The semifinals — ATP during the afternoon, WTA at night under the lights — has an electric feel. On the men’s side, we’ve been following American Mardy Fish, and his match-up against Brit Andy Murray stirs the crowds. Murray won here in 2008, and Fish was a finalist last year (losing to Roger Federer), so each knows the glory (and the likely battle against the dominant Djokovic) awaiting. —-
Murray sets the standard with his strong service hold in the opening game (his final serve hit 135 on the radar gun). Fish counters with less power but sharp placement to hold, and during the next Murray service game he begins his now routine creeping approach during the first serve, which seems to get Murray’s attention (two double faults), although not enough to keep Murray from holding. In fact, it's Murray who breaks first, and that is all he would need to seize the first set. Fish rebounds as best he can from the break, but he is not as precise as he has been in previous matches, and Murray isn’t the kind of opponent who will give up too many loose points. (View Brian Taylor's photos here.)
The crowd, at key moments, does all it can to support Fish, as he and Murray battle through tough holds and breaks during the second set. An inevitable tiebreak results with great shotmaking from both players before Murray outlasts Fish (10-8) to take the set and the match.
The win launches Murray one step closer to what he hopes will be a solid tune-up for the U.S. Open, but it's Fish who gains because his summer record is one of sustained efforts to reach deeper into the draws and bolster his attack on the top seeds ahead on him in the rankings. He’s playing like he knows he can not only compete with but also beat any and all of them at any given time.
As expected, Novak Djokovic cruises into the finals here, after Tomas Berdych retires due to shoulder issues. Berdych soldiered through the first set, even breaking Djokovic early, but didn’t want to push the injury to the point that it would endanger his chances at the Open.
August 21, 2011: The Finals
Right from the start, lackluster play from Djokovic results in an early break for Murray. It appears that fatigue has set in for the world’s No. 1 playing his 59th match of the year (his record at 57-1 up to this point) with nine titles so far (Australian Open and Wimbledon Grand Slams and five ATP Masters 1000 titles — more than any player has ever won during a single year). Only John McEnroe, back in 1984, has ever had a better record (59-1 with nine titles as well) coming into this time of the season.
There are flashes of the brilliant tennis that we’ve come to expect during this phenomenal run, but more often than not Djokovic just looks dog-tired. He calls for the trainer and gets treatment on his right shoulder, but it is not enough to convince him that he can last beyond the first set, which he loses (6-4). And then the rain arrives, a downpour, that leaves us all wondering if he had waited to call his match, would he have gotten more treatment and continued.
During his press conference, though, Djokovic lays such thoughts to rest. He apologized to the fans and Murray profusely, but definitely would not have reconsidered his decision. The shoulder, which has plagued him for the last 10 days, more than the general fatigue he has experienced, could not be overcome, especially since he only has eight days to get ready for the final the U.S. Open.
“There’s no way I could beat a player like Andy (Murray) with only one stroke,” he confirmed.
He hasn’t had an extensive evaluation of the injury, but believes that with the time available he will be able to bounce back and compete at the appropriate level to win the Open.
We will see if he’s right, but this news and the results here bode well for Murray, the champion again and likely the strongest of the four top seeds heading to New York. It would seem that Murray won’t have a better opportunity to finally break through at a Grand Slam event, but he should beware because Mardy Fish and Gael Monfils are another couple of hungry sharks sniffing for blood in the water.
The women’s crown goes to fourth-seeded Maria Sharapova, the winner over No. 14 seed Jelena Jankovic. But Sharapova needed three sets to knock off Jankovic (4-6, 7-6, 6-3), and her achilles heel (her serve) remains a weakness capable of breaking her down completely at any time.
There doesn’t appear to be a clear favorite going into the U.S. Open for the women — Kim Clijsters has withdrawn due to injury — although that simply means that the odds tip towards Serena Williams, the winner in Toronto last week and a seeding problem for the tournament, since she has been out of the game most of the past year. She seems to be playing at her top 10 (top five, if truth be told) level, but can she be placed that far ahead of ranked players who have been competing throughout the season? And if not, who wants to meet up with her as a lower-ranked challenge in the early rounds?
Love and intrigue, anyone?