Madrid Masters 2011: Murray out as Del Potro withdraws
Two more big names head to the exit in Madrid as injury claims Del Potro and Murray crashes out
Clearly there has not been enough excitement for tennis fans in Madrid this week.
Roger Federer facing a match point in a three-hour battle of wits in his opening match was not enough.
Eight of the 16 seeds beaten before round three was insufficient. And the home nation’s 12 men reduced to just four by round three was too insignificant. More shocks were required and, ahead of the quarter-finals, they arrived.
The first -and the most disappointing for the fans -was the withdrawal of Juan MartÃƒÂn del Potro with injury before the day had started.
It was a shock because the Argentine had sustained the hip injury in his opening match against No13 seed, Mikhail Youzhny, but after extensive on-court treatment and a lost set, he had taken the third set and the match.
His success continued with a win over Marin Cilic for the loss of just three games in one hour, and all seemed well. His next match-up with Rafael Nadal was the talk of the airwaves.
Del Potro may have lost to Nadal at Indian Wells in the early stages of the Argentine’s return to form, but in their three previous meetings, including the US Open in 2009, Del Potro was the victor. But the rematch will have to wait.
If the injury is slight, a rest ahead of the French Open may be priceless. Prior to Madrid, Del Potro had played more matches than any of the top six men and won two titles, the most recent in Estoril last week.
If the injury is serious, it will be a heavy blow indeed to the gentle giant from Tandil and to a tennis tour that anticipated his re-entry to the top 10 later this year.
For Nadal, a pass through the toughest opponent in his quarter to the semis without facing a seed must be the icing on the cake to the man who is already hot favourite for the Madrid title.
There looked to be another shock for Federer, too, when a second adversary from junior days, Xavier Malisse, took over where Feliciano LÃƒÂ³pez had left off. Both men burst from the blocks, but Federer got off to a quick lead, 3-0, as he had done against LÃƒÂ³pez. But Malisse quickly found his timing and began returning the Federer serve and forehands with interest to break back in the seventh game.
Federer looked on in bewilderment at some of the bullets fired past him but he responded in kind, finding more speed, a few drops shots and another break to serve out 6-4.
Again -just as LÃƒÂ³pez had done -Malisse attacked still more aggressively but Federer also kept upping the pace and variety. He snatched a break opportunity in the sixth game to go 4-2, only to find Malisse attacking his serve in return. It was an illusion, but the court appeared to be playing faster with every passing minute.
It took Federer an hour and 10 minutes to finally subdue Malisse, 6-3, but it was a high quality, high pace match that belied the very even stats: 19 winners versus 20, and 12 unforced errors versus 14.
Federer now faces Robin Soderling, whose one victory over the Swiss came at Roland Garros last year: He is a dangerous opponent on fast clay. However, the shock from the Swede has come off court, with the separation from his coach of only five months, Claudio Pistolesi. Already, though, Soderling’s profile is showing Fredrik Rosengren -the man who formerly handled Mario Ancic -as his new coach.
A case of musical Ã¢â‚¬Ëœcoaching’ chairs or did the retirement of Ancic two months back open the way for the quick change? And will Rosengen be the key to a third successive Roland Garros final for Soderling?
For less shocking headlines, the media only has to turn to Novak Djokovic, though headlines stream from him at every turn.
In his latest match against No29 Guillermo Garcia-LÃƒÂ³pez, Djokovic lost just three games in 51 minutes, and in the process he equalled Ivan Lendl’s milepost of 29 successive wins at the start of a season. Only Bjorn Borg (33) and John McEnroe (42) have started a year better, and Djokovic is not beaten yet.
He does, though, now face one of the toughest clay court men in the draw in David Ferrer, who played like a man possessed against Sergiy Stakhovsky.
The Spaniard did not drop a single point on serve in the opening set and, although the Ukrainian put up a sterling fight in the second, only a charging bull could have stemmed the Ferrer drive as he powered through the second set tie-break, 7-3.
And so to the biggest shock of the day, the loss of Andy Murray to Thomaz Bellucci, a tall, left-handed, big hitter but a temperamental player. However, the combination of his favourite surface and the fast conditions of Madrid combined perfectly to give extra impetus to his powerful serve and forehand.
Murray had break point chances but failed in all three attempts while Bellucci converted all three of his. The Brazilian grew in confidence as he found the legs to pick up the Murray’s drop shots and to stay with Murray in rallies.
There were interesting parallels with the Federer/Malisse match. In that, the superior seed stood his ground in the face of powerful serving and ground strokes and attacked from the baseline and the front of the court.
Murray, in contrast, adopted a defensive stance in the face of a similar bombardment, and spent more and more time three metres behind the baseline. Such tactics give an attacking opponent confidence, and the normally unpredictable Bellucci stayed consistent and focused for a deserved 6-4 6-2 win.
Murray, playing in his first tournament since injuring his wrist in Monte Carlo, expressed disappointment but not great concern. Clay is not his favourite surface and he is still finding his feet on the red stuff.
So next stop Rome, and hopes for a recovery of the form he showed against Nadal in Monte Carlo -before his elbow let him down.