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Joker Discarded by Tipso; Factors in Upsets; Serena Destroys Maria; Roger Rocks on

Federer Remains as Top Seed

May 11, 2012 | 09:14 PM

After this latest upset - JOKER beaten 7-6, 6-3 (2) by #7 seed Tipsarevic - there is another nail in the coffin of Tiriac's tyrannical blue clay:

Novak Djokovic joined Rafael Nadal in declaring he won't play again on the new blue clay court at the Madrid Open. After he lost to Fernando Verdasco on Thursday, Rafa said he wouldn't return to the tournament unless it reverts to red clay.

''I want to forget this week as soon as possible and move on to the real clay courts,'' the top-ranked Djokovic said. ''Here you can't predict the ball bounce or movement. They can do whatever they want, but I won't be here next year if this clay stays.''

Azarenka agreed with Nadal and Djokovic in their criticism of the court.

''You feel unstable sometimes, actually, a lot of times,'' she said. ''But right now there is no point on talking about it. After the tournament, all the players can get together and discuss it.''

Perhaps the kindest thing a friend could do for Tiriac (if he has a friend left in Madrid) is to spray paint the surface red tonight (that's what would be done in Washington, while preparing a statement that the clay was never blue in the first place, but just a pigment of some politician's imagination).

Unlike Verdasco, Tipsarevic was not previously winless over or intimidated by his esteemed countryman. All 5 of their previous matches had been very competitive: including the one Tipso won at Barclay's in RR play last November when Joker was playing hurt, he had won 5 sets from Joker in 5 matches. After the match, Tipso saved his showed emotion for what may be a later, more important opportunity: a semi-final against Federer (with whom he's 0 and 4) and a chance to reach his first Masters 1000 final.

Roger seemed to take advantage of surface being an equalizer for him (negating the scrambling movement advantage most of his high ranked opponents now have on him), defeating Ferrer, 6-4, 6-4, with some help from his serving at 78% and 31 errors from his opponent (odds are David won't now have good things to say about the blue clay). David lost more points in his final service game (8) than Roger did in all 10 of his service games (6). Roger has lost only 3 sets to him in 13 matches.

Joker will not find it difficult to find positive things to say about the way his countrymen and Davis Cup team-mate played: Tipso fired more winners (30 to 23) and did more harm with his serve against the leading returner in the game, without giving up more errors. About the surface, he will spare no words: he was slipping around as others have, and sprinkling the court every 5 games has not improved the playability enough.

While Rafa does not mince words about anything lately, and may praise his countryman Verdasco, there is still an unanswered question about why he let a 5-2 lead slip in the 3rd set. The last 5 games of the 3rd set of his loss yesterday showcased a Verdasco too rarely seen, playing in the zone where errors are very few and winning groundstrokes flowed from the racquet past a helpless opponent. His forehand scored for more than twice as many winners as Rafa's, and the #2 made costly forehand errors early in several points in the final game -after getting first serves in play. It didn't look like the blue surface on Court Manolo Santana was responsible for his untimely errors, and Rafa didn't seem bothered by it as Tsonga and Dolgopolov clearly had been earlier. So what was up with that?

The 5-6 game on Rafa's serve encapsulated what happened:

- Rafa didn't miss a 1st serve, and served an ace and a service winner to even the point score to 30-30 after he dug a whole starting with a FH shank, and watched helplessly as a Verdasco cross court BH caught the corner to end a rally

- Verdasco scored with a cross court FH winner to earn a first match point, one of two that Rafa fought off before Nando finished off a short ball with a FH kill.

The question is: What allowed Nando to out-compete Rafa at his own game when had all but beaten him for the 14th time?

One possibility is that the relationship between the two men affected Rafa's ability to re-gain the momentum as he usually does in tight contests on clay. Rafa's glances across the net lacked the sneer he gives most opponents after they win a point in a tight moment - Rafa looked across the net, but with a blank expression, closer to wonder than worry or disdain (unlike other players, Rafa's first glance is not to his own box, but to his opponent, as if to dare them to do it again). His subtle strategy of intimidation usually works to add pressure to his opponents in close matches, as do Rafa's intensifying grunts and his slowing of his routines between points and serves. In spite of the heat in Madrid yesterday, Rafa's pace of play didn't slow appreciably toward the end (it was of course slow from the start: the match took 50 minutes longer than the 3 setter between Tsonga and Dolgopolov, which was 10% longer in games).

When the match was over, it was Verdasco who was filled with wonder, falling back to snow angel position on the blue dirt, where he lay for 30 seconds in disbelief, while Rafa waited patiently at the net with hand outstretched and his blank expression.

Unfortunately for Verdasco, his disbelief didn't evaporate before he took the court today with #6 seed Berdych, who allowed him just 1 point in 3 in a 6-1, 6-2 dismissal. Nando had won their last two meetings on clay, but is now just 4 and 10 with the Czech.

Berdych will face Del Potro in the semis, who defeated Dolgopolov for a 3rd time, 6-3, 6-4. Delpo has won his last three matches with Berdych in straight sets, including a most recent 6-3, 6-1 drubbing in Rotterdam.

Serena def. Maria 6-1, 6-3

It didn't take long and the loser didn't put up much of a struggle, winning only 40% of total points, 43% on her own serve (thanks in part to 8 double faults). Serena's success on blue clay may be another indictment of the surface or simply her reminding the world that - when she puts her mind to it - she runs over opponents regardless of the surface or the situation. Although Maria's power and lack of mobility aren't enhanced on clay, the same can be said of Serena's power (she's won only one of her 13 Majors on clay, Roland Garros in 2002, the first leg of her Serena Slam).

Serena takes on qualifier Lucie Hradecka, who beat Sam Stosur, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (8). The two have played once, in 2011, with Serena winning 6-3, 7-6. Lucie, now ranked 105, finished last year at #51.

In the other half, Azarenka beat qualifier Li Na 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, and faces Radwanska for the 6th time this year (she's won all 5, and lost only 12 games in the last 3, including a 6-1, 6-3 beating on clay in Stuttgart).


MANOLO SANTANA Start 10:45 am

[1] Victoria Azarenka (BLR) v [4] Agnieszka Radwanska

[Q] Lucie Hradecka (CZE) v [9] Serena Williams (USA)

Not Before 3:30 PM

[10] Juan Martin Del Potro v [6] Tomas Berdych (CZE)

Not Before 7:00 PM

[7] Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) v [3] Roger Federer (SUI)


Madrid ATP, WTA Results 5.11.12

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