Federer outplayed in Rome loss
Rafael Nadal has a virus. Not exactly an epidemic yet but, in the last few days, Gael Monfils, David Ferrer and Kei Nishikori have all joined the sick list rather than the injured list for one reason or another and Nadal just hopes it is a "one-day virus, not five, you never know. But I am here to fight and try my best like I have always done."
He felt bad when he woke up Thursday, suffering with a fever, delayed his practice two hours — serious for a man who plans his day to the last detail — and eventually recovered sufficiently to go out and beat his left-handed compatriot Feliciano Lopez 6-4, 6-2.
Roger Federer does not appear to be sick but his tennis caught a cold as the hot sun dipped away behind the seven hills of Rome and took away his hopes of winning this ATP Masters title for the first time. Federer succumbed 7-4 in the third set tie-break 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 to Richard Gasquet, the Frenchman he had not lost to since their first-ever meeting in Monte Carlo in 2005. Since then Federer had won all eight contests but Thursday his grip on the match was loosened inch by inch as he struggled to maintain his early fluency.
It was a lovely match to watch — fit to be put before Ken Rosewall, the great Australian who must have enjoyed the old-fashioned stroke play produced by both men. It is difficult to find a lovelier one-handed backhand on the tour than Federer's these days but, if there is one, Gasquet has it. As Rosewall possessed one of the most potent and beautiful backhands of all time, the Swiss and the Frenchman served up an appropriate feast for the tournament's guest of honor.
The crowd did their best to get Federer back into it after he had lost a break in the second set, but Gasquet, who has been known to blow good opportunities, was very solid on this occasion and inspired, too, as he produced flashing winners at critical moments, like the terrific forehand winner which deprived Federer of a service point midway through the second-set breaker.
Federer was in trouble right from the start of the deciding tie-break, shanking a backhand and then finding himself unable to prevent Gasquet from ripping two more winners past him.
Federer looked pale in press conference but it was probably more from shock than anything.
"I had multiple chances to win from a set and 4-3 up," he said. "Then 15-40 at 4-4. Never should have lost the match so it is a little annoying. But Richard is a very talented player, well capable of beating anyone if they don't play their best. He got better as the match wore on. He served better. I felt I was going to win that last tie-break but it's not fun to play the way I did."
No fun for Mardy Fish, either, as he went down 7-6, 6-3 to the tall Croat, Marin Cilic. Fish tried to mix it up and did manage to score with some volleys but it was Cilic who was generally the more aggressive player, grabbing 34 winners to the American's 22.
There was a routine victory for Andy Murray who embellished his 6-2, 6-3 win over the Italian, Potito Starace, with some spectacular defensive play, racing from one end of his baseline to the other, often to good effect as he forced a flummoxed opponent into error.
Just before the midnight hour, Novak Djkovic extended his amazing unbeaten run to 34 matches this year and 36 in all by beating Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland 6-4, 6-1. Not a good day for the Swiss but even Djokovic's normally agitated father is looking a little serene these days. And why not?
The large crowds, basking in the hottest weather of the tournament so far, had plenty to cheer earlier in the day when Francesca Schiavone, who became the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title last year at the French Open, fought back from a set down to beat the experienced Daniela Hantuchova 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 with some typically gutsy shot making.
Maria Sharapova is also through to the quarterfinals, after outplaying Israel's Shahar Peer 6-2, 6-2.