If you haven't heard the news, well I guess you don't follow on Facebook or Twitter...and for that, shame on you. In any event, Blacklabel Tennis is taking on the Spanish clay swing this spring this swing and we kicked off today in Barcelona. We've posted a raft of our best shots on our Facebook page already, but we've saved some exclusives for you after the jump. Plus here's the only place for our quick commentary on the day.
Basking in the glow of his home crowd, Rafael Nadal played a helluva match against the World No. 8 Janko Tipsarevic. He swept past the Serb 6-2, 6-2 and into the semifinals. While it was a strong performance from Nadal, believe it or not, he doesn't seem at quite the level of dominance we've seen from him in years past on this surface. Remember, in the 2010 Monte Carlo Masters final, he embarrassed Fernando Verdasco, his next opponent here, 6-0, 6-1. Trust me, Verdasco remembers.
Yes, we saw a few questionable moments From Nadal, such as giving up the break early in the second set, and more troubling going in deep holes in a few games (0-30, 0-40) only to bail himself out with a seemingly (re)improved serve. That said any time you can hold a fellow (seemingly healthy) top ten player to just four games, you'll shunt the questions aside and state the obvious: Nadal was more than good enough on the day.
I've been tweeting this ad nauseum since the clay season started, but here it is again. Andy Murray's not the clay monster everyone seems to think he is or could be. He is 40-27 all-time on clay and has never reached a final on the surface. His terre battue record is not horrible by any means, but at .591, his career clay record is by far his worst (.778 on hard, .803 on grass). For the record, a clay-allergic Pete Sampras ended his career .625 on clay. Look, I know the commentators love telling that story about how a young Nadal encouraged a young Murray to leave Scotland and train on the Spanish clay. I know Murray's the most pure defender at the top of the men's game and this surface tends to reward counterpunchers, but...this red stuff (or blue stuff in the capital city) is just not in his blood.
Murray's too good a player to ever count out, but I think we all need to start coming to terms with the fact that Murray's best chance to win a major is not going to be at Roland Garros, but probably at home in Britain...just don't tell the British tabloid press that please. If they hadn't ratcheted up the pressure so much, he might have done it already...oh wait, Federer, Rafa, scratch that, maybe not.
Milos Raonic continues to make waves, ranked 24th with a bullet, he's now the No. 3 ranked (North) American...what, too much? In any event, to date, Raonic has never been to a final off of hardcourts. Well, after his upset of Andy Murray, he's one match from doing so on the Barcelona clay. Nope, I wouldn't have predicted this after he lost to Albert Montanes in the first round of Monte Carlo either, but here he is, bombing away like John Isner on the clay.
Without jumping to conclusions about who this kid might be in five years, let's say who he is this week. This is a kid (OK, a 21 year old man), who is winning matches on a surface he's not supposed to win on (clay) against players he's not supposed to beat (Almagro, Murray) and facing a seemingly injured David Ferrer in the semifinal. As Stephanie Myles of Open Court fame is fond of saying, it's a long road to the top of the tour and anything can happen...but forget about the future, Maple Leaf Milos is keeping things exciting (beyond the Big Four) right now.
Sometimes you just feel it coming, the inevitable collapse. Maybe I've watched too much tennis, or played too much mediocre tennis myself, but man if I didn't feel Feliciano Lopez about to fall apart even before dropped the second set to David Ferrer today. First of all, the two players careers seem to be opposites. It's widely believed that Ferrer squeezed every ounce of potential out of his body, while it's widely proposed that Lopez woulda, coulda, shoulda been better than he has been. That narrative was essentially the story of the day for the two.
Lopez took the first set in a tiebreak, playing some of the best tennis we've seen from him since...ever, and just generally outclassing Ferrer, who we hear is still struggling with a shoulder injury. Lopez held three match points in the second set, and gave them all back, including a string of three consecutive errors to dump the second set tiebreak and you just knew....or at least I did. From that moment especially, there seemed no way back for the man who had seemed the better player through the match to that point. Dejected? Yeah, that's a good word for it. The best players keep coming after those letdowns though. Witness the way Andy Murray, dead to rites, 4-5 down in the second set on the Raonic serve pushed the big man back, broke him to 5-all and pushed all the way to a tiebreak, forcing the Canuck to beat him if he wanted to go further. Raonic rose to the challenge; Lopez sank to it, complaining about the grounds crew watering the court before the third set. He was gone...it was clear. As a veteran, that's a lesson we would have hoped he'd have learned by now. As long as he's still playing, there's still time.
I was going to end this piece with a comparison of the Barca tournament and my home event, the US Open. but I decided against that, the events are vastly different and they should be. I will however say, if you're planning to attend, have yourself a good meal beforehand, lest you find yourself reaching for these as your best on-site lunch option.