Murray faces Nadal in his Toronto title defence campaign
It is the business end of the Toronto Masters and each of the top four seeds features in one of the quarter-finals.
Starting at the top, Rafael Nadal has had a pretty benign draw, reaching the action-packed Friday without meeting a seed. Little wonder he came through without losing a set.
At the quarter-final stage, Nadal also benefitted from Andy Roddick’s withdrawal with illness before the tournament. Instead of the big-serving American, Nadal faced a man he had beaten in all six of their previous meetings, another unseeded player, Philipp Kohlschreiber.
On paper, it looked as though the world No37 would cause Nadal little trouble. He is a tricky player who likes to mix things up. Indeed he has a very good-looking game and one of the best backhands -a beauty of a single-hander -in the business. But he has not won a tournament in two-and-a-half years, and has only two titles to his name.
As it turned out, Nadal was in for a shock as the German applied his attacking, forward-stepping tactics against the Spaniard, and it paid unexpected early dividends. Kohlschreiber broke Nadal in his very first service game, and kept the pressure on throughout the set to take it 6-3.
That lit the fire in Nadal’s belly, and he turned the tables in the second. The strut and the scowl returned -warning signs for every opponent -and he quickly broke Kohlschreiber. The quality of the German’s tennis remained high, but Nadal began to read it better, began to move better, and found his rhythm. He lost just two points on his own serve en route to a 6-3 second set.
Kohlschreiber, though, was not done. He held his own through the opening games of the third set and reached break point in the sixth game. But the backhand that had served him so well during the rest of the match produced a loose flyer, and the match turned. Nadal held serve and lifted his game another notch to break the German’s next service game to love. With a run of 10 points in a row, he hurtled to a 6-3 win.
Kohlschreiber did very little wrong. His backhand was powerful and penetrating throughout, he played some demanding drops and some sharp volleys, but Nadal’s game was simply too good. The rust of the first two rounds was gone, to be replaced by the sheen of polished chrome.
It was Nadal’s 50th win of the year, and takes him one step closer to his fourth consecutive Masters title of the year. Kohlschreiber may well have sharpened Nadal’s form to do just that.
Andy Murray’s quarter of the draw was rather more formidable. He met the No15 seed, Gael Monfils, in his second match, a seesawing affair of spectacular shot-making and court coverage that had the Frenchman spread-eagled on the blue surface more than once.
Murray, in a blizzard of unforced errors, lost the second set 6-0, but then began to cope admirably with the flamboyant antics of the Frenchman and refocused to take the match 6-3 in the third. That set up a highly-anticipated meeting with another unseeded quarterfinalist, but what an unseeded player.
David Nalbandian is arguably the form player of the moment, and came into this match on a career-best 11-match-winning streak that included wins over No12 David Ferrer and No5 Robin Soderling.
But 11 matches in the space of less than a fortnight, for a man only just working back to fitness after surgery and injury, at last started to take their toll.
The pressure applied by a Murray coming into prime form drew more unforced errors than usual from the Argentine. In a really positive development, Murray played with great attack, chased down drop shots, and fired off acutely-angled ground strokes of terrific speed and accuracy. It was an impressive performance against such a tactically clever player.
The scoreline of 6-2, 6-2 belied the quality of Nalbandian’s contribution to a fast-paced, attractive match. The upside to his loss is that it will give him a few days’ rest and recuperation before the next big test at the Cincinnati Masters. And if the Argentine can find another decent run there, he may gain enough ranking points to get him a valuable US Open seeding.
For the time being, though, Murray’s defence of his Canadian title and his No4 ranking looks pretty convincing. He will concede both, however, if he fails to reach the final, and in his way stands ruthless Rafa. It will be match to relish if both men turn up with the form they showed in their quarters.
The other half of the draw will take to the courts for the night session. In the bottom quarter, Novak Djokovic has faced an even more straightforward draw than Nadal, and has yet to face a seed. His quarter-final is against No72 Jeremy Chardy, a man he has beaten in all four previous meetings. It should be cakewalk in the cooler evening conditions.
The dirty end of the stick has been handed to Roger Federer in the final quarter, for he faces one of the toughest men in the draw and one of the outside chances for the US Open, world No7 Tomas Berdych. This is the man who stopped Federer in the quarters of Wimbledon and the third round of the Miami Masters. He will provide a real measure of where the Federer game is after his six-week break from the circuit. Pistols at dawn: anyone’s game.