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Rafael Nadal for the second time this year overcame Roger Federer in the semifinal of a “Masters 1000′ event (previously in Miami). The Spaniard raced to a 4:2 lead, but Federer broke back and saved a triple break point at 5:5 with great serves. In the following game, powerful ground-strokes gave him the set. Nadal as usual, maintained his concentration throughout the match, Federer couldn’t afford to do it and lost the next two sets convincingly, however, had a break point in the last game after a spectacular combination of forehand, overhead and drop-shot – wasted Nadal’s second serve sending the ball into the net. The match (5-7, 6-1, 6-3) was played indoors due to rain. “I don’t think it was our best match for either of us, I think we both made some errors, more than usual,” commented Nadal.
In the second semifinal, Thomaz Bellucci who didn’t not lose his serve in the two previous encounters, won the 1st set against Novak Djokovic not being broken again and raced to a 3:1 lead in the 2nd set – major upset was wide open but D’Joke raised his level and won the next three games. In the 10th game he obtained the vital break to level at one set apiece and controlled totally the deciding set to get a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory which sent him to the six straight final! “I always believed throughout the whole match that I could turn it around and I was right,” reflected Djokovic. “He was definitely the better player for a set and a half. He was more aggressive. I just felt quite slow on the court from the start of the match and it took me a while to really get into the rhythm. But when I did, when I made that crucial break, it was much better.”
An interesting thing happened in doubles, in Saturday’s semifinals (The Bryan brothers vs. Isner/Querry and Llodra/Zimonjic vs. Cilic/Ljubicic) was exactly the same scoreline: 4-6, 6-1, [12-10] – in both matches the losing team squandered one match point!
# Semifinalists of the first four ‘Masters 1000’ tournaments in 2011:
Indian Wells: Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, Del Potro
Miami: Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, Fish
Monte Carlo: Nadal, Ferrer, Murray, Melzer
Madrid: Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, Bellucci
In the first quarterfinal between two players with the same initials (T.B.) Thomaz Bellucci upset Thomas Berdych 7-6(2), 6-3 avenging three consecutive defeats against the Czech player. There was only one break point, converted by Bellucci at 4:3 in the 2nd set, a game before Bellucci was forced to play ‘deuce’ on serve the only time in the match. It’s arguably the best tournament in career of the 23-year-old Brazilian, who has collected two ‘250’ titles.
Michael Llodra, just like yesterday against Daniel Gimeno-Traver, couldn’t find a proper rhythm at the beginning of his match and found himself quickly at 0:4 against Rafael Nadal in the 1st set. Afterwards Llodra was helpless on return games (couldn’t deal with Nadal’s heavy topspins), but had a decent streak of four service games held knotting Nadal’s legs a couple times with precise volleys. In the 5th game of the 2nd set, “King of Clay” raised his defensive skills though, passed the opponent with a half-volley, made a successful run to a stop-volley and got a break with help of a backhand lob. The match was virtually finished then, ten minutes later Nadal posted a 6-2, 6-2 win on his third match point. “Today it was quite good, especially here with the altitude it’s a little bit more complicated because it’s more difficult to go over him” analyzed Rafa.
Roger Federer outplayed Robin Soderling in characteristic style. The Swede had astonishingly saved three set points in the 1st set before the tie-break, but in the breaker Federer as usual against Soderling, mixed the things up and repeated it at the end of the 2nd set, breaking him in the 9th game (with help of lucky net-cord) to score a 7-6(2), 6-4 victory in 1 hour 42 minutes. Federer has improved ‘heat to head’ with Soderling to 16-1 including 12-2 in tie-breaks!
The last quarterfinal was highly anticipated because David Ferrer seemed to be the only guy beside Nadal who would beat Novak Djokovic on clay this year, Djokovic had a winning record against Ferrer (5-4) but was defeated in their all three previous encounters on clay. The Serb used his forehand perfectly in the most important moments to notch a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over the Spaniard, finishing the contest just before midnight of the local time.
Unpredictable Michael Llodra  at the age of 31, not only achieved arguably the biggest clay-court success in his career, but also very likely will reach the highest singles position next Monday. The left-handed Frenchman, one of very few serve-and-volley specialists, took an advantage of extremely favorable draw en route to the Mutua Madrid quarterfinal. In the first round he ousted Sam ‘out-of-form’ Querrey, in the second qualifier Flavio Cipolla, for whom it was the best result at this level, in the third round another qualifier Daniel Gimeno-Traver , producing perhaps the best comeback in his career: after losing the 1st set 1-6, Llodra was *3:4 (30-30) in the 2nd set, and two points away from defeat at *5:6 (0-30) in the 3rd set. In the deciding tie-break Llodra obtained a mini-break in the very first point (Gimeno’s unforced error) and the next 10 points went with serve – Llodra prevailed 1-6, 6-4, 7-6(4).
Thomaz Bellucci  stunned Andy Murray 6-4, 6-2, with heavy forehand topspins from the back of the court. Murray never broke his opponent, having only three break points in the entire match. Bellucci has advanced to the last 8 of a “Masters 1000′ tournament for the first time in career. “I had to be solid, but at the same time, play aggressively, without letting him take all the control in the match,” stated happy Brazilian.
Novak Djokovic keeps his impressive form outplaying 6-1, 6-2 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in just 52 minutes. Djokovic lost only two points on serve (!) in the quickest third round encounter – 6 out of 8 games won to “love”. “[My] confidence is obviously very high and at this stage it plays an important role in my game and I’m trying to use it to continue this winning streak,” said Nole, unbeaten in 29 consecutive matches this year.
Juan Martin del Potro came to Madrid from Estoril in championship glory with a hip problem, but managed to win two matches in Spain. He decided though, that wasn’t fit enough to conquer “king of clay” Rafael Nadal. DelPo withdrew from the anticipated meeting and explained: “I want to play as soon as I can and it would be a very nice match for me to play today. I really feel sad for that. It’s a nice tournament, nice people here, nice fans but I can’t.”
Roger Federer  raced to a 5:3 lead against Feliciano Lopez in the last match of the second round, and having beaten the Spaniard in all seven previous encounters, would have expected a standard 6-3, 6-4 win. Lopez somehow saved four set points in that 9th game and the match twisted rapidly. Since that moment, both players held their serves to the end of the all-tie-break match two hours later! In the 1st tie-break, Lopez had four set points (6:5, 8:7, 10:9, 12:11), Federer saved them all thanks to great service performance, especially the first one – an ace on second serve (!) – to finally convert his 9th set point, winning the breaker 15 points to 13; admittedly he is a specialist of winning long tie-breaks #. In the 2nd tie-break Lopez played impressive first three points (three winners from the baseline) which decided the final outcome. Federer had a triple break point at 3:2 in the deciding set, but Lopez escaped with great serves and third consecutive tie-break was required. Supported by partisan crowd, Lopez would have probably won the match if hadn’t missed an easy overhead after a bounce, leading 5:2*. Instead of 4 successive match points there was ‘5 all’. Federer made an unforced error which gave Lopez first match point, but the Swiss saved it with an ace ‘down the T’. Five points later Lopez sent backhand long and Federer could celebrate his first match point-down triumph since Shanghai 2006! He won also the battle of aces 25-23. Poor Lopez has lost four match point-up matches this year, including three all-tie-break defeats!## Other Top 5 players (Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Robin Soderling) + virtual Top 5 player (Juan Martin del Potro) won their matches easily, however, Murray dropped a set against Gilles Simon. “I think he’s the worst rival to have to face in the second outing of a tournament,” said Nadal about his next opponent Del Potro. D’Joke posting a comfortable 6-3, 6-4 win over Kevin Anderson (the Serb faced only two break points in one game), has joined the elite group of players with at least 30 matches won in a row. “It’s a fact that I am playing the best tennis of my life and I’m definitely happy about it,” he said after the 28th win of the year, stating that “strong mental ability to handle the pressure and play the right shots at the right time” are the keys to his amazing streak.
# Federer’s long tie-breaks (at least 20 points):
Won: 12-10 S.Draper, 14-12 M.Verkerk, 20-18 M.Safin, 11-9 F.Gonzalez, 11-9 T.Haas, 13-11 D.Nalbandian, 11-9 O.Rochus, 16-14 D.Ferrer, 12-10 T.Berdych, 13-11 A.Murray, 15-13 F.Lopez
Lost: 10-12 G.Canas, 9-11 T.Henman, 9-11 J.Blake
## Lopez’s match point-up defeats in 2011:
Sydney, 1R: JM.Del Potro 7-6(5), 6-7(9), 6-7(3) – 1 m.p.
Johannesburg, 1R: F.Dancevic 7-6(5), 2-6, 6-7(8) – 1 m.p.
Davis Cup: S.Darcis 7-6(4), 6-7(6), 6-7(3) – 1 m.p.
Madrid, 2R: R.Federer 6-7(13), 7-6(1), 6-7(7) – 1 m.p.
Three best American players (Mardy Fish, Andy Roddick and Sam Querrey) suffered an early exit from the Mutua Madrid Open. Roddick  lost his third consecutive match, all of them in ‘Masters 1000’ events. His conqueror, qualifier Flavio Cippola , produced the biggest win of his life overcoming Roddick 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 in 3 hours 3 minutes despite wasting a match point in the second set tie-break. It’s Roddick’s first defeat in these circumstances since 2001 (a match in which won a set being one point away from defeat).
John Isner  gained revenge on Fish  for two tight defeats. This time Isner had more luck and prevailed in typical style, in the third set tie-break (7-6, 4-6, 7-6), passing fellow American on his first match point after almost 3 hours of play. “It’s great to get it done, no doubt. Mardy is playing really well, and I thought he played well today, and I had to play extremely well myself,” said Isner, improving to 19-9 in matches decided by a final set tie-break (on the main level).
Former champion of the tournament in Madrid (eight years ago, albeit indoors), Juan Carlos Ferrero  was one game away from beating Thiemo de Bakker , but the Dutchman scored another win (2-6, 7-5, 6-4) over the former No. 1 (he beat Ferrero last year in Barcelona). Albert Montanes  led 4:0 in the deciding set tie-break against Sergiy Stakhovsky , but was able to win only one point to the end of the match and broke his racquet in anger after the last point (Stakhovsky’s service winner). The Ukrainian saved a set point in the first set tie-break, he won the match 7-6, 3-6, 7-6 in 2 hours 24 minutes. Milos Raonic  served out a European clay-court record this year – 23 aces, but it wasn’t enough to sink a local favorite Feliciano Lopez . The Spaniard won the match (4-6, 7-6, 6-4) consisted of only two breaks, winning just two points more (95-93).
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