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They called these semis right

Barcelona, Stuttgart go to form


April 29, 2012 | 09:18 AM

Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell MEN's Semis

RAFA over Nando was as big a no-brainer as you'll ever find in a men's semis: for the 13th time in 13 matches, Rafa won 6-0, 6-3. Verdasco won this event 2 years ago when Rafa didn't play, so it's not like he's Andy Roddick on clay (Andy never would have been in a semis). Rafa's won 33 matches in a row there since winning it the first of 6 times in 2005.

Ferrer v Raonic was trickier to call.

Milos has been only a .500 player on clay who wasn't attracting attention until Friday when he beat the upset prone Scot, but is making his home in Monte Carlo and training in Barcelona with Galo Blanco to learn The Spanish Way, a luxury his home land Canada allows him (note: if he did that as a US player, he'd be disallowed from playing for his flag - one of many self-limiting factors imposed by the USTA; if they can't take credit for a player's development, they don't want them, at least until they reach the top 10). With a name like Raonic, the Montenegro-born Canadian may have red dirt running in his vast circulatory system, and for a big man, his movement on clay doesn't look uncomfortable. Nor are his weapons much blunted on clay: yesterday he hit 15 aces in 2 sets, and pounded forehand winners off returns from anywhere near the baseline, earning 4 break chances against the #3 seed. Unfortunately for him, the sets went to tie-breakers without a break, which commentators noted was what the Spaniard would hope for as his best shot. Ferrer's consistency and experience paid off, as he took the first breaker 7-3 and the second 7-5.

David had seen 7 break opportunities in the match, including 3 at 0-40 in the first set when Milos' errors had piled up, but the cool-headed Canadian hadn't been undone by his own bonehead mistakes and poor play at the net. Even his drop shot that looked like a shot lob (and was put away as such) didn't seem to bother him. This is a man who, like Sampras, can barely crack a smile when he scores an upset (even after the hand shake with Andy, one wasn't caught on camera), and as much emoting as you'll see is him slapping his hip once. More important comparisons to Pete are made: besides his serve and his forehand, it his nerve under pressure that destines him for the top. From 0-40, he went for his shots - and made them. Milos is still a little green for the head table, but you can hear his chair pulling closer up. Last year he won 4 games against David in Monte Carlo. This year he was 2 points from evening the match and taking over the driver's seat. We may hear more from him this spring.

I wish I could say that the final between Rafa and David - starting momentarily - held more interest than the semis with Verdasco, but while the tennis should be better, the outcome is not in doubt.

The more interesting final today will be in Stuttgart, where Azarenka plays Sharapova in the 3rd big final this year. This one is on LIVE at 2pm on the Tennis Channel. Turn your sound down, relax, and enjoy whatever else you're doing to keep occupied.

Here's how they got there.

Stuttgart Porsche Tennis Grand Prix (surface: indoor clay; prize money: who cares if you win a 911 Carrera S?)

The women's game seems to be finding a center again: the top 4 actually reached the semis in one place, and #1 and 2 won! Not only. In the 2 hour semi-final between Sharapova and Kvitova, there were only 3 service breaks (Maria, Maria!) - toll, as they sprechen auf Deutsch [rough translation: groovy]. Maria won 6-4, 7-6 (3), fighting off 10 break points in the 2nd set before losing the 11th and necessitate a breaker. She faces Azarenka in the final, as she did in Melbourne and Indian Wells. Vika blitzed her Polish punching bag, the pleasant, soft-spoken starlet, Aggie Radwanska, 6-1, 6-3, for a 5th time this year. Aggie's a good sport, and only wishes she'd draw a top seed she can beat in her half.

Question is: will Serena be able to upset this equilibrium when she resumes tournament competition this spring?

A hunch: no. Or is that a wish? I'll take the screaming: this bunch doesn't complain when they lose, threaten lines people when they lose it, or boast when they win. And while it was in a way entertaining to have a different winner in every major, it's nice to see favorites who can sustain a streak into a major and - perhaps - defend a major title.

Rick

ATP, WTA results, preview, 3.28.12


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