February 26, 2010

Going for a Hat Trick

Hockey fans, anyone? Anyone? Well, me neither, but with the U.S. men's team playing Finland for a spot in the finals today in Vancouver, I can't help getting caught up in the excitement.

But in much warmer climes, last night in Acapulco two men were looking to achieve a different, but just as venerable feat -- a feisty Nicolas Almagro was in search of his third straight Mexican Open trophy while countryman Juan Carlos Ferrero, boasting his highest ranking in almost four years, was looking to capture his third championship in three weeks after taking home titles in Argentina and Brazil. When they met on the clay in the quarterfinals, obviously one's quest would end while the other's would live at least another day.

Former world #1 Ferrero is the fourth seed at the tournament, Almagro the sixth, but the one-time U.S. Open winner lost two of the pair's three previous meetings. Almagro, too, had proven his fortitude over the last few weeks, battling through three five-setters at the Australian Open with a broken wrist.

Juan Carlos rolled through his first set, breaking Almagro three times and winning more than eighty percent of his first serves. But the younger Nicolas fought back in the second, securing that set despite poor serving. Ultimately, though, it was the thirty-year-old vet who was victorious in the two-hour match, taking fifty-six percent of the points and converting five of thirteen break chances.

He's still a few wins away from getting his hat trick -- Argentina's Juan Monaco, a man he beat earlier this month in Buenos Aires, is his first obstacle in the semis. And two plucky opponents, Fernando Gonzalez and Costa Do Sauipe runner-up David Ferrer, are still battling in the bottom half of the draw. But after a long absence, it sure is nice to see JCF back at the top of his game.

And though it's probably still too early to get excited about Roland Garros, he's got a perfect record on clay this year, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him challenge in Paris. And I hope his success continues!

In the meantime, go Team U.S.A.!

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