Both Men Winners In Cincinnati
Roger Federer probably didn’t expect the curveballs thrown at him in Cincinnati this week but he’ll be mightily pleased with the way he dealt with them. The defending champion ended up facing some extraordinary circumstances instead of what looked like a tough but standard path to a semi-final meeting with Rafael Nadal. It started when Denis Istomin retired whilst trailing 2-5 in Federer’s first match. Federer, having made the final of Toronto the previous week, was likely grateful for the extra rest it provided him. He may have furrowed his brows however when Phillip Kohlschreiber denied Federer the chance to even step on court after he withdrew from their third round encounter. Federer therefore entered a quarter-final match against former top 5 player Nikolai Davydenko with only 20 minutes match play; an unnerving situation to say the least. Federer dealt with the Russian in straight sets, denying the upset and putting in one of his best performances since January. The strange situations didn’t end there though, Federer discovered later that he was the only one of the top four to make it to the semi-finals. In a day of upsets, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Rafael Nadal all fell to lower-ranked opponents.
Rafael Nadal had struggled all week and was lucky to come through a match against Julien Benneteau. It was still a surprise however when Marcos Baghdatis defeated Nadal in three sets. The Cypriot with the infectious smile slipped out of the top 100 in 2008 but now find himself ranked 18 after finding the form he was never expected to rediscover. His upset of Nadal was a huge accomplishment for the 25-year-old but leaves Nadal’s chances at the US Open in doubt.
Less surprising was the loss of Andy Murray. The Toronto winner struggled with the heat, fatigue, and his opponent, who could be compared to Bagdhatis. Mardy Fish was ranked 108 as recently as March but has put together his best tennis as well as improving his fitness to climb to 21. He had little sympathy for an uninspired Murray and dispatched of him in three sets.
Fish’s week continued to improve as he overcame compatriot and close friend Andy Roddick in the semi-finals. After upsets of that magnitude, it was no wonder he kept his nerve during his final against Federer. Fish demonstrated what so many others don’t – that with a clear head you can create opportunities against the world’s best. By playing his own game and not stretching himself beyond those blurred boundaries of aggression, Fish snagged the first set in a tiebreak. Federer was clearly the better player, the bigger talent, but it was Fish who took his opportunities when they arose. Unfortuantly for him, Federer soon realised he needed to do the same. Fish was never going to lose this match, Federer had to take it from him.
It was at the end of the second set tiebreak that everything began to click for the Swiss. A huge ‘come-on’ in a tiebreak he dominated 7-1 signalled the changing of fortunes. To the casual fan Federer’s shout was nothing but a loud exclamation of aggression, but to all those who follow Federer it was so much more. The 16 time Grand Slam champion had looked lethargic, worried, nervous even throughout 2010. His cries of come-on sounded more like they were directed at himself, a desperate attempt to wake his footwork or forehand up from its slumber. Yet in the Cincinnati final it finally sounded as it should, like a challenge from the world’s best. Federer’s aura of invincibility may have faded over the years, but in that moment it was as strong as ever.
Nobody knew this more than Fish, but rather than resign himself to defeat he fought bravely in the third set. The sole break of the match went to Federer at 4-4. He didn’t let the chance slip away and claimed the championship on his second match-point. The relief on his face was clear as Fish’s backhand drifted wide; this is a match Federer would have lost not that long ago, such was the determination of Fish. Fish may never have looked like the bigger talent, he may not have had the weapons of Federer but he never looked out of his depth either. The quiet American who abstains from fist pumps and loud come-ons preferred instead to display his hunger through plucky rallies and brave serves. As a result he enters the US Open as the American to watch. With the crowd behind him and his calm demeanour, Fish will be considered more than just a dark horse. Indeed, he may prove to be America’s hope. It will be an unfamilar position for him but he appears apt at dealing with those.
As for Federer, he once again arrives at New York as the man to beat. That, of course, is nothing unfamiliar at all.