January 8, 2010

A Little Encouragement, a Bigger Surprise

While some are preparing for the Australian Open Down Under, a couple of the top men's players have been battling it out on the courts in Doha at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open.

Top ranked Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were joined by Nikolay Davydenko, Ivo Karlovic and others for their first tournament of the New Year, and while much of the early round action progressed as you might expect, the semifinals held a few surprises.

Rafa was coming off a nice victory at the Capitala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi last week, the first sign that he might be back to form after a rough second half of 2009. And this week served as even more proof -- he didn't drop a set on his way to the semifinals, where he met fifth seed Viktor Troicki. I thought the Serb might pose a bit of a challenge, but Nadal got off to a good start, breaking his opponent three times in the first set and barely taking an hour to finish him off. His performance so far certainly bodes well for Melbourne.

It was a different story in the other half of the draw where world #1 Roger Federer met Nikolay Davydenko, a man who won their last match-up on his way to claim the London championship in November.

Roger should have been the clear favorite today, having handily defeated the Russian on their previous twelve meetings. But Nikolay was one of the strongest finishers of last year, capturing three titles in two months, and he brought his A-game to Doha. He got every one of his first serves in during the opening set and earned the only break in the second to notch another win over Federer.

For his efforts Davydenko earns a ticket to the finals tomorrow. He should like his chances against Nadal, having won their last two matches. He's also been the victor in the only two finals they've contested -- last year in Shanghai and in Miami back in 2008. Head-to-head they're tied at four all, though, so you know both men are going to put up a fight -- and the eventual winner will surely make a big case for himself at the Australian Open.

Can't wait to watch it!

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