The venues could not be more different, nor could home-grown favorites who have been setting their fans alight there. But both David Ferrer and Roger Federer raised the roof at their respective tennis arenas when they took center stage in Valencia and Basel.
Their names have become almost synonymous with these November events.
Spaniard Ferrer is not only one of his country’s most respected and liked players, he is joint-owner of the Valencia tournament which was inaugurated last year amidst the spectacular modern architecture of the Valencia City of Arts and Science.
Basel-born Federer learned his tennis down the road from the St. Jakobshalle tennis centre, was once a ball-boy there and has won the event three times. The venue is soon to be renamed after Basel’s most famous son.
So it could not have been a better semifinal line-up for a pair of ATP 500s that, coming at the tired end of the season, usually draw only the most committed fans and media.
Both events have also played to perfection their roles in the build-up to the World Tour Finals, with super Saturday destined to reshuffle the pieces on the leader board.
Ferrer kept the Spanish cauldron burning nicely from his position at eighth in the race to London: He needed to reach the final to gain valuable extra points for his cause. Meanwhile, Andy Roddick, playing his semi against Federer, sat one place higher than Ferrer at seven, so he too was bidding to hold off the challenges of the other three men in contention for London.
However, both men faced a mammoth task: Ferrer against the formidable second seed, Robin Soderling, and Roddick against the man who had beaten him 19 times in their 21 meetings. Indeed the Federer-Roddick back-story could fill the pages of the weightiest of tomes.
Their very first meeting in 2001 was in Basel, and they met there again in 2002. This, their third Basel encounter, would mark the 10th consecutive year in which they have met on the ATP circuit and be their first match since the momentous 2009 Wimbledon final.
Despite their long history, both have maintained a consistently high standard. Federer has 64 titles—more than any other active player. He has reached semifinals or better 11 times this year, has played in seven finals and won three titles. He had not so much as faced a break point prior to the Basel semi.
Roddick, for his part, has 29 titles—third amongst active players. He has made seven semis or better this season, reached four finals and won two titles. He reached the Basel semi without losing a set and led the tournament with 37 aces.
But as has so often been the case, the Roddick serve proved to be less of a weapon against Federer than against almost any other player. He managed not one in the first set and only four during the match, while Federer—with less pace but pin-point placement—scored 13.
The ease with which Federer seemed to read the Roddick serve forced the American’s first serve percentage down to just 55 in the first set and, as if that was not problem enough, the Swiss played almost fault-free tennis. He ran to an early lead of 3-0, and when faced with his first break point of the tournament, he attacked the net to hold. He went on to break the hapless Roddick a second time with a piercing cross-court pass and took the first set 6-2.
It was then Federer’s turn to lose his opening service game with a couple of wayward forehands. But just as Roddick seemed to find some more solid tennis, Federer broke back to level at 3-3. As if to rub salt into the wound, he served a love game to lead 5-4 and, after just over an hour, broke Roddick again with a whipped forehand pass to take the match 6-4.
Federer thus became only the sixth player in the last 30 years to score 20 wins over a single rival—hardly a record Roddick will want to remember.
Federer now heads into a highly-anticipated final against a much newer rival, Novak Djokovic, who recovered from three set points down against fellow Serb Viktor Troicki to win a match of flamboyant tennis, 7-6, 6-4.
Djokovic and Federer have met 17 times, and this will be their fourth match of the year. The previous three have been high-quality, nip-and-tuck affairs, and this promises to be the same. Federer will be out to regain "his" title, having lost to Djokovic in Basel in last year’s final. However, the Serb is looking every inch the defending champion, and he appears to be enjoying his tennis more with every passing week. He will not give up Basel easily.
Meanwhile, back in Spain, Ferrer was playing blood-and-guts tennis—the only sort he knows—to overcome a 3-8 head-to-head deficit against the big Swede who beat him only last month in Shanghai.
At a set apiece, and a break apiece in the third, Ferrer drew renewed intensity of purpose from the cheering crowd to break again for a 4-2 lead and continued to attack relentlessly to serve out the match 6-3. His reward, if he goes on to win the title, would be to leapfrog Roddick in the race to London.
However, the Valencia crowd still had more fervor to expend, and the second semifinal filled their cup to overflowing. For playing the unseeded Frenchman, Gilles Simon, was the unexpected lucky loser, Marcel Granollers, who happens to be Spain’s 11th ranked player.
Ranked at only 67 in the world, Granollers has just one title to his name, and Valencia was just his second semifinal of the season. But the Spaniard’s tennis was worthy of a top 10 player, and his all-court shot-making, tactical brilliance and resourceful defense put even the defender par excellence Simon in the shade.
Granollers will be the underdog against Ferrer in Valencia’s final, but both men seem capable of giving blood, sweat and tears to their home fans. They might even produce a tennis match to rival the one between the world's No. 2 and No. 3 in Basel.
What is certain is that the people of Valencia and Basel will each be in fine voice for their home heroes.