Moving On from the Miami Finals: Are the Top Four Developing Feet of Clay?

JA AllenSenior Writer IApril 3, 2010

What can you say about the semifinal match Friday in Miami between Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick except that it emphasized the anomaly of the top four players in the world not winning on American hard courts?

They have not even come close—none of the top four in men’s tennis have made it to the finals so far in 2010 at the current Masters Series 1000 events—a place where they usually shine.

No. 4 Nadal, making it to two consecutive semifinals, has done better than No. 1 seed Roger Federer, who went out in the third round at Indian Wells and the fourth round in Miami. 

Novak Djokovic, the No. 2 ranked player, lost in the fourth round at Indian Wells and the second round in Miami. Whereas No. 3 Murray made it all the way to the quarterfinals at Indian Wells but found himself dismissed in the second round in Miami.

The Big Four are losing to players who normally would not be winning against such major talent. Even the top players would agree that their tennis is not producing stellar results. 

Not the kind of results that tournament directors and major network television executives applaud. So what is going on here? Maybe  a little regional favoritism as Andy Roddick has glimmered in the spotlight during two Masters finals in a row?

Nadal continues his title drought, with no tournament wins since Rome in 2009, almost a year ago. Just as Nadal lost his bid to make to the finals at Indian Wells to a hard serving, aggressive Ivan Ljubicic—this week it was Andy Roddick who dismissed the Mallorcan in three sets, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3. 

Roddick simply blew Nadal off the court with power serving and aggressive flat forehands and exemplary net play.

The first set and a half, Nadal seemed in complete control. But appearances proved to be deceptive because Roddick came back with his lethal service game and took it to Nadal, serving up 15 aces to Nadal’s six. Nadal broke Roddick’s serve once in the first set while Roddick broke Nadal’s serve three times, including the last game of the match. 

Roddick has been red hot of late while Nadal continues to smolder but never catch fire on the tennis court.

Tomas Berdych will be standing across the net from Roddick on Sunday afternoon. He dispatched Robin Soderling in the semifinals without much resistance, 6-2, 6-2. Soderling was strangely flat in this match. 

Berdych is still riding high from his defeat of World No. 1 Federer in the fourth round. It was his first win over the Swiss since the 2004 Olympics. Prior to their match in Miami, Federer had won eight straight matches. 

Flummoxed by this recent American slump, the World No. 1 remained unable to explain his inability to close out a match of late. 

According to Mr. Federer, the clay court season looks very pleasant since the hard court season post Australia has not been very good to the Swiss maestro.

In facing Soderling in the semifinals, however, Berdych had another problem to overcome. Berdych had lost five of his last six matches against the Swede and went into the match determined not to repeat this pattern. 

Berdych’s game plan relied on being more aggressive, keeping the points shorter, and not allowing the Swede to overpower him from the baseline. Sounds familiar doesn't it?

The strategy employed relied heavily upon Berdych being able to win his own service games and to strike the ball accurately without making unforced errors. This is exactly what the Czech was able to accomplish defeating Soderling in a little more than an hour.

On Sunday afternoon as Roddick now faces what some deem a “fragile” Berdych, is it in the cards for the American finally to win another Masters shield? His last one came in August of 2006 in Cincinnati. 

Berdych’s only Masters shield came in Paris in 2005.  Ironically, the man he defeated was Ljubicic in five tough sets. 

Both men have a real opportunity here not only to add another Masters Shield, but also to give themselves a leg up on the ATP rankings and their respective tennis fortunes for the remainder of 2010.

When Roddick reached the finals at Indian Wells against a “seasoned” Ljubicic, almost everyone picked the American to win. The Croat had another scenario in mind and held on 7-6, 7-6 to win the match by playing two excellent tie-breakers.

Most will also favor Roddick to defeat Berdych on Sunday but the Czech has a more potent serve than Nadal and he moves far better than Ljubicic. The Czech is also enjoying his own hot streak in 2010. The last time the two met was in the quarterfinals in San Jose when Roddick won 7-6, 7-6.

The win on Sunday will establish the 2010 champion at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. It will not, however, answer myriad questions about the mental state of the top four players in the world. 

Once clay becomes the requisite surface, we all suspect Nadal will reclaim his throne as King of the Clay. But what of Federer, Djokovic and Murray?  Will their games return and will they finally be ready to play the kind of tennis that gave them their perch in the tennis hierarchy? Stay tuned...

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