I'm here at semifinal Saturday in Cincinnati, which ESPN's Chris Fowler has been calling "the dream semifinals" non-stop since last night...and why not? It features the top four players in the world: Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic. It also features a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup (Federer vs. Murray), a rare (perhaps unprecedented?) occurrence in a semifinal. I'll be blogging periodically throughout the day.
Novak Djokovic quotes
"I have to be very pleased with the way I played. This has been one of the best matches in the season so far. It came in the great moment just before the US Open."
On playing a night match before an afternoon final: "Yeah, that's unfortunate side of today's match. But I'm not thinking about that in this moment. I'm just pleased to get into the finals, and then I hope I can recover physically and perform as well as I did tonight tomorrow."
On the rumor that he and Nadal were going to play doubles together in Cincinnati: "Yeah, that's true. Unfortunately he wasn't ready physically to play singles and doubles, so he just decided to play singles. Maybe we have chance in the future."
Rafael Nadal quotes
"He played really good with very good intensity during all the match. But I think this match gonna be a good experience for me right now to try to be in this step in the US Open. My feeling on court was he always was in the middle the court and I was always outside, two meters behind the baseline. I think I wasn't 100% ready to play at this step. I know when I am playing well I can play at this level. But these matches, you only can win the matches against these top players at your best tennis."
On his U.S. Open expectations: "You never know. I expect play really well and try to win. That's what I expect, no? I am happy for everything: happy to be here and happy to be more ready for the US Open than what I expected before came to this American tour."
8:45 - Djokovic beats Nadal 6-1, 6-4; not at all what I expected. Djokovic played BY FAR his best match of the week and was just ruthless from the baseline. He kept Nadal on the defensive throughout the entire match, and it didn't help Nadal that he was far from at his best (too many unforced errors, too many balls short in the court). Djokovic did whatever he wanted to do all night long.
6:45 - Kubot and Marach are done practicing. We're 15 minutes away. Weather is good and very cool. Time to go down to courtside.
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5:50 - Djokovic has had enough. Now time for a casual practice session for Kubot and Marach before everything heats back up again in one hour.
5:20 - After some serious rain, the court is dry thanks in part due to sun must mostly due to squeegees. Djokovic is just beginning a practice session, for the moment with coach Marian Vajda.
Roger Federer quotes
"I was always looking to make the plays, and I think in the end I deserved to win just because I wasn't scared to go after my shots. It was just overall a very good performance."
"Winning or losing for me against Murray is not the key here. For me, it's about playing well and trying to win the tournament, not the player. So I'm not going to change my tune saying, 'Now this is gonna put me as a massive favorite for the U.S. Open and now Andy is not gonna beat me next time.' That's not true."
On who he wants to play tomorrow: "I'd like to play Rafa just because he's been hurt. It's always nice seeing a guy back at the top right away again.... I hope he's feeling well now. At the end of the day, he's a great player and an unbelievable competitor. Of course I would like to play him. He's still got some work to do. I'm there already waiting. Maybe it's gonna happen."
"Sure, Rafa has caused more problems in the past, but I also played him about, I don't know, 12 to 13 times on clay which didn't help my head-to-head. I've had better matches with Rafa than with Novak in the past."
Andy Murray quotes
On his botched challenge in the second-set tiebreaker: "I looked at the mark and I knew it was in, so I knew I had lost the point."
"I thought that was a pretty good effort, because that was not one of my best performances. I was just happy that I managed to keep it close in the second, because I returned poorly and served poorly. Against Roger, if you do both of those things, it's gonna be very, very difficult."
An interesting one here: "If you let Roger play well, then he's very, very difficult to beat." Elaborating on that, Murray explained, "He was going for his shots because I was leaving the ball in the middle of the court. I did that a little bit in the U.S. Open (last year), too."
On why he didn't play his best: "I had a long couple of weeks. I played--this was my ninth match in, I don't know, 13, 14 days. Every single match I played in the heat of the day. Every one of them. Not one day did I get to play a night match."
On how he feels before the U.S. Open: "It's been perfect preparation for the U.S. Open. I'll go there this evening or tomorrow and rest up for a couple days and train hard before it starts."
4:30 - The sky is just about pitch black right now. Almost looks like it is night-time. Would be a good time rain right now, since we have three hours in between matches.... And there it is. It's absolutely pouring. Good thing Federer saved that set point in the second and didn't go to a third!
4:15 - Federer just finished up his press conference and (presumably) will leave through an absolutely massive crowd hanging out by the players entrance (or in this case, "exit"). For obvious reasons, he was in by far the best mood I have ever seen him in at a press conference.
Will post all the notable quotes later. One quote to note now is that he said he wants to play Nadal in the final.
3:45 - Federer beats Murray 6-2, 7-6(8). Federer was brilliant throughout, and after a dismal first set, Murray raised his level to take the second into a tiebreaker. Aside from two mental meltdowns (stopping a point to challenge and double-faulting on match point), Murray was in it the whole time and had chances to take it to a third.
Murray was not in a good mood most of the time (of course he rarely is on the court). Offered multiple expletives to his coach at various times and also berated himself for not moving well (often hit his legs with either his hands or his racket). One annoyed exchange between the two players took place late in the second set when Federer told Murray to wait for a second before serving, then Murray (annoyed) asked what the deal was, then Federer (even more annoyed) explained that a ball-boy was still in the process of retrieving a ball.
1:45 - Time to go watch Roger Federer vs. Andy Murray from courtside. Will update after the match, possibly after the first set.
1:35 - Still 25 minutes till gametime and the area around the players entracne onto the court is already a near mob scene. Grounds crew is setting up the net and getting the court ready, camera and TV people are setting up shop courtside. I wonder if Fowler will be doing courtside commentary today or if Brad Gilbert will be back. Hopefully it's Gilbers; he's probably more entertaining to sit near and listen to his banter.
1:15 - Nestor and Zimonjic handle Knowles and Bhupathi without too much trouble; 6-4, 6-3. Knowles and Bhupathi got an early break back in the second set, but Nestor and Zimonjic were on fire the rest of the way. Good portion of the crowd retreats to the player entrance, waiting for Nadal to arrive at the tennis center. Still 45 minutes from Federer vs. Murray.
12:07 - Doubles semifinal begins. This is going to be awesome and worth going down courtside for (which I will do after the first set), but for now this is a good time to make some semifinal singles predictions. So here it goes:
Federer over Murray 6-4, 3-6, 6-3
Nadal over Djokovic 7-6(4), 6-2
Anyone else have any fearless predictions?
11:55 - Federer and Kubot wrap things up and head out. The fans--still in masses--of course don't get any autographs this time either; after all, Federer can't sign any because the first doubles semifinal starts immediately. Five seconds after Federer exits (along with mass exodus of fans), Knowles, Nestor, Bhupathi, and Zimonjic enter the stadium. Let's hope for the fans' own sake that they realize there is also doubles going on today, because this current match especially should be amazing.
11:30 - Fans have been congregating--bigtime--by the player entrance into stadium court for 30 minutes (ever since Knowles concluded his practice at 11:00) and finally Federer emerges for his warmup session. Let's hope the fans were there simply for close-up glimpses and/or pictures, because they are certainly not going to get autographs BEFORE a practice. Of course, anyone who was at Federer's quarterfinal win over Hewitt and wanted an autograph, almost certainly got one. I've never seen someone sign autographs for so long after a match. Good stuff from Federer.
Federer is practicing with...LUKASZ KUBOT. I bet 95 percent of the fans currently watching this practice session think Kubot is a random practice partner or maybe a University of Cincinnati player. Not so much. Kubot, known by some for reaching the Belgrade final before losing to Novak Djokovic, is actually having a great week in Cincinnati. He qualified for the singles main draw (lost to Jose Acasuso) and is still alive in doubles. He and partner Oliver Marach play the Bryan Brothers tonight.
11:00 - I'm on the grounds and there's an electric feeling even though it's not exactly packed yet (three hours until Federer vs. Murray, but only one hour until a blockbuster doubles semifinal featuring Nestor and Zimonjic vs. Bhupathi and Knowles. A legion of fans is congregating by the player entrance to the tennis center (as usual), presumably awaiting the arrival of Federer.
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