the second round when a flailing David Ferrer, who received a first-round Bye, lost in straight sets to Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber. Ferrer has lost his first match at six other tournaments this year and only won titles in two minor tournaments, making me wonder why he's still ranked fifth in the world. True, at #30 Philipp wasn't exactly David slaying Goliath, but the win certainly provided a boost to his confidence, and stalled Ferrer's hopes for making it to Shanghai.

The surprises didn't stop there. On Thursday Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took out world #3 Novak Djokovic in three sets, his second straight victory over the Serb after losing to him in this year's Australian Open Final. He followed that up with a win over Andy Roddick, who earlier in the week became the sixth player to secure his spot in Shanghai. Tsonga has had a pretty successful year, rising from #38 to #14 now, and coming within a stone's throw of the top ten in May. His performance this week just solidified his position at the top of the sport.

But the real turning of the tide came in the other matches on Friday.

Besides Tsonga's defeat of Roddick, there was David Nalbandian's impressive victory over Andy Murray (resulting in my doing a little happy dance). They'd only met one time before at Wimbledon in 2005, and Nalbandian won that match too. But those were wholly different times -- the then-surging Argentine was ranked tenth and on his way to finish the year as #6, while the still unheard-of Brit hadn't even cracked the top two hundred yet. With this week's win David ended Murray's fourteen-match winning streak and his hopes to be the first player to claim three consecutive ATP Masters Series shields.

And in yet another twist, both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer bowed out of their quarterfinal matches. Nadal retired with a knee injury while Roger withdrew from the tournament with a sore back -- raising the question of whether either will be back to form in time for Shanghai. Those two defaults paved the way for Nikolay Davydenko and James Blake to enter the semifinals.

Their roads would stop there though, it seemed. Nalbandian and Tsonga both won their matches on Saturday, upsetting the higher ranked favorites, setting up a final for Sunday that would ultimately decide the last man to qualify for Shanghai.

The two players have never met before, and with Jo-Wilfried ranked tweltfth in the ATP Race and David fourteenth, the match-up could be pretty exciting. It's been a long race for both this year, with ups and downs along the way, and as they sprint toward the end I'm looking forward to a close and thrilling race.

See you at the finish line!

No comments: