ATP Tennis 360

November 23, 2009 5:07 PM

Trembling Kings

In a not-so-remarkable WTF openings, with three or four hot spots in the first two gamedays, Rafa and Roger showed all their respective difficulties. Both felt the shadows hanging over themselves, and, as the Greenday sings, they "are a victim of the system". Roger tried aniway to start the Masters Cup for the third consecutive time with a defeat, playing an embarassing match for a set and a half.

But Verdasco knelt down to the King, in the same way he did to Nadal in Australia. So letting the first set blowing in the wind, against the player who risks to finish with 3 defeats in the RR, could be a boomerang if the set difference will become the differential to establish the two semifinalists.

There's a good news even in a day like this: R15 is nearer to finish the season as the top-ranked player. The Masters Cup, in fact, assigns 200 points for every RR success, 400 more for a semifinals victory and 500 for the title: who will eventually win without losing a single match will add 1500 points. Now Roger has 10350 points, while Rafa is entrenched with 9205 points and now has to reach the final to hope surpassing Roger.

His start, anyway, was all but enjoyable. The expected rematch against Soderling, the same who interrupted the winning streak of 53 matches won on the clay by the Mallorcan, the same who played the dramatic Wimbledon third round match last for three days and famous for the imitation by the Viking of the pants-touching characterizing every Nadal's serve, ended in the same way as the FO upset: Robin Soderling won with a double 64.

Soderling won 13 of the first 15 points, but Nadal came back breaking back to 2-3, helped by a lucky netcord. The Spaniard seemed to contain the backspin backhands from the Swede, and tried to move him, but finished to play too short in the key-points. And in these courts nobody can let himself playing so and think winning the match. In the tenth game of the first set, Rafa was unfortunate and naif at 40-30 when a first serve was called out but the eventual Hawk-Eye (not called) would have granted him the ace.

But Rafa wasted a pair of forehands, confirming Robin is now probably the only player capable to destabilize the Mallorcan, suffering above all the backhands from the Roddick-substitute (although he made 12 mistakes with this fundamental in the second set). The Mallorcan in the second went a break up, but Soderling broke back and held soon after in a marathon 20-points game. In the tenth Rafa served only a first serve out of the first six but had a game ball, vanished in the air because of his floundering backhand, that gave also Soderling the victory at his second match point.

Nadal's match confirmed the impression that the FO defeat signed the end of the first half in his career. After the injury, Nadal looked morphologically changed, thinner than before, and started playing shorter increasing the doubts on the real meaning of his injury. Not that I'm assuming it was a diplomatic stop: probably it was the signal of something deeper, the exterior appearence of years of behaviours, programmes, trainings that excessively incremented the muscular mass, more than his skeleton could afford. So, I mean, his tendons had to stand not only the blows of one of the most stressing sport for the knee articulation, but also bear a weight they were not programmed to keep up. And finally creacked, as happened to Ronaldo when he saw his knee breaking for the second time at the Olympic Stadium in Rome in the 2000 Italian Cup's first leg. The unnaturalness of his muscular construction seemed reinforced by the rapidity of his weight loss, not linear with the activity of an athlete who remained out for only two months before continuing playing with the same frequence as before.

But the weight forced him to move with a slightly reduced speed, not without consequences. Because the timing on the ball has changed, he arrives some fraction of second later than before and hasn't anymore the chance to develop the extreme rotations and the pronounced topspins that led him to obtain his greatest successes. He remains a champion, but he's no more a superhuman one.

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