#1 follows #2 and #3, headed for the exit; The Mess in Group A
November 24, 2011First Murray in 2 sets to Ferrer, then Rafa 3-6, 0-6 to Roger, now Joker 3-6, 1-6 to Ferrer, the Serb going out in a blaze of unforced errors sprayed wide and into the net (his unforced errors's totaled 33). By the end of the 2nd set, it looked like he was tanking. He certainly lacked energy and heart, and completed his 4th post US Open appearance as he had the previous three, when he lost badly (6-0 in the 3rd set to Nishikori in Basel), retired (after a set and a half in Davis Cup) or withdrew (in Paris). 1, 2 and 3 are clearly burnt out and not at their physical best, if (like Andy) they are not fighting injuries.
The MESS IN GROUP A
Unable to recover again from a 3 set match (with Berdych on Monday), Joker has to be considered a huge underdog against Tipsarevic on Friday, if Joker plays. If it weren't for some uncertainty about Tipsarevic's condition when he left the court after an awkward fall at the end today, I imagine Joker would withdraw and Nicolas Almagro (#10) would take his spot. But with a win Joker could qualify for the Final Four and another few hundred thousand pounds. That's enough money to make him show up, though if he were to win or qualify simply by playing (should Berdych later lose to Ferrer), there's no way Joker can put up a fight into the weekend. Berdych can only advance by beating Ferrer, the other qualifier from this group. Even then, should Joker win in 2 sets and Tomas need 3, the Serb would qualify from the Group A Mess.
FERRER'S straight set wins over Murray and Joker equal the number of wins he had over top 10 players this year (two). He will play Berdych in a match the Czech needs to guarantee his qualification in the unlikely event that Joker wins his third match. Berdych almost choked away his second consecutive match after serving for the match at 5-4 in a 3rd set tie-breaker, missing two first serves and erring as wildly first with his forehand as he did against Joker in a similar situation in the 3rd set tie-breaker. This time he was lucky: a Tipsarevic winning BH volley fell an inch wide of the alley on his match point, after which he went for too much on his 2nd serve and double-faulted. A Check Mate rarity: Tomas won 9 fewer points than Janko (who about matched him for aces, 8 and 9), and had a pitiful 46% 1st serving percentage (Janko managed 49%). With Ferrer's service return, if the Energizer has anything left (doubtful, of course, as he's also run out of gas in his last few events), Tomas may need to do better.
As promised, here's a simple math overview of where points came from in yesterday's Rafa loss to Roger, which may give you a quicker sense of what happened:
ROG (%) RAFA (%) Comments
Total Winners For 28 (52%) 4 (15%) A lot even for Rog in 15 games; low even for Rafa on hard
Opp's Unforced Errors 7 (13%) 8 (30%) Rare for Rog to have as few when neither have many
Points Won w/ Forced Errors 19 (35%) 15 (55%) Rog outplayed Rafa in their rallies, when Rafa could get
one started, which was maybe 1 in 3 points
Total Points For Each Player 54 100% 27 100% Rog won 67% of all points, tho he won barely 5 in the 3
games that Rafa held serve in the 1st set; Rafa won only
15 points in the 12 games he lost
Total Points Won on Serve 32/40 (80%) 19/41 (46%) Serving at 73% didn't help Rafa, who couldn't attack
soon enough or defend well enough on this surface
Total Points For in 2nd Set 24 9 Rafa won 15 points in the 12 games he lost
The match was over in 60 minutes, another rarity in their hard fought contests. Unlike Joker today against Ferrer, Rafa didn't mail this one in: he was stamped Obsolete by the man who knows his game best and can best exploit it on a fast, low bouncing surface.
The tables were turned earlier this year in Miami, when Rafa beat Roger 6-3, 6-2 in 79 minutes, winning 60% of their points.
ON CLAY their two matches this year went to extra sets, 3 in madrid, 4 in Paris. But for a drop shot that would have won him the first set had it been inches higher, Roger might have taken the French final to a 5th set.
Why would their matches on clay be reversing their previous trend and getting closer as Rog ages?
Perhaps Rafa's confidence this year was shaken in Paris after losing twice to Joker on clay, but the hard results suggest an alternate story. Perhaps after 28 matches on 13 different venue surfaces, they know all too well how to play each other on most occasions, so we'll see them take more advantage of their own strengths and the other's weaknesses relative to each specific surface. This can explain both closer encounters and more lop-sided ones.