Down Under Day 9: A metal cup named desire.
How badly does Andy Murray want to win a slam?
He gave you the answer in his clinical deconstruction of Rafa’s game in their quarterfinal encounter.
Murray played the most aggressive tennis I’ve ever seen from him for the first two sets – flatting his groundstrokes, particularly high off the backhand, charging to the net, throwing in the odd S&V every few games. Tactically and execution-wise, it was a lesson on how to beat Rafa.
That’s not to say Rafa didn’t have his chances. With early breaks in either set, Rafa simply could not hold onto his lead. Part of it was because of the pressure Mandy was putting on his service games, part of it was the lack of confidence from Rafa in his serve and forehand. When the second set rolled into a tiebreak, Nadal – perhaps distracted by his knee – was uncharacteristically loose on his forehand, winning only 2 points to concede the set to Muzz.
From then on, it was smooth sailing for Toothface, still yet to lose a set in Melbourne, and dare I say it – looking ready and … desperately desiring to win his first slam.
To add to the pain of the loss – quite literally – there are now questions over Rafa’s right knee, which sustained an injury in the second set and deteriorated in the third, forcing Rafa to retire.
With this loss, Nadal will drop to at least to No 3 and possibly No 4 post-Australian Open, with a whole heap of Indian Wells points still to defend.
Q. Could you let us know what the condition is, what the latest story is with the knee. It’s very unusual for you to stop during a match.
RAFAEL NADAL: Yes, well, is not a lot of history because was during the match. Was in the end of the second set in one drop. And I feeled similar thing to what I had last year.
And, yes, after that I can’t go down after that, no? So was impossible to win the match. When I have the chance to play, I never retired. Anyway, like I know I going to lose like I did in Rotterdam like last year. I say sorry to Andy for that.
I felt pain still there without no one minimum chance to do nothing, the same time is hard for me be five more games there without try nothing, no? So I don’t know if I still playing can go worst or something. So I said, well, no repeat the same mistake like I had last year. I go to the limit, but not cross the limit, no?
Earlier in the day, the desire was evident on Marin Cilic’s face, as he fought off a valient Andy Roddick in his third 5 set match of the tournament. For the majority of the first two sets, Cilic was consistent in his aggression from the baseline, reeling off winners with his typically risque game.
Roddick, hindered by problems in his shoulder and knee, was forced to change tactics: he began to look for ways to end the points more quickly, take charge of the points, flatten out his forehand …
Bizarrely, the injuries forced him to adopt a winning strategy. Andy came back strong to win the next two sets, while the fatigue of the last week seemed to catch up on Marin at last.
But at an age when his contemporaries are starting to make splashes on the big stage, Marin Cilic did not want to wait for another chance at his first slam semi. Admirably, he fought off nerves and Roddick’s momentum in the fifth set, and returned to his consistent aggression of the first two sets. At 3-1, Cilic finally broke Roddick for the final time, and held serve for the rest of the set to close out the match for his place in the semi.
Q. Why are you playing such good tennis?
MARIN CILIC: ‘Cause I’m a good player (smiling).
That. You are.
At this stage of a slam, it’s all about how badly you want it. Justine Henin wanted it, and she wasn’t joking when she said that the competitive fire was rekindled in her.
It wasn’t the cleanest of matches from her, but the sudden rise in her level during her first set tiebreak against Nadia Petrova was frightening. Equally frightening was the way she dug herself out of a double break hole, and broke Nadia for a 76 75 win, her first straight sets victory since round 2.
Fault her serve during the match, fault her timing, fault her physical wear-and-tear. But there was one thing that you couldn’t fault Henin on during the match – her competitive instinct.
Boy, am I glad to see her back.
Bizarrely, the higher quality women’s quarterfinal today came not from Henin v Petrova, but from Zheng Jie v Kirilenko, who put on a display of shot-making and variety in women’s tennis.
The two were rather polar opposites – Zheng: short, compact, fast, flat-hitting, takes the ball impossibly early like a female version of Nikolay Davydenko. MariKiri: tall, lanky, hits with top spin, and rallies from the baseline with the ability to charge to the net.
Kiri will be disappointed that she lost what could possibly be her only chance to make a slam semi. But there was very little she could’ve done better – Zheng Jie made 9 unforced errors and 16 winners for the entire match. In women’s tennis, you depend on your opponents to give you something.
Zheng gave Kiri absolutely nothing.
How lovely is it to see two small gals who rely on their timing and shotmaking rather than brute power in the semifinal?
But I’m not giving it to Henin yet. One thing is for certain – whoever wins this won’t win on talent alone. Grand slams, they’re all about desires.
And we’re about to find out today just how badly does Nikolay Davydenko want it?