Djokovic fights through again, but have we found the heir to Ferrer?
When Djokovic met Pablo Carreno Busta in the final match of the day on Court Ranier III few would have predicted a contest as tight as the one that unfolded in the fading light. Considering that in the pair's only previous meeting, three years ago on the same court, Carreno Busta came away with just one game, the Spaniard could only improve. In the first set, however, Djokovic proved too good, pulling away after breaking Carreno Busta’s serve in the sixth game of the match. Carreno Busta’s serve would be broken again, allowing the Serb to win the set a comfortable 6 games to 2. When Djokovic moved up an early break in the second set, few would have predicted what came next.
As conditions slowed and the sun sank behind the stands, Carreno Busta’s challenge came alive, and he reeled off five straight games to move into a 5-2 lead. Djokovic contributed to his own downfall, failing to convert two break points after being broken for the second time in the set, which would have restored parity, and he also failed to turn game points into holds on more than one occasion. Despite that, the tenacity of Carreno Busta’s defence pushed the Serbian into making mistakes, and although Djokovic recovered one break, Carreno Busta was able to see out the set.
In the third Djokovic looked to reassert himself in the match, getting the first break in the sixth game with some heavy hitting, however Carreno Busta broke back straight away. He then forced two break points on the Djokovic serve at 4 games-all, and should have done better with a mid-court backhand. Then when serving to stay in the match Djokovic stepped up the pressure once again, and Carreno Busta finally crumbled, handing Djokovic a 6-2 4-6 6-4 victory.
Djokovic deserves credit for battling through slow conditions that helped his opponent, and again showing the fighting spirit that made him so hard to beat in the past. Form will almost certainly continue to come back for the 12-time Grand Slam champion if he can maintain the excellent spirit he has shown so far in Monte Carlo. However, it is his opponent Carreno Busta that will have earned the respect of his opponent for his dogged resistance. His defence was impeccable, scrambling all over the court to keep Djokovic at bay, and whilst he lacks one major weapon, his use of depth and angles was enough to score him a fair number of winners. It was a performance that his countryman David Ferrer would have been proud of. Sadly the ravages of time appear to have caught up to the once-tireless Ferrer, his ranking now sits at 33 in the world. None the less it is a fine thing to see the popular Spaniard’s legacy continued by one of his younger countrymen.
On a day of upsets, Rafa Nadal brushes the would-be usurper aside
Not for nothing is Rafael Nadal called the King of Clay, and even if his famous forehand has lost some of its venomous potency it remains a weapon to be feared - and his backhand and movement aren’t bad either. So young Alexander Zverev discovered on his twentieth birthday as Nadal crushed him for the loss of two games, in a disappointing affair that many had high hopes for. Those high hopes were not unfounded, as in their first match at last year's Indian Wells Zverev came within one missed volley of downing the great Spaniard, and he pushed him to five sets at thisyear'ss Australian Open, before cramps ended his challenge. However on the clay courts of a tournament Nadal has won nine times, including last year's edition, Rafa took no prisoners. Zverev was given no opportunity to settle into the match, being broken in just his second service game, and his every mistake was punished. Zverev will be disappointed with his performance, performing well below par, but Nadal was in no mood to be defied and even had Zverev turned in a better performance it is hard to imagine that he could have emerged with the victory.
Instead, Nadal marches on to the quarterfinals with an excellent performance to give him encouragement. His opponent Diego Sebastian Schwartzman, the diminutive Argentinian, has been playing some fine tennis this week, but with Nadal in this sort of form he will almost certainly prove too much for Schwartzman. Indeed it is hard to see who can stop the Spaniard at the moment, except for his old nemesis lurking in his half of the draw. If Nadal does indeed triumph over Schwartzman and Djokovic overcomes the challenge of David Goffin, a mouth-watering semi-final will be at hand.
Wawrinka and Murray undone to breath opportunity into the top half of the draw
Both Murray and Wawrinka are having mixed seasons. Murray has won just one title in Dubai, and has suffered a number of disappointingly early exits, including in Australia (losing to Zverev in the 4th round) and Indian Wells (losing to Pospisil in the 2nd round). Wawrinka has been marginally more consistent, making the semi-finals in Australia and the final at Indian Wells, but he lost on both occasions to Roger Federer and many feel he should have turned in better performances, particularly in Indian Wells. In short, neither man’s season has really begun yet, and that wait will go on after Albert Ramos Vinolas defeated Murray in three sets, and Pablo Cuevas downed Wawrinka in straights.
The manner of Murray’s defeat will be particularly disappointing to the British World no.1. Ramos Vinolas played well, but when Murray won the first set he would have expected to press on and control the match. Whilst letting that lead slip is forgivable, losing a third set 7-5, when he had been up 4-0 to a lower ranked player, is less so. I said on Day 3 that Murray must improve his focus; he failed to do so and paid the price against an admittedly inspired Ramos Vinolas, who to his credit played extraordinarily well. Even so, if Murray wishes to be World no.1 in more than name, he must find a way to win big events consistently, something that has escaped him throughout his career, save in the final months of last year when he put together the run that took him to the top spot. Thus far, however, it is not a tag he appears to wear easily.
Wawrinka too will be unhappy to have exited the tournament early, particularly when Murray’s defeat in the match immediately preceding his made his potential route to the final that much easier. Unfortunately for the Swiss, he ran into a Cuevas in inspired form. The Uruguayan was willing to trade backhand to backhand with Wawrinka, and his boldness paid off. He also utilised his forehand down the line to devastating effect, and came away with the straight sets victory. With both of the top seeds eliminated from the top half of the draw the chance now presents itself for a lesser name to progress to the final. With Cuevas’ clay court nous and good form, don’t rule the Uruguayan out from appearing in the showpiece. The more experienced Marin Cilic, champion in Cincinnati last year, and talented young Frenchman, Lucas Pouille, a two-time major quarterfinalist are probably safer bets, but Cuevas will doubtless now be full of self belief. One thing's for certain, the draw is open.
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