Federer sends strong message to Nadal
Roger Federer became the first player to qualify for the semifinals of this year’s ATP World Tour Finals with one of his Fed Express specials — stunning a crowd of 17,500 and, more important, stunning his great rival Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-0 on Tuesday in 61 minutes.
Federer never had beaten Nadal this badly in any of their 25 previous meetings (of which he had only won eight), and the Spaniard could do nothing about it. Federer hit 28 winners to Nadal’s four and made just eight unforced errors. Nadal only made seven, but it didn’t matter. He was outplayed in every facet of the game.
On a day that saw Andy Murray withdraw because of injury and Mardy Fish eliminated after losing again (this time to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (4), 6-1), Federer, the reigning champion here, re-established his credentials as one of the greatest players to strike a tennis ball.
Nadal may not have been feeling 100 percent and obviously has played better, but he was still fighting at the end, putting up an admirable, futile sort of defiance as Federer continued to hit winners at will.
“Of course it was a great match for me from start to finish,” Federer said, trying not to look too pleased with himself. “I was able to do what I was hoping to do: dominate from the baseline, play close to the baseline, serve well, take his time away. Hasn’t always worked, of course.”
Inevitably, Federer was reminded of the 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 beating he suffered at Nadal’s hands in the final of the 2008 French Open.
“Once you get rolling, it’s hard to stop a top player," he said. "It’s maybe even harder on clay because, once you get behind, the serve doesn’t help you anymore. And then everything you try doesn’t work for the guy who is down, while for the one who is up, he’s taking more chances and all of that is working. Next thing you know, you’re facing a debacle.”
That was what happened to Nadal here.
“He was too good for me; just accept that,” Nadal said. “He played very, very top level — something very special only one player like Roger can arrive at. Only way to stay in a match like that is to get free points on your serve, because for the rest his level is too high on this surface. And I didn’t get these free points as I usually do.”
In fact Nadal won only 47 percent of his first-serve points and 45 percent behind his second serve — a sure route to disaster with Federer timing the ball so sweetly on the other side of the net.
Nadal insisted he was perfectly fit and, only under persistent questioning at the end of his news conference, did he admit that he had not been able to practice the previous day because of a shoulder problem.
“I had to work a lot to recover the shoulder and, seriously, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play," he said. "But it didn’t affect my match today because I felt perfect today.”
Nadal, of course, is clinging to the one big positive — he is still in the tournament.
Fish was never in good-enough shape physically after his hamstring problem to do himself justice here. He actually broke in the first game of the second set against Tsonga but then was engulfed by the Frenchman’s pounding, all-court game. Power-driven forehands and some terrific volley winners on the stretch swept Fish away, and the American was left to rue the fact that he had not been able to prepare properly.
“I’ve worked very hard these past two years and made a lot of sacrifices, and these are the rewards, playing in an event like this,” he said. “That’s why it’s very disappointing not to be able to play at the level I would like to play at. I wasn’t able to practice for more than an hour at a time since Paris, and then you go out and play Rafa and you can imagine how I felt the next morning.”
That’s what Nadal does to most people, but he could not do it to Federer this time. It is still possible they will meet in the final, providing the Spaniard can withstand Tsonga’s challenge on Thursday.
For Murray, however, it is all over. He pulled a groin muscle at the beginning of last week and was told to rest for 10 days. But there was not time for that and, on Monday, he had to play David Ferrer. He lost and felt as miserable on court as he looked.
“I never want to pull out of tournaments, especially one of this size,” he said. “But it’s a decision I kind of had to make because I was probably going to do myself more damage.”