Nadal overcomes illness, Cilic in Italy
It was, admitted Rafael Nadal, a risk. But, after sweeping into the semifinals of this ATP Masters Series at the Foro Italico by outplaying Marin Cilic 6-1, 6-3, the title holder felt it had been a risk worth taking.
He had been ill the day before with a fever and only started to feel better a few hours before he went on court against Cilic.
"Now I feel much better," said the world No. 1, who is starting to feel the hot breath of the unbeaten Novak Djokovic on his neck. The Serb could have grabbed the top spot if Nadal had lost today. "But I was thinking a lot about how I tried to play in Australia after getting ill in the Middle East the week before and this also happened to me before a Davis Cup against Switzerland. But Rome is very important to me and of course so is Roland Garros. So I had to think about the risk. I decided to play against Lopez yesterday but was prepared to go out during the match if I felt bad."
There was never any chance of that today as Nadal started to resemble himself again.
"I was able to move faster and be more aggressive with the legs," he said. "So the shots become better, too."
Cilic, a powerful hitter who stands 6-foot-6, is struggling to live up to his early promise at the moment. Just over a year ago he reached No. 9 in the world at the age of 21 but has slipped back since and is now languishing at 23. He has the weapons to do better and it was his inability to prevent Nadal from outmaneuvering him which cost the Croat any chance of offering much of a contest.
Andy Murray was first up on Campo Centrale on another gloriously sunny Roman day. For the first time, he found himself facing Florian Mayer, an unorthodox German who plays a little like a taller and more powerful Fabrice Santoro, the recently retired French wizard. Mayer doesn’t hit with two hands on his forehand, as Santoro did, but he winds up with a big back swing on that flank and undercuts viciously on the backhand.
For a while it was all too much for Murray who lost the first set 6-1 and went off for a bathroom break, chuntering dark Scottish oaths to himself. After fighting back brilliantly to take the match 1-6, 6-1, 6-1 Murray admitted that he had been a little confused.
"I decided to go off for a toilet break and think about it," he said. "I had to let some emotion out. He makes you feel a little inferior out there because he makes the game look so easy. I needed to get pumped up and get my legs moving. His forehand is harder to read but his slices go deep through the court and are tough to handle."
Murray credited himself with thinking through the problems and deciding to put more kick into his serves after being broken three times in the first set and again at the top of the second.
"I was also more patient," he said. "I was certainly thinking better than I had been in the States in March."
By reaching the semifinal, Murray created a little bit of history. Not since 1932 when Pat Hughes, a colleague of Fred Perry on the winning British Davis Cup teams of the 1930s, did so had a British player reached the last four at what used to be known as the Italian Open.
Murray will now play Djokovic in the second semifinal on Saturday evening, setting up a repeat of their Australian Open final in January. Djokovic, of course, has been on a tear since then and took his unbeaten streak to 35 matches this year with a resounding 6-3, 6-0 defeat of Sweden's Robin Soderling. The first few games were close but once Djokovic got into his hard-hitting rythm the aura of invincibility took over and Soderling faded into the night.
Later Richard Gasquet put in a bid to become the first Frenchman to win the title here since Yannick Noah in 1985 when he recovered well from a set down to beat the big Czech, Tomas Berdych, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4. Berdych received a code of conduct warning for arguing over a line call and refused to shake hands with the umpire at the end. Mild, really, in comparison to another Czech, Jan Kodes who, while playing on this same court, now called Pietrangeli but previously the Center Court, shoved the referee in the chest during one of his three losing finals here in the 1970s. Kodes was defaulted.
Gasquet, who will now play Nadal in Saturday's fist semifinal, used the improved forehand that helped him beat Roger Federer on Thursday to break Berdych for 4-3 in the third.
Out on Court Two, John Isner and Sam Querrey came through a thrilling doubles duel against the Austrian-Polish combo of Oliver Marach and Lukasz Kubot 1-6, 6-4 and 12-10 in the doubles super tiebreaker.
Caroline Wozniacki battled through to the semifinal of the women's event with a hard-fought victory over Jelena Jankovic on Campo Pietrangeli by 6-3, 1-6, 6-3. The Danish world No. 1 lost an early break in the third set by trying a silly drop shot (all drop shots seem silly when they miss), but she broke back immediately despite some spirited resistance on the part of Jankovic, who shares the odd distinction with Wozniacki of having been ranked No. 1 without ever winning a Grand Slam.
Soon after, the crowd inside the main stadium was silenced as Sam Stosur reversed the result of last year's French Open final by defeating Francesca Schiavone 6-2, 6-4. The Italian favorite chased everything in her customary bustling style, but Stosur was far more clinical than she had been in Paris and produced a close replica of the 6-3, 6-4 win she scored against Schiavone here in Rome in 2007.