March 20, 2011

Experience vs. Momentum

There was a lot of talent that stepped onto the courts semifinal Saturday at Indian Wells. Between the four of them, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro have won the past twenty four Grand Slam titles, so it was fitting that they were the last men standing. Since they've been at the top of the game for so long, it's not surprising they've accumulated long histories against each other, and in both match-ups it was the more decorated player looking to reverse recent trends, and some were more successful than others.

Nine-time Major winner Rafael Nadal took the court first against the surprise 2009 U.S. Open champ Juan Martin Del Potro, a man who'd beaten him pretty handily in their last three meetings. But after wrist injury kept the big man out of contention most of last year, he was just climbing back into the top hundred and hadn't quite regained his original game. Though playing solid tennis from all objective perspectives, against the world #1 this time he was really no match -- after breaking Nadal to start the match, he was barely given another chance and the Spaniard was able to end his losing streak in just under two hours.

Roger Federer was not as fortunate. The record-holding Slam champion had dropped his last couple matches to two-time Melbourne titleist Novak Djokovic and arguably had two fewer Major trophies on his mantle because of him. Both had been playing well all week, but the Serb had been in dominant form, extending his record on the year to a perfect 17-0 -- twenty, if you count Hopman Cup play and going three matches in a row bagelling his opponents in the first set. You knew this match would be slightly closer, though, and even after Nole took the first set easily there was little doubt Fed would fight his way back. But in the third Djokovic was not troubled by the momentum Roger had gained and broke his opponent's serve twice more to keep his own streak alive and re-secure the #2 ranking come Monday.

So we're rewarded with yet another rematch -- this one of the 2010 U.S. Open championship, which Nadal won in four solid sets and followed up with another victory at the London year-ends. But Novak has a respectable 7-16 record against the two-time Indian Wells titleist, and the way he's been dismantling his opponents all year, I have a feeling he'll be able to reverse his own recent trend against Rafa.

If anyone can do it, it sure looks like it'll be Nole.

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