The Top Four Excel In Toronto
Toronto is typically a tournament where much is read into. It is the first Masters since the long-forgotten clay season and its sweltering conditions, unpredictable rain patterns and boiling blue courts remind us almost immediately what tennis in America is all about. The consistency and fitness required to overcome these conditions after playing half a years worth of tennis has resulted in the top four constantly taking the top prize at Toronto. This year is no exception, with limited upsets we saw the top four make their way to the semi-finals.
Rafael Nadal could easily have fallen before the semis. The world number one certainly lacked some confidence on hard-courts at the start of the season and it seems those issues have not been fully overcome even after winning another two Grand Slams. Hard courts expose Nadal’s weaknesses, that is his inability to consistently hit deep and flat as well as his serve, which whilst much-improved, isn’t a huge weapon. What Nadal has more than anyone else in the top four is his aura. Stanislas Wawrinka had multiple set points against Nadal but failed to convert any despite out playing the Spaniard for much of the match. Kevin Anderson never looked like winning but managed to find himself in a tiebreak against Nadal only to give it away after playing a stunning set. Phillip Kohlschreiber could have won their match and managed to take the first set 6-3. He simply fell apart afterwards, realising exactly who he was beating. It took world number four, Andy Murray, to beat the tenacious Wimbledon champion 6-3 6-4. Nadal once again looked unsure in this match and his backhand had been struggling at times all week. Whilst he was solid all-round, Nadal will need to adjust his game to hard-courts in a way he has never done before to stand a big chance at taking Cincinnati or the US Open.
Newly crowned world number two Roger Federer got a much-needed break in Toronto. His game has struggled of late with disappointing performances in every single tournament since the Australian Open. He may not have lifted the trophy at the end of the day, losing in straight sets to Murray, but Federer finally looks to be on the up. He overcame both Tomas Berdych and Novak Djokovic in tight three setters. In both matches he came flying out of the gates only to come crashing back down in the second sets. Still, that he could come out with ‘all guns blazing’ (his words) shows that Federer is getting back to where he needs to be to be winning the big ones. Wins over Berdych and Djokovic will give him much-needed confidence as he attempts to defend his Cincinnati title.
Question marks still hanging over Federer’s head involve his focus and his physical health. Never before have we seen Federer give away so many opportunities and this was very clear in the final against Murray. Federer was broken at 5-5 in both sets after playing patches of brilliant tennis. He will have to rid himself of any nerves going forward as they certainly hampered his chances in the final. Federer also mentioned some physical aliments post-match although he did not say they had any bearing on the outcome. We are not used to hearing of physical problems for the seemingly always healthy Swiss but at the age of 29 it is no surprise his body is starting to catch up to him.
All and all it was a one of Federer’s best tournaments for the year. He certainly has some areas to tidy up but the Swiss seems to be returning to some of his earlier form. He was also complimentary and gracious in all his press conferences, showing us exactly why he is the fan favourite in Toronto.
Novak Djokovic had the easiest draw of the top four but he still needed to overcome some inspired tennis. Djokovoic has had a decent 2010, contrary to what many commentators and sports writers think. He has improved on his 2009 results in almost every tournament he has played, Grand Slams in particular. Djokovic once again showed that he belongs firmly in the top four but still has work to do. He was stunning at times, especially in his win over Victor Hanescu, but also showed a tendency to double-fault and his backhand was simply woeful in his semi-final against Federer. Djokovic is having something of a transition year as he tries to get his serve back to what it was pre Todd Martin and tinkers with his team. He also seems to be trying to work out how to play more aggressively and his backhand down the line was the most effective it has been in Toronto since 2008. It’s all positive signs for the emotional Serbian. He probably has a way to go before he starts winning Majors again but at least he is headed in the right direction.
Andy Murray is without a coach and seemingly without pressure after leaving them both behind at Wimbledon. Murray played some of his best tennis in Toronto and took out both Nadal and Federer. It
would be too easy to begin to hype him up for the US Open without remembering the struggles he endured at Toronto. Before he played brilliant tennis to overcome Nadal and Federer, with flashes of aggression we haven’t seen in an age, Murray struggled against Xavier Malisse and was bageled by Gael Monfils. His concentration also slipped against Federer at crucial times. In fact, had Federer not had his own concentration issues the match almost certainly would have gone the distance. Come the US Open, Murray will need to keep up his focus over the best of five sets which could be a struggle for the Scot. Still there’s no taking away Murray’s achievements in Toronto. He played like a man without pressure and seemed to trust his instincts. Whether this will continue into a Slam situation remains to be seen, but Murray has certainly made major inroads and will be closely watched this week in Cincinnati.
Fans in Cincinnati must be excited about the upcoming week in tennis. Nadal has always struggled on the super-fast courts and was rumoured to be looking frustrated in practise. Federer will be hoping for a Wednesday start to give his body some time to recover. He has a fascinating history at Cincinnati, seemingly alternating between losing early and winning the tournament. Djokovic seems to consistently do well there and has played some of his best matches against Nadal in the past. He finds himself in a rough draw however with both Soderling and Murray. Murray will be excited and confident about his chances on a court that should suit his game. Overall, it is shaping up to be a brilliant hard-court season.