Day ‘Festival’ Of Tennis Was Served

Novak…As Ferrer, Djokovic win double-header ‘thrillers’

It was indeed a double dose of the best tennis has to offer in terms of fierce and unforgiving contest in the early hours of yesterday (Nigerian time), when four die-hard sluggers, armed with tennis racquets, all vying for the last two slots in the Men’s Singles semi-finals, contested their respective quarter-final matches as if their lives depended on the outcome of the two matches.

Twenty six years old Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, seeded sixth, and third seeded Briton, Andy Murray, 25, the reigning London 2012 Olympics champion, had already had their tickets punched to vie in one of the two semi-finals, leading to today’s Men’s Singles final (weather permitting).

The Czech, who later admitted that there must be something in his (the Czech’s) game that his victim and world number one Roger Federer of Switzerland did not like and which gets to the 17 Grand Slam champion’s head, was a deserving (even if surprising) winner of their quarter-final match in four sets 7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

Murray on his part, was totally outplayed and outclassed for almost two sets trailing 3-6, 1-5, before staging one of the most memorable fightbacks ever seen at Flushing Meadows, to snatch victory from the imminent jaws of defeat, even winning the last eleven points of the match to win 3-6, 7-6, 6-2, 6-0 to advance to the semi-final. The story of the unlikely comeback is even made more intriguing by the fact that the Scotsman, after rallying back from 1-5 in the second set to force a tie-break at 6-6, quickly fell behind by a mini-break (2-4) in that tie-break, before coming back furiously to win it.

But while Murray, and Berdych, the Czech who leads 4-2 in their career head-to-head previous match confrontations, but tied 1-1 this year, were mapping out strategies to outdo each other in the semi-final, the tennis world was being treated to a double-header or back-to-back quarter-final extravaganzas, each of which kept the packed showpiece Arthur Ashe Stadium Court on the edge of their seats in obvious wonder and appreciation of the total commitment and say-never-die approach to the matches by the four men who appeared bent of reaching the semi-final.

First, in a match which had began at 14 hours New York time (19 hours Nigerian time), but would not end until four hours and 31 minutes later, Serbia’s number two player, 28 year old Janko Tipsarevic, ranked number nine in the world, and Spain’s number two player, 30 year old David Ferrer, ranked world number five, each played their very best tennis at the same time for the better part of a match which was deep into its fifth hour.

And as if the ‘gods’ wanted to compensate the suffering fans, who had had to accept the terrible weather conditions, particularly the persistent rainshowers which forced the postponement of many matches, a perfect tennis weather heralded the arrival of the two potential ‘gladiators’ on to the Arthur Ashe Court, and stayed the same throughout the do-or die contest.

Deep into the match, if many of the disappointed crowd had previously asked for a refund of their tickets money on account of the many rain delays, interruptions, and postponements, they could just as well have been asked by the organisers to double their tickets money, as a testimony to multiple value for their money.

The US Open has witnessed longer matches, but the issue was not about how long, but of what quality. It was an epic match in which the lead changed two or three different times, and you have to be bold to put your money on either player if you were the betting type. It was not just pure entertainment, it was also a physical and mental ‘battle’ of power, ruggedness, wits mobility will-to-win, perseverance, and self belief, all rolled into one.

When the higher seeded Ferrer, who was seeking his second career berth in the US Open semi-final, (since 2008 in which he defeated fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal to eventually lose to four times defending champion Federer), won the opening set 6-3, many in the stands were sure it was going to be a quick match which essentially was a “supporting bout” in boxing terms, before the main event, between Argentina’s six feet and 6 inches tall Juan Martin del Potro, the 7th seeded 2009 seeded defending champion who took Nadal’s title last September, and Djokovic.

Little did the unsuspecting crowd know that they were in for a treat, the type they had not witnessed for a long time.

The much improved Tipsarevic began to make a match of it when he bounced back to win the second set, before racing to a 6-2 third set win. If there was anyone who at that stage felt it was the beginning of the end for Ferrer, they did not know about the battling qualities of the Spaniard, who in all his previous ‘battles’ had made up for his small size and relatively weaker serves, with an uncompromising hustling, say-never-fail indomitable courage, determination, and efficient production line groundstroking.

Ferrer, everybody agrees, never beats himself. You have to beat him, and nobody beats the Spaniard and immediately gets dressed for a party. Your beaten-up body would protest.

Typically. Ferrer fought back to win the third set 6-3, to take the ‘heavyweight bout’ which was level on overall points into the last round (in boxing terms, or in this case, the fifth and deciding set.

With both players already treated courtside for wear-and-tear, Ferrer appeared battle-weary as he fell behind by a service break at 2-4, after the Serb had won the first three games of the fifth set to lead 3-0.

Going, going, g…!? Not o fast, as Ferrer characteriscally dug deep in his resolve, and broke his opponent, who had momentarily been on the verge of holding serve for a 5-2 lead. Instead, it was 4-3.

When Ferrer, immediately after serving a nervous double fault for 40-15, served his fifteenth ace to level the set score at 6-6, the two ‘pugilists’ had won the exact same number of points.

The ensuing tie-break was fought as fiercely as the entire match, with no mini-break until the Spaniard hit a gutsy inside-out forehand winner down-the-line for a precious 5-3 lead and the first and only mini-break.

How did Tipsarevic respond? With an ace down the T, of course, to reduced the deficit to 4-5. But then, the match was now on the Spaniard’s racquet. If he won the point on his next two crucial serves, he was home and dry. Tipsarevic sent a forehand long on the first of the two serves from Ferrer to trail 4-6.

On his first match point, Ferrer hit a trademark fearsome forehand to his opponent’s backhand, which forced the Serb to hit into the net.

What a match! And the moment could not have been better captured when a fan remarked as the crowd observed a long standing ovation in appreciation of the two combatants. Said the fan, “This Spaniard never ever gives up. If it were Boxing, it would have been declared a draw… Unfortunately, a draw is not allowed in tennis.”

As if the crowd had not had enough to ponder, the last quarter-final match between defending champion Djokovic and Del Potro, the man who stopped the Serb from winning a medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games, took to the court, ostensibly to settle scores. In Djokovic’s case, it was a time to put records straight in a slugfest between the 2009 champion (Del Potro) and the 2011 champion.

As it turned out, it was the Serb who avenged his London 2012 loss by defeating the Argentine in three straight sets 6-2, 7-6(7-3), 6-4 for a place in the semi-final, to face the dogged David Ferrer.

But don’t let the scoreline fool you. It was a very difficult match for Djokovic, who needed to be on top of his game to survive the big Argentine’s ferocious hitting off the ground. After the match, the Serb admitted. “It was tremendous to be part of such an outstanding match,” adding that he needed to up the ante, especially in the bruising second set tie-break.

Going into the match, Djokovic was the fresher of the two, as the Serb had been on court for just six hours and two minutes after four rounds, while Del Potro had spent eleven hours and 43 minutes to navigate his previous four matches.

The Ladies final will take place today, as well as the two Men’s semi-finals.

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Day ‘Festival’ Of Tennis Was Served